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Week 6 Kickers: Process Over Catastrophe



© Kareem Elgazzar - USA TODAY Sports

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Golfers -- the good, the bad, the terrible -- can relate to Bengals kicker Evan McPherson’s premature field goal celebration last Sunday against the Packers.

You’ve hit that shot. Right on the dead center of the club face, so pure you can’t feel the impact. You did everything right: You didn’t hurry your downswing, you stayed on plane, you released the clubhead, you followed through with a big, obnoxious reverse-C. The sound of the club face meeting the ball is downright symphonic -- a gorgeous little thud that fills your ears. You sigh with relief on your follow through because you know -- deep down in your marrow -- that this is the one. You didn’t pull it. You didn’t push it. You didn’t skull it or chunk it. You pured it.

The ball is going to fall out of the sky in a moment, right next to that pin in the distance. How beautiful this shot must appear to onlookers lucky enough to have witnessed such a ball strike. How validating it feels to have hours and days and weeks of driving range practice pay off with this one dreamy shot. [[ad:athena]]

Then the ball hits the green five yards left and long of the pin. Your tap-in birdie is now a 30 footer. Fun game.

McPherson, in case you missed it, attempted a 49-yarder in overtime last week -- a kick that started dead center and slowly but surely enough drifted and drifted and drifted left until it incredibly hit the orange flag on the top of the goal post and missed. McPherson was busy celebrating the upset win over Green Bay with his teammates by the time the football fell harmlessly to the ground and the refs signaled the kick had indeed missed. McPherson and his mates looked on in shock, wondering how -- HOW -- that kick missed its mark.

It was, like our golf shot, pure. It was an absolute no doubter, straight down the chute. Forget it, Packers, you’re done. It was straight and long -- it would’ve been good from 60 -- and it was enough to head home with a win. But no, the ball did not cooperate. Didn’t it know how well McPherson had booted it? Wasn’t it supposed to reward a solid swing of the leg from the big-footed rookie?

McPherson has kicked thousands and thousands of field goals in his football life. He knows what a good one feels like, just as an experienced golfer knows what a solid shot feels like. You don’t need to look at the ball. You’ve seen that movie and you know how it ends. Sometimes the ball -- the golf ball, the football, any sort of ball -- has a surprise ending. A cruel ending.

Week 5 Results

Greg Joseph (MIN) vs. DET
4/5 field goals
17 fantasy points
Rank: t-1st

Nick Folk (NE) at HOU
4/4 field goals
17 fantasy points
Rank: t-1st

Randy Bullock (TEN) at JAC
1/1 field goals
7 fantasy points
Rank: 18th

Now for some kicker notes…

-I’m hesitant to tell you not to play Matt Prater a few weeks after I anointed him an every week starter. The process is the process though -- forever unbending, merciless in its rigidity -- and the Cardinals are road dogs in Week 6 against Cleveland. I’m on the record as saying Prater -- who has multiple field goal tries in every game this season -- is a slightly inferior play to the plug-and-play starters listed below. If you want to feel alive in your defiance of the process, go ahead and fire up Prater in Week 6. Arizona is 0.22 field goal tries over expectation this year.

-I know what I said three weeks ago about Daniel Carlson. Many Kicker Corner readers were thrilled about Carlson getting the every-week starter blessing, believing their bleak days of evaluating waiver wire kickers were in the rearview. Well, I have news. Things have come decidedly south for the Raiders kicker -- and his team -- in recent weeks. He’s attempted two field goals in the past two games after starting the season with nine attempts in three games. It’s not a mystery as to why Carlson’s opportunity has shriveled: Vegas has been outscored 48-23 over the past couple games, facing overtly bad game script for more than half of each contest. The potential for complete collapse after Jon Gruden‘s resignation (firing?) makes me permanently bearish on Carlson. I’m fading him in Week 6, with the Raiders entering Denver as 3.5 point underdogs.

-Harrison Butker is giving me the kind of heartburn you mistake for a heart attack and call your wife and ask her if you should admit yourself to the emergency room before you take some tums and the sensation subsides. You know how it goes. Butker has two games this season without a field goal try, and only two in which he’s logged multiple attempts. He’ll fit the kicker process every single week because Kansas City will be big favorites with a monster implied total every single week. KC is scoring touchdowns on 70 percent of its red zone possessions though, limiting any freebies we might get from Butker. That means we’re relying on longer field goals the Chiefs will attempt on fourth and long or as time expires in the first half or at game’s end. For the love of the process, Butker is 5.97 field goal attempts under expectation. Probably he’s a fringe fantasy starter going forward.

-Dustin Hopkins has 11 field goal tries this season thanks to Washington hanging in games long enough to make field goals viable. The Football Team hasn’t had to chase points all that much, and I’d be surprised if they couldn’t maintain some semblance of neutral script in Week 6 against the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes will probably bludgeon the bad, low-energy Football Team defense, but KC’s defense couldn’t stop the Edmonton Elks right now (no offense to my CFL brethren). Using a kicker whose team is a 6.5 point underdog isn’t optimal, but if you’re in a weirdly deep league in which none of the below kickers are available, Hopkins is a sensible desperation option. Washington is 1.91 field goal attempts over expectation.

