The San Francisco 49ers held an 11-3 record at this point last season.
They were plus-25 in turnover differential, a margin they seemed very unlikely to duplicate in 2012. It was natural to assume the team's record might suffer when the turnover margin regressed to a more realistic figure.
Weeks 1-14: Turnover Margin Change
The turnover differential has definitely regressed. The 49ers are only plus-eight in that category through 14 games this season. But at 10-3-1, they have lost only one-half game in the standings. That half-game swing would seem to reflect the St. Louis Rams' improvement as much as any significant shift for the 49ers.
San Francisco has improved quite a bit on offense. The 49ers' cumulative total for expected points is 66.0 through Week 15, up from minus-13.2 at this point last season. The team's defensive EPA stands at minus-72.4, nearly as good as the minus-83.1 figure at this point last season. Other variables come into play, obviously. Teams change from year to year. Opponents change. The ball bounces differently.
Those expecting the 49ers to fall into the 9-7 range when the turnovers stopped flowing so furiously weren't on target. I personally thought the 49ers would be very unlikely to repeat their 13-3 record from last season simply because that is a high bar to clear. While they cannot get to 13-3, victories over Seattle and Arizona would leave them at 12-3-1 -- as close as a team can come to 13-3 without being 13-3.
The 49ers have committed 14 turnovers and collected 22 this season. The figures were 10 and 35, respectively, at this point in 2011. Seattle has committed four fewer turnovers and forced one additional one. Arizona has committed two additional turnovers while doubling the number of turnovers forced from 16 at this point last season to 32 at present. The Rams' numbers have stayed about the same.
The Cardinals' fall in the standings despite a doubling of turnovers collected shows how much the offense has declined. Arizona was at minus-28.8 expected points on offense through 14 games last season. The figure is minus-179.2 this season, last in the NFL by 85-plus points. Arizona's defensive EPA stands at minus-75.3, which ranks second in the NFL. The figure was plus-6.8 last season, which ranked 15th.