Patriots, playoffs, and fumble luck

Several authors at major outlets (starting, I think, with footballoutsiders.com) have noted how the recovery of fumbles in football boils down to luck and not skill. Recalling that the Patriots have been slightly unlucky in this regard in their Super Bowl losses to the Giants, I thought it would be interesting to look at Patriots playoff games since 2001 to see how their fumble recovery rate compared in their playoff wins and losses.  I used the boxscores from here. The results were pretty staggering:

In their 17 Tom Brady-era playoff wins, the Patriots have recovered 28 of a possible 48 fumbles (58.3%). In their 7 postseason losses over that time period, the team has recovered just 5 of 20 fumbles (25%). For any readers interested in whether or not this difference is statistically significant, it is (p < 0.05). These numbers highlight how luck can play a vital role in determining the outcomes of football games – the Patriots don’t reach the Super Bowl in 2001 without a bit of fumble luck, and the team might have had a few more recent titles without some recent bad luck.

The table is attached below.  A few notes:

-The Patriots have not recovered a single of the five fumbles to hit the ground against the Giants in the last two Super Bowls. They didn’t recover any of the five combined fumbles in the 2012 playoff games against the Texans and the Ravens.

-The Patriots had no right beating San Diego in 2006. The team recovered all five fumbles against the Chargers in that game!

2012 Playoffs Total Fumbles Patriots Recoveries
Division Sun 13-Jan Houston Texans W 3 0
ConfChamp Sun 20-Jan Baltimore Ravens L 2 0
2011 Playoffs
Division Sat 14-Jan Denver Broncos W 3 1
ConfChamp Sun 22-Jan Baltimore Ravens W 3 1
SuperBowl Sun 5-Feb New York Giants L 2 0
2010 Playoffs
Division Sun 16-Jan New York Jets L 4 3
2009 Playoffs
WildCard Sun 10-Jan Baltimore Ravens L 2 1
2007 Playoffs
Division Sat 12-Jan Jacksonville Jaguars W 2 1
ConfChamp Sun 20-Jan San Diego Chargers W 2 1
SuperBowl Sun 3-Feb New York Giants L 3 0
2006 Playoffs
WildCard Sun 7-Jan New York Jets W 2 1
Division Sun 14-Jan San Diego Chargers W 5 5
ConfChamp Sun 21-Jan Indianapolis Colts L 3 1
2005 Playoffs
WildCard Sat 7-Jan Jacksonville Jaguars W 6 5
Division Sat 14-Jan Denver Broncos L 4 0
2004 Playoffs
Division Sun 16-Jan Indianapolis Colts W 3 2
ConfChamp Sun 23-Jan Pittsburgh Steelers W 3 2
SuperBowl Sun 6-Feb Philadelphia Eagles W 3 1
2003 Playoffs
Division Sat 10-Jan Tennessee Titans W 1 0
ConfChamp Sun 18-Jan Indianapolis Colts W 3 1
SuperBowl Sun 1-Feb Carolina Panthers W 2 2
2001 Playoffs
Division Sat 19-Jan Oakland Raiders W 3 3
ConfChamp Sun 27-Jan Pittsburgh Steelers W 2 1
SuperBowl Sun 3-Feb St. Louis Rams W 2 1

2014 update

Fumble luck continues to play a huge role in Patriots playoff results. In divisional wins over the Colts (2013 season) and Ravens (2014), the Patriots recovered 5 of a possible 6 fumbles.

All together, that’s 33 of 54 fumbles (61%) in playoff wins, versus 5 of 20 (25%) in playoff losses. Seems like a fairly big difference, and I’d be interested in hearing how that compares to game-splits for other teams.

2014 Playoffs Total Fumbles Patriots Recoveries
Division Sat 10-Jan Baltimore Ravens W 3 2
ConfChamp Sun 18-Jan
2013 Playoffs
Division Sat 14-Jan Indianapolis Colts W 3 3
ConfChamp Sun 22-Jan Denver Broncos L 0 0
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