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Turnover Analysis

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If you are a statistical analyzer, and break down numbers on NFL games with any sort of regularity, you know that TO margin is an incredibly important statistic in the outcome of all games.  Straight up, Against the Spread (ATS) – doesn’t matter.  Perform well in this area, be it taking care of the ball, or taking the ball away from your opponent on a regular basis, and the likelihood you are playing football come January greatly increases.  Most NFL fans, even the casual fan that doesn’t get too involved in breaking stats down is aware of this phenomenon.  But how good a tool can it be to predict future outcomes, whether it be on a week to week basis trying to pick straight up winners in your office pool, picking a few games to wager your hard earned cash on, or even trying to predict the chances your team has at making the playoffs?  It’s very useful, and below I will show you in my NFL Turnover Analysis one way it can be used.

Let’s examine the relationship between turnovers, points scored vs. points against (which is a team’s points margin), and projected records based on those two stats.

Most handicappers and others who work with turnovers in their models will value these at approximately being worth 4 points either way – takeaway’s are worth +4pts, while giveaway’s impact points margin (4pts). 

Of course this number is not set in stone, and can be debated – you may find turnovers are worth a different amount, but since that is a sort of “industry standard”, I will use that today for this analysis.  In reality, any number you select within reason (the number has to be worth anywhere between a minimum 2pts and a maximum 5pts because a turnover either way leads to the possibility of scoring or allowing points – working with estimated % chances of scoring/allowing a FG/TD will allow you to derive your own worth of a turnover) will work as long as it is consistent across the board for each team.

Please follow along in the below table:

2012 Margin:  Points scored – Points against

TO Adv/(Dis):  Represents the per game impact each team’s turnovers had on their points margin.  This number is derived by taking the total TO Margin on the season, dividing by 16 to get a “per game” TO Margin, then multiplying by 4 because as mentioned above, I am valuing each turnover to be worth 4 points.

Normalized Margin: Calculated by taking 2012 Margin – TO Adv/(Dis).  This figure represents the points margin each team would have w/o the impact of turnovers.

2012 Record: Each team’s true straight up (SU) record.

New Projected Record: Uses the Normalized Margin calculation, and fits each into a matrix (that is relatively standard across the industry) which plugs teams into certain records based on their points margin.  It is generally assumed that teams who outscore their opponents by 1.5 points per game (PPG) will go 9-7, 3 PPG = 10-6, 5.5 PPG = 11-5, and so on increasing PPG by 2.5 points for each win – and using the reciprocal of each of these PPG marks for losing records.  Note, since these figures are quoted in decimals, the sum of 252 wins does not equal 256, the amount we see in an entire NFL season if there are no ties.

Wins Impact: Calculated by taking New Projected Record – 2021 Record.  This column basically shows the impact turnovers had on each team’s actual SU wins and losses.

Now that you understand the data, here is where it gets useful.  As mentioned, a “model” or any analysis is only good if you backtest it, and prove that it has worked in the past.  You can read about models, statistical impacts of various items on games, but unless it has been proven to be a solid indicator of performance in the past, you will be wasting your time. 

2013 NFL Turnover Margin Analysis
Team 2012 TO *Normalized 2012 2013 Wins
1-32 Margin Adv/(Dis) Margin Record Projection Impact
ARI (6.69) (0.25) (6.44) 5-11 4-12 -1
ATL 7.50 3.25 4.25 13-3 10-6 -3
BAL 3.38 2.25 1.13 10-6 9-7 -1
BUF (5.69) (3.25) (2.44) 6-10 6-10 None
CAR (0.38) 0.50 (0.88) 7-9 7-9 None
CHI 6.13 5.00 1.13 10-6 9-7 -1
CIN 4.44 1.00 3.44 10-6 10-6 None
CLE (4.13) 0.75 (4.88) 5-11 5-11 None
DAL (1.50) (3.25) 1.75 8-8 9-7 +1
DEN 12.00 (0.25) 12.25 13-3 14-2 +1
DET (4.06) (4.00) (0.06) 4-12 8-8 +4
GB 6.06 1.75 4.31 11-5 11-5 None
HOU 5.31 3.00 2.31 12-4 10-6 -2
IND (1.88) (3.00) 1.13 11-5 9-7 -2
JAC (11.81) (0.75) (11.06) 2-14 3-13 +1
KC (13.38) (6.00) (7.38) 2-14 4-12 +2
MIA (1.81) (2.50) 0.69 7-9 8-8 +1
MIN 1.94 (0.25) 2.19 10-6 10-6 None
NE 14.13 6.25 7.88 12-4 12-4 None
NO 0.56 0.50 0.06 7-9 8-8 +1
NYG 5.31 3.50 1.81 9-7 9-7 None
NYJ (5.88) (3.50) (2.38) 6-10 6-10 None
OAK (9.56) (1.75) (7.81) 4-12 4-12 None
PHI (10.25) (6.00) (4.25) 4-12 5-11 +1
PIT 1.38 (2.50) 3.88 8-8 10-6 +2
SD 0.00 0.50 (0.50) 7-9 8-8 +1
SF 7.75 2.25 5.50 11-5 11-5 None
SEA 10.44 3.00 7.44 11-5 12-4 +1
STL (3.06) (0.25) (2.81) 7-9 6-10 -1
TB (0.06) 0.75 (0.81) 7-9 7-9 None
TEN (8.81) (1.00) (7.81) 6-10 4-12 -2
WAS 3.00 4.25 (1.25) 10-6 7-9 -3

