BOSTON (CBS) — I respect the heck out of NFL kickers. If you’ve ever attempted to boot field goals down at the local high school, how could you not? The act defies multiple laws of physics, I’m pretty sure, and it’s something that a very, very small percentage of human beings can do successfully on a consistent basis.
So when I watched Justin Tucker kick that 61-yarder on Monday night, just a week after Matt Prater set a record with a 64-yarder in Tennessee, I was impressed. That’s quite a feat.
At the same time, I became a little bit worried.
If men are now kicking 60-yard field goals with much more regularity than in the past, it changes the sport in a not-at-all insignificant way.
The game has evolved in innumerable ways since the days of leather helmets, but each step of progress is typically met with a counterbalancing step of progress that helps limit the impact. As running backs evolved into massive, muscular battle tanks, more and more 240-pound linebackers with the agility of men half their size began lining up across from them. For every 6-foot-4 wide receiver, there’s a speedy defensive back (or two) to bother him. Evolution on both sides of the ball has ensured that scores remain close and the league stays competitive.
But what is the counterbalance to kickers? If the field continues to shrink in terms of field-goal range, a change may one day need to be made. I don’t know what that change might be exactly, but the field is starting to tilt in favor of kickers. Blocked field goals remain relatively rare events, and you’ll recall from the Patriots-Jets game earlier this year that a new rule ensures that the defensive line isn’t even allowed to push in certain ways anymore.
Granted, this isn’t Armageddon, and it’s not even the NFL’s most pressing problem. Yet when you consider that of the nine successful field goals over 60 yards in NFL history, seven have come since 2006, it’s clear that it’s becoming less and less of a rare event. If you add in the 60-yarders to that mix, you’ve got 10 of 14 being kicked in the last seven years.
So yes, good for Justin Tucker, but at the same time, 61-yarders were not real possibilities when folks decided that a field goal ought to be worth three points. And with five of the last six Super Bowls being decided by six points or fewer, a championship is sure to eventually be decided by a field goal, after an offense only has to drive the ball to the opponent’s 43-yard line. It’ll be exciting to watch that ball fly through the air for what seems like 10 minutes, but that’s a tough way for the other team to lose the Super Bowl. And realistically, it’s probably not very fair.
For now, I’ll try to anticipate which kickers will decide the outcomes of this week’s slate of games.
(Home team in caps; Wednesday lines)
Miami (-3) over BUFFALO
We know that the Dolphins are a better team than the Bills, but you can’t discuss a Dolphins game in December on the road in the Northeast without saying “BUT CAN THE DOLPHINS PLAY IN THE COLD?” I don’t have the answer to that … but can the Bills play in any weather, good or bad? They’re 3-4 at home, and they just lost their quarterback again, so I don’t think so.
CAROLINA (-3) over New Orleans
The Saints are theoretically a good football team, right? Then why are they so useless on the road? They’ve always been a team that thrives at home, but getting smoked by the Rams in St. Louis? I kind of like Drew Brees and Co. to repeat their performance from Week 14 against Carolina, but I can’t in good conscience pick them on the road. That would be reckless.
Dallas (-2.5) over WASHINGTON
It’s the same thing with the Redskins. I mean, all signs point to picking against Dallas right here. They’re coming off one of the most painful losses ever, they’re traveling to cold weather, they’re not very good to begin with, and so on. And it’s also the same as the Dolphins-Bills game, where the concern about the road team playing in an uncomfortable environment is negated by the fact that the home team flat-out stinks. The Redskins are 1-5 at home this year. They’re 3-11 overall. They just lost to the Falcons. Nobody loses to the Falcons.
The Redskins are real bad, as is this game. But if you have to pick someone, close your eyes and hope that this is the “1” in Tony Romo’s eventual 1-3 December record.
ST. LOUIS (-5.5) over Tampa Bay
The broadcast team for this game will be a ventriloquist and a random dog found in the parking lot.
NEW YORK JETS (-2) over Cleveland
The broadcast team for this game will be that random St. Louis dog’s puppy, chewing on a piece of jerky.
