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THIS STAT MAY MATTER MOST, BUT IT'S HARD TO PREDICT


This morning I was sipping coffee and digging through NFL stats, you know, as most people do on vacation. And I turned up something that seems very important as a person who bets on the NFL. This isn't something new, but it's something I seldom hear discussed. Maybe that's because it's something that's fairly hard to predict, but we need to talk about it because it has a huge impact on who wins games. What is it?


It's turnovers!


Now, you might say, "I'm not an idiot, of course turnovers matter." I'm sure you're not an idiot, but perhaps, like me, you don't realize HOW MUCH they matter.


Let's start with the top five and bottom five teams in turnover margin this year. Want to guess which ones have good records and which ones don't?


Top 5 in Turnover Margin

  1. Philadelphia +14 (12-1)

  2. Baltimore +9 (9-4)

  3. Dallas +8 (10-3)

  4. Minnesota +6 (10-3)

  5. San Francisco +6 (9-4)

Bottom 5 in Turnover Margin

  1. Indianapolis -14 (4-8-1)

  2. New Orleans -12 (4-9)

  3. LA Rams -6 (4-9)

  4. Kansas City -5 (10-3)

  5. Houston -5 (1-11-1)

Kansas City is the obvious outlier here, but maybe this says something about how good they really are to be 10-3 with a negative turnover differential. I want to take you further down this rabbit hole by exploring some individual team records. I'm still researching and may go through all 32 schedules, but for now, I'll share a few I picked at random. (Okay, the Vikings weren't random, I was researching some other things on them, but other than that they were.)


Minnesota Vikings

This has been everyone's favorite team to hate lately. The fact they've won 10 games seems to be as offensive to people as someone insulting their grandma. There's a lot more that could be said about this, but that's not the point of this article. Let's take a look at how the Vikings have fared based on their turnover margin.


Wins

  • Green Bay / +2

  • Detroit Game 1 / Even

  • New Orleans / +1

  • Chicago / Even

  • Miami / +3

  • Arizona / +2

  • Washington / Even

  • Buffalo / +2

  • New England / -1

  • NY Jets / +2

Losses

  • Philadelphia / -2

  • Dallas / -1

  • Detroit Game 2 / -2

Of course there are things to pick apart here. They didn't lose by 37 to the Cowboys because of a -1 turnover ratio. But it has to mean something that they're 9-0 with a turnover margin that's even or better and 1-3 when they lose that battle. Maybe we can back this up by looking at some other teams.


NY Jets


Let's take a look at the Jets. Good defense. Bad Zach Wilson. Maybe good Mike White. Lots of talking points around this team, but do they mean as much as the turnovers? To get to the point a bit more quickly I'm going to break this down in terms of turnover margin rather than wins and losses.


Positive Turnover Margin

  • Pittsburgh / +2 / Win

  • Miami / +2 / Win

  • Green Bay / +1 / Win

  • Denver / +1 / Win

  • Buffalo Game 1 / +1 / Win

  • Chicago / +1 / Win

Even Turnover Margin

  • Cleveland / Win

  • New England Game 2 / Loss

Negative Turnover Margin

  • Baltimore / -1 / Loss

  • Cincinnati / -3 / Loss

  • New England Game 1 / -2 / Loss

  • Minnesota / -2 / Loss

  • Buffalo Game 2 / -2 / Loss

To sum it up, that's 6-0 with a positive turnover margin, 1-1 when it's even, and 0-5 when it's negative. Seems substantial. How about the Eagles?


Philadelphia Eagles


The Eagles have only been on the wrong side of the turnover battle twice this year. I bet you can guess one of those. Yep. The week 9 loss to the Commanders when they were -2 in turnovers. The other game where they had a negative turnover differential was their one-point win over the Colts--a game that was much closer than anyone expected.


Just to really cement this, here are a few more quick hits.


Indianapolis Colts

  • Even or Positive Turnover Margin: 3-1

  • Negative Turnover Margin: 1-6-1

Miami Dolphins

  • Positive Turnover Margin: 5-0

  • Even Turnover Margin: 1-1

  • Negative Turnover Margin: 2-4

Detroit Lions

  • Positive Turnover Margin: 6-1

  • Even Turnover Margin: 0-1

  • Negative Turnover Margin: 0-5


There are lots of stats that matter, but I need to pay more attention to this one. How many times are we overreacting to a one-game result or searching for meaningful ways to explain something when the simple explanation is just turnovers. For instance, all the talk leading up to last week's Lions vs Vikings game was about which QB is better, if the Lions had overtaken the Vikings, and how bad the Vikings defense is. All valid points. But I think a huge part of what happened was the Lions winning the turnover battle in the second game (one of these being a fumble nearly in the end zone). I think these are two decent teams, and whoever wins the turnover battle is very likely to win the game.


A great team like Kansas City can overcome a negative turnover margin, but most teams in the NFL can't. But turnovers are hard to predict. What do you do with this information? I think it's worth looking into turnover-worthy plays and splits of turnover stats. After all, turnovers are part luck, but there's some skill involved too. How much chaos does a defense create versus sitting back in vanilla coverage? How often is a QB forcing things into tight windows? Which running backs are most likely to put it on the ground.


All of this is worth some time, because if you figure out the turnover battle, you'll have a huge edge in predicting the winner.

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