We have simulated the 2017 NFL season 10,000 times to determine the division winners, playoff participants and the most likely Super Bowl champion. How do our projections compare to three stats (Pythagorean wins, record in close games and turnover differential) that can be useful in predicting which teams will improve and decline this fall?

We have covered Pythagorean Wins and record in close games, now turnover differential.

Like a team’s record in one score games, turnover differential is inconsistent from season to season. This is especially true of the teams on the extreme ends.

Here were the teams with the largest turnover margins in 2015.

ImproveTurnover DifferentialDeclineTurnover Differential
Dallas-22Carolina+20
Baltimore-14Kansas City+14
Tennessee-14Cincinnati+11
Jacksonville-10Arizona+9
Cleveland-9New England+7

As expected, most of these teams regressed. The Cowboys, Ravens, and Titans combined for a -50 turnover differential in 2015, a year later they were +10. Carolina had the greatest turnover margin and then came back to the pack in 2016 finishing with more give-aways than take-aways.

What teams can we expect to improve and decline based on turnover differential?

TeamTurnover Differential
Kansas City Chiefs16
Oakland Raiders16
New England Patriots12
Atlanta Falcons11
Minnesota Vikings11
Green Bay Packers8
Buffalo Bills6
Philadelphia Eagles6
Baltimore Ravens5
Dallas Cowboys5
Pittsburgh Steelers5
Cincinnati Bengals3
Denver Broncos2
Miami Dolphins2
Tampa Bay Buccaneers2
Seattle Seahawks1
Arizona Cardinals0
Tennessee Titans0
Washington Redskins0
Detroit Lions-1
Carolina Panthers-2
New York Giants-2
New Orleans Saints-3
Indianapolis Colts-5
San Francisco 49ers-5
Houston Texans-7
Los Angeles Chargers-7
Los Angeles Rams-11
Cleveland Browns-12
Jacksonville Jaguars-16
Chicago Bears-20
New York Jets-20

We have discussed the likelihood of Chicago, Jacksonville and the L.A. Chargers improving in previous articles and they are once again candidates for positive regression based on turnover differential in 2017. It could all come down to the bounce of the ball. Last year, the Jags recovered 39.0% of loose balls, that was the worst rate in the NFL. The Bears were 27th and the Chargers 22nd in fumble recovery rate. Just being league average at falling on fumbles would be huge for these franchises.

Oakland was tied third for interceptions and second for fumbles forced. The Raiders are likely to take a step back based on Pythagorean wins and record in close games, as well as turnover differential.

Kansas City and New England could regress in the turnover department but they have been at the top of the league in give/take differential the last few years. The key to their success is having quarterbacks that protect the ball.

Pythagorean Wins, record in close games and turnover differential can’t predict what will happen but they do give us an idea of what to expect from teams going forward and our simulations tend to agree with these stats.


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