Turnovers in NFL Making for Some Ugly Games
by Robert Ferringo - 12/04/2006
(This is an excerpt of an article that appears in the current addition of Every Edge Magazine)
I'm a die-hard Chicago Bears fan. I have been since I was seven. So it wasn't surprising to my wife that I started drinking hard liquor at 9 a.m. last Sunday in anticipation of Chicago clinching the NFC North crown. It wasn't the least bit surprising; it was pretty much expected.
The Bears were facing Minnesota, and the Vikings never play well in Soldiers Field. Ever. That's what happens when soft dome teams wander out into 12-degree temperatures and try to trade blows. I was ready for Sunday to finish like so many other Minnesota forays into the Windy City - the Vikings would limp out with several limbs and their pride completely severed.
This was to be Chicago's first official step toward a bloody and brilliant winter march through the NFC, which is in about as good of shape as downtown Sadr City these days. First the division, then home field advantage. From there a trip to Miami for Super Bowl 40+1 would be academic. They were on the cusp of greatness. Fortune, fame, redemption and immortality would be imminent…
So when Rashied Davis fumbled the opening kickoff and the Vikings recovered at the Chicago 31-yard line you would have thought I'd be a little dismayed. Nope. It wasn't the least bit surprising; it was pretty much expected.
How about when Rex Grossman threw three cringe-worthy interceptions in a span of five pass attempts? Did I once raise my voice or my glass in anger? Nope. It wasn't the least bit surprising; it was pretty much expected.
The Bears finished the day with five turnovers. But they won easily enough and covered the 9.5-point spread thanks to a punt and an interception returned for touchdowns, a safety, and one offensive score set up by another interception. When the frost was done gnawing the crowd had witnessed 10 combined turnovers in a truly dizzying display of disrespect for possession. It was dumbfounding and somewhere Mike Martz was giggling.
It wasn't the least bit surprising; it was pretty much expected.
I'm now numb to The State of Things in the National Football League. Chicago is arguably the league's best team and easily the dominant force in the NFC. Yet its players have less respect for the ball than Britney Spears does for her image or her child's soul. It doesn't make sense.
Ten turnovers boggle the mind, but how about seven from Houston and Oakland in their match? I know, I know: that's almost a prerequisite for a game involving Aaron Brooks. Then what about eight turnovers out of Seattle and Denver, a 2005 semifinalists and a 2005 runner-up who each currently posses playoff aspirations? Shouldn't that be unsettling? Or what about the nine giveaways that Chicago and New England teamed up for one week earlier? That's two of the best five teams in the NFL looking like a bunch of handicapped high school girls playing with Canadian rules.
In terms of taking care of the football - something underlined in Chapter 1 of How To Win At Football - we're watching one of the sloppiest seasons in recent NFL history. Through 191 total games thus far this year there have been a total of 682 turnovers committed. That's an average of 3.57 turnovers per game and would mark the highest total this century.
Take a look at the last four season's giveaway numbers:
Even more bothersome is that this Error Epidemic is actually growing as the season wears on. In Week 13 there were 70 turnovers in 15 games (not counting Monday night). That's an average of 4.7 per game and that's downright ridiculous. In the 47 games completed between Week 11 and Week 13 there was a total of 190 giveaways, or roughly four per game.
There are several reasons that could be pointed to for why this has been such an issue. Maybe there's too much dangerous passing and too many quarterbacks who should be leading scout teams or holding clipboards. Maybe there's an inordinate amount of injuries to key offensive starters. Or perhaps defenses have morphed into attacking units preying on weak ball skills.
Regardless, the increase in turnovers may be one of the contributing factors on why the 'under' has been such a tremendous value over the past month. Teams are just 26-42-9 (38 percent) against the closing total over the past five weeks. For the season, the 'over' is cashing at a modest 45.8 percent.
The rash of turnovers may be having an impact on totals, both long- and short-term. But amazingly, the Error Epidemic hasn't had a negative influence on scoring. A perfect illustration of this is that the three games from Week 13 that I already referenced - Minnesota/Chicago, Houston/Oakland, and Seattle/Denver - witnessed an average of 38.6 combined points and all three games went 'over'.
In 2006 scoring per game is actually higher than last year with 8,011 points tallied in 191 games. That's an average of 41.9 points per contest. That means that for every drive that sputters with a red-zone INT there must be another that that is sparked by a fumble recovery near your opponent's goal line.
Look how scoring, in spite of shoddy ball handling, stacks up with the past four seasons:
I think we've made a connection between turnovers and a recent totals trend. But we failed to correlate giveaways with overall scoring and season-long totals. Too bad. I guess all this means is that The Game is now ugly. It's unpredictable. It's unbelievable. But it's also undeniable: betting on the NFL will take years off your life. That's one play that these teams are executing with frightening efficiency.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out his Insider Page here.