Handicapping Football Turnovers

Written for Predictem Courtesy of the betting pros at (Twitter) @misterquinnbets.

How many times have you watched a football game and a turnover has decided your fate, win or lose, as a bettor? Handicapping turnovers isn’t an exact science, but by understanding and examining turnover ratios prior to placing your wager, you’ll be able to more accurately factor the turnover element into your analysis and increase your chance of being a successful football bettor.

The first thing to consider when attempting to handicap turnovers is to acknowledge that a majority of turnovers are a result of the quarterback throwing an interception or a running back fumbling the ball. Makes sense since they are the ones physically holding the ball more often than not. With that in mind, it is key to review the long term history of the QBs and the top 3 running backs on a team. However, when examining those statistics, don’t just look at raw numbers. Investigate game-by-game breakdowns. Does this QB have a history of throwing more interceptions early in the season or late in the year? How does this QB perform against strong versus weak defenses? Does home versus road correlate to how often an interception is thrown? Do weather conditions affect this QB’s turnovers? Has this QB progressed or regressed during their career? Does this QB get sacked a lot? Getting sacked a lot implies a weak offensive line and/or a QB that holds the ball too long and/or receivers that aren’t able to create space. In all those cases, you’re looking at a QB that is probably under pressure, running out of the pocket, forcing throws and is indecisive; all of which are bad signs and probably show in the numbers. Similar questions should be raised when performing the same investigation on the running backs. Remember, players are human. They have certain habits and tendencies that are hard to break and that is why establishing a long-term analysis of their propensity for making turnovers is a critical element in your turnover examination.

Winning the turnover battle usually results in a cover. That is a simple, yet, truthful statement. Below we’ll engage in a simple investigation to analyze the correlation between turnover ratio and ATS record. First, let’s look at the raw numbers from the 2011 NFL regular season for the top and bottom 3 turnover ratio teams in each conference.

Team TO Ratio ATS Record
49ers +28 12-3-1
Packers +24 11-5
Lions +11 7-7-2
Eagles -14 8-8
Redskins -14 7-9
Buccaneers -16 4-12
Team TO Ratio ATS Record
Patriots +17 9-7
Texans +7 9-5-2
Jaguars +5 7-8-1
Broncos -12 7-9
Colts -12 6-10
Steelers -13 7-9

As you can see, just blind betting the teams with the best or worst TO ratio would have resulted in profitable wagering. Needless to say, it isn’t that simple; however it does give you a good starting point to build from. Let’s start in the NFC with the two teams that led the whole league in TO ratio, the 49ers (+28) and the Packers (+24). It should come as no surprise that with TO ratios like that, the Niners finished 13-3 overall and a league best 12-3-1 ATS and the Packers went 15-1 with an ATS record of 11-5, third best. On the flip side of the TO ratio statistic in the NFC is the Philadelphia Eagles. You can’t be a “Dream Team” and have a -14 TO ratio and expect to win games. Obviously, there are a lot of other factors at play, but this is one of the most telling and easiest to correlate. In the AFC, the Steelers and Jaguars are statistical anomalies when it comes to TO ratio. The Steelers finished 12-4 overall even with a conference worst TO ratio. Jags went 5-11 and had a losing ATS record. Strange occurrence and proves that TO ratio alone won’t get you to the window.

Early in the season you’ll have to rely more on the long-term game-by-game investigation of the QBs and running backs. As the year progresses, you’ll have more data to examine and reasonable to assume trends and tendencies will begin to show. Thus, your ability to handicap turnovers should get stronger as the year wears on. Sometimes turnovers are just random occurrences where you could say you were “unlucky”. However, by applying a critical eye to turnover statistics you can help mitigate your risk and your “luck”. Turning the ball over more often than not will result in losses. Throughout the football season, keep an eye on teams that protect the football and manage the game well. Those will be teams that could be ATS cash cows and have you running to the window with winners.

Good luck and keep cashing!