Words by Jim Ayello; rankings by Paul Charchian
1. Stephen Gostkowski vs. Jacksonville
Give Gus Bradley credit. He’s turned around a laughingstock franchise and transformed it into a borderline respectable squad. That said, he still has a long way to go before Jags fans feel safe battling the league’s premier teams. The New England offense is in full “Go Luck yourself” mode, and the Jaguars are their next victim. Gostkowski owners should expect another outstanding day from the consensus No. 1 kicker, who is coming off a perfect 4-for-4 outing. He takes on a unit that has allowed the most attempts in the league so far this year (7) and the 10th most last season.
2. Justin Tucker vs. Cincinnati
Did you know that after a little more than three seasons into his NFL career, Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in league history at 90.35 percent? Did you know that in that past three years, he has missed just one field goal between 40 and 49 yards? Did you know he’s never missed an extra point? Did you know that in six career games against the Bengals, he averages more than two field goals made per game? Did you know you should start him? I bet you did.
3. Brandon McManus at Detroit
Innaccuracy plagued McManus and his owners last season, but so far this season, the young bootlegger (I know that’s not what that word means, but it kind of sounds like it should work, doesn’t it?) is a perfect 5-for-5 on field goal attempts, including a league-best three from 50-plus yards away. Expect him to get plenty of opportunities to add to his sterling season against a Detroit defense that is allowing nearly 30 points per game.
4. Matt Bryant at Dallas
Bryant owners will enjoy two major advantages in this game. First, the Falcons kicker is five percent more accurate inside a dome (88.7 percent) than he is outdoors. Second, Bryant always has been a hot starter, connecting on almost 91 percent of field goals in September, which is also about five percent better than any other month. As for game advantages, expect Atlanta to have the ball a lot. With Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and maybe Jason Witten absent, this Cowboys offense will produce plenty of three-and-outs, giving Atlanta and Bryant loads of opportunities to rack up points.
5. Josh Brown vs. Washington
Being a kicker for the New York Giants is like hitting atop the Toronto Blue Jays batting order. You’re going to score. In Brown’s past seven regular-season games, he’s earned at least two field goal attempts in all but one of them. All together, he picked up 24 tries in those games, meaning he’s averaging about three per contest. And best of all, right now, Brown is making those opportunities count, as he is a perfect 6-for-6 on the season, including two 40-plus yarders last week and a 50-yarder in the opener.
6. Mason Crosby vs. Kansas City
Crosby is amid what some in our business would call a hot streak. Dating back to last year’s postseason, Crosby has connected on 13 consecutive field goals, including six from 40 yards and beyond. Meanwhile, the Chiefs surrendered the sixth most field goal tries last season, and while they are off to a slow start this year -- only three allowed so far -- they have already given up 51 points to offenses not nearly as scary as Green Bay’s.
7. Steven Hauschka vs. Chicago
Hauschka owners are going to enjoy a solid day from their kicker, but it will probably come one frustrating point at a time. The Bears defense has been downright dreadful this year, surrendering a league-worst 39.5 points per game on 11 touchdowns and just one field goal. So Hauschka will score, it probably just won’t be in three, four or five-point bunches. Last time I checked, though, six extra points are worth just as much as two chip-shot field goals.
8. Dan Carpenter at Miami
While he wasn’t perfect, Carpenter enjoyed two of his highest scoring days against the Dolphins last year, going a combined 8-for-10 on field goals with a pair of extra points. And lately, he’s been spectacular, as he hasn’t missed a field goal try in his past six games. Deploy Carpenter with confidence this week against a Dolphins squad that already has allowed multiple field goal attempts in their first two contests this season.
9. Mike Nugent at Baltimore
No one is getting to the red zone at higher clip than Nugent’s Bengals, who are averaging five trips per game. Meanwhile, Nugent booted five field goals in his most recent visit to The Charm City, and the Ravens have been the most generous defense to opposing kickers, allowing a league-high seven made field goals and five extra points.
