Jason Pinnock, NY Jets, Trevor Lawrence, Fumble
Jason Pinnock, New York Jets, Getty Images

The New York Jets got the short end of the stick in an important luck-based category during the 2021 season

Just like in real life, a lot of things on the football field come down to plain old luck.

There are many things that happen in a football game that cannot be controlled by a particular team, but of them all, the sport’s most notable luck-based facet is undoubtedly the fumble-recovery battle.

I wanted to take a look back at the 2021 season and see how the New York Jets fared when it came to recovering fumbles. Are the Jets due for more balls to bounce their way in 2022 after getting the short end of the stick in 2021?

What percentage of fumbles landed in the New York Jets’ arms last season?

The percentage of live balls that a team recovers is pretty much entirely up to luck. This is a natural byproduct of the football’s design. Its shape causes it to bounce in random directions. That thing is going to go wherever it wants, and because it moves in such an erratic way, it is nearly impossible for players to anticipate its trajectory, taking away their control over the outcome.

So, the guy who recovers the fumble is usually just the guy who happened to be in the right place at the right time. There’s not a whole lot of skill involved with this particular facet of the game. Forcing fumbles is definitely a skill, but recovering them is not.

The Jets’ 2021 numbers in this category paint a promising picture for their future. It turns out that they did indeed suffer from some brutal luck on fumbles. They should have had a much better turnover margin than they did.

First of all, this is the key number to keep in mind: 40.7%. That was the 2021 NFL average for the percentage of fumbles that were recovered by the defense.

Offensively, the Jets did a good job of avoiding fumbles but they were less lucky than average when it came to scooping up their own fumbles.

New York fumbled the ball 14 times (T-27th) and lost 7 fumbles (T-20th). The Jets offense’s lost-fumble rate was 50.0%, which ranked 8th-highest. If they had a league-average lost-fumble rate of 40.7%, they would have lost only 5.7 fumbles, which is 1.3 fewer lost fumbles than their real total.

It’s on defense where the Jets were really unlucky.

Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich‘s defense actually forced its opponents into a lot of fumbles last year. The Jets’ opponents racked up 26 fumbles, tied for the 3rd-most in the NFL.

However, the Jets defense only collected 7 fumble recoveries, tying them for 20th. New York’s recovery rate on defense was a ghastly 26.9%, ranking 28th in the league.

If the Jets recovered a league-average 40.7% of their opponents’ 26 fumbles, they would have picked up a whopping 10.6 fumble recoveries, which is 3.6 more than they actually ended up with. For reference, a total of 11 fumble recoveries would have tied the Jets with the Bills and 49ers for 6th-best in the NFL.

The Jets’ combined misfortune on offense and defense made them one of the unluckiest teams in the NFL.

When you combine their fumble luck on offense (-1.3 fumbles lost versus expected) and defense (-3.6 fumbles recovered versus expected), the Jets recovered 4.9 fewer fumbles than expected. That ranked as the 3rd-worst total in the NFL ahead of only Seattle (-5.1) and Jacksonville (-6.3).

Overall, the Jets only recovered 14 out of 40 total fumbles on either side of the ball, a 35.0% rate, ranking 2nd-worst ahead of only the Jaguars (33.3%).

Here’s a crazy way to put it: The Jets actually had the 2nd-best fumble margin in the NFL at +12, as they forced 26 fumbles (3rd-most) while only fumbling 14 times themselves (5th-fewest), but yet, their margin of lost fumbles was dead-even (7 to 7).

Do you remember when Jason Pinnock forced a Trevor Lawrence fumble but a Jaguars offensive lineman recovered it for a touchdown? That sums up the Jets’ fumble luck in 2021.

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Things are due to swing in a positive direction for the Jets next year

It is never guaranteed that things are going to magically start going your way just because you’re “due”. Math doesn’t work like that. The next roll of the dice is an entirely new one. Its chances are completely unaffected by the results of the previous dice roll, no matter how bad they were.

With that being said, in a category like fumble recovery rate that is basically a crapshoot, the odds are strong that the Jets will fare better in 2022 than they did in 2021 – and likely to a significant degree when you consider just how poor their luck was last year.

Here is a look at the fumble luck of all 32 teams in the 2021 season.

