In 2015, the Carolina Panthers went 15-1 during the regular season, thanks in large part to an NFL best +20 turnover margin. Kansas City, Cincinnati, Arizona, and New England, ranked second through fifth in the league in turnovers; all qualified for the playoffs too. Flip the calendar forward to this season, the Panthers have a negative turnover margin and are 1-4. Meanwhile, the only undefeated team in the NFL, the Vikings, lead the league in turnover margin.
In reality, it’s fairly random which teams happens to fall on fumbles and snatch interceptions. While it is nice to think Minnesota will continue to force turnovers, these things tend to even themselves out, even within a season
Let’s look at some teams that are over and undervalued based on turnover margin.
While it is certainly possible that Sam Bradford never got a fair shake in St. Louis or Philadelphia, it feels fairly unlikely that a guy who began the season with 78 career touchdown passes and 52 interceptions is going to maintain a 6-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio. Bradford’s passer rating this year is 109.8, second in the league. Last year, it was 86.4, 26th overall. The Vikings have forced 12 turnovers and given the ball away once. Not only has Minnesota forced turnovers, they have scored two touchdowns on special teams this season, more than any other team. It is unlikely they that can continue to win using turnovers and kick return touchdowns, things that tend to even themselves out.
Sure, the topic of conversation with the Bills always seems to be coach Rex Ryan. However, they started this year 0-2 and were +1 in turnover margin during losses against the Ravens and Jets. Over the last three weeks, Buffalo has beaten the Cardinals, Patriots, and Rams, posting a +8 mark in turnovers in the process. Interestingly, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is having a slightly better 2016 than 2015. However, last season the Bills had 19 giveaways and this season they have only two. While that looks good in October, the chances of it staying that way throughout the year are not great.
New York Jets
Remember how smart first year coach Todd Bowles seemed last year when he turned a 4-12 squad into a Wild Card hopeful? The Jets faced Buffalo in Week 17 last season with an opportunity to earn a playoff spot. However, New York committed three turnovers, lost the turnover battle by two, and lost the game 22-17. It was uncharacteristic for the Jets to give the ball away in their final game. For the year, New York was +6 in turnovers, among the top quarter of the league. This year, the Jets are last in the NFL with at -10. It should surprise nobody that they’re currently sitting on a 1-4 record. On the bright side, the ball should start bouncing more evenly, and New York should benefit from that. They may be a value play for the next several weeks.
New York Giants
Tom Coughlin’s 12-year tenure as Giants head coach will be remembered for two Super Bowl titles. That said, he went 19-29 over his final three years as Eli Manning became turnover-happy (55 interceptions over three seasons). Manning has four INT’s through five games in 2016, and New York has ten giveaways and only three takeaways, a big reason why they are at the bottom of the NFC East. The rest of the division is +8 in turnover margin, combined. Those numbers are not likely to last, and the Giants are a team to bet on, particularly against divisional foes going forward.
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.