Turnovers: The Key to Winning in the NFL

You have heard coaches preach it constantly and consistently – win the turnover battle and you will win the game. More takeaways give your offense more opportunities to score, and minimizing your turnovers limits the opportunities of your opponent. Seems simple enough, but does winning the turnover battle truly translate to winning games? Although we are only two weeks in, the 2014 season has provided us with one overwhelming answer.

In week 1, of the sixteen teams that won their matchups, ten had positive turnover ratios. The remaining six winners all played their games at home. This trend continued into week 2, where of the sixteen winners, thirteen had a positive turnover ratio. Two of the remaining three winners played at home. This means that through the first two weeks of the NFL season, 23 of the 32 (71%) teams that won their matchups had positive turnover ratios. It is apparent that having a positive turnover margin has helped teams win regular season games through two weeks, but historically, has it helped teams reach the playoffs?

The numbers again say yes: of the 120 teams that have earned a spot in the playoffs over the past ten years, 90 of those teams (75%) had a positive turnover margin heading into the postseason. Furthermore, the league leader in turnover margin has made the playoffs EVERY YEAR for the past ten years. Of those ten league leaders in turnover margin, five were able to clinch a first round bye in the playoffs. And leading the league in turnover margin has not just helped teams reach the playoffs –  it has helped them win in the playoffs. Six of the last ten league leaders in turnover margin have won at least one playoff game, three of those teams won two playoff games, and one walked away with the Lombardi Trophy (2013 Seattle Seahawks). Eight of the last ten Super Bowl winners ranked in the top five in turnover margin. The 2008 Steelers finished 7th, while the miracle 9-7 New York Giants managed to win the 2007 Super Bowl ranking 20th in turnover margin.

Malcolm Smith

So, next time you hear Cris Collinsworth, Gus Johnson or Jon Gruden go on and on about how important turnovers are, I hope you resist the urge to mute your TV, and appreciate what they are saying. Forcing turnovers on defense and avoiding turnovers on offense will, quite simply, win you more football games.

by Sean Fener, Saint Joseph’s University