Errors: Circle weeks 5-12

Sep 16, 2003 5:32 AM

Should fumbles be treated differently from interceptions?

For NFL handicappers, turnovers are a key stat.

As we have written about in past articles though, the story they tell is not what one would necessarily expect. It turns out that over the past 20 years of NFL action (dating back to 1983), playing the team with the significantly worse net turnover record has been the more successful strategy, particularly in Weeks 5-12.

However, many people have argued that while fumbles may involve a certain amount of luck, and thus bear out the idea of playing the "hard luck" team so far, interceptions are more dependent on the skill of the players and schemes involved.

To answer whether fumbles should be treated differently than interceptions, we will examine each factor individually. Starting with fumbles, and using the same standards we apply in our comprehensive T/O Difference angle, look for matchups where the net fumbles per game difference between the teams is at least ½ or more.

Play the team with the "worse" fumble record. (e.g. Team A is —1.0 net fumbles per game, Team B is +½, so difference between them is 1½ and play the worse team, Team A).

The overall record against the spread using only fumbles and discounting interceptions is a little worse than when we use both. The underdog plays hit a solid 55½ percent but that rises to 57½ in games where the pick is an underdog is getting more than five points. This is very similar to the full (fumbles and interceptions) T/O results.

The Net Fumble turnover difference posted an exceptional record of 39-24 (62 percent) from Week 5-12 in 2001. Last year, the same time frame produced a 31-13 (70 percent) record. Certainly the rash of dogs covering helped the performance during these seasons, but fumbles will continue to be a misunderstood statistic by the betting public.

The overall results drop a little further: 54 percent for Interceptions alone, 55 percent for fumbles alone, and 56.6 percent using a combined net turnover number.

The Interception turnover difference plays were likewise solid as a rock in 2001, compiling a nifty 44-28 (61 percent) from Weeks 5-12, but a less impressive 28-26 (52 percent in 2002.

In conclusion, it appears that both fumbles and turnovers have independent predictive value. The turnover difference theory has been strongest over the long haul when you use both. A fumble is arguably more significant (or more damaging to a team), and has of late been the key number to watch.

Again though, when it comes to using turnover performance so far to predict upcoming games, the team with the "worse" record coming in has been the better bet!

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