Giving away the Superbowl: How the turnover battle can win or lose a championship

Though the adage goes “wins and losses are the only numbers that count,” turnover margin appears to be a huge factor in determining championships. So far in 2012, the Eagles have the league’s ugliest 3-3 record, with a point differential of -22 and an embarrassing turnover differential of -9.

Pictured: Your Super Bowl aspirations, moments before getting scooped up and returned for a touchdown.

Although one blowout accounts for the majority of the Eagles’ negative point differential, the turnovers are a systemic issue. The Birds now have a negative turnover differential in 5 of 6 games this season. And while some luck might net you a win – or three, in this case – when you cough it up this often, the odds of a team achieving even the 2012 Eagles’ mediocre results are slim.

But poor ball-handling can be overcome in the regular season. Plenty of teams still make the playoffs with a negative turnover differential. In fact, more than a quarter of playoff teams in the Super Bowl era finished the regular season with a turnover differential of 0 or less, including 40 of 144 playoff qualifiers since the year 2000 (28%). So even though winning the turnover battle correlates strongly with gaining a playoff berth, it is clearly not essential.

But once you get to the big dance, it’s a different story. Turnovers, cumulatively, can make or break a team in the playoffs. Here are some stats to think about:

  • Of the 46 Super Bowl winners, 40 had a positive turnover differential during the playoffs.
  • 34 of 46 Super Bowl winners had a positive turnover differential in the Super Bowl.
  • Teams that force more turnovers than they give up in the Super Bowl have won 89.5% of the time, with a cumulative record of 34-4.

It’s only week 5 and the Eagles season certainly isn’t done, but even with a 3-2 record, recent history is not on Philadelphia’s side. Since the year 2000, only the 2007 Giants finished the regular season with a negative turnover differential (-9) and went on to win the Super Bowl. The 2nd worst turnover margin for a champion over that span? The 2008 Steelers, who finished +4.

During Reid’s career, the Eagles have been all over the place with turnovers, finishing as high as 2nd best in 2009 and 3rd worst last season. If you don’t include 2012, Reid’s teams have had a negative regular season differential 3 times in 13 seasons. In the 10 seasons that the team had more takeaways than turnovers, the team went 104-55-1 with 9 playoff berths. In the 3 seasons where the team finished negative? 22-26 with no playoff appearances.

None of this is to say that the Eagles can’t win with a negative turnover differential in 2012. It’s just very, very, extremely, terribly unlikely. Turning around the turnover problem will give the Eagles the best chance of earning that ever-elusive ring.

Posted on October 10, 2012, in Eagles, Hank Mushinski, Posts, Sports Philosophy, Stats Posts and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. With LeSean in the backfield, I’m always confused with the play calling and abandoning the run game.

    • It’s been that way for years.

      Reid honestly believes that throwing the ball 66%+ of the time is the best way to produce offense.

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