Steelers coughed up a gift in Week 12, but Browns almost blew it
Despite forcing eight turnovers by the Steelers, Browns still almost lost the game
They'd have been the second team ever to lose despite a +7 turnover differential
Teams have won 67 percent of games when winning the turnover battle since 1978
The Dawg Pound barked with joy when the Cleveland Browns upended the hated Pittsburgh Steelers 20-14 on Sunday.
It was Cleveland's third win against the Steelers in their last 25 meetings, dating back to 2000. That was a long time ago, for those of you keeping score at home.
But seen through the stat-colored glasses of the Cold, Hard Football Facts, the Browns did something much more remarkable than earn a rare win against Pittsburgh: they nearly blew a game with a +7 turnover advantage.
Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch threw 3 INTs, while five different Steelers coughed up fumbles. Cleveland QB Brandon Weeden threw one INT.
The Browns, put another way, barely won a game Sunday that is virtually impossible to lose, clinging to victory in a favorable situation that a competent team would ride to a massive blowout.
To paraphrase famed blanket-toting Christmas philosopher Linus van Pelt: "Of all the Cleveland Browns in the world, you're the Cleveland Browniest."
Most fans instinctively know that if you win the turnover battle, you typically win the game.
But do you know how often? Neither did we, until Cleveland's rare +7 near-death experience inspired us to consult with Spreadapedia to find the empirical evidence that highlights the importance of turnovers.
Spreadapedia is our database at Cold, Hard Football Facts Insider with every score, point spread, over-under line, box score and game result since 1978. It gives football fans the power to instantly search any trend in modern football history.
The short answer about turnovers: winning the battle might be more important than even the smartest fans realize. Teams that win the turnover battle are:
5,478-1,477-14 (.787) since 1978
106-30-1 (.779) here in 2012
The results get more interesting when you break down the record of teams turnover by turnover.
+1 in turnovers --1,895-937-5 (.669)
It doesn't take much for turnovers to pay off. Teams that merely win the battle by just one turnover win two of three NFL games. They are 37-18-1 (.673) here in 2012, virtually identical with the historic average.
+2 -- 1,623-366-6 (.816)
Turnovers and victories move like clockwork -- a jump of .147 percentage points from +1 to +2 in turnovers. Teams that are +2 are 32-10 (.762) here in 2012.
+3 -- 1,056-135-2 (.887)
Now it's getting serious: teams +3 in turnovers win nearly 90 percent of NFL games. They are 22-1 (.957) in 2012, with the lone exception the Lions outlasting the Rams, 27-23, back in Week 1.
+4 -- 588-30 (.951)
The New England Patriots, to cite a recent example of un-Browns-like competence when enjoying a glut of turnovers, were +4 in turnovers in each of their last two games. They crushed the Colts and Jets by a combined score of 108-43. Teams +4 are 13-0 here in 2012.
+5 -- 218-7 (.969)
We witnessed a bit of history two weeks ago, when the Falcons survived the Cardinals, 23-19, despite losing the turnover battle, 6-1. They were just the seventh team in 35 seasons to win a game when -5 in turnovers.
+6 -- 72-1 (.986)
Only one team since 1978 has lost a game when +6 in turnovers. That's right: the Cleveland Browns. They blew a 6 turnover advantage at Tennessee in 2000, losing 24-10.
+7 -- 21-1 (.955)
The 1983 Steelers hold the distinction as the team to overcome the greatest turnover differential and still win a game. Cliff Stoudt was picked off three times while Pittsburgh fumbled the ball away four times, before finally edging the Buccaneers 17-12.
With one more score Sunday, third-stringer Charlie Batch and the Steelers would have matched that feat again here in 2012.
+8 -- 2-0 (1.000)
The Buffalo Bills famously gagged away Super Bowl XXVII with nine turnovers, while forcing the Dallas Cowboys into just one. America's Team rode the 8-turnover advantage into a 52-17 Super Bowl blowout.
The Cleveland Browns, back when they were competent, beat Pittsburgh 51-0 on Sept. 10, 1989, with an 8-turnover edge.
+9 -- 1-0 (1.000)
Green Bay (2 turnovers) beat San Diego (11 turnovers), 24-3, back on Sept. 24, 1978. Three Chargers quarterbacks combined for five interceptions that day, including two by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. San Diego ball carriers fumbled the ball an incredible nine times, losing six of them.
+10 -- 1-0 (1.000)
The 49ers coughed up the ball 10 times against the Cowboys (0 turnovers) on Oct. 12, 1980. Dallas won, 59-14. Steve DeBerg threw 5 picks for the 49ers that day, with back-up second-year QB Joe Montana sitting on the bench.
In a league built for parity, turnovers are clearly the great un-equalizer.
Here's the all-time record of every NFL team (since 1978), when winning the turnover battle. Even the worst team, the Lions (naturally), win games at a 67.3 percent clip when winning the turnover battle.