The Most Important Key to Victory

Forcing turnovers can define success.

We’ve all heard the old adage that offense sells tickets but defense wins championships. What if it’s neither? Sure offense and defense and special teams are all important but there’s something that affects all three aspects: turnovers.

An NFL team cannot expect to win on a consistent basis when they turn the ball over more than their opponent. Since 2008, teams that win the turnover battle are 340-96-1. That’s a winning percentage of 78%.

So which teams have been consistently winning the turnover margin? Not surprisingly it’s the same ones who finish the year near the top of the standings. Hit the jump for all the turnover goodness.

In the past two seasons (including playoff games), there have been 97 games played in which the turnover margin was zero. This means there have either been no turnovers by either team or the same number of turnovers were committed by both teams.

The Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers have played the most games with an even turnover margin – nine apiece. The Atlanta Falcons aren’t far behind with seven such games. The full chart follows:

Noteworthy: The Indianapolis Colts are 7-0 in even turnover margin games. The Arizona Cardinals, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints are also undefeated in these games. On the flipside, the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs are a combined 0-11 when they are even in the turnover department.

We know how teams have done with all things being equal, but how have they fared in games they have lost the turnover battle? Let’s break out the chart.

Noteworthy: The Lions have played more games (59%) in which they have lost the turnover battle than any other team in the NFL. No surprise they are 1-18 in those games. The Green Bay Packers have been practicing ball security as they’ve only lost the turnover battle eight times in two seasons. They are also 0-8 in those games. Sensing a pattern?

The Falcons have managed to win five games despite losing the turnover battle but they are still 5-10 overall. Only one NFL team has a winning record while committing more turnovers than their opponent: the San Diego Chargers.

And now we arrive at the reason this piece was written. Which teams have been equally adept at forcing turnovers while still protecting the ball themselves? The chart awaits.

Which teams have been the popular picks in 2010? It’s virtually the top of this list. The Saints have played more games (21) in the positive turnover margin with the Packers a close second (20). The Falcons are 10-1 in the games they’ve won the turnover battle but they are still in the bottom of the league with only 11 such games.

Noteworthy: The Chiefs have played the 6th most games in this category but have still lost 11 of 16 games. For the San Francisco 49ers, the formula is simple. They are the only NFL team to be undefeated since 2008 when they force more turnovers than they commit.

Final Analysis

While it’s true that really good teams can overcome turnovers (Chargers) and really bad ones can still lose games while winning the turnover game (Chiefs), turnovers are a huge indicator of success in the NFL. The Saints led the NFL last season with 13 plus-turnover games.

For the Falcons to become great they need to have more games on the positive side of this coin. They’ve won 91% of their games when they are on the plus side and 71% when they even. In fact, only three teams have more wins while losing the turnover battle than the Falcons have. To become champions, the formula is simple. It’s the same for every team. Force turnovers and protect the ball.

Topics: Atlanta Falcons, Key To Winning Games, NFL Turnovers

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