Let’s be honest, the days of smash mouth football where linebackers delivered hits designed to separate a player’s top half from their bottom are gone. Nowadays, offenses can score quicker than Rick Pitino at Porcinis, but at the end of the day, all that matters is that your team has more points on the board than the other team. This brings us to our topic of interest, turnovers.
Turnovers are the bane of any head coaches existence, and the team that loses the turnover battle is usually the one left sobbing when the clock reads 0:00.
Here are the teams in first and last place in turnover differential over the past 5 years and their records (notice anything interesting?):
Green Bay (-23) 4-12
Cincinnati (+25) 11-5 Won division
Oakland (-20) 2-14
Baltimore (+15) 13-3 Won division
Baltimore (-17) 5-11
San Diego (+24) 11-5 Won division
San Francisco (-17) 7-9
Miami (+17) 11-5 Won division
Detroit (-18) 2-14
Green Bay (+24) 11-5 Went to playoffs
It’s worth noting that other than the 08’ 49ers and the 09’ packers, the worst turnover differential has finished dead last and the best has won the division outright. The 49ers were probably helped by the fact that they got to play with the pre-Bradford rams, Seattle, and the Cardinals who wouldn’t have been able to stop their practice squad from scoring on them.
In fact, using 2005 as a starting point, only 11 out of 60 teams (18%) have made the NFL playoffs with a negative turnover differential. All of those teams made it with negative turnover differentials less than -4.
That brings us to the statistical anomalies that are the 2010 San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys. The Chargers rank 1st in both offense and defense (this is not a typo), yet they sport a 2-5 record. How is that possible? Simple, they rank 2nd (-7) in the entire NFL in giveaways right behind the Jaguars (-10), who clearly aren’t faring much better this year.
The Cowboys post over 400 yards per game and hold opponents to under 281 yards/game (they rank 3rd in total defense), yet they too are 1-5 because of a -5 turnover differential. All the talent in the world won’t save you if you cannot convert yards into points and points into wins.
One only has to have watched the Chargers last game at the Patriots to understand this basic logic. They turned the ball over four times in the first half, which resulted in a 20-3 deficit. You can’t win football games when you put yourself in a 20-3 hole because of turnovers, ask Richard Goodman.
One thing is clear, if you can’t hang on to the ball, you might as well pencil yourself in for a season of frustration and disappointment.