In 2012, I had 12 teams sliding one way or another in wins – and of those 12, 10 moved the way predicted, and only two moved opposite – and one of those was by just one game.

Let’s examine this data for the upcoming season – listed in the above table is data based on last season that can be used to forecast the 2013 NFL season:

Team’s that are likely to see a drop in their 2013 record with a brief point regarding each:

Atlanta (13): Last season the Falcons tied the Broncos for the top mark in the NFL at 13-3.  However, examining true performance showed Denver clearly was superior to Atlanta as far as performance goes, even though the Falcons won their matchup early in the season in that official’s debacle on MNF.  Expect Atlanta to drop back this season as their division continues to improve, and Atlanta didn’t do much personnel wise to improve their team.

Houston (12): The Texans won 12 games last season, but fell apart late in the season dropping to the #3 seed in the AFC, leading to a Divisional Playoffs loss on the road to New England.  Despite some big name additions this season I expect a shift in their TOM, leading to a dip of 1-2 losses – but make no mistake, the Texans are the class of the AFC South and will win that division barring significant injuries.

Indianapolis (11): No team last year exceeded their true on the field performance record wise than the Colts, as even though we projected the Colts to increase their wins last year, we did not expect a double digit win season for sure.  Almost all of my indicators point towards a dip in wins this year – perhaps even a significant one down towards .500.  Yes, QB Andrew Luck looks like the real deal, however, the rest of the roster does not stack up with the other AFC powers, the Colts schedule is much tougher, and Indianapolis will feel a drop this season.

Tennessee (6): The Titans are the lowest win team from last year I project to drop in wins this coming season.  Tennessee had the 5th worst Points Margin LY, and a modest (1.00) impact from TOM.  With no significant personnel changes, and uncertainty at QB, I look for Tennessee to drop at least 1 win in the coming season, settling into a Top 5 draft pick come the 2014 NFL Draft.

Washington (10): Along with the Colts, we projected the Redskins to improve last year and that they did, winning the NFC East title on the final Sunday behind rookie QB Robert Griffin III.  However, outside of Chicago and New England, no team enjoyed a more favorable impact from TOM than Washington, which may not bode well for the 2013 season.  With the injury to RG3, TOM reversion, increased SOS, and an improving & tough division, I see the ‘Skins falling back towards .500 this coming season.

Now let’s focus on the team’s that should see at least one more win than last year:

Detroit (4): Like all 3 of my leading indicators (points per game, yards per play, first downs per game), the TOM supports an increase in wins for Detroit – perhaps as many as +4 wins climbing towards the .500 mark.  Last year, only Kansas City and Philadelphia suffered more negative impact from TOM than the Lions did, a mark that should shift some at the very least come this season.  The Lions are clearly one of the biggest projected wins increase teams, probably the biggest.

Kansas City (2): Many were picking the Chiefs to compete for an AFC West title last year coming off a divisional crown in 2010; we however stuck with our indicators and projected a dip from their 7-9 mark of 2011 and that is exactly what happened, slipping all the way down to just two wins and the #1 overall selection in the NFL Draft.  This season Andy Reid takes over at head coach, Alex Smith was brought in to play QB, and the schedule is more favorable; expect the Chiefs to battle back and post at least five wins this coming season.

Pittsburgh (8): Perhaps no team is being overlooked more heading into 2013 than the Steelers.  I am bullish on the Steelers as being the AFC North favorites, as their defense remained stout last year checking in at #3, but the offense and turnovers really cost them at critical times.  Considering Pittsburgh rarely plays a 3rd place divisional schedule, and Big Ben appears healthy heading into 2013, and I feel Pittsburgh will get back to the top of their division, and be dangerous come playoff time – perhaps even the second best team in the AFC behind Denver.

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