The Impact of Turnovers in NFL Results and Additional Betting Insights
Nothing frustrates an NFL coach more than turnovers. Safe to say those frustrations carry over to sports bettors, whose opponent is the sportsbooks. A turnover changes the dynamic of a game, costs teams field position, points, affects time of possession, play calling and the emotional makeup of a team. Whether it's 20, 30 or 40 yards of field position, the impact of turnovers is significant, and really the most impactful statistic in pro football.
Every week during the NFL season for nearly two decades, I have loaded box score data into a spread sheet. You've seen me reference various stats including rushing numbers and the impact of point of attack play. The running for profits reference in Week 8 followed an 0-4 ATS result in Week 7 in which our four underdog picks suffered 12 turnovers to just 4 by our opponents. We were on the wrong side of negative turnover differential in each game, and nearly drawing dead on the games with 2 or 3 or greater turnovers as we continue to track the impact of those turnovers differentials in NFL games.
In Week 13, teams with a plus-2 (+2) or greater turnover differential went a combined 7-0 ATS. The Packers, 49ers and Cowboys all won and covered with at least a plus-3 (+3) or greater turnover margin. The Colts were within 21-19 in the fourth quarter before Indianapolis turned the ball over on four straight possession that led to a Dallas rout, 54-19. Meanwhile, Bears (+3.5) bettors have to be going bonkers again after leading the Packers 19-10 in the second half only to have bonehead QB Justin Fields throw two more INT's to allow Green Bay and QB Rodgers to continue its dominance over Chicago with a 28-19 win.
Fields gets plenty of accolades and media hype for his athleticism and running while helping the Bears lead the league in rushing averaging 189 yards per game. Yet Fields and the Bears have lost six straight games, including three straight close contests to the Dolphins, Lions and Week 11 vs the Falcons when Fields f*d up again. That's 10 INT's for Fields this season, 20 in two seasons, plus 25 fumbles (6 lost, fortunate, variance). I don't recall an NFL team with such strong rushing numbers lose so many games and now six straight (five as 'Dog) and five ATS when piling up huge rushing numbers. That doesn't happen if the QB is competent, capable and minimizes mistakes. Sure, it's not all Fields fault and the defense is more deficient after trading two veteran leaders Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith. But note the turnovers.
Fantasy football players love Fields. Bettors don't, even if they have an edge with reduced juice sportsbooks. Bet the Bears at your own risk as they continue to invent more ways to lose games with untimely turnovers and a struggling defense and special teams. Then again, the Detroit Lions were doing the same early season with 5-straight losses and too many turnovers combined with a deficient defense. The Lions have now won 4-of-5 while going 5-0 ATS and opening as the underdog in each game and again in Week 14 against the Vikings before changing to the favorite early this week as the sports betting market and leading online sportsbooks adjust.
And understand NFL futures bets and potential payouts are a risk with so many quarterback injuries and changes. That includes the top two quarterbacks going down in San Francisco, Lamar Jackson in Baltimore and now dingbat Deshaun Watson starting for Cleveland. And Dallas, Washington, Carolina, New Orleans, LA Rams, Indianapolis, Houston, Tennessee, Pittsburgh, New England and the NY Jets have all had quarterback injuries and changes during the 2022 season.
Two teams actually lost SU with a +2 margin in Week 13, including the New Orleans Saints meltdown Monday night. The Saints completely blew the game and 16-3 lead in the final four minutes to lose 17-16 to the Buccaneers, but still cover the +3.5 point spread. The Denver Broncos and their league-worst scoring at 13.8 points per game also had a 2-0 turnover advantage but gave up a long drive and late TD to lose 10-9 to the Baltimore Ravens. But the Broncos also easily covered the spread (+9).
From 2009 through the 2018 NFL season, Sharp Football Analysis noted that NFL teams that lost the turnover battle in a game by 3 or more went 22-459 SU (.045%). Teams that suffered a negative turnover margin of 2 or more went 134-959-1 (.123).
