A Numbers Game: Kicking is for Losers

A Numbers Game: Kicking is for Losers

There are no fans in the stands! If there was ever a time for NFL kickers to shine, it’s now. The pressure is off — it’s just you and your boys playing a pickup game at the local park.

Instead, you get ESPN headlines like Gostkowski finally delivers in Titans’ 16-14 win in Denver. “Finally” should not be a celebration. What an atrocious performance from the Titans kicker.

According to Next Gen Stats, the make probability of field goals of 47, 44 and 42 yards ranges from 75.8 percent up to 81.8 percent. The chances of Gostkowski missing all three was 1 in 105 for a one percent chance. Oh, and he also missed an extra point. It was only his 12th missed extra point in 14 seasons.

Another fun tidbit, just to hammer home how much of an off night he had: Gostkowski has had six seasons in which he missed three or fewer field goals before missing three on Monday. He was the fifth-most accurate kicker in NFL history but after that yuck of a game, he dropped to ninth.

But he did make the game-winning field goal. So, there’s that. And after just one game, we’ve already had our first kicker waived. Austin Seibert was booted from the Browns after missing both an extra point and a field goal in Sunday’s 38-6 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

With that, let me say I don’t lay big money on the NFL. I definitely keep it to being “wagertainment” but if I do want to take a spread or a total on an NFL game, I want to dot my i’s and cross my t’s. With spreads being so spot-on in this league, I think it’s warranted that you consider looking at the kicker.

If you have anything between a pick’em to a 3-point spread, are you going to feel comfortable taking a team that missed three field goals the previous week?

Coaching is also a factor, as we saw with the Dallas Cowboys and Mike McCarthy. The decision was made to attempt a fourth-and-three conversion at the Rams’ 11-yard line with 11:46 left instead of kicking a field goal to tie the game. Now, I don’t know what the analytics say to do — go for it on fourth or kick the field goal — but I do know that I’ll be thinking about both coaching and kicking before I finalize a betting decision.

As an added element of information, here are the best and worst kickers in the NFL, along with the teams and coaches that are heavy on attempting fourth-down conversions.

The Best

Robbie Gould, San Francisco 49ers: 87% in his career, 71% from 50+ yards out. He’s a reliable kicker but the 49ers have another option: going for it on fourth downs. Under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have improved year after year. They converted on just 44% in 2017, 50% in 2018 and jumped to 58% last year. Kick it or go for it. I trust the Niners.

Harrison Butker, Kansas City Chiefs: He is second-best in the league right now with a 90% field-goal rate. Last year the Chiefs were last in fourth-down attempts but third-best in converting at 65%. Maybe they just weren’t put into fourth-down situations but when the time called for it, they executed superbly. No surprise.

Josh Lambo, Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jags on a “best” list? Yes. Lambo is 89% in his career and went 2-for-2 on Sunday and an incredible 97% last year. Keep it rolling, DUUUVAL. Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens: Best in the league at 91%! John Harbaugh and the Ravens, fifth-best on fourth downs last year.

The Worst

Zane Gonzalez, Arizona Cardinals: If you are talking straight percentages, Gonzalez is the third-worst active kicker right now. In his career, he sits at 78% and on Sunday had a poor performance, making just one of three field goals attempted. Fortunately for the Cardinals, Kliff Kingsbury is one heck of a coach. The Cardinals were the second-best team last year at converting on fourth downs with a 65% success rate.

Greg Zuerlein, Dallas Cowboys: His career percentage is 82%. However, he went 73% last year with the Rams, one of the worst percentages in the league, and is 58% from 50 yards or longer.

Mike McCarthy converted 56, 50, 53 and 41 percent on fourth downs in his last four seasons with the Packers. Whether it be play-calling or fear of your kicker, I’m not confident in Dallas right now in close-game situations. Prove it to me.

Keep an Eye Out For:

Cairo Santos, Chicago Bears: He’s 81% in his career but with the Titans last year, he went just 44% before being released. From 50+ yards out, he’s 47%.

You already have a quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky who is mediocre at best. Now, you have a kicker who may or may not convert field-goal attempts. This team last year was 11th in the league in fourth-down attempts but 29th in conversion rate at just 33%.

Tyler Bass, Buffalo Bills: This is his first year as an NFL kicker and Sunday was his first game. He went 2-for-4, converting two field goals from within 29 yards but missing two from 30+ yards out. Perhaps it was nerves, but in a tight-spread situation in a big conference game (against a better team than the Jets), I may take this into consideration.

Ryan Succop, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He is 82% in his career but when he was with the Titans last year for a short stint, he went 1-6 for 17%. So far, he’s not looking much improved because on Sunday he went 50% and missed from 50 yards out.

Jake Elliott, Philadelphia Eagles: He missed from 50 yards out Sunday but is 83% overall. What does concern me is that the Eagles last year were seventh in fourth-down attempts but 30th in conversion rate at just 33% and went 0-2 in attempts on Sunday. That trend is looking to continue. After seeing Carson Wentz spend most of the game on his back, that conversion rate and that offensive line is something to think about.

Stephen Gostkowski, Tennessee Titans: Well, this is a given. He still is one of the best, but it’ll be interesting to see how he bounces back this week. The Titans were 28th at converting on fourth downs last year at just 35%. Gostkowski will need to clean up or we might see some forced fourth-down situations.

Is this directly correlated to betting? Perhaps not but as someone who likes numbers and likes to double- or triple-check everything before placing a wager, I think having any bit of extra information could help. Maybe we’ll see improvements or maybe it’ll be another year of “kicking is for losers.”

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