NFL Turnover Turnarounds?

Handicapping News: NFL Turnover Turnarounds?

It's common for handicappers and analysts to anticipate "turnover turnarounds" from one season to another in the NFL. There's a perception out there that turnovers are random. And, therefore, teams who have poor differentials one year probably suffered from bad luck, and are likely to bounce back and have good luck the next year.

First of all, that's a variation of the gambler's fallacy. Good luck beating roulette with that approach! Teams are likely to generally "regress toward the mean" the following year. But, that just means their luck will be "less bad." That doesn't mean it will be good. If a team is -15 one year, they're not destined to be +15 the next. They're just likely to be better than -15 (maybe -12, -9, even, whatever).

Secondly, TURNOVERS AREN'T RANDOM! There are certain conditions that will generate a lot of turnovers for teams. If they don't fix those, then the turnover problems are going to continue.

Among the top indicators for turnover problems:

  • Inexperience at quarterback

  • A high-risk offensive attack

  • A poor running game that forces the QB pass to pass too often

  • November/December conditions for cold weather teams

A veteran quarterback leading a conservative offense in a dome is more likely to avoid turnovers than an inexperienced quarterback trying to throw a lot of passes in Chicago in December. Turnover characteristics aren't random. Smart handicappers need to PROPERLY account for the true possibilities if they want to maximize their won potential.

With that in mind, let's look over the worst turnover differentials from the 2011 NFL season and see which teams are REALLY most likely to have turnarounds:

TAMPA BAY (-16)
The Bucs changed head coaches in the off-season, bringing in Greg Schiano from Rutgers. There's a good chance Schiano will be in way over his head. We think turnovers will again be a problem for Tampa Bay given what could be an awkward transition.

PHILADELPHIA (-14)
This is a team that runs an aggressive high risk offense with a turnover prone quarterback. The level of experience on the roster would suggest improvement. But, be careful penciling in these guys for a championship run. Even with all their talent, they will be more turnover prone than the other top NFC contenders. Better, yes. Can they turn this negative all the way to a positive? Only when Michael Vick stops forcing things.

WASHINGTON (-14)
The team will probably be starting a rookie quarterback. That's never a recipe for IMPROVING your turnover situation. That's more likely two years from now rather than this year as long as RGIII is a quick learner.

PITTSBURGH (-13)
This was one of the surprise stories last year because Pittsburgh's defense stopped forcing turnovers. We would expect improvement on that side of the ball in this stat, which will automatically lead to a better differential. The Steelers would definitely be on our list for a legitimate turnover turnaround. The drop in 2011 was strongly influenced by bad luck as best we can tell.

ARIZONA (-13)
Would YOU trust the Arizona quarterbacks to avoid turnovers? Improvement, maybe. But, meaningful improvement? Wait to see it before you decide this could be a turnaround.

INDIANAPOLIS (-12)
Another rookie quarterback takes over on a team that struggled with turnovers. Don't ask rookies to win money for you in Vegas. And, don't ask rookies to avoid turnovers. It will be very hard for the Colts to put points on the board without putting their "star of the future" at risk. Only extreme conservatism would keep turnovers out of the boxscore...and that approach would probably keep points off the board.

DENVER (-12)
Bringing in Peyton Manning should work wonders here. He's very smart about throwing the ball away from danger, whether it's to avoid sacks or turnovers. The Broncos are extremely likely to take a big step forward in this stat...a legitimate turnover turnaround. We'd have to say that Denver and Pittsburgh are the best options in this sampling to have a true bounce back in turnover differential.

Something for you to think about as you ponder the start of the NFL Preseason one week from now.

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