1. Stephen Gostkowski vs. PIT
Most of the Thursday Night Football games last year, for lack of a more polite term, stunk. This game actually has some intrigue as it pits the #1 and #7 offenses from last year against each other. Tom Brady is still Tom Brady but he will be without three of his top weapons from last season. If Brady and Rob Gronkowski cannot make up for all that lost production, Bill Belichick will not hesitate to trot out Stephen Gostkowski, who hasn’t missed a kick at Foxboro since Week 2 of 2013.
2. Adam Vinatieri @ BUF
I knew that Adam Vinatieri was old, but I did not realize he was older than me. Looking back at his first season, I’m pretty sure that I drafted Vinatieri as my kicker in my World League of American Football fantasy league. Over his last two seasons with Indianapolis, Vinatieri has kicked 65 field goals and 84 extra points. This works out to nine points per regular season game played. He also added 37 additional points in four playoff games over that span. Buffalo has a very good defense but they will not be able to hold the Colts’ juggernaut down long. Double digit points seem inevitable for Vinatieri this time round.
3. Cody Parkey @ ATL
Over Weeks 14-16, Cody Parkey finished with only 17 points. Surely that frustrated owners who rode a tidal wave of Parkey points throughout the regular season into their fantasy playoffs. I believe the regular season was the trend and that the fantasy playoffs were the mirage. Chip Kelly’s fast-paced offense should continue to provide Parkey with numerous opportunities to put up points. The Eagles lost their top wide receiver and took a potential downgrade at quarterback this offseason. These changes could conceivably help or hurt Parkey. At least Week 1 he gets Atlanta and no team allowed more field goal attempts last year than they did.
4. Shaun Suisham, Garrett Hartley, Josh Scobee @ NEP
If I was Josh Scobee I would be checking my AFLAC account to find out what my payout will be once I sustain my season-ending injury. If by some miracle Scobee does make it safely to Foxboro and survives warm-ups and team introductions, then he is primed for a solid day. The Steelers will be without their starting center, their tallest red zone threat receiver and their top running back for this contest. That could mean more stall outs for Big Ben Roethlisberger and this offense. It should be noted that in 2013 over the 15 games that Maurkice Pouncey did not play, Shaun Suisham averaged over 8.5 points per game including a two field goal per game average.
5. Mason Crosby @ CHI
Chicago has had an epically bad defense each of the last two years allowing the second most points per game each year. This includes allowing 38 points to Mason Crosby over four contests. In 2015, Chicago’s defense may be even worse. Even without Jordy Nelson, I cannot with a straight face imagine Aaron Rodgers having any difficulty scoring against this Bears’ iteration. In fact I’m pretty certain Scott Tolzien would have a career day against these ham-and-eggers. The uber-positive vibe for Crosby in this game is that at halftime when Green Bay pulls Rodgers, Eddie Lacy, Randall Cobb and the rest of their starters, Crosby will still get all the kicking opportunities because he has no understudy.
6. Dan Carpenter vs. IND
Dan Carpenter has 67 field goals over the last two years. That works out to more than two per game. Those high field goal counts came at the cost of failed red zone visits. Only two teams had a lower red zone touchdown percentage than the 43.14% that the Bills trotted out last year. Even more embarrassing was their team red zone touchdown percentage of 28% at home which ranked dead last. Rex Ryan expressed concern about Carpenter missing two of four field goal attempts this preseason, but his kicking game should be the least of his worries.
7. Steven Hauschka @ STL
For the second year in a row Steven Hauschka had eleven games where he kicked multiple field goals. In total he has 64 field goals over that span. On their side of the coin, the Rams ended last season trending the wrong way as they allowed nine field goals over their final three games. St. Louis does have a studly red zone defense. No team allowed fewer red zone touchdowns than the Rams. Of course Seattle potentially improved their red zone offense with the addition of Jimmy Graham. So those two trends may end up as a push. If that is the case than Hauschka should be good for the 8.4 points per game he netted last year.
8. Justin Tucker @ DEN
In just his first three seasons, Justin Tucker has managed to average an impressive 32.3 field goals per year. This week his leg gets a boost from the mile high air of Denver. It will be his third career game played in Denver where he has scored eight and nine points previously. The Broncos are tough to score touchdowns against at home. Only one team had a better red zone touchdown prevention percentage than the 68.97 the Broncos posted. Amazingly, despite holding opponents out of the end zone so frequently, Denver also allowed only the third fewest field goal attempts of any team at home. I guess that Denver got so far ahead in their home games that teams had to forego their field goals and attempt to score touchdowns on every drive. That might be the only thing to worry Tucker owners this week in what could be a point orgy.
