Mike Tanier

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Cold weather kicker concerns

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It's the fantasy playoffs. Do you know who your kicker is?

You probably don't put that much thought into your kicker selection; heck, you may only be carrying one of them on your roster by now. But every point matters in the playoffs, and with winter weather collapsing domes and turning Soldier Field into a scene from Doctor Zhivago, you don't want to get caught starting the wrong kicker on the wrong week.

I took some of the league's best fantasy kickers and evaluated their potential for the next two weeks according to the AWO scale: Ability, Weather and Opportunity. Then, I gave each kicker a green, yellow or red rating, which should be self explanatory. If a Green kicker is on your bench and a Red kicker is in your lineup, consider a switch. If by some miracle you are still allowed to make waiver moves, treat yourself to a Green kicker as a stocking stuffer.

David Akers: Yellow
Akers is stroking the ball right now; even his kickoffs are booming, giving him a career-high 22 touchbacks. The Eagles offense provides lots of extra point opportunities, but Michael Vick and company are also capable of some red zone tomfoolery, giving Akers a few more field goal chances. But the Eagles travel to New York on Sunday and host the Vikings on December 26th. Both the Meadowlands and Lincoln Financial Field can turn into wind tunnels in December.

Matt Bryant: Yellow
Bryant is 25-of-28 on field goal attempts this season, in part because he's rarely asked to kick from distance: he has just 10 attempts from beyond 40 yards. The lack of long attempts depresses his value a bit, and a trip to Seattle on Sunday could bring rainy weather and moist grass. Week 16 finds Bryant kicking at home in the dome against the Saints; he's a much better option in that game than against the Seahawks. Like the Falcons themselves, Bryant is steady and reliable: he has scored seven or more points 11 times this season.

Dan Carpenter: Green
Carpenter is 14-of-20 on kicks beyond 40 yards. That means: a) he's very good and b) a lot of Dolphins drives stall around the 25-30 yard line, giving Carpenter extra opportunities. Back-to-back home games in Florida against weak opponents (Bills and Lions) should result in plenty of fair-weather attempts. The downside: the Dolphins don't score many touchdowns, so Carpenter only has 19 extra points for the season.

Mason Crosby: Red
The streaky Crosby travels to New England on Sunday, then hosts the Giants on the tundra in Week 16. Crosby gets a lot of 40-plus yard opportunities (10-of-14) but not many chances inside 40 yards (8-of-10) because Tom McCarthy is so aggressive about attacking the end zone. Aaron Rodgers' concussion adds an extra layer of concern.

Jay Feely: Yellow
Sunday's 19-point performance (including a fake-field goal touchdown) was out of character for Feeley, who has only generated more than seven points once all season. Still, his next two opponents are the Panthers in Carolina and the Cowboys at home, so weather won't be a factor. Feely's experience and accuracy (22-of-25) make him a viable alternative to some of the erratic bad-weather kickers on this list.

Nick Folk: Red
After the Jets' 45-3 loss to the Patriots, Rex Ryan ceremonially buried the game ball. I think that when Folk saw the shovel and the fresh, grave-like hole in the practice facility grass, he was sure he was about to get whacked. Folk is pretty terrible, the Jets offense is playing like dropped passes are worth 30 points, and the Jets are on a two-game road trip to Pittsburgh and ... brrrr ... Chicago.

Graham Gano: Blacker than the darkest night
I just put Gano here to keep Folk company.

Shayne Graham: Yellow
If you picked up Graham when Steven Gostkowski got hurt, smart move. Graham proved that he could handle poor conditions by kicking three chip-shots in the Chicago Blizzard on Sunday. There's plenty of low-lying fruit for Graham to pluck in the Patriots offense, but a trip to Green Bay, followed by a home game in Foxboro, could cause a few snowplow moments. If it's 4th-and-4 from the 30-yard line in bad weather, you know Bill Belichick is more likely to go for it than try a 47-yard field goal in most circumstances.

Garrett Hartley: Yellow
Hartley has kicked at least three extra points in each of the last five games; there's nothing like knowing your kicker will get three points just for showing up. The Saints travel to chilly Baltimore on Sunday but play indoors in Week 16. You may have released Hartley when John Carney replaced him briefly in mid-October. If you kept him around (or if your league is very liberal about late season moves), he's worth a look.

Sebastian Janikowski: Green
Janikowski has been his usual erratic self from beyond 40 yards – he's 7-of-13 – but the improvement of the Raiders offense has given his fantasy production a huge boost. Janikowski had his best season in 2009, kicking six 50-yard field goals, but he only scored 95 points because the Raiders only gave him 17 extra point opportunities. This year, he can fatten his stats with two or three extra points per week, and that goes a long way. The Oakland Coliseum isn't an easy place to kick, but Janikowski is used to it, and the Raiders host two opponents (the Broncos and Colts) whose defenses will allow a few scoring drives. And no kicker in the league is more likely to line up for a 59-yard cross-your-fingers kick before halftime ... and nail it.

Nate Kaeding: Yellow
Kaeding is 8-of-10 on field goals since returning from injury. The Chargers offense should provide plenty of chances down the stretch drive, but there are two concerns: a) the Chargers travel to Cincinnati in Week 16, and b) their special teams have made so many mistakes this year that it's easy to imagine Kaeding suddenly having a bunch of kicks blocked.

Olindo Mare: Green
Now, here's a kicker who is likely to be sitting forgotten on the bottom of your bench. The Seahawks offense is pretty awful, but that has worked to Mare's advantage this year: he has 12 field goals from inside 29 yards, including two field goals in the 17-19 range. A home game against the Falcons might bring bad weather, but the Seahawks travel to Tampa in Week 16. One other factor working in Mare's favor: coach Pete Carroll's rah-rah attitude. If the Seahawks are getting blown out 35-0, Carroll may still send Mare out to kick meaningless field goals, just to make the score look closer and keep morale from getting too low.

Josh Scobee: Green
Scobee is 11-of-14 beyond 40 yards and has clear skies ahead of him: a trip to the dome in Indianapolis, then a sunny home game against the Redskins. Factor in a pretty good Jaguars offense, and he's exactly the kind of kicker you want in December.

Lawrence Tynes: Red
A low-opportunities kicker facing the Eagles in the windy Meadowlands on Sunday, then traveling to Green Bay in Week 16. Stay away.

Adam Vinatieri: Yellow
Vinatieri makes all the kicks he is supposed to, but you have to worry about a kicker who only has seven attempts from beyond 40 yards, and none beyond 50 yards. I like him at home against the Jaguars this week, but Oakland can be a rough place for visiting kickers. Vinatieri went through a three-game stretch in which he didn't attempt a field goal before kicking three against the Titans. A drought like that could bounce you from the playoffs.

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