What separates a good NFL team from a bad one? Sure, the answer could be the starting quarterback or the head coach, but it's usually which team wins the turnover battle. Obviously, the New England Patriots were a dynasty in large part because of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, but they almost always were among the Top 10 teams in the league in turnover margin. Last season, teams that had a positive turnover edge in a game were 151-46-1 straight up (76.6 percent) and 151-41-6 against the spread (78.6 percent).
In 2018, the Los Angeles Chargers tied for the most regular-season wins in the AFC. They were considered legitimate Super Bowl contenders in 2019. However, the Bolts slipped to 5-11 and last in the AFC West and tied for the worst turnover differential in the NFL at minus-17. Not coincidentally, they also had the second-worst cover percentage against the spread at 30.8 (4-9-3 ATS).
The 2018 Chicago Bears rode their turnover-forcing defense to the NFC North title, and they were third in the NFL with a turnover margin of plus-12. Last year, the Bears dropped to 8-8 and had a turnover margin of zero.
What do the Patriots (plus-21), Saints (plus-15), Packers (plus-12), Seahawks (plus-12), Vikings (plus-11), Ravens (plus-10) and Chiefs (plus-8) all have in common? They were the league leaders in turnover margin and all made the postseason.
Of course, the Chiefs won the Super Bowl. They were even in turnover margin against Houston in the Divisional Round, Tennessee in the AFC title game and vs. San Francisco in the Super Bowl. Baltimore had the NFL's best record but was stunned at home by the Titans in the Divisional Round largely because Tennessee was plus-3 in turnover margin.
The only teams in 2019 that finished with a losing record but a positive turnover margin were Indianapolis (plus-2), Denver (plus-1) and Washington (plus-1). The Colts and Broncos finished 7-9. Hard to explain the Redskins as they were 3-13.
Over the past five regular seasons, teams that have won the turnover battle have won their games 76.8 percent of the time and covered the spread 76 percent.
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