Ranking the Kickers Remaining in the 2015 NFL Playoffs
If you're even remotely interested in the NFL, I don't really need to remind you what happened during the wild card round. It was fairly memorable.
And, of course, the Vikings fell to the Seahawks after a 27-yard field goal went awry for Blair Walsh during one of the coldest games in league history.
But that missed field goal brings with it a fair question: which team has the best, most reliable kicker? After all, they do have a lot of influence when games are this tight.
To examine this, I'll be using Net Expected Points (NEP). Rather than just look at field goal percentage and manually (and haphazardly) apply the distance of each miss, I'll let NEP do the heavy lifting. NEP indicates how far above or below expectation a player performed relative to league average. Basically, a make from 50 yards (an unlikelier scoring play than a 30-yarder) will be weighted accordingly. Also, when the game is tight, NEP will factor that in, too.
I'll also scope out how players performed on field goals and extra points in the fourth quarter and overtime this regular season.
The Field Goal NEP and Field Goal NEP per play ranks listed below are among the 28 kickers with at least 20 field goal attempts this regular season. Late-game NEP ranks are among the eight remaining kickers.
8. Chris Boswell, Pittsburgh Steelers
Field Goal NEP: 7.19 (20th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.22 (20th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: -0.36 (5th)
Chris Boswell wasn't exactly Pittsburgh's first choice for kicker this season. Shaun Suisham tore his ACL, and the team signed Josh Scobee for four games. On 10 field goal attempts, Scobee lost the Steelers 5.48 points in expected scoring, 0.55 points per attempt. Boswell's metrics aren't anything stellar, and he's the least efficient kicker remaining, based on our metrics. Still, he's been much better than Scobee, for what that's worth.
7. Cairo Santos, Kansas City Chiefs
Field Goal NEP: 9.10 (18th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.25 (19th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: -4.33 (8th)
Believe it or not, Cairo Santos hasn't been much better than Boswell. He attempted five more field goals (37 compared to 32) and was marginally more efficient on a per-attempt basis, but he was just 6 of 9 on field goal attempts in the fourth quarter or overtime, leading to the worst late-game NEP of the remaining kickers.
6. Graham Gano, Carolina Panthers
Field Goal NEP: 12.31 (15th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.34 (18th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: -3.80 (7th)
Graham Gano, as you'll see, is in his own tier in terms of per-attempt efficiency. He's a solid step above Boswell and Santos but a good bit behind the rest of the kicker class. Gano hit on 12 of 16 late-game field goals and 8 of 10 extra points, leaving his NEP to be the second-worst among playoff kickers.
5. Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
Field Goal NEP: 14.25 (14th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.46 (13th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: 2.84 (2nd)
Alternatively, Chandler Catanzaro was pretty clutch for the Cardinals this year. He hit all 9 of his field goal attempts after the third quarter -- though he was 9 of 12 on extra point tries. However, on a per-attempt basis, he was a cut above the bottom three kickers, giving Arizona -- our algorithm's favorite to win the Super Bowl -- a reliable and efficient option.
4. Mason Crosby, Green Bay Packers
Field Goal NEP: 16.11 (11th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.58 (6th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: -2.43 (6th)
Despite (or perhaps because of) the Packers' offensive issues this season, Mason Crosby attempted only 28 field goals, fewest among the eight remaining kickers (Catanzaro and Steven Hauschka each had 31). So, the fact that his cumulative Field Goal NEP is this good on the limited attempts shows his efficiency -- and is why he ranked 6th among the 28 qualified kickers in Field Goal NEP per attempt. Late in the game, though, he wasn't as reliable. Though he missed only two of his nine field goal tries. one was a very costly miss: a 52-yard attempt at the end of the game in Week 10, leading to an 18-16 loss to the Lions.
3. Brandon McManus, Denver Broncos
Field Goal NEP: 17.53 (9th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.50 (11th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: 0.12 (4th)
Brandon McManus was busy late in the game, attempting 12 field goals and 12 extra points. He missed two of the field goals. Overall, McManus provided Denver with a top-10 option this year, and he's no stranger to late-game kicks, even if his NEP in those situations isn't anything spectacular.
2. Stephen Gostkowski, New England Patriots
Field Goal NEP: 19.63 (6th)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 0.55 (9th)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: 1.62 (3rd)
Though it feels like Stephen Gostkowski never misses (he was 16 of 16 on late-game extra points and 6 of 6 on field goals), he's a big step behind the best kicker left in the playoffs. Somewhat a product of volume, Gostkowski had a per-play Field Goal NEP was just a tick above McManus'. Still, late in the game, he didn't miss. Remember: Santos, Gostkowski's kicking counterpart, struggled in late-game situations this season, based on NEP.
1. Steven Hauschka, Seattle Seahawks
Field Goal NEP: 30.90 (1st)
Field Goal NEP/Play: 1.00 (1st)
Fourth-Quarter Field Goal/Extra Point NEP: 4.34 (1st)
Hauschka ran the table in these marks, and his Field Goal NEP was more than 7 points higher than second-place Matt Prater's 23.76. In fairness, Prater recorded that on 7 fewer attempts, and his per-play NEP (0.99) was in line with Hauschka's.
Only one other qualified kicker -- Adam Vinatieri at 0.84 -- posted a Field Goal NEP per play higher than 0.62. Let that sink in.
Hauschka was lights out this season overall, and only one other kicker -- Prater -- really came close.