9. Matt Bryant vs. PHI
Matt Bryant opens the season at home versus the Eagles in a matchup that should produce a lot of points. Covers.com currently has this as the top scoring game of the week at 53.5 points. When determining who to start at kicker a good place to start is what Vegas believe the total points will be. Bryant averaged 8.9 points per game at home last year with only one miss. That sort of production should make him a safe top-ten selection this time out as well.
10. Dan Bailey vs. NYG
Dan Bailey has only managed 56 career points against the Giants in eight career matchups. This is despite the fact that Dallas has averaged just fewer than 28 points per game total in those eight meetings. Making matters worse, over that span he only has two games with multiple field goals made. Of course this year Dallas no longer has DeMarco Murray, so their red zone acumen could drop off from last year potentially opening more attempts for Bailey. Worst case scenario you get the pretty much automatic seven-spot.
11. Matt Prater @ SD
Matt Prater kicked multiple field goals in eight of his last nine games last season. This week he faces a San Diego team that allowed the most field goal attempts of any team over the final three weeks of last year. Prater also has familiarity with the site of this week’s contest having played numerous games at San Diego while with the Broncos. Between 2012 and 2013 one particularly alarming trend developed for Prater. In San Diego he was held to zero total field goal attempts and nine total points over two games. You might assume this was mostly due to the Broncos’ efficiency and Peyton Manning leading them on touchdown drives at will. You would be right. Once Manning faded down the stretch last year, Connor Barth went in to Qual Comm Park and kicked five field goals. Matthew Stafford is a great quarterback but he is not as elite as Manning circa 2012 and 2013, so expect Prater to actually see some opportunities this time round.
12. Nick Folk vs. CLE
Nick Folk has very quietly posted 65 field goals over the last two seasons while playing on a rotten Jets team. Shear talent alone suggests that this team will be more efficient with the Beard of Justice, Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. In their defense, Cleveland actually is pretty good at defense. Only eight teams allowed fewer points per game last season. This is an interesting stat when you consider that they also allowed the seventh most red zone visits per game. I’m not completely sold on Chris Ivory and Fitzpatrick turning around a moribund offense in one week. If they struggle at all, expect Folk to get a fair amount of chances here.
13. Chandler Catanzaro vs. NO
In six games with Carson Palmer at quarterback, Chandler Catanzaro notched only eight field goals. Making matters worse, three of those came in one game. The plain truth here is that Palmer is much more effective than the rest of the chaff that Arizona trotted out at quarterback last season. The Saints did give up the fifth most points per game and the fifth most field goals as well. So I guess Catanzaro has that going for him. What we will all be watching is if Chandler can shake the extra point yips from last week when he missed a pair.
14. Brandon McManus vs. BAL
The Broncos had so much faith in Brandon McManus that they cut long time kicker, Matt Prater, at the start of last season. They also had so little faith in McManus that they benched him for Connor Barth in Week 13. Which McManus will we see this time around? We don’t know just yet. What I do know is that if he doesn’t improve upon that 69% field goal percentage from last year, he won’t be around long enough for us to fairly judge him. This game has the fifth highest line of the week so there will be points to be had. It all comes down to whether Peyton Manning will share with his young kicker.
15. Graham Gano @ JAX
This game shapes up as a field goal fest as two solid defenses with questionable offenses lock horns. Graham Gano had multiple field goals in nine different games last season. Not to be outdone, the Jaguars were very friendly to opposing kickers as only seven teams allowed more field goal attempts than the 2.2 per game that they allowed. That 2.2 figure matches the per-game average of field goals attempted by Gano last year. Obviously he missed a few, but if he can get more than two attempts he will have at least six points this week.
16. Andrew Franks @ WAS
A slightly-successful but still mostly sloppy two seasons of kicking by Caleb Sturgis ultimately led to his release this past weekend. This opened the door for D-III rookie, Andrew Franks to seize the Dolphins’ kicking job. Franks went undrafted out of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (yes that is apparently a real school). RPI has never had a known football player come from its program but they did have five successful NHL players (including a Hall of Famer) as alumni. Other notable alumni include: Allen Dumont (the creator of the first commercial television)), George Ferris (who created the Ferris wheel), and Raymond Tomlinson (often credited with the invention of e-mail).Washington has an atrocious defense and the Dolphins’ offense is a popular fantasy favorite this year so Franks could be that first sleeper kicker you need to know for streaming purposes.