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Some teams are better than others at punching the football into the painted area. Sometimes this is because they’re loaded with good players and good play callers, but it’s mostly related to risk assessment and tolerance.
Are you willing to pass on an easy three points for the glory of six points? The answer for many NFL coaches -- even the great ones -- is no. Coaches lose their jobs over red zone aggression. No one’s ever been fired for settling for a field goal from the three-yard line. It’s acceptable, traditional failure versus unacceptable, nontraditional failure.
This, of course, has an outsized impact on kicker opportunity -- the only thing that matters.
Below are teams with the worst red zone touchdown conversion rate through Week 12. This by no means guarantees a team’s kickers fantasy relevance -- you’ll notice a couple of teams whose kicker will never be mentioned in this space -- but it can be actionable if you’re torn between two kicker options in a given week.
Red Zone possessions per game
Red zone TD conversion rate
-This, in part, explains why Graham Gano -- fantasy’s No. 12 kicker -- has so often defied the process as New York’s kicker. The Giants stink at turning red zone visits into touchdowns. They also don’t see a lot of red-zone possessions. That explains why ten of Gano’s 22 field goals this season have come from more than 40 yards. His path to fantasy success is exceedingly narrow.
-Washington is hypothetically interesting if they could ever sign a kicker who plays for more than 15 minutes. The Football Team’s new extreme ball control offense -- predicated on keeping games close against superior opponents -- might generate enough decent game script to make their next kicker fantasy viable … sometimes.
-Carlson, fantasy’s second-highest scoring kicker, has certainly been helped by his team’s red zone ineptitude. More on him below.
-Denver’s propensity for red-zone field goals should make Brandon McManus a reasonable fantasy option. With multiple field goal tries in five of the Broncos’ six wins, he’s only in play when the Broncos are favored. Denver is a massive road dog in Week 13.
Week 12 Results
Evan McPherson (CIN) vs. PIT
2/2 field goals
13 fantasy points
Robbie Gould (SF) vs. MIN
2/3 field goals
11 fantasy points
Jake Elliott (PHI) at NYG
0/0 field goals
1 fantasy point
Reminder: When I reference expected field goal attempts, that’s based on how many field goal tries we would expect a team to have based on their total offensive yardage. And now, once again, he dives head first into kicker notes…
-Daniel Carlson defied the haters and losers (me) on Thanksgiving, scoring 21 fantasy points on four field goal attempts against the heavily-favored Cowboys. In no way did Carlson fit the process. I dropped him in two leagues just before kickoff and proceeded to tilt my face off. But the process and whatnot. Feel free to deploy Carlson against Washington in Week 13. The Raiders are 2.5-point home favorites as of this writing. There’s no reason to think Vegas will face a bunch of negative game script against a Washington team whose approach is to play keepaway for as long as possible. Carlson has attempted the second-most field goals (27) and sits at 4.85 field goal tries over expectation. His attempts should be inflated by the Raiders’ suboptimal fourth down decision making. Computer Cowboy Ben Baldwin’s metrics show the Raiders are second worst when it comes to going for it on fourth down when they should.
-Nick Folk is the 2021 fantasy MVP. Argue with your Garfield refrigerator magnet if you disagree. Bill Belichick’s obsession with kicking field goals in the red zone and six weeks on nonstop positive game script has positioned Folk to be the runaway No. 1 fantasy kicker. He’s a mind-numbing 32 fantasy points clear of the second-highest scoring kicker, Justin Tucker. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t drafted in any fantasy league that did not include a Folk family member. The Patriots are 11.74 field goal attempts over expectation. Who cares! Nothing matters! Enjoy Arby’s!
-The Dolphins, according to Baldwin’s numbers, are the worst team in fourth down decision making over the past five weeks. That plus Tua’s efficient play in recent weeks has created decent opportunity for Sanders, who has multiple attempts in four of his past five games. Miami is only 0.53 field goal tries over expectation through Week 12. Sanders is playable in a pinch this week against the Giants. Miami is a 2.5 point favorite over the G-people.
-Joey Slye, who has never missed arm day, hurt his hammy in Washington’s Monday night win against the Seabags. The Football Team will have to sign its 69th kicker of the 2021 season. They’re reportedly trying out journeyman Brian Johnson. Who cares.
Tyler Bass (BUF) vs. NE: This game will be known across the world as a face off between two of fantasy’s top kickers. This game holds no other significance. Anyway, you’re playing Bass. Buffalo is at home and favored by three.
