It’s no secret. The team that wins the turnover battle greatly improves their chancing of winning. Despite this knowledge, it’s a stat that is often overlooked when handicapping the NFL.
If you can accurately predict who will win the turnover margin, you are going to have a very profitable season betting on the NFL. As you can see in the table below, teams don’t just win at an alarming rate, they also cover the spread.
How to Profit Handicapping NFL Turnover Differential
S.U. & ATS Records Based Off Turnover Margin Since 2005
|TO Differential||SU||SU %||ATS||ATS %|
|+4 or more||269-8||97.4%||261-15-1||94.60%|
|TOTAL (+1 or better)||2025-542-5||78.9%||1969-549-54||78.20%|
The numbers really tell the story here. NFL teams cover the spread almost 69% of the time when they simply force one more turnover than the opposition. That should remove any doubt on whether you should be handicapping this when you are making your bets for the week.
I’m guessing there’s going to be a lot of you that say it’s too difficult to predict who will win the turnover battle on a game-to-game basis. Too much luck is involved. While you can’t predict a bad bounce of the ball, there are multiple factors that go into turnovers. Some of which I think you can predict with some accuracy. While some turnovers are luck, there are teams that excel in this department. No better example than the Patriots run here with Belichick and Brady. I went back just over the last 8 years and New England finished in the Top 10 in turnover margin every season.
There are teams that excel in this department. No better example than the Patriots. I went back just over the last 8 years and New England finished in the Top 10 in turnover margin every season. Yes, the Patriots are in the minority when it comes to teams that consistently finish with a positive turnover margin. Few teams have a quarterback as gifted as Brady and a defensive mastermind on the other side of the ball.
With that said, I think you can look at the make-up of each team in a given season and get a feel for how things could go in the turnover department. Just don’t make this mistake. The general assumption for most amateur bettors is to just look back to how a team did the previous season and go off of that. This wouldn’t be a bad strategy if teams didn’t undergo several personnel changes (players & coaches), but with the way the NFL is today it’s not a good idea to put any emphasis on the previous year. In fact, there’s a stronger possibility teams who thrived in the turnover department the prior year will regress the following season. At the same time, teams who struggled in this area tend to improve quite a bit over the next season.
What I found in my research is that the key is to focus on the offense and whether or not you think there’s a good possibility they will turn the ball over. Typically teams who have a smart experienced quarterback and a strong emphasis on ball security are the teams that win the turnover battle on a regular basis. A lot of attention is payed to defenses and their ability to force turnovers, but a lot of luck is involved when it comes to creating turnovers.
There are quarterback’s like Alex Smith who is the definition of a game-manager. A quarterback who isn’t going to put his defense in a bad spot by throwing an interception. At the same time, Smith has played on teams that have had excellent defenses. It’s why in a league dominated by elite quarterbacks with big arms, a signal caller like Smith can post a 79-56-1 record as a starter (58.5%). Note that 59% is right in the middle of the winning percentage of a 9 or 10 win team.
Looking back over the last 10 years, only two teams that finished in the top three in turnover differential the previous year went on to finish with a stronger turnover differential the next season. That was the 2012 New England Patriots and 2016 Kansas City Chiefs. Of the teams who have finished in the bottom three, only twice has a team finished with a worse turnover margin the next year (2012 Eagles & 2007 49ers).
What’s really stands out is how the regression on both sides has a big impact on the overall record of a team the next season. Rarely will a team finish in the Top 5 and improve on their win total the next season. Same thing with teams who finish at the bottom. Chances are they will win more games the following year.
While looking at the previous season might not help us predict who will win the turnover battle for a particular game the next year, it’s a great tool to use for making your win total predictions. Here’s a look at the top and bottom five teams on each side of the turnover differential from 2016, along with their current win total for 2017.
2016: Best/Worst Turnover Margins (2017 Win Total)
- Chiefs +16 (9)
- Raiders +16 (9.5)
- Patriots +12 (11.5)
- Falcons +11 (10)
- Vikings +11 (8.5)
- Jets -20 (5.5)
- Bears -20 (5)
- Jaguars -16 (6)
- Browns -12 (4.5)
- Rams -11 (5.5)
Using Last Year’s Turnover Differential to Handicap NFL Win Totals
Every year there are teams who defy the turnover statistic. Several teams finish with a winning record who end the season with a negative turnover differential. There are also teams who post a losing record with a positive turnover differential. I got to thinking about how this might be a key to which direction a team is headed. My hypothesis was that teams who were able to finish with a winning record despite a negative turnover margin were inclined to struggle the next season, while teams who thrived in the turnover department and ended up with a losing record would see a bump in their win total the next year. Here’s a look at the results of both scenarios over the last five years.
I got to thinking about how this might be a key to which direction a team is headed the following year. Shouldn’t teams who finished with a winning record despite a negative turnover margin be more inclined to suffer some kind of decline. By turning the ball over more than the opposition on the season, you would expect to lose more games than you win. Chances are that kind of succes/luck won’t carry over to the next year. Vice versa for teams who thrived in the turnover department and ended up with a losing record. The belief would be that they were unfortuante to not have a better record and should see a bump in their win output the next year. Keep in mind that win totals are often set based on last year’s record, so we should be able to find some value in betting NFL win totals.
Here’s a look at the results of both scenarios and how teams have responded the next year.
Losing Record & (+) Turnover Differential
|Year||Team||Record||TOD||Next Year Record||Net Wins/Losses|
The numbers agree with us. We have 34 examples of teams who have posted a losing record with a positive turnover margin. Out of the 34 occurances, 24 times (70.6%) the team went on to post the same or better record than the previous year. As you can see, we have three candidates on the board for 2016. I think there’s a good chance all three of these teams could beat their win total number, but the best value might be the Bills. Buffalo could actually not improve and still cash a winning ticket, as their win total for 2017 is a mere 6. Both the Eagles and Bengals are at 8.5 on their win totals.
Winning Record & (-) Turnover Differential
|Year||Team||Record||TOD||Next Year Record||Net Wins/Losses|
As we expected, teams who finish with a winning record and negative turnover differential are more likely to fail to match the previous year’s success. As you can see it doesn’t happen as frequently. There have been just 28 times that a team fell in this spot. Out of the 28, there have been 18 times (64%) that a team finished with the same or worse record. We again have three candidates to look at for 2017. I see a lot of value in all three of these as well.
Houston has a win total of 8.5. They would have to at least match their 9-7 record of last year. Sure the defense is great, but they also figure to start a rookie quarterback in the majority of their games, if not the whole season. New York has a win total of 9 and the Lions are at 8. Like the other three from above, bet all 3 and I like your chances at profiting.