Football Betting Strategy: Handicapping Turnovers

Football Betting Strategy: Handicapping Turnovers

By Loot, Football Handicapper,

The turnover is a kiss of death in football betting. You have a team that needs to win by 7 and is up 21-16 late. They are in the red zone and poised to either kick a field goal or score a touchdown–either of which would allow you to cover. Then the quarterback drops back, gets the ball knocked loose, and it gets run back for a touchdown. Nothing can throw a bet into a state of sudden turmoil like a turnover can.

When watching football games, we will often see the close tie between turnovers and results. Almost every time, the team that hangs on to the ball better wins. Seems like an over-simplified equation, until you see how often it holds true. A turnover is a double-edged sword. One team loses a scoring opportunity, while their opponent gets a chance they otherwise would have never had to score.

We’ve seen our teams cruising on the way to an easy cover. The defense is controlling the opposing offense and the wager is well on its way to becoming a winner. Then a turnover gives the other team a golden opportunity. It breaths wins into their sails, while deflating the other offense. In football, turnovers are the great equalizer.

There are obviously teams more prone to turnovers than other teams. It can actually be handicapped to a certain degree. There may be a lot of one-game windows where a teams’ strength or weakness in this area won’t manifest. Nevertheless, there are strong indicators that can help us avoid getting blindsided by this unpleasant element of football wagering.

Turnovers can be random occurrences, yet there can also be a rhyme or reason to it. Look at the general picture, then try to apply specifics about the game to the situation which you are betting. There are offenses that stress possession more. They might not be the most exciting offenses, but the quarterback and running back rarely give up the ball. Then you have more high-flying offenses, where there is more risk involved and therefore more turnovers. That’s more of a general overview.

Turnovers can result from playing certain defenses. A fierce pass rush can put the QB into a state of panic, where more mistakes are likely to ensue. Wet weather can play a role. A quarterback trying to do too much can lead to a slew of turnovers. Sometimes, you can find clues that lie within the match-up that lead you to believe more turnovers will take place.

Sure, there will be teams where the turnovers appear to happen randomly. Other teams tend to commit more turnovers when playing from behind. Or when they’re on the road. A quarterback might be pretty good, but is more likely to cough up the ball whenever the situation is critical, like maybe in an important game.

Try to get a read on whether there are specific situations that seem to cause a team to commit more turnovers. Then apply it to the game that you are wagering. Maybe a swarming “D” causes a quarterback to get skittish. Perhaps he freezes in the postseason and even though he was not prone to turning over the ball in the regular season, something about the magnitude and playing better teams in the playoffs sends his game into a downward spiral.

It’s not always about how good or bad a quarterback is. Any quarterback, regardless of how good he might be, is always at the mercy of how well his offense is playing. If the line is faltering or if receivers are having trouble getting open, any quarterback will struggle and likely end up coughing the ball up multiple times in a game, which will likely result in a losing bet.

This is not an exact science. Teams can still win and cover while losing the turnover game. And just because you identify a team is more prone to turning the ball over or is in a situation that should lead to more turnovers doesn’t mean it will happen in the game you bet. Winning at football wagering certainly doesn’t boil down to looking at turnover ratios and picking the team that is better in that area. Use this information to help paint a picture. It’s one of many things you should consider. At the same time, the team that wins the turnover battle is far more likely to cover the spread.

Take a look at the 2012 NFL season, for example. The 6 best teams in the turnover category were New England, Chicago, Washington, NY Giants, Atlanta, and Seattle. Those 6 teams were a combined 63-33 straight-up and 54-40-2 against-the-spread.

Now look at the worst 6 teams in 2012 in the give away/take away category–Philadelphia, Detroit, Dallas, Kansas City, the Jets, and Buffalo. Those 6 teams combined for a 30-66 straight-up won-loss record and a god-awful 34-61-1 against-the-spread. It’s pretty clear that the teams that hang on to the ball give you your best chance to win bets, while the direct opposite is true for teams that suffer in the turnover department.