Nick Folk (NE) at BUF: The Patriots’ undying commitment to owning the analytics nerds with red-zone field goals should keep Folk afloat no matter the game script. This is a rare occasion in which you’re legally allowed to use a kicker on a road underdog. Buffalo had allowed eight field goal attempts in the three games before their Thanksgiving night domination of the Saints.
Matt Gay (LAR) vs. JAC: You’re rolling out any and all Rams here. LA is at home (not that it matters in Los Angeles) sporting an implied total of 30.25 points. Kickers are averaging 2.09 field goal tries per game against Jacksonville. The Rams are 1.06 field goal tries below expectation this season.
Greg Joseph (MIN) at DET: Probably you're starting Joseph every week, and that's fine. He's fantasy's No. 5 kicker thanks to the Vikings attempting 25 field goals through Week 12. Roll him out once again with Minnesota as seven-point favorites with the seventh highest implied total (26.75) of Week 13.
Greg Zuerlein (DAL) at NO: Here's to hoping the Cowboys' COVID apocalypse won't tank their on-field performance Thursday night against the Saints. Favored by four, the Cowboys have a solid 25.75 point implied total. You're playing Legatron.
Matt Prater (ARI) at CHI: Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins are, at long last, expected back for Week 13. The Cardinals are six-point road favorites here -- Prater is once again a process play. Watch for weather issues in this one. Arizona is 1.76 field goal attempts below expectation.
Harrison Butker (KC) vs. DEN: Goatker now has multiple field goal tries in six of his past seven games. The Chiefs seem comfortable with winning ugly, which is nice for KC fans, but really, truly sucks for fantasy heads. Kansas City has fallen to the middle of the pack in Ben Baldwin’s measurement of when teams should go for it on fourth down. In other words, the Chiefs -- 10-point home favorites in Week 13 -- are settling for field goals far more often than they used to. Butker drafters, this is your time. Kansas City is still 5.11 field goal attempts below expectation.
Justin Tucker (BAL) at PIT: The Ravens -- 2.4 field goal tries over expectation -- are one-point favorites on the road this week against their division rival. Only three kickers have logged more field goal attempts than the Ravens this season and the Steelers have allowed the seventh most field goal tries. Kickers facing Pittsburgh have averaged 2.16 attempts when the Steelers lose or tie. You’re feeling fine about rolling with Tucker in Week 13.
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Week 13 Streaming Options
Michael Badgley (IND) at HOU (41 percent rostered)
Many are unfairly asking if Michael Badgley pays me to tout him in kicker column after kicker column. This is nothing short of a smear campaign against me and my unassailable integrity. I did not, after all, recommend Badgley last week against Tampa, when he didn’t fit the kicker process. So please stop the attacks. I do not and never have worked for Big Badgley.
The unfortunately nicknamed Money Badger is fantasy football’s fourth-highest scoring kicker since taking over kicking duties for the Colts in Week 7. Some of that has to do with an easy schedule for the horseshoes; a lot of it has to do with the Colts committing to destroying any and all opponents with a heavy dose of Jonathan Taylor. Indianapolis has outscored its opponents by 49 points in six games since Badgley became the team’s starter. That’s a lot of good game script for the Badger.
His Week 13 matchup doesn’t require much in the way of thinking. The Colts are nine-point road favorites against a lifeless Texans team. Their implied total of 27.5 points is the fourth highest of the week, as of this writing. Against a Houston defense allowing the league’s sixth-most expected points added (EPA) per rush attempt -- and the league’s seventh-highest rushing success rate -- I’m expecting Taylor and the Colts to gain all the yards and score all the points in Week 13.
Houston allowing a relatively low 1.89 field goal attempts per game in 2021 losses is a little concerning, and their inability to stop anyone in the red zone could limit Badgley’s Week 13 ceiling. His floor should be fine -- I’d be stunned if he doesn’t approach double-digit points. Only three kickers have scored less than seven fantasy points against the Texans this year. Badgley has at least eight fantasy points in each of his past four outings. Go out and nab him off waivers if your league mates foolishly don’t grind kicker analysis every week. The Colts are 1.95 field goal attempts below expectation this season. That’s good news for Badgley.
Jake Elliott (PHI) vs. NYJ (35 percent rostered)
A single fantasy point and zero field goal tries is not what we had in mind when we rolled out Elliott in an objectively plus spot against the Giants in Week 12. The Eagles’ red zone blunders and negative game script ruined any chance Elliott had to post decent numbers against a Giants team that had given up multiple field goal attempts in seven of their 11 games entering Week 12.
