Who Else Wants Know Turnover Ratio In American Football?

Football is a passion for many people in the United States and even in other countries. The number of fans, worldwide, continues to grow. However, understanding some of the nuances and terminology of the sport can be difficult for some people to grasp. Such is the idea of ‘turnover ratio’, what it means and how important it is.


To understand the ratio, it is first important to understand what is meant by the term ‘turnover’. A turnover is when the ball, controlled by one team, is given up to the other team, changing the possession of the ball. This sounds simple enough, however there are some changes of possession that have nothing to do with turnover. For instance, a kickoff or punt does change who controls the ball but these aren’t turnovers.

The most common turnovers are interceptions, fumbles and muffs. An interception is when the ball is thrown to an eligible teammate but is actually caught by a member of the other team, inbounds and before the ball touches the ground. A fumble is where a player has control of the ball and drops it. The player’s team or the player can still recover the ball, but if a member of the other team captures the ball, it is a turnover. A muff is when the ball has been kicked or punted and subsequently dropped before reception. The turnover happens when the other team then captures and holds the ball.


The turnover ratio is the number of times a team has turned the ball over to the other team, compared to the number of times they’ve ended up with the ball due to a turnover committed by an opponent. This doesn’t count the number of times a team has managed to collect the ball after their own mistakes.

The ratio is usually expressed as a positive or negative number. For instance, if a team has a turnover ratio of +10, it means that counting the times they’ve turned the ball over, they’ve received the ball from the turnovers of the other team 10 times. If their ratio is -8, they’ve given the ball away eight more times, counting the number of times they’ve gotten the ball because of the other team’s turnovers.


In order to win, a team needs to score. In order to score, they must have the control of the ball. It isn’t difficult to see that giving away the possession of the ball isn’t helpful when it comes to winning a game.

As former NFL coach and commentator John Madden put it, “If you want to lose the game, the easiest way is to turn the ball over. Boom. It happens.”

It goes deeper though. Giving the ball to the opponent means that the opponent can then have a chance to score. Many games have been lost because a team that was barely ahead turned over the ball and the other team then scored. Football statistics show that while teams have sometimes won even when they had a worse turnover ratio for the game, well over half have lost if they turn the ball over more times than they capture a turnover from the other team.

The turnover ratio is something that is basic, but it can make the difference between winning and losing. This understanding is a key to understanding and enjoying American football.

Kevin Eaton

Hello! I’m Kevin – an openly biased Baltimore Orioles fan; a youth baseball parent; an obsessive-compulsive scorekeeper; a travelling ballpark tourist and a taste tester of defiantly unhealthy ballpark culinary offerings. In this space I share my love for the game of baseball and in doing so, connect with other really great people who love the game as much as I do.

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