Tennessee (-5.5) over JACKSONVILLE
The broadcast team for this game will be a toddler blowing spit bubbles into the microphone, paired up with his mother, though she’ll mostly be there to change the kid’s diaper during replay reviews.
Indianapolis (+7) over KANSAS CITY
Neither of these teams has much to play for, really. The Colts are all but locked into the No. 4 seed in the AFC, while the Chiefs will in all likelihood be the five seed. I foresee a very vanilla game, with neither team looking to roll out too many wrinkles as they prepare for the playoffs, and I even like the Colts to win outright, because I’ve seen what 13-3 teams look like, and the Chiefs aren’t one of them.
GREEN BAY (no line) over Pittsburgh
The uncertainty of Aaron Rodgers has prevented a betting line from popping up anywhere. I’m still prepared to pick against the Steelers. One big day doesn’t erase a season of stench.
Minnesota (+7.5) over CINCINNATI
Apparently, Adrian Peterson — aka the best running back in the game — was holding back the true potential of the Minnesota Vikings. I’m not going to sit here and try to tell you that I understand what went on with either of these two teams last week, with the Vikings pulling out an absurd 48-point day and the Bengals laying their biggest stinker of the year when they had a chance to move into the No. 2 spot in the AFC. Anyone who claims to know is a liar. So I’m just going to take a step back, get out of the way and let the strange things continue to be afoot.
Denver (-10.5) over HOUSTON
Am I the only person who’s starting to feel like the Broncos will run out of gas by the time January comes around? You’ve got Peyton Manning missing practices so he can put his foot in a damn swimming pool, you’ve got Wes Welker’s brain finally succumbing to the decade of punishment it’s been put through, and you’ve got a defense that was barely good enough to win when the offense was firing on all cylinders.
I just feel like when they’re up against a solid opponent in the playoffs, they might have an empty tank. Fortunately for them, they pretty much have a bye week against Wade Phillips and the Texans.
SEATTLE (-11) over Arizona
I’m not comfortable with this 11-point spread, but we’re at the point where I buy into the belief that Seattle is just an impossible place to play. The Seahawks have beaten opponents in the true sense of the word beaten when they’re at home, outscoring them 196-84 on the year, an average score of 33-13 each week. That’s insane.
It’s just too bad that CenturyLink Field is arguably the worst name in the league.
New York Giants (+10) over DETROIT
This game here is exactly why nobody should ever bet money on sports. I mean, you have to be a sick individual to put your faith and your money in either of these teams. The only safe bet here is to bet the over on combined interceptions thrown by Eli Manning and Matthew Stafford, a number which is probably going to be set around 9.5.
New England (+1) over BALTIMORE
And here’s example No. 2 of why football is a fickle game and you might be better off playing three-card Monte on a street corner. You basically have two teams with championship pedigrees who are kind of hanging by a thread in terms of their 2013 hopes. You know that the Ravens won the whole damn thing last year, and you never want to go against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, particularly in December and particularly if it means they’d be losing two in a row.
I give the ever-so-slight edge to the Patriots for their far superior running game, and also the fact that I saw Joe Flacco’s knee do a very bad thing on my television on Monday night. I’m not so sure it’s going to work too well for him just six days later.
SAN DIEGO (-10) over Oakland
I’m writing this story here, aboard the Matt McGloin bandwagon. It’s a lonely place these days, and I’m starting to get nervous that my only other friend on the bus is not coming back. Please send water and bread and tell my family that I miss them.
Chicago (+2.5) over PHILADELPHIA
This is pretty much all I have to say:
SAN FRANCISCO (-12.5) over Atlanta
Oh my goodness, this line could be 100 and I’d still take the 49ers. I’m actually worried that the Falcons might decide to not even fly out to the West Coast on a Monday night. If they physically no-show, what does ESPN do?
Likewise, if I don’t 16-0 in my picks this week, I wonder if I’ll even bother showing up for Week 17.
Last week: 8-7-1