10. Matt Prater vs. Denver
Oh, yeah! Here we go. The matchup we all can’t stop talking about. It’s Matt Prater (montage of Prater’s game winning kicks) vs. the Broncos (montage of newspaper headlines: “Prater’s Plummet”; “See ya later, Prater”; “Kicked to the curb”), and make no mistake Prater will be out for blood in this one. Hell hath no fury like a kicker scorned! … I’m pretty pumped.
Anyway, Prater will be a decent option against the Broncos, especially because it looks like Matthew Stafford will play. Dating back to last season, Prater has hit 12 of his past 13 field goals, including five from longer than 40 yards, and he is five percent more accurate in his career at home than he is on the road.
11. Chandler Catanzaro vs. 49ers
Now that’s the 49ers defense we all expected to see. Jim Tomsula’s bunch surrendered 43 points against the high-flying Steelers and are about to face an even more potent offense in the Cardinals. Arizona leads the league in points (79), and though that hasn’t been a boon to Catanzaro -- he’s hit just one field goal this year -- that will soon change. The Cardinals offense will continue to make frequent trips to the red zone, but they will not continue to score touchdowns a ridiculous 100 percent of the time. Catanzaro’s time is coming.
12. Adam Vinatieri at Titans
OK. No one is panicking about a kicker, but between his 0-for-2 start and the Colts playing like a team in the first 60 minutes of every sports movie, I could see a few fantasy owners abandoning Vinatieri’s long-steady bandwagon. But this is no time for leavery (my words are better than Webster’s). In fact, if people bothered to swap kickers, I’d say his early misfortune makes him an excellent buy-low waiver-grab, especially for this week. Last year, the Colts put up 68 points in two tilts against the Titans, and the 42-year-old legend buried four field goals and eight extra points in those games. I know the Colts have looked bad, but these are still the Titans we’re talking about.
13. Dan Bailey vs. Atlanta
Remember when I told you Justin Tucker is the most accurate kicker in football history? Well, Bailey is nipping at his heels at No. 2, just tenths of a percentage point away at 90.07 percent. I know Romo’s absence will hurt Bailey’s cause, but Atlanta’s defense has surrendered two field goal attempts in each of their first two games, while Bailey has drilled a pair in each of his first two. Though his opportunities may be limited, Bailey’s historic accuracy means he will capitalize on the chances he does get.
14. Blair Walsh vs San Diego
Ah, the man so many fantasy owners unoriginally named their team after. Come on, guys. It’s long past time for some new material. If you’re still “The Blair Walsh Project,” you need to take a hard look in the mirror, then at your roster, and step it up a notch. I believe in you. Much like I believe in Walsh this week (now that’s a professional segue!) against a Chargers defense that has yet to give up many field goals but has been generous in doling out points. San Diego has allowed the the 11th most points in the league, including 28 to a sub-par Lions unit. Meanwhile, Teddy Bridgewater and Co. have provided Walsh six straight games with at least two field goal attempts. Expect a similar showing here.
15. Josh Lambo at Minnesota
Former MLS goalkeeper turned NFL kicker. Cool story, and as it turns out, better kicker. So far this season, the rookie has nailed four of his five attempts -- including one from 40-plus -- and I expect him to get a few more tries this week as a result of soaring Chargers offense that’s second in the league in red zone trips. Also, the Vikings already have surrendered four field goal tries in two games. For those in dynasty leagues, this is a guy to keep an eye on.
Robbie Gould at Seattle
Call me crazy, but this matchup intrigues me. I know ostrich-face (Google it!) Jimmy Clausen will be at the helm of the Bears this week, but Seattle has struggled to stop the run. Matt Forte remains among the league’s best, giving the Bears a shot to move the ball. Meanwhile, Gould is the sixth most accurate kicker in league history (85.86 percent) and already is a perfect 6-for-6 on the year. Ironically, opposing kickers are 6-for-6 against Seattle this season along with five extra points, making them one of the most favorable matchups in the league for kickers through two weeks.