Turnovers Can Turn the Tide

by Jim Feist of VegasTopDogs.com

Last week the Cleveland Browns
showed some spunk against the Baltimore Ravens with 357 yards, 320 passing from
rookie QB Brandon Weeden. But they fell short in a 23-16 defeat. The difference?
2 turnovers (one pick by Weeden), while the Ravens had only one turnover. Dallas
was favored on Monday night football last week, but Tony Romo imploded with 5
picks in a home loss to Chicago.

One year ago the Ravens were involved
in another TV showdown against the Jets, and the offense had just 267 total
yards and was a measly 6 of 18 on third down. In addition, they averaged 2.8
yards per rush. What a terrible offensive performance! Oh, and by the way the
Ravens won the game, 34-17.

Say what? The difference again was
turnovers, with the Jets coughing it up 4 times (3 fumbles, 1 pick). “The best
defensive effort I thought I had ever seen or the most amazing defensive
performance I thought I’d ever seen was the Pittsburgh game with seven
turnovers,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said, referring to Baltimore’s
season-opening 35-7 rout. “But this topped it. Turnovers are one of the most
basic fundamentals of winning football, both straight up and against the number
when analyzing football picks.

Defensive coaches have been preaching
more aggressive, attacking stop units over the last 15 years. Coach Steve
Spurrier has spent three decades coaching college and pro football, at Duke,
Florida, South Carolina and the Washington Redskins. When asked about what the
biggest change he had noticed in the college game, Spurrier spoke not about the
wide-open passing attack that he helped popularize, but about defenses. He said
that when he first took over at Duke in the 1980s, defenses were basic and
reacted to what the offense would try and do.

However, since that time,
defenses have become far more aggressive, trying to attack the offense rather
than sit back and react. The Chicago Bears famed 46 defense caused havoc around
the league during a 1985 Super Bowl season. The Bears that year were 18-1
straight up and 15-3-1 against the spread, led by a devastating, attacking
defense. They pitched four shutouts and held 14 of 19 opponents to 10 points or

Defensive coaches in both the pro and college ranks have been
teaching players to not only tackle properly, but to aggressively strip the ball
from opposing players. Jim Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan and Lovie Smith
have used their teaching talents to upgrade defenses.

A key component of aggressive defenses is to force more turnovers. They are a huge part of any
contest. During the 2008 season, the Miami Dolphins came out of nowhere to win
the AFC East in a stunning one-year turnaround. It’s no coincidence that
Dolphins led the NFL (+17 in turnover margin) that season, then were minus-8 in
TOs the next year going 7-9. The Patriots went 14-2 SU, 10-5-1 ATS in 2010,
setting a record for positive turnover margin. Take a close look at the bottom
teams in turnover margin from last season:

2011 Worst TO Margin —-
ATS record
Bucs (-1) —- 4-12 ATS
Eagles (-0.9) —- 7-9 ATS

Redskins (-0.9) —- 8-8 ATS
Steelers (-0.8) —- 7-10 ATS
(-0.8) —- 9-7 ATS
Colts (-0.8) —- 6-10 ATS
Broncos (-0.6) —- 8-9-1
Chargers (-4) —- 6-10 ATS

Tampa Bay was the worst and
got their coaching staff axed. New Coach Greg Schiano put a premium on taking
care of the football for this season and you can see why. The Eagles were a big
favorite to make the Super Bowl last season but flamed out with turnovers
playing a huge roll, while the Chargers disappointed and the Colts were a
disaster finishing 2-14.

Only two of the teams on the high turnover list
made the postseason (Steelers, Broncos). Those teams were also a combined 55-75
against the spread, a factor to keep in mind when assessing weekly football
picks. A quarterback who throws too many picks can kill the momentum of his
offense, and his confidence can get worn down. It can even spill over onto the

A few years ago in a playoff game, QB Marc Bulger threw 3
interceptions against the Panthers and while the Rams had a chance to win the
game late in the fourth quarter, coach Mike Martz decided to play it safe and
settled for a game-tying field goal. He was widely criticized for this after the
Rams lost in overtime and it’s clear in the back of his mind he was thinking, “I
don’t want Bulger to throw another interception. I’d better play it safe.”

That same 2008 season, the top five teams with the best turnover
differential — Miami, Tennessee, Baltimore, the Giants and Indianapolis — all
made the playoffs with at least 11 wins and combined for a 59-21 record. The
Dolphins and Giants each had 13 turnovers, tied for the fewest ever in a 16-game

2011 Top TO Margin ATS record
49ers (+1.7) —- 12-5-1
Packers (+1.2) —- 11-6 ATS
Patriots (+0.8) —- 10-9 ATS
(+0.6) —- 7-10 ATS
NY Giants (+0.6) —- 12-7-1 ATS
Seahawks (+0.5) —-
10-5-1 ATS
Falcons (+0.5) —- 8-8-1 ATS
Ravens (+0.4) —- 9-8-1
Texans (+0.3) —- 12-5-1 ATS

The tops teams last season in
turnover margin had very strong seasons, with four of them meeting in the
conference championship games and all but Seattle made the playoffs. They were
also a combined 91-63-6 ATS.

Be careful backing teams that are sloppy at
taking care of the football when analyzing football picks. Chances are they
don’t win or cover the number as regularly as those that play smart,
mistake-free ball.

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