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Altitude in Mexico City will affect the kicking game tonight

Oakland Raiders v Jacksonville Jaguars

JACKSONVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 23: Sebastian Janikowski #11 of the Oakland Raiders during the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field on October 23, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)

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With the Raiders and Texans set to play tonight at the high altitude of Mexico City, the kicking game could be significantly affected.

Azteca Stadium, where tonight’s game will be played, is 7,380 feet above sea level. That’s much higher than the 5,280-foot altitude of Denver, the NFL’s highest city, and high enough that a record-long field goal could be a possibility.

The longest field goal in NFL history, a 64-yarder by Matt Prater, was kicked at Denver, and three of the five longest field goals ever have been in Denver. Kickers and physicists alike have estimated that a kicked football travels about 10 percent farther in Denver than it would travel at sea level, and in Mexico City a ball will travel farther still. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski or Texans kicker Nick Novak boom one from beyond 60 yards.

Kickoff strategy may be an even bigger issue in Mexico City tonight because both the Texans and the Raiders employ the short-kick strategy on kickoffs. The Texans have touchbacks on just 16.3 percent of their kickoffs, by far the lowest in the NFL, and the Raiders have touchbacks on 50 percent of their kickoffs, tied for the sixth-lowest in the NFL. Will the teams decide to eschew that strategy in Mexico City, where it’s easy to boot the ball out the back of the end zone for a touchback? Or will they double down on the strategy and kick the ball particularly high and short of the goal line, trying to pin the opponent well inside the 25-yard line?

Punts will travel farther tonight as well. Raiders punter Marquette King ranks fifth in the NFL with a 48.4-yard average, while Texans punter Shane Lechler ranks sixth with a 48.2-yard average. They can both hit their punts in the 50-yard to 60-yard range in Mexico City, although they may instead go for additional hang time instead of additional length so as not to out-kick their coverage.

Both teams are playing at an altitude higher than they’re accustomed to, which also makes it harder for players to breathe, and players on both teams have said they’ve tried to do extra cardiovascular conditioning to get ready for Mexico City. There’s no doubt that the altitude will make a difference tonight.