NFL Nation: turnover differential

Where NFC West teams rank in turnovers

October, 6, 2011
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have forced fewer turnovers than the Seattle Seahawks this season.

Pittsburgh has one. Seattle has two.

"We're trying to do everything we can, but when you don't affect the quarterback and you're not getting to him -- we didn’t get any sacks last week -- that’s where most of it starts," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday.

The Steelers are a league-worst minus-10 in turnover differential. They committed 11 total turnovers against Baltimore, Indianapolis and Houston, but none in their game against Seattle. The Seahawks have recovered none of their opponents' four fumbles. Studies have shown fumble recovery rates to be random, meaning Seattle should gain in this area over the course of the season. The Seahawks recovered 10 of their opponents' 22 fumbles last season.

Meanwhile, the San Francisco 49ers sit atop the turnover-differential standings, tied with Baltimore at plus-eight.

The Ravens collected seven turnovers against Pittsburgh in Week 1. The 49ers have forced turnovers at a more consistent pace, collecting three apiece against Seattle, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, and two against Dallas. They rank tied with Detroit and Minnesota for the fewest giveaways with three.

The chart shows where NFC West teams stand in turnover differential. The 49ers, Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams are the only teams with fewer than two interceptions. Each has one.

Regular blog contributors beaudini0607 and fundadfor2 requested turnover-differential stats after seeing where NFC West teams rank in various NFL categories.

I've gone through data from ESPN Stats & Information to produce a chart showing turnover differential by interceptions, fumbles and overall. For example, the New York Jets have three more interceptions and seven more opponents' fumble recoveries than they have allowed, producing a league-leading plus-10 overall differential.

The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals rank among the worst teams in differential.

Teams with hard-hitting, opportunistic defenses and ball-control offenses can use turnover differential to keep games close.

Luck also plays a role in turnovers, and sometimes that luck can run out.

Looking at the ESPN Stats & Information chart, which shows turnover differential through Week 4, the Baltimore Ravens have to feel pretty good about where they stand. Winning or evening out the turnover battle could make the Ravens enough tougher to beat (Baltimore has forced only two turnovers so far).

The San Francisco 49ers and Arizona Cardinals are minus-6 in turnover differential. Both have played three of their first four games on the road. Both have suffered from shaky play in the passing game. I would expect their turnover differential to improve as they play more games at home.