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Plug-and-Play Starters

Tyler Bass (BUF) at TEN: You may never, under laws in 47 states, think about not deploying Bass if you were wise enough to draft him in August. Fantasy’s second highest kicker should keep rolling in Week 6 with the Bills coming in as 5.5 point favorites with an implied total of 29.75 points. Bass being 1.29 field goal tries over expectation shouldn’t bother us too terribly much.

Jason Sanders (MIA) at JAC: Hey look, you can finally start the guy you drafted in August because he led all kickers in fantasy points last season. That he wasn’t immediately dropped in all formats when it was apparent the Dolphins’ offense would stink out loud this year is an affront to the kicker process. It won’t soon be forgotten. Anyway! You can confidently roll out Sanders against a Jags team allowing 2.2 field goal attempts per game because they are quite bad and never have game script on their side. Kickers facing Jacksonville have notched multiple attempts in four out of five games. This could be your one and only shot to use Sanders (and feel good about it) in 2021. Miami is 0.84 field goal tries under expectation.

Matt Gay (LAR) at NYG: The Rams are 10.5-point favorites against a beaten, battered, and bruised Giants team. Don’t overthinking it -- Gay is once again a set-it-and-forget-it option. LA is 0.35 field goal attempts over expectation this season.

Greg Zuerlein (DAL) at NE: Favored by four over the Pats, Dallas is ninth in field goal attempts and 0.47 field goals under expectation through five games. That’s excellent for Zuerlein’s short term -- and long term -- prospects. All the prospects are good. Keep playing Legatron in Week 6.

Brandon McManus (DEN) vs. LV: McManus managed two field goals last week despite the Broncos falling behind early and never really being in the game against an atrocious Steelers squad. Denver is a 3.5-point home favorite here and the Raiders have allowed multiple field goal attempts in every close game they’ve played in 2021. Denver being 1.67 field goal tries over expectation through Week 5 is a touch concerning considering the team’s offense isn’t a yardage machine like Buffalo. The Raiders’ potential for a post-Gruden implosion only helps McManus’ Week 6 case.

Week 6 Streaming Options

Evan McPherson (CIN) at DET (5 percent rostered)

I’m touting the kicker from the field goal End of Days display last week in Cincinnati. I take no pleasure -- well, some pleasure -- in reporting McPherson is an excellent process play in Week 6 against Detroit.

The Bengals are 3.5-point road favorites in this one. It would take a complete team breakdown for the Bengals to face much negative game script at all in this one. Only the Jets have given up more field goal attempts than the Lions through five weeks; three kickers have attempted at least three field goals against Detroit this season.

A below average defense now riddled by injuries, Detroit is giving up a league high 9.3 yards per pass attempt and has no prayer of stopping Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and the rest of the Cincy passing attack. Sorry to get religious.

McPherson has multiple field goal attempts in three of his five games. The Bengals sport the week’s sixth-highest implied total (25.5). Ignore his Week 5 disaster and trust the everloving process.

Mason Crosby (GB) at CHI (35 percent rostered)

I’m now touting the other guy in last week’s kicker meltdown, the guy who blew two game winning kicks -- and missed a total of three -- in Week 5 before he finally put one between the uprights for the W. Are you triggered? Are you upset? Good.

A year after they finished dead last in field goal attempts, the Packers are a regular field goal factory. They’ve logged 13 field goal tries through five games, more than anyone but the Patriots. The Packers are, as you might expect, well over their 9.08 expected field goal attempts. But the kicker streaming landscape is barren this week, so we’re playing Crosby where we can with Green Bay on the road as 4.5-point favorites against the Bears.

Green Bay’s implied total of 25.25 points is hardly hateful, and the Bears have allowed six field goal tries in their two losses this season. Aaron Rodgers and company should have little trouble moving the ball against a mediocre Chicago defense allowing 3.3 red zone visits per game.

While the gap between Green Bay’s expected and actual field goal tries makes me a little queasy, Crosby fits the kicker process in Week 6, the start of the NFL’s bye week apocalypse. Crosby should be fine against Chicago.

Chase McLaughlin (CLE) vs. ARI (19 percent rostered)

Chase “The” McLaughlin “Group,” as the teens are calling him, has become a surprisingly consistent fantasy kicker through the season’s first five weeks. He has multiple field goal tries -- eight in all -- over Cleveland’s past three games, benefiting bigly from neutral and positive game script.

In Week 6, the Browns are 2.5-point home favorites against the Cardinals. I don’t know how this is possible but that’s what we’re working with. Whatever you think of who should be favored here, the Browns-Cardinals matchup should be evenly matched. The Browns showed last week they can stay with high-powered offenses when they have to. My suggestion for Kevin Stefanski would be to always try to score lots of points. But that’s for another day.

McLaughlin, despite the three-week field goal spike, is 1.91 field goal attempts under expectation on the season. That means, in short, he’s not getting lucky. The Cardinals on paper look like a nightmare kicker matchup, having given up eight field goal attempts through five games, the 11th fewest in the NFL. In close games, kickers have seen solid opportunity against Arizona. Greg Joseph in Week 2 had three field goal attempts against the Cards, and Matt Gay had three attempts in Week 4 against Arizona before game script went haywire in the second half.

McLaughlin satisfies the process just enough to give him a whirl if you’re scavenging at the waiver wire scrapheap this week.