Special teams is often overlooked when analyzing big match-ups, but it is a pivotal part of the game. Kickers, punters, and return men can swing the odds in their team's favor, especially in close outings. Let’s see who will have the advantage in this department.
When it comes to field goals, there is really no contest. After a record setting year in 2011, David Akers was so bad he was benched, then reinstated, then benched again. What it adds up to is San Francisco boasting the second worst field goal percentage in the NFL with more misses than anyone else. Akers will be on call for the Super Bowl but look for the Niners to bypass any field goal opportunities if there is a decent alternative.
On the other hand, the rookie Justin Tucker has lead the Ravens to a 91% field goal percentage, good for 6th in the NFL. Tucker only missed three kicks all year and nailed four 50+ yarders. In terms of field goal kicking, the Baltimore Ravens have a strong advantage with their rookie kicker; but can he come though on the biggest stage in the world?
The punters are some of the most overlooked players on the field, but they can often by instrumental in keeping the field flipped in their teams favor. Andy Lee is the 49ers punter and he was good this year. Lee ranked 5th in the NFL in average distance and 3rd in the NFL in pinning the opposition inside the 10 yard line. The Ravens’ Sam Koch hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t been nearly as good as Lee. Koch’s punting statistics put him in the middle of the NFL in most major categories. Andy Lee is going to give San Francisco an advantage in the punting game, but I doubt this game features too many punts.
The flashiest guys of the special teams department are definitely the return men. In the regular season, the Ravens were second to none in the kickoff return department while the 49ers were ranked 12th in the NFL. The Ravens also took two kickoffs back for touchdowns while the 49ers didn’t return any. Likewise, the Ravens bested the 49ers in punt return yards and punt return touchdowns.
All in all, the Baltimore Ravens have a marked advantage in the kicking game. Not only have the Ravens’ return men been much better than their counterparts but the kicking game (which will probably be the most important) is leaps and bounds ahead of San Francisco. I predict this is going to be a very close game and the closer the game, the more important special teams become. This is just one more factor that may prove vital in the Ravens’ effort to win Super Bowl XLVII.