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While watching NFL games this year, I noticed that kickers are much more successful on field goals than usual. This could just be an anomaly of the games I watched. After the season ended, I found annual NFL kicking data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com.
I decided to use data from the past 25 years (1983-2007) since this was a large enough data set to closely resemble the present day as compared to the game data from the 1930s. Playing with the data, I found that kickers had an overall success rate of 76.5% on overall FGs. In 2008, 845 FGs were made out of 1000 attempts for an astounding 84.5% success rate. For kicks over 50 yards, the success rate in the past 25 years was a measly 46.6%. In 2008, this skyrocketed to 63.5% with 66 FGs made out of 104 attempts. Some of the increases can be attributed to the increase in offense and scoring throughout football. The increased offense still cannot explain that the number of 50+ FGM and total FGM are more than two standard deviations from the average.
What can be the reasons for the sudden increase in kicking power and accuracy in the NFL? I can only see two factors that can play a role for these changes:
Whatever the reasons for this amazing kicking season, it will be fun to watch the role kickers play in the divisional round of the playoffs.
In what should be a defensive matchup, the kickers should play a pivotal part for each team. Matt Stover of the Ravens is one of the more accurate kickers in the league, but does not have the leg for longer kicks. The Ravens use little-known Steven Hauschka for long range FGs. Rob Bironas of the Titans is a powerful kicker who made a 60-yarder back in 2006. In a game where points are a premium, Bironas will have an advantage over Stover.
Both defenses are dangerous and the offenses will try to recover from injuries. Both Nate Kaeding and Jeff Reed are solid kickers, but they will have a hard time on Sunday. Heinz Field, with it swirling winds, shoddy turf, and possibly snow will definitely play a factor.
David Akers and John Carney were second and third in points scored by kickers this season. We will see how both kickers hold up in East Rutherford, as there will be a morning snow shower and winds of around 20 miles per hour during gametime.