January 19, 2010
As far as placekicking goes, the NFL playoffs have thus far been a parade of shanks, yanks, yips and dips. They've left you heartbroken and cost you money (and by "you," of course, I mean "me").
If it's seemed like the league's kickers have been less competent than usual, it's not your imagination. They have been. Kickers have been performing at levels way, way below the regular season average. I've come up with a graph to show you just how bad things have been, because everyone loves a good graph.
Look at that. Kickers are making 57.7 percent of their attempts in the playoffs, down from 81.3 percent in the regular season. That's a remarkable plummet. The stock market looks at that drop and says, "Wow, that's harsh." So far, the field goal percentage of all kickers in the playoffs is worse than that of the worst team in the regular season.
The Tampa Bay Bucs made 16-of-26 field goal attempts this season. Right now, playoff kickers are 15-of-26.
It's not just that a bad batch of field goal kickers made it to the playoffs, either. I checked. As it turns out, it's a better than average group of field goal kickers. Again, the entire NFL converted 81.3 percent of all field goals this year, and the gentlemen who kicked into the postseason made 85.2 of their field goals.
Also consider the fact that the majority of games have been in domes (or in San Diego), and it makes it even weirder. The number of misses in the cold weather games (Jets @ Bengals, Ravens @ Patriots) isn't disproportionate to the total.
Clutch field goal attempts (clutch, in this case, being defined as a fourth quarter attempt in a game that was still competitive) are even worse. Kickers on those are just 1-for-4. Admittedly, it's a small sample size, but under normal circumstances in the regular season, I'd still expect that to be higher.
The added pressure is the only explanation that makes sense. A sports psychologist could take a group of NFL kickers for a weekend and just have a field day with them. It makes me think that NFL scouting departments need to -- and probably will -- come up with a way to measure what these guys will be like when the pressure is ratcheted up to 10. I don't know how you do that, but it wouldn't surprise me if the NFL scouting combine got weirder and much more stressful for kickers in the coming years.
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