The kicking situations for the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots couldn't be more different as the NFL playoffs approach.
The Ravens earned a huge 20-17 win over the NFC-leading San Francisco 49ers on Sunday that ultimately vaulted them ahead of the Patriots to claim the AFC's No. 1 seed. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker converted a 49-yard field goal as time expired to improve his team's record to 10-2 atop the conference standings.
Tucker gives the Ravens a clear advantage over the Patriots at an increasingly important position. You might have noticed that NFL kickers have had loads of trouble this season. Even many of the league's best kickers have struggled at times. Tucker, however, has been immune.
The 30-year-old veteran is the best kicker in the league. He's hit on a league-best 95.7 percent (20-for-21) of his field goal attempts, and he's converted on 42 of 43 extra points. Tucker also has made seven of eight field goal attempts from 40 yards and beyond.
The most impressive Tucker stat involves his ability to come through in the clutch. Sunday's game-winning kick was Tucker's 38th consecutive made field goal in the fourth quarter. He's better than any kicker with the game on the line. Tucker is a huge weapon for a Ravens offense that leads the league in points scored per game with MVP candidate Lamar Jackson at quarterback.
The Patriots, meanwhile, have had a nightmare season with kickers.
Veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski was lost for the season after four weeks because of hip surgery. New England signed Mike Nugent to replace Gostkowski, but he only lasted four games and was released after missing two field goal attempts in a Week 8 win over the Cleveland Browns. Nick Folk was brought in to replace Nugent, and he performed pretty well with seven field goals made in nine tries. Folk was released Friday after he had an appendectomy.
Kai Forbath was signed Saturday to be the fourth Patriots kicker this season. His debut performance Sunday night against the Houston Texans was not encouraging. He missed an extra point and hit a chip shot 23-yard field goal.
Kicking could be a huge problem in the playoffs, especially when snowy/windy/rainy January weather becomes a factor. The Patriots have made the fewest field goals from 40-plus yards of the six AFC teams currently in a playoff spot, and they have the fourth-best field goal percentage of those six postseason contenders. New England also is one of just two teams that hasn't even attempted a 50-plus yard field goal.
The Ravens are a better team than the Patriots in several areas, and one of them is kicking. It's a huge luxury for Baltimore as it gears up for postseason play.
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