"The stat that really matters"

"The stat that really matters"

In an NFL season, 16 teams play 16 games each, producing 256 winners and 256 losers. Fans and even some analysts believe brilliant coaches and elite talents separate the two columns. In theory, they would be wrong.

ESPN reporter and former Philadelphia Inquirer scribe Ashley Fox published a telling piece on Friday about the only statistic that ultimately matters on the gridiorn: turnover margin. "Since 2000, teams that have been plus-1 [or better] in turnover margin have won 92 of 128 postseason games (a winning percentage of .719). Teams that have lost the turnover battle have won just 14.8 percent of the time."

Fox specifically details turnover margin during the playoffs, but the same holds true during the regular season as well. In 2011, teams that were plus-1 or better won 157 of 200 such games -- a winning percentage of .785.

No surprise, the Eagles were 3-0 when they won the turnover battle, and 3-6 when they lost.

While many would argue defense was this team's biggest problem, we've maintained all along it was turnovers first and foremost. The Eagles had a 6-3 record and allowed 16.6 points per game when they gave the ball away two times or less, but were 2-5 and allowed 25.6 when coughing it up on three or more occasions. Still, plenty are not convinced the defense couldn't have done more.

To put those numbers in perspective, all 32 teams combined to win 17 out of 103 games when they committed three turnovers or more -- a winning percentage of .159. In eight of the 17, or nearly half of them, the losing team was also on the hook for three-plus.

Amazingly, the Eagles won two of the 17.

As for the defense's part in this, the league average was 29.4 points allowed. By comparison, it was 20.4 PPG when there were two giveaways or fewer. Interesting that the difference for both the Eagles and the entire NFL was exactly the same -- nine points.

However, the Eagles were actually superior to the rest of the league. Whether they committed five turnovers or zero, Philly's defense almost always allowed fewer points per game, and the club's winning percentage was the same or better. See for yourself:

 5+  0-13 (.000), 34.4 PPG  0-1 (.000), 31.0 PPG
 4  5-24 (.172), 32.2 PPG  1-1 (.500), 25.0 PPG
 3  12-49 (.197), 27.0 PPG  1-3 (.250), 24.5 PPG
 2  59-74 (.444), 22.6 PPG  3-2 (.600), 16.8 PPG
 1  101-70 (.591), 20.1 PPG  2-1 (.667), 20.3 PPG
 0  79-26 (.752), 18.0 PPG  1-0 (1.000), 7.0 PPG
 3+  17-86 (.159), 29.4 PPG  2-5 (.286), 25.6 PPG
 2-  239-170 (.584), 20.4 PPG  6-3 (.667), 16.6 PPG

There have been some accusations that we are cherry picking stats that support an agenda, but all we're talking about here is points scored, and how it correlates with giveaways. Clearly the defense was fine when they weren't being bludgeoned by turnovers, and in practically every instance, they were above average at keeping points off the board. This isn't sorcery, folks, and there really is no disputing it.

Of course, there will inevitably be detractors from our research regardless of its authenticity. You think hiring Juan Castillo was ignorant. You think Andy Reid is a joke, and the talent is overrated. We get it.

Don't take our word for it then. Just ask Bill Cowher, who was questioned about turnover margin days prior to winning his first Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers, notably in his 14th season as head coach.

"The biggest thing that you can control is how you protect the football," Cowher said. "We put more of a concentrated effort on talking about that. On defense, you play hard, get to the ball and try to strip the ball or get an interception. We certainly talk about that. But those can come in bunches, and you can go through periods where you do all of those things and the other team is just taking care of the ball and you don't get a turnover."

>> The stat that really matters [ESPN.com]
>> Turnovers a big part of winning and losing [USA Today, 2006]

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).