Numerous factors contribute to winning games in the NFL, but few loom larger than the turnover battle. Coaches preach to their offensive players to take care of the football, and defensive players are told to make plays to create takeaways as having one extra possession can often times be the difference in a game. This was reaffirmed by The 33rd Team’s Peter Engler, seen in his article titled: “What Wins Football Games in Today’s NFL?”
The 33rd Team has a metric that includes the importance of limiting turnovers: The Discipline Index. This measure takes into account the penalties, penalty yards, and turnovers accrued per game by each team. Unsurprisingly, the team that finished the best in this study was the same team that had the fewest turnovers per game: the Green Bay Packers. Tied with the Packers for the league-fewest turnovers were the Seattle Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings, each finishing as top 11 teams in the Discipline Index.
The plot below shows each team’s turnover margin as well as their 2021 regular season victory count. As one might expect, teams with better turnover margins won more games last season, on average. Let’s delve into the key contributors who had a hand in their organizations’ turnover margin.
Best Turnover Margins
Green Bay Packers
As stated above, the Packers had the fewest turnovers in the NFL last season, committing just 13. Of this total, just seven came by way of interceptions, the fewest in the NFL. MVP Aaron Rodgers threw just four interceptions, leaving the remaining three coming from Jordan Love.
On the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay ranked sixth in the league in interceptions. Defensive back Rasul Douglas led the way with a team-high five interceptions, also adding a forced fumble. Having a top-eight takeaway number combined with having the least turnovers in the NFL, the Packers were able to win 13 games in 2021, leading to the top seed in the NFC.
As a team, the Cowboys had the most takeaways in the NFL with 34. Leading the team in interceptions was Trevon Diggs with 11, the most by a player in a season in 40 years. Dallas finished 2021 with the most total interceptions with 26, more than double the NFL median.
On offense, the team threw just 11 picks, all but one thrown by Dak Prescott. Of all players in the league last season, Prescott also ranked first in fumbles lost with three, making him responsible for 70% of his offense’s turnovers. Despite this, Dallas’ 20 total turnovers ranked among the top ten teams with the fewest turnovers in the NFL. This league-leading turnover margin of +14 helped the Cowboys secure their first NFC East title since 2018.
Worst Turnover Margins
The Jaguars had a difficult year in 2021, leading to what will be their second-straight year with the first selection in the NFL Draft. Last year’s pick, Clemson phenom Trevor Lawrence showed his long-term promise, but had turnover issues last season. His league-leading 17 interceptions hurt Jacksonville’s ability to keep their offense on the field, and that side of the ball mustered the fewest points in the NFL in 2021.
The Jaguars defense didn’t do their young signal-caller any favors, creating the fewest takeaways in the league with just nine. Their seven interceptions ranked second-fewest in the NFL, and their two forced fumbles recovered were the fewest among all teams. The -20 turnover margin was the worst in the NFL, and, as stated before, they finished with the worst record in the league.
After making waves in free agency and spending the most guaranteed money ever in an offseason, the Jaguars are hoping to improve in turnover margin and victories in 2022. The most notable addition, though, was hiring 33rd Team member Doug Pederson as head coach.
New York Jets
Following the Jaguars in the 2021 NFL Draft were the Jets, selecting Zach Wilson with the second pick. The former BYU Cougar, similar to Trevor Lawrence, struggled with interceptions, throwing 11 through his first eight games. In relief of Wilson came Mike White, the starter when New York bested the eventual AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals. However, White threw eight interceptions himself, adding to their interception total that was the second-most in the NFL.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Jets had difficulty forcing their opponents to commit turnovers. They finished with the second-fewest interceptions in the league with seven, and just five of these came from defensive backs. The Jets also had the second-fewest total takeaways, ahead of just the Jaguars.
Expect the Jets to look for impact players in the NFL Draft who can improve their turnover margin, especially having four selections of the top 38 picks.
All information provided by TruMedia, PFF, and Pro-Football-Reference