Do Turnovers Really Matter?

There are plenty of cliches tossed around about what separates champions from also-rans: dominant defense, power running-game, excellent quarterback play, and the ability to force lots of turnovers.

I think we can all agree a good defense and a quarterback who takes care of the ball are vital to winning games on a consistent basis. I’ve always heard turnover ratio is equally, if not more important. Is this really true? I think I know the answer, but let’s check the stats to be certain.

I care about Super Bowl participants, so let’s examine the AFC and NFC representatives since 2000. Here are the regular season +/- ratios courtesy of

2008 PITT  +4 ARZ   0
2007 NE   +16 NYG  -9
2006 IND  +7 CHI   +8
2005 PITT +7 SEA  +10
2004 NE   +9 PHI   +6
2003 NE   +17 CAR  -5
2002 OAK +12 TB   +17
2001 NE   +7 STL  -10
2000 BAL +23 NYG +8

Three teams with a regular season negative turnover ratio reached the Big Game. Only the ’07 Giants won. The Cardinals broke even, but still lost. Strangely, every AFC team had a positive ratio. The ’00 Ravens, ’02 Bucs and ’03 Patriots were turnover machines. Not surprisingly each won the Super Bowl.

Regular season numbers are great, but they don’t tell the whole story. Here are the post-season ratios since 2000:

2008 PITT  +6 ARZ   +8
2007 NE    +1 NYG   +5
2006 IND  +4 CHI   +1
2005 PITT +3 SEA   +3
2004 NE   +10 PHI   -1
2003 NE   +3 CAR  +8
2002 OAK  0 TB    +9
2001 NE   +6 STL  +6
2000 BAL +10 NYG  -2

The only two teams with a negative ratio both lost. Sadly, one was the Eagles in ’04. Note how the ’07 Giants vastly improved in the playoffs. The ’03 Panthers and ’01 Rams also flipped the script in the post-season, which is probably why they reached the Super Bowl.

One final graph before I wrap this comparison up. Here are the Eagles regular and post-season numbers during their seven playoff seasons during the Reid/McNabbb era:

Year Regular Post
2008 +3 -1
2006 +5 +2
2004 +6 -1
2003 +4 -4
2002 +14 0
2001 +9 +4
2000 +2 0

All seven seasons resulted in a positive regular season ratio (In ’05 and ’07 they finished -8 and -7 respectively). However, only two playoff campaigns in the black may explain why this team hasn’t hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

Those ’01 and ’02 defenses were championship caliber, at least during the regular season. A few more turnovers forced against the Bucs in ’02 and things may have been different. Oh, well.

Clearly, turnovers do matter, especially in the playoffs. Take care of the ball on offense and take the ball away on defense and the chances of winning are significantly improved.

Here’s hoping the 2009 Eagles finish with a very positive turnover ratio.

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