Kickers. Rarely are they top of mind when you’re handicapping an NFL matchup, but oftentimes they end up becoming the difference between a winning bet and a losing one. And as we witnessed in last weekend’s Bills-Texans field goal extravaganza, their importance is even more amplified in the playoffs, when games frequently go down to the wire and a team’s fate no longer rests on the shoulders of its quarterback or the collective might of its defense, but rather the leg of a kicker.
With that in mind, let’s rank all the boots still standing in this year’s playoff field, from bettors’ best friends to … well, close your eyes and hold your breath.
TIER 1: CASH MONEY
Justin Tucker (Ravens)
The gold standard of kickers, Tucker booted the Ravens past the top-seeded Broncos with a walk-off 47-yarder in a 2012 divisional game as a rookie and hasn’t looked back since, amassing historic numbers to go along with his Super Bowl ring from ‘12. Simply put, if this guy is lining up for a game-winning kick, your ticket is basically already cashed.
TIER 2: NOT AFRAID OF THE MOMENT
Mason Crosby (Packers); Harrison Butker (Chiefs)
Both guys in this tier have proven their consistency in different sample sizes while sprinkling in big kicks in big moments.
Crosby has seen it all over nine playoff runs dating back to 2007, making all but three of his 29 career field goal attempts, highlighted by a 48-yarder in Seattle to send the 2014 NFC Championship Game to overtime, and a game-winning 51-yarder in a 2016 divisional game vs. the Cowboys. The 35-year-old veteran was rock-solid this season as well, drilling 22 of 24 field goals while missing just one extra point in 41 attempts.
The 24-year-old Butker is on the other end of the experience spectrum, but he’s nonetheless proven extremely reliable over his three years in the league. That includes last year’s playoffs, when he stuck a game-tying 39-yarder as time expired in the AFC Championship Game vs. the Patriots. This season, he went 34-for-38 on field goals and almost singlehandedly beat the Vikings in Week 9, tying the game with a 54-yarder late in the fourth before knocking through a game-winning 44-yarder at the horn.
TIER 3: CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC
Dan Bailey (Vikings); Robbie Gould (49ers); Jason Myers (Seahawks); Ka’imi Fairbairn (Texans)
Of this quartet, Gould boasts the best playoff resume, having made all eight of his field goal attempts in seven career games — including a game-winning 49-yarder in overtime of a divisional game vs. Seattle back in 2006 — but he hasn’t been very reliable this season, going just 23-for-31 overall. Bailey, meanwhile, has enjoyed a solid career, making 87.3 percent of his field goals over nine seasons, including a 29-for-31 showing in 2019 (though he did miss four extra points). He’s been fairly reliable in four career playoff games but has never been called on in a game-deciding moment.
Fairbairn and Myers, conversely, just got their first taste of playoff kicking last weekend. Fairbairn came up big vs. the Bills, hitting a 41-yarder in the fourth quarter and a game-winning 28-yarder in overtime. But he struggled throughout the season, missing five of 25 field goal attempts, in addition to five extra points. Myers, who made one field goal vs. the Eagles and had another blocked, also dealt with his fair share of issues this season, going 23-for-28 on field goals while shanking four extra points. He did hit a few clutch kicks in Week 10 vs. the 49ers, though, capped by a game-winning 42-yarder in overtime.
TIER 4: COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
Greg Joseph (Titans)
There’s inexperienced and then there’s Joseph, who not only has never attempted a field goal in the playoffs but hasn’t even attempted one period for the Titans since being signed off the street in mid-December. In 14 games for the Browns last year, Joseph went 17-for-20 on field goals and an underwhelming 25-for-29 on extra points. Simply put, Tennessee bettors won’t want their tickets riding on the leg of Joseph.