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Jim Feist’s Week 6 NFL Betting Tips

Turnovers Can Turn the Tide

Jim Feist

Jim Feist

A recent Monday night football game saw Brett Favre battle his old team, Green Bay. Favre was the story, with a terrific performance, but young QB Aaron Rodgers put up some sizzling numbers, with 384 yards and 2 TDs. Impressive.

Did they win? Or cover? No, as Minnesota won 30-23.

The most obvious explanation and it’s obvious: 2 turnovers. Turnovers are one of the most basic fundamentals of winning football, both straight up and against the number when analyzing football picks.

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Defensive coaches have been preaching more aggressive, attacking stop units over the last 15 years. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has spent three decades coaching college and pro football, at Duke, Florida, South Carolina and the Washington Redskins. When asked about what the biggest change he had noticed in the college game, Spurrier spoke not about the wide-open passing attack that he helped popularize, but about defenses. He said that when he first took over at Duke in the 1980s, defenses were basic and reacted to what the offense would try and do. (Follow Jim on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JimFeistSports).

However, since that time, defenses have become far more aggressive, trying to attack the offense rather than sit back and react. The Chicago Bears famed 46 defense caused havoc around the league during a 1985 Super Bowl season. The Bears that year were 18-1 straight up and 15-3-1 against the spread, led by a devastating, attacking defense. They pitched four shutouts and held 14 of 19 opponents to 10 points or less.

Defensive coaches in both the pro and college ranks have been teaching players to not only tackle properly, but to aggressively strip the ball from opposing players. Tony Dungy, Bill Belichick, Rex Ryan and Lovie Smith have used their teaching talents to upgrade defenses. A key component of aggressive defenses is to force more turnovers. They are a huge part of any contest. Take a look at the bottom teams in turnover margin in the NFL last season:

2008 Worst TO Margin — ATS record

Broncos (-17) — 4-11-1 ATS
49ers (-17) —–7-8-1 ATS
Cowboys (-11) — 7-9 ATS
Texans (-10) — 9-7 ATS
Lions (-9) — 7-9 ATS
Bills (-8) —- 7-9 ATS

Some of the teams on that list probably surprise you. Denver? A team that had a high flying offense and should have won the AFC West? Well they didn’t, going 0-4 SU, 1-3 ATS in the final four games, blowing the division title. Dallas? The Cowboys had a chance to make the playoffs on the final day, but failed to show up in an embarrassing 44-6 loss at Philadelphia. Now you know an even deeper reason those teams were in such a precarious late season situation — turnovers.

So none of the teams on the high turnover list made the postseason. Those teams were also a combined 41-53-2 against the spread, a factor to keep in mind when assessing weekly football picks. A quarterback who throws too many picks can kill the momentum of his offense, and his confidence can get worn down. It can even spill over onto the sidelines.

A few year’s ago in a playoff game, QB Marc Bulger threw 3 interceptions against the Panthers and while the Rams had a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter, coach Mike Martz decided to play it safe and settled for a game-tying field goal. He was widely criticized for this after the Rams lost in overtime and it’s clear in the back of his mind he was thinking, “I don’t want Bulger to throw another interception. I’d better play it safe.”

Last season, the top five teams with the best turnover differential — Miami, Tennessee, Baltimore, the Giants and Indianapolis — all made the playoffs with at least 11 wins and combined for a 59-21 record. The Dolphins and Giants each had 13 turnovers last year, tied for the fewest ever in a 16-game season.

2008 Top TO Margin – ATS record

Dolphins (+17) —- 8-9 ATS
Titans (+14) ——12-5 ATS
Ravens (+13) —– 14-5 ATS
Giants (+9) ——12-5 ATS
Colt (+9) ——7-9-1 ATS

It’s not hard to notice how essential turnovers are. All the top teams in turnover margin made the playoffs in 2008, and two were the top seeds in their conference. They were a combined 53-33-1 ATS. The Titans had a 13-3 regular season, but notice this year they are minus in turnovers, a huge factor in their disappointing start.

Going back a step further, the cumulative spread record of the 2005 NFL top turnover teams: 70-47-5 against the number, and that doesn’t even include the champion Steelers, who had a 13-7 spread record. The Steelers were not far off the list, either, ranking 10th in TO margin at +7. Teams good at forcing turnovers not only win on the field but there is an ATS correlation.

Be careful backing teams that are sloppy at taking care of the football when analyzing football picks.

Chances are they don’t win or cover the number as regularly as those that play smart, mistake-free ball.

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