Kicking in Week 1 last year was a complete disaster. There were 19 missed field goals, the most missed field goals in the first week of the last decade. The following analysis contains data collected from the past 10 NFL seasons including kickers that have started in at least three opening games and attempts to determine if this is something that coaches should be looking out for in future seasons.
Why is this Happening?
Using this data, we compared the difference in accuracy in Week 1 and week 2-17. If what has been happening in recent years is significant, this new rate would be negative, as the percentage of field goals made after Week 1 would be more than the percentage of field goals made on Week 1.
Contrary to what has happened the last few years, the rate was almost 0, (-0.7% to be exact). This suggests that kickers have been only 0.7% less likely to make a field goal in Week 1 rather than any other week, a difference so small as to advocate that the theory of inaccurate Week 1 kickers is highly unlikely to be true.
Why was Last Year Special?
If this isn’t a regular occurrence, why did kickers miss field goals at a record-high rate last year? It could be due to COVID, with training camp being limited, but the most likely explanation would be the lack of preseason games. Kicking in practice is much different than in a game due to the immense amount of pressure on the kicker in-game. It could be that the kickers needed a game or two to get used to the pressure that would have otherwise been done in a preseason game.
There is no other correlation between kickers that is worth noting, as there are different factors that affect each kicker. Overall, this analysis disagrees with recent history and suggests that it’s highly unlikely that kickers are significantly worse in Week 1.
Does Distance Matter?
Since most active kickers have fewer than 20 career Week 1 field goals attempted, such a small sample size indicates that distance could be a major factor. However, when comparing the average field goal distance in Week 1 to the kickers’ accuracy, there was no meaningful correlation, suggesting that the average field goal distance does not likely impact their Week 1 success.
Are There Any Exceptions?
Although the data suggests that there is no correlation between Week 1 kicking and the rest of the regular season, there were a few players that had data worth noting:
Vinatieri, although a storied kicker, has had his fair share of problems in Week 1. Since 2010, Vinatieri has gone 9/16 (56%) on field goals in Week 1 games and has an 87.8% field goal percentage in all his other regular-season games. These mishaps lead to the largest difference out of all kickers since 2010 (31.5 percentage points).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Dan Bailey has had much more success in Week 1 than any other week. Bailey has gone 17/17 (100%) in all his Week 1 games since 2010. However, he has an 85% field goal rate in other games. His perfect opening-week record gives him the largest positive difference in our data set at 15 percentage points.
Gano has not had as much experience as the other two kickers, but he has had his fair share of Week 1 problems. Gano went 13/18 (72%) in Week 1 compared to 84% on other weeks. This difference of 11.9 percentage points may not be as notable as Vinatieri or Bailey but still bears mentioning as the only one of the three to be rostered heading into the 2021 season. When the Giants meet Denver in Week 1, statistics will be on Gano’s side, but don’t tell him that.