First things first: Let's not pile on Cody Parkey. Yeah, he had a rotten year. Yeah, the Bears probably regret letting Robbie Gould go, who's missed just three out of 85 field-goal attempts in the past three years away from Chicago.
But the kick he missed Sunday night was tipped. Hitting the upright and the crossbar was dramatic and unfortunate (especially considering Parkey's no stranger to what we affectionately call the doink) but the NFL has officially labeled the play a blocked kick. And he handled the scrutiny after the game like a true professional, facing the press and answering the tough questions at the lowest point in his career. And that was before we knew it wasn't totally his fault. Tough break, but it's not really on him.
So this isn't about Parkey or the Bears. It's about the teams that didn't even play this past weekend, and why their strength should be your strength next season.
Watching the wild-card games, it seemed clear that kickers play a huge role in a team's success. Seattle had basically no chance at an onside kick once Sebastian Janikowski got hurt after attempting a long field-goal. They lost by two. And Mike Badgley scored 15 of the Chargers' 23 points in a game they won by six. The only game where the kickers didn't really play a role was Colts/Texans, which had two really good ones. They only tried extra points, but that's how it goes sometimes.
The winners this past weekend earned the right to face the higher-seeded teams. Those teams differ in a lot of ways: Some are better than others offensively and defensively, some have premier runners, some have great young quarterbacks and some have great old quarterbacks. But one thing they mostly have in common is great kickers.
Gostkowski. Zuerlein. Lutz. If you had a fantasy kicker draft, these guys would all be in the top five. They're solid kickers and they're solid fantasy kickers. Only Zuerlein was out of the top 10 inscoring, but he missed five games. Put him on the field for those contests and he might have been the league's scoring leader. With that in mind, why wouldn't you pick them a round or two earlier than your opponents?
The counter-argument starts with two words: Harrison Butker. The kicker on the AFC's #1 seed is a glaring exception. Was Kansas City's kicker even drafted in your league, or was he sitting on the waiver wire, waiting to help you win a title? Butker, Houston's Ka'imi Fairbairn and Baltimore's perennial fantasy hero, Justin Tucker, all scored more than the guys I touted just a paragraph ago. Why waste an earlier pick on a kicker when someone just as good (or better) can be found at the end of your draft or on the waiver wire?
Those arguments make sense, and I don't normally compare regular football to fantasy football. But when it comes to kickers, I think fantasy managers make the same mistakes as their professional counterparts. Sure, you might hit on a budget player who can do the job just as well. But what if you don't? What if you end up with a Brandon McManus as your fantasy kicker instead?
Hey, no big deal. The difference between McManus and Lutz was less than three points a game. And that's fine, until you start thinking about the games you lost by two points, or one point, or a stupid fraction. That can be the difference between winning and losing a game or two, and that can put you in the playoffs. Or keep you out of them, of course.
If it seems like I stick up for kickers more than a typical fantasy owner, maybe you're right. But here's the thing: There are only so many opportunities to get an edge over your competition, and some of those are out of your control. You can't tinker with your schedule. You can't add a few auction dollars to your budget. But you can put the odds in your favor with regard to kickers. Sure, another opponent will also stumble into a top guy. But if half the league has a good kicker, why not try to make sure you're one of them?
By the way, half your league is probably about six teams. And if you look at the NFL, five of the top-six scoring kickers were playoff teams. Good NFL teams tend to have reliable kickers. In my leagues, the owners with Lutz and Zuerlein were among the top-scoring teams. I know because I had them. I didn't win the title in all those leagues, but my kicking game was one less headache I had this year. There isn't much you can glean from the NFL playoffs that will help you in August, but I think the fact that that good teams have good kickers should stick with you. Or you could roll the dice on your kicking game and hope for the best. Ask the Buccaneers how that's been going for them.
Did you stick with one kicker this season, or did you play the waiver wire? Did your strategy help or hurt you? Share your thoughts below.