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Bad Luck Broncos

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Since 2003 the Broncos are the 3rd most unlucky team at recovering the other team's fumbles and the 6th most unlucky team at recovering our own fumbles. Put those two together and we have been the second most unlucky team in the league in terms of recovering fumbles over the past 12 seasons.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

A single fumble recovery can decide the outcome of a game. A single game can decide the outcome of a season. Partly because of the shape of the ball, the odds of recovering a fumble are decided by the unpredictable bounces. While the law of averages states that every team should regress to the mean (50%) in any fumble recovery %, this has not really been the case over the past 12 NFL season. Some teams have been much luckier than others. For whatever reason, we have been on the short end of the karmic stick far more often than we "should" have been. All data for this piece was compiled from pro-football-reference.com and teamrankings.com (whose data only goes back to 2003)

If you want a more in-depth look at turnovers in the NFL this century please read this

Offensive Fumble Recovery

The Broncos have been the 6th most unlucky team in terms of offensive fumble recovery.

Offensive Fumble recovery rate 2003-2014

Overall Rank Team Average Ave Rank
1 NY Jets 58.8% 11.3
2 Miami 57.2% 12.9
3 Dallas 56.8% 13.1
4 Green Bay 55.0% 14.3
5 Chicago 54.7% 13.9
6 Oakland 54.5% 14.0
7 Houston 54.4% 14.9
8 Washington 54.4% 15.1
9 New England 54.3% 14.9
10 Arizona 54.1% 15.3
11 Detroit 53.8% 15.8
12 Buffalo 53.8% 14.4
13 Seattle 53.5% 15.8
14 Tennessee 53.4% 16.8
15 San Francisco 53.2% 14.9
16 Cleveland 53.1% 16.0
17 Minnesota 53.0% 18.2
18 Indianapolis 52.7% 16.2
19 Carolina 52.2% 15.7
20 Cincinnati 52.1% 17.7
21 Jacksonville 51.7% 17.3
22 NY Giants 51.6% 17.9
23 San Diego 51.5% 16.2
24 Baltimore 51.1% 16.9
25 Tampa Bay 51.1% 18.5
26 St Louis 50.8% 18.0
27 Denver 49.8% 18.7
28 Pittsburgh 49.4% 18.1
29 Kansas City 48.6% 21.2
30 Philadelphia 47.6% 21.3
31 Atlanta 47.0% 21.4
32 New Orleans 43.1% 21.5

If you parse the data by total offensive plays (plays per fumble lost), we are one of the better teams in the league for the past 15 NFL seasons. So why the seeming discrepancy?

We were quite good in the first three seasons of this century. I thought that we might have run more plays, but over the past 15 seasons we are 20th in the NFL in total offensive plays run. The message is that we have been unlucky in terms of recovering our own fumbles 2003-2014.

The other reason for the seeming dichotomy is that we are looking at a percentage stat. Were we to look at absolute numbers the Broncos would not look quite so unlucky.For example, which team has it worse the team that fumbles 10 times and recovers 2 or the team the fumbles 30 times and recovers 24? The former team had a 20% offensive recovery rate, but they ONLY fumbled 10 times during the season (losing 8) while the other team has three times the fumbles but lost fewer of them (recovering 80%). In this way, fumble % and a fumble lost/play data can tell two very different stories. In other words, the Broncos have not fumbled that much, but we have been poor/unlucky at recovering our offensive fumbles.

Defensive Fumble Recovery Rate

As bad as it looked from the offensive side, it's worse from the defensive side.