TeamOFF LostOFF FumblesOFF Lost %DEF Rec.DEF ForcedDEF Rec. %OFF NetDEF NetTOT NetTOT Rec. %
San Francisco102343.5111957.9-0.643.272.6357.1
New Orleans51435.771450.00.701.302.0057.1
Green Bay61833.381942.11.330.271.5954.1
Las Vegas102934.592339.11.80-0.361.4453.8
Kansas City122352.2142556.0-2.643.831.1952.1
NY Giants102343.571741.2-0.640.08-0.5650.0
Tampa Bay71258.3122450.0-
New England102050.071643.8-1.860.49-1.3747.2
LA Chargers71070.0102050.0-2.931.86-1.0743.3
LA Rams51241.762128.6-0.12-2.55-2.6639.4
NY Jets71450.072626.9-1.30-3.58-4.8835.0

The Jets lost five games by one possession last season. Who knows how many of those they could have won if they had merely league-average luck at recovering fumbles?

Let’s say the Jets would have claimed one extra victory if they benefitted from the approximately five extra turnovers that they lost from fumble luck. Now they’re a 5-12 team instead of a 4-13 team.

If we want to get super crazy, we can also throw injury luck into the mix. The Jets suffered from 158.5 Adjusted Games Lost due to injuries in 2021, per Football Outsiders, which ranked 2nd-worst in the NFL. Let’s say the Jets benefitted from better injury luck and retained some of the key contributors they lost for the season. Give them another extra win thanks to the improved talent and now they’re a 6-11 team.

Is this Jets team building off a stronger foundation than it might seem?

On paper, it appears that the Jets have been spending the 2022 offseason tacking pieces onto a 4-13 caliber roster. But what if their floor is higher than that? By simply taking the 2021 team and adjusting it for league-average luck with fumbles and injuries, it easily could have been a 6 or 7-win club.

I went off on a little bit of an overly optimistic tangent there, but ultimately, the point is this: there’s a lot of luck involved in football, and the Jets were on the wrong end of it in 2021. If their luck evens out next year, they could take a bigger leap in the win column than many expect.

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Michael Nania is one of the best analytical New York Jets minds in the world, combining his statistical expertise with game film to add proper context to the data. Nania scrapes every corner, ensuring you know all there is to know about everyone from the QB to the long snapper. Nania's Numbers, Nania's QB Grades, and Nania's All-22 give fans a deeper and more well-rounded dive into the Jets than anyone else can offer. Email: michael.nania[at]jetsxfactor.com - Twitter: @Michael_Nania
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1 year ago

Totally agree! The ball takes a fortuitous bounce a few times and it’s a different story! Concentrate on ball drills team! They will be good this year and attitude is everything! Can’t wait! Just extend This season!!!

Barney Miller
Barney Miller
1 year ago

LOVE this article! I keep telling people that the one thing the Jets need that lots of other teams have is simply some better LUCK! I’m not religious or very superstitious (though I do seem to knock wood a lot) but the fact is that the Jets have simply had a long run of bad luck since ’68-69. I should know. I’m over 50! I’ve been witnessing that bad luck for decades. Mud Bowl, Fake Spike, Butt Fumble, on & on. Sometimes I think this “bad luck” mentality has seeped into the fans and even the organization. “We’re cursed!” “Broadway Joe sold his soul to win Super Bowl III”, etc. Once that sets in, then the narrative in the media and maybe inside the team building is “Same Ol’ Jets”.

I truly feel it’s different this year. I haven’t felt this since the Hard Knocks season. Can we depend on better luck due to the law of averages? No. As you say Michael, that’s not how math works. Our chances of good or bad luck are the same as they are for every team every year. But if you combine bad luck with a bad mindset and bad talent, that bad luck can look endemic.

Now we have the talent. I think JD & Saleh have also successfully changed the mindset. Inside AND outside the building. Think of the spat between TV Rex Ryan and Saleh. They had a meeting and Rex changed his tune. Quick. Think of how excited this fan base is. After a 4 win season!! When was the last time a team with such a bad record was so excited to start the next season?

Yes, we need luck. But as a life coach once told me “Destiny can lead you to the destination, but only action can create the actuality”. We’ve almost eliminated all the excuses. Except for luck. Even WITH some bad luck we should be better this year. With good luck? PLAYOFFS! (Cut to Herm Edwards ‘Playoffs?’ meme. Ha!)

Jonathan Richter
Jonathan Richter
1 year ago

I agree. Just the Lawson injury alone probably cost us 2 wins. this team is better than our record suggests.