NFL Turnovers = Turnaround

Turnovers can have a big impact on games and on a team’s season. They can also lead to many misleading final scores. 

Every year in my College Football Preview, I write an article entitled “Turnovers = Turnaround,” and it describes how teams that have good fortune one year (plus double-digit turnovers) usually have a weaker record the next season. It also shows how teams that suffer misfortune (-10 or more TO’s) usually have a much better record the next year. In the article, I go over many examples of how turnovers can have an impact on the college game. 

Turnovers have the same impact on the pro game. The NFL record for TO’s in a playoff game is 9 and that occurred in Super Bowl XXVII. Buffalo out FD’d Dallas, but of course was dominated on the scoreboard 52-17. 

One of the best examples happened to the Steelers in 2002. The Steelers dominated the Texans with an amazing 24-3 FD and 422-47 yardage edge. As you would expect, the game was a rout with a final score of 24-6. Surprisingly, the team with just 47 yards (Houston) won! The difference was special teams and Pittsburgh’s -4 TO margin. 

In 2014, Houston had massive 420-216 yd and 27-15 FD edges over St Louis. Like the Pittsburgh/Houston example above, the stats say the game should have been a rout and it was, 38-13. Shockingly, though, it was the Rams who came away with the win as they had a +4 TO margin incl 2 defensive return TD’s.

In 2015, Tennessee had 385-274 yd & 21-13 FD edges over Cleveland. The Browns, however were +3 in TO’s & won 28-14.

In 2017, Carolina had 293-153 yd & 20-5 FD edges over Chicago. The Bears, however were +3 in TO’s & won 17-3 thanks to a 75 yd FR & 76 yd IR TD’s.  

Turnovers can not only make a difference in a game, but can make the difference between a winning and losing season and here are some NFL teams that were plus double-digit turnovers one year and saw their records plummet the next season: 

No one can doubt that good fortune smiled on the Chicago Bears in 2001. They were below-average statistically (#27 off, #15 def) yet led the NFL in fewest points allowed. Chicago also benefitted from two late interception returns for TD’s to win games that appeared lost. Overall they were +13 in the turnover column and they finished the reg season 13-3. The next year they were -7 in TO’s and “Da Bears” finished just 4-12. 

More recently, in the 2011 season three teams had +12 or more TO’s and made my list in the 2011 magazine in San Francisco (+28 TO’s), Green Bay (+24) and New England (+17). While all 3 made the playoffs each saw their record drop with the Packers going from 15-1 to 11-5.

In 2013, 7 teams made the list and of the 7, five saw their record get weaker, one stayed the same and only one improved their record (Seattle). 

In 2014, 5 teams made the list. Three had worse records, including San Francisco (from 12-4 to 8-8) while two stayed the same (Philadelphia and Indianapolis).

In 2015, there were just 3 teams on the list but  one was the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots. Two (New England & Houston) had the same records, while Green Bay was worse (12-4 to 10-6).

In 2016, just two teams fit the criteria in Carolina (15-1 to 6-10) & Kansas City improved from (11-5 to 12-4).

In 2017, three teams made the list, Kansas City (12-4 to 10-6), Oakland (12-4 to 6-10) and New England (14-2 to 13-3) all three teams had weaker records the next season.

In 2018, three more teams fit the criteria. Baltimore (9-7), Kansas City (10-6) and LA Chargers (9-7). All 3 actually improved with the Chargers having the biggest turnaround going to 12-4.

In 2019, three teams made the 12+ list in Chicago (12-4), Houston (11-5) & Seattle (10-6). The Bears and Texans had a weaker record while the Seahawks slightly improved.

In 2020, four teams made our list with Seattle, New Orleans and Green Bay all having the same record and New England (+21) falling from 12-4 to 7-9.

Surprisingly no NFL teams had +12 TO’s heading into 2021.

This year four teams make the list in Dallas (+14), Green Bay (+13), Indianapolis (+13), Arizona (+12). All could have weaker records for 2022.

Teams that benefitted from double digit turnovers rarely get a repeat of that good fortune. I have proven this in the college game. Here are the results since 1991.

I figured that the NFL would not show as much of a turnaround, but was actually surprised to see the NFL has had MORE turnarounds. First of all, the NFL season is 17 games long as opposed to 12-14 for college. With the extra NFL games, I raised the criteria from double-digit TO’s to plus or minus 12 turnovers, or .75 per game. Here are the results from the last 27 years.

Let’s take a look at some teams who had terrible luck (lots of turnovers) in one year then drastically improved the next year without those turnovers. 

The 1996 NY Jets were a league low -20 in TO’s and not so amazingly, they were just 1-15. The 1997 season brought in the disciplinarian coaching style of Bill Parcells and the team’s TO margin improved greatly going from -20 to +3. Did this have an impact on their win total? The 1997 Jets not only improved by EIGHT games in the win column, but finished with a winning record at 9-7!! Now that’s a Turnovers=Turnaround story. 

More recently in 2015, just three teams made the list: Oakland (3-13), Washington (4-12) and New Orleans (7-9), none of which were on either list prior to last year.  The Raiders & Redskins improved, while the Saints stayed the same.

In 2016, three teams made the list Tennesse, Baltimore and Dallas all improving their records the next season.

In 2017, five teams were on the list: Cleveland (0-16), Denver (5-11), Oakland (6-10), Miami (6-10) and Houston (4-12). Four of the five teams saw improvement with Oakland dropping to 4-12. 

In 2018, four teams made the list with each improving. The 49ers went from 4-12 (-25 TO’s) to earning a Super Bowl berth! 

In 2019, five squads were listed in this category with four improving their mark and Carolina (-14) repeating their 5-11 mark for a 2nd consecutive year.

In 2020, a pair of teams made the list in Denver and Las Vegas. Both teams saw a mild improvement in their record with the Raiders actually earning a playoff berth.

This year four teams make the list in Jacksonville (-20), NY Jets (-13), Chicago (-13) and Carolina (-13). All could have improved records in 2022.

As I previously stated, if a team received bad breaks the year before, they will usually be heading for better fortune the following year. Here are the relevant numbers for college football dating back to 1990.

Once again the NFL game yielded very close percentages to college. I again made the adjustment to -12 or more TO’s and here are the results from the last 27 years.

While I’ve given you numerous examples of teams that have improved and were much weaker because of turnovers, the Ravens have been the poster child for this article. From 2004-’08 they rotated seasons with a positive and negative double-digit TO margin.

Keep checking for weekly articles as I’ll be including many more interesting notes that I hope will make your football season more enjoyable.

Here is the full List of 2021 Turnover Edge.

If you love these type of NFL Info make sure you check out the 2022 NFL Workbook.

The 2022 NFL Workbook is available now for Purchase on the Store. Just $28.

Three full pages of information on each of the 32 NFL Teams. Full schedules and results for every NFL team dating all the back to 2000. Detailed records of coaches and team stat leaders back to 2001. The last 10 years ATS and Over/Under records. Statistical breakdowns and ranking for each 32 NFL Teams.

Here are sample pages from the workbook on the LA Rams.


Get Phil’s Extended data and Plus your odds. Click on Learn more to see exactly how Phil uses Phil Steele Plus. FCS only access also available.