Defensive Fumble Recovery Rate 2003-2014

Overall Rank Team Average Ave Rank
1 Atlanta 55.5% 9.0
2 Arizona 53.7% 10.8
3 Carolina 52.5% 12.4
4 Dallas 51.9% 14.5
5 Cleveland 50.1% 14.6
6 Tampa Bay 49.9% 14.1
7 New England 49.6% 14.4
8 San Francisco 49.6% 14.3
9 Cincinnati 49.2% 16.2
10 Oakland 48.2% 15.8
11 Tennessee 48.1% 15.3
12 Indianapolis 48.0% 15.2
13 Baltimore 47.9% 15.3
14 Houston 47.6% 16.8
15 Chicago 47.5% 16.0
16 San Diego 47.2% 16.0
17 St Louis 47.2% 16.2
18 Pittsburgh 47.2% 17.5
19 NY Giants 46.7% 17.4
20 Philadelphia 46.6% 16.0
21 Detroit 46.5% 16.8
22 NY Jets 46.5% 16.4
23 New Orleans 46.1% 18.5
24 Kansas City 46.1% 17.6
25 Minnesota 45.4% 18.7
26 Jacksonville 45.0% 19.0
27 Seattle 44.7% 19.2
28 Buffalo 44.4% 18.1
29 Washington 43.3% 20.5
30 Denver 42.1% 22.2
31 Miami 42.0% 20.9
32 Green Bay 40.5% 22.6

We have the third worst defensive fumble recovery rate in the league since 2003. In terms of average team ranking, we are second to last with only Green Bay having a worse average ranking. Is this just bad luck, bad karma or bad coaching? I don't know and it really doesn't matter.

The facts are immutable. Interestingly, if you go back in time we were one of the better (luckier) teams in the league in terms of defensive fumble recovery rate. From 1994-2002, we recovered 50.0% of the other team's fumbles.  That rate would have put us near the top of the league over the past 12 seasons.

Below is a breakdown of our defensive fumble recovery numbers from the past 21 seasons.

Denver Defensive Fumble Recovery

(no rank data available prior to 2003)

Year Opp Fumbles Recovered % NFL rank
2014 21 33% 30
2013 25 36% 29
2012 23 35% 24
2011 19 47% 23
2010 22 36% 29
2009 30 43% 21
2008 15 47% 17
2007 34 47% 15
2006 28 46% 18
2005 29 55% 4
2004 24 33% 32
2003 27 41% 24
2002 23 57% ?
2001 26 58% ?
2000 31 55% ?
1999 29 38% ?
1998 28 39% ?
1997 27 48% ?
1996 26 35% ?
1995 20 65% ?
1994 24 58% ?

Combined Fumble Recovery

If we combine the offensive and the defensive data we get a picture at the most unlucky (for fumble recovery) team in the NFL over this time frame (Higher numbers are better here). I did this by adding the average offensive and defensive recovery %. Here is the table.


Team Total
1 Dallas 108.6%
2 Arizona 107.8%
3 NY Jets 105.3%
4 Carolina 104.7%
5 New England 104.0%
6 Cleveland 103.2%
7 San Francisco 102.8%
8 Oakland 102.8%
9 Atlanta 102.5%
10 Chicago 102.1%
11 Houston 102.1%
12 Tennessee 101.5%
13 Cincinnati 101.3%
14 Tampa Bay 101.0%
15 Indianapolis 100.8%
16 Detroit 100.4%
17 Miami 99.2%
18 Baltimore 99.0%
19 San Diego 98.7%
20 Minnesota 98.4%
21 NY Giants 98.4%
22 Seattle 98.2%
23 Buffalo 98.2%
24 St Louis 98.0%
25 Washington 97.7%
26 Jacksonville 96.6%
27 Pittsburgh 96.6%
28 Green Bay 95.5%
29 Kansas City 94.6%
30 Philadelphia 94.1%
31 Denver 91.9%
32 New Orleans 89.2%

I was actually surprised to find a team whose luck has been worse over the past 12 seasons. The Saints have actually had worse overall fumble luck than we have had. The Cowboys have been the luckiest team in the league over the past 12 seasons.

Perspective (absolute numbers)

Last season our opponents fumbled 21 times when they had the ball. Our defense recovered 7 of those fumbles - 33%. This was 30th in the league, but this is the norm for us recently as we have only been in the top 10 in defensive fumble recovery % once in the past 12 seasons (2005 when we were 4th - scooping up 16 of our opponent's 29 fumbles).

Our offense fumbled the ball 17 times and we recovered 12 of them (70.6% - 3rd best in the league). Both our offensive and defensive fumble recovery rates should regress to the mean next year unless someone on our team has some really bad karma. That's good for us defensively, but bad for us offensively.