I am at the point now where I get annoyed when I hear that such-and-such team is leading the league in turnover differential, and yet whoever is spouting such numbers is only accounting for net interceptions and fumbles.
Can't help myself. Ever since I started tracking True Turnovers, which also takes into consideration net missed field-goal tries and fourth-down failures, I've become a turnovers snob. Bet you didn't know such a thing exists. Well, consider me the charter member of that snob group.
Because in my mind, losing the ball in any shape or form should be tracked as a turnover. We even say that a team "turned it over on downs" but somehow don't count those toward the turnover differential. At least most people don't, but I do, and I consider it my gift to you. I hope I convince you that it's vital to track such things for a full picture of how often teams give the ball away and also take it away.
For instance, if you are so inclined to gander at the standard turnover differential table, you'd see these top eight teams:
1. Chicago — plus-13
2. Seattle — plus-11
3. Los Angeles Rams — plus-10
t-4. Cleveland — plus-9
t-4. Houston — plus 9
t-4. Denver — plus-9
t-7. Miami — plus-8
t-7. New Orleans — plus-8
At the bottom of the NFL's traditional turnover ratio, these teams would come up:
26. New York Jets — minus-7
t-27. Pittsburgh — minus-8
t-27. Buffalo — minus-8
29. Arizona — minus-9
30. Jacksonville — minus-10
31. Tampa Bay — minus-17
32. San Francisco — minus-21
Now take a look at our numbers, if you please, to see where the old-school method comes up short:
The Bears are still a very strong fifth in our rankings, and yet it's clear that field goals have been a tiny issue here. Bears K Cody Parkey has missed five tries, whereas Chicago's opponents collectively have missed only one all season. That's a net of four lost possessions — i.e. one in which no points were scored or there was no punt — on the season. There's little difference between missed kicks and fumbles, except for perhaps field position.
Some of this can be attributed to luck and other factors, of course, but a bit tighter of an operation in the kicking game would help them score more points or help prevent them. Their losses this season have been by one point, three points (in overtime, where they missed a FG try), seven points and three points (in overtime, where the opponent made a 57-yarder).
The Bears' opponent in Week 14, the 11-2 Rams, also benefit from simple accounting in the old formula. They're plus-10 when you only tabulate fumbles and INTs, even after Jared Goff's four-pick game in the 15-6 loss at Chicago, which is pretty darned strong.
But when you factor in the Rams' field goals (a net of minus-5) and fourth downs (a net of minus-3), it changes things notably. K Greg Zuerlein got hurt early in the season, setting off a revolving door at the position with Sam Ficken and Cairo Santos, prior to Zuerlein returning from injury a few weeks back. Still, his missed 40-yard attempt with 10 minutes remaining at Soldier Field was huge; that could have made it a one-possession game and changed things dramatically.
Two other teams that have not received enough credit for creating extra possessions are the 7-6 Dolphins, still hanging around in the playoff race, and the 11-2 Saints, whom some believe are the most dangerous possible postseason entrants. On the old scale, they are each ranked tied for seventh at plus-8. Very respectable numbers.
But they far from tell the whole story. The Saints are far and away the True Turnover leaders, with fourth downs a huge part of that story. On the season, the Saints have converted 12-of-14 fourth-down attempts, with one big miss happening in the most recent loss at Dallas at the Cowboys' 1-yard line.
The Saints' defense has been very respectable in this department, too, allowing only 11 of opponents' 23 fourth-down tries to convert. That's a net nine possessions they've picked up over 13 games. It's easier to see how that helps, even if 17 of those 23 attempts came in the second halves of games and 13 came when the opponent was two or more scores down.
The Dolphins' success on True Turnovers has come with a little more balance. They've missed only one FG try while opponents have missed six; and on fourth downs, the Dolphins have failed only three times this season, with opponents coming up short on eight attempts.
They beat New England in thrilling fashion on Sunday thanks to the "Miami Miracle" play, sure, but having Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski botch 22- and 32-yard FG tries (as well as an extra point) really was the difference on the scoreboard. He makes those, and the Patriots likely are up two scores and it would have been impossible to have pulled off the victory.