I break it down in my record keeping by exactly a 2 turnover differential, and 3 or more. Here are the records of teams that are plus 3 turnovers or more and exactly plus 2 (+2) this season:
2022 (thru Week 13)
+3 or more turnovers (25-1 SU, 24-2 ATS)
+2 turnovers (32-6 SU, 35-3 ATS)
In 2021, teams that were +3 in turnover margin in a game went 43-3 ATS.
Over the past 5 season, this is a 93% ATS winning situation.
Turnovers are the number one factor in point differential in a football game and have the greatest impact on a team winning and/or covering the point spread. Turnovers are also the least predictable statistic, as they are mostly random and especially fumbles due to a high percentage variance. Still, turnovers can be 'caused' by one team or the 'symptom' of the other.
Interceptions or the potential cause of more fumbles can be handicapped by looking at the potential weakness of an offensive line, strength of a defensive line, quarterback play and experience, and the likelihood of more mistakes and turnovers in a tough road environment; especially against a stronger or 'Class A' defense. How is a young quarterback going to perform on the road when the running game is shut down and he’s forced to pass more than expected? Against a strong defense, the mistakes and chances of a turnover increase, albeit by a small percentage.
While any little edge is worth pursuing and considering when it comes to sports handicapping and betting, you’re focus should still be on things you can handicap and control more clearly. Projecting match-up edges, point of attack play and rushing edges while controlling the ball, clock and chains is a good place to start. Yet while the Bears are blowing games with dominant rushing yards, know that teams that rush for at least 150 yards in a game (when their opponent does not) are 74-21-2 SU and 70-24-3 ATS (74%) this season. You can research and incorporate more advanced stats like Football Outsiders DVOA (which I have weekly for each matchup) and other metrics. But, know that 35% of the NFL games this season have at least a 2 or greater turnover differential, which means you're likely to lose your pre-game spread bet at least 80% of the time (> 90% so far this season).
I’ve been keeping box score data and records for years, as it helps keep things in perspective when you seemingly handicap a game correctly, only to see turnover troubles or even crazy ball bounces, muffed punts, bad snaps, poor officials calls or other uncontrollable happenings cause a bet to go bad.
Over the past 5+ years, NFL teams that are exactly +2 in the turnover column have covered a little over 80% of the games ATS. It's closer to 85% the past two seasons and historically just above 80%.
NFL teams that are +3 or greater in the turnover column have covered 92-93% ATS the past 5+ years with nearly 200 games meeting the + 3 turnover margin, and better than 90% historically.
Here is a link to NFL turnover stats for 2022, and a dropdown menu for teams turnover stats the past 5 years.
The 2022 leaders in turnover margin are:
Philadelphia Eagles (+13)
Dallas Cowboys (+9)
Minnesota Vikings (+8)
Baltimore Ravens (+6)
The Ravens (8-4 SU, 4-7-1 ATS) are another team that has lost numerous games due to incredible plays, turnovers and variance with a running quarterback. The Vikings are 9-0 SU in one score games and winning more games despite stats and metrics that don't support a 10-2 record. The Eagles (11-1) and Cowboys (9-3) are both producing profit ATS, while playing the best in the NFC.
Turnover trouble leaders include:
Indianapolis Colts (-14)
New Orleans Saints (-12)
Los Angeles Rams (-7)
Houston Texans (-6)
We've managed to go 4-0 ATS on our underdog picks in Week 12 and Week 13 to run the 2022 record to 25-21 ATS with 19 outright winners. That follows last year's 28-12 ATS 70% season. But not all weeks are fairways and greens on the gridiron, as noted in Week 7 when our picks went 0-4 ATS in large part due to a 12-4 turnover differential against us and our selected teams. But rather than be hard on yourself when suffering through a tough week of betting, evaulate your handicapping process and the results along with how the games played out and impactful plays.
The 5+ year record posting only underdog picks at OSGA now stands at 155-112 ATS (58.0%) - a nice benefit for OSGA members and followers. Let's hope the ball bounces our way and we avoid turnover troubles down the closing stretch of the season.
FairwayJay is a proven sports handicapper with unparalleled success in NFL pointspread prognosis. Fairway is recognized as one of the sports industry's insightful analysts, and he chips in additional sports betting coverage and reporting on industry news and events. Follow FairwayJay here at OSGA.com and on Twitter @FairwayJay for more betting insights.