Nevertheless, we trust the process.
Elliott is again a process-oriented fantasy option in Week 13. This assumes, of course, Jalen Hurts will play through an ankle injury he picked up in last week’s humiliating defeat to a laughingstock franchise. Philadelphia is a seven-point road favorite with a hefty implied total of 26.5 points, facing a Jets defense giving up the most expected points added (EPA) per play this season. The Jets are what might be called an everything funnel defense: Opponents can dominate them with the pass or the run. Judging by the Eagles’ wildly run-heavy ways over the past month and a half, we can assume Hurts and company will choose the latter. Whatever they do, they’re (likely) going to produce plenty of positive game script for our guy, Elliott.
The Jets are the premiere kicker matchup this season. No team gives up more red zone possessions per game (4.5) than Robert Saleh’s crew, and only six teams are allowing more field goal attempts. Kickers have averaged a cool 8.9 fantasy points per game against New York, the second-highest mark in the NFL.
Remember why we were excited about Elliott last week: Going into the Giants game, he had scored more fantasy points than any other kicker over the previous month. Elliott had made all 11 of his field goal tries in that four-game stretch. Things were going so well. Don’t let his maddening Week 12 result prevent you from taking advantage of another plus matchup. Kickers are highly dependent on their team’s offense -- we knew that going into Week 12 and with the sting of Elliott’s one-point performance, we know it now.
Badgley is preferable to Elliott, if just barely. Philadelphia is two field goal tries under expectation through Week 12.
Evan McPherson (CIN) vs. LAC (13 percent rostered)
I have seen the future, and the future of kicking in the NFL is Evan McPherson. The babyfaced 22-year-old is in the midst of a remarkable rookie season in which he’s connected on 85 percent of his field goals, including seven of eight kicks over 50 yards. He’s fresh off banging in two field goals of more than 50 yards in the Bengals’ Week 12 destruction of the Steelers.
In the future, people who stink at fantasy football gleefully draft McPherson three rounds before they need to, the way they once did with Justin Tucker (my future-telling abilities are limited to NFL kickers, unfortunately). With some injury luck and offensive stability in Cincinnati, McPherson will challenge the records Tucker is on pace to claim for his own.
The Bengals this week are 2.5-point home favorites facing off against an injury-riddled, underperforming Chargers defense that could (should) be annihilated by the Bengals’ suddenly surging rushing attack. The Bengals are as determined as any team to establish the hell out of the run, as evidenced last week against Pittsburgh. There’s little reason to think the Bengals -- sixth in rush EPA since Week 8 -- won’t take full advantage of a Chargers defense allowing the fourth-most expected points added (EPA) per rush over the past six weeks.
LA has given up the 12th most field goal tries this season. In losses, they’ve allowed an average of two field goal attempts. And four of the past six kickers to square off against the Bolts have scored double-digit fantasy points. McPherson is set up nicely for another fine and dandy fantasy outing. Barring weather issues or injuries to key Bengals players, McPherson can be used as an every-week starter for the rest of the season. The Bengals are 0.43 field goal attempts below expectation this season.
Robbie Gould (SF) at SEA (24 percent rostered)
The geriatric millennial is once again a viable streaming option against a ghost of the Seahawks. The Deebo-less 49ers enter Week 13 as 3.5-point favorites against a Seattle team that’s given up the tenth most field goal tries this year.
Five of the past seven kickers to face Seattle have managed multiple field goal attempts thanks to constant positive game script against a Hawks offense no longer capable of stringing together productive drives. As the Seahawks’ could-have-been dynasty takes its final breaths, fantasy managers should take advantage of Seattle’s offensive and defensive shortcomings. Be the vulture. Seek out the stench. Things of that nature.
Sometimes there are unquantifiable factors that could affect a kickers’ opportunity. That’s precisely what we have with Deebo Samuel’s groin injury, which should keep him sidelined for at least one game. Will the Niners continue pulverizing teams with their high-T offense without Samuel shredding defenses on the ground and through the air? Maybe? I don’t know. But his absence makes me less bullish on Gould this week. The 49ers, by the bye, are 0.03 field goal tries below expectation.
Gould, who has six field goal tries in his past two games because Kyle Shanahan is passionate about short field goals, is a process-oriented option with or without Samuel. I’d prefer McPherson and Badgley though.