On Monday, if you took a poll of the best and worst special teams games of the first week of the season, the answers would have been rather broad. Was it the San Francisco 49ers, whose kicker hit a 63-yard field goal? Was it the New Orleans Saints, who scored on a blocked punt against Washington? Or how about the New York Jets, who had a 68-yard punt return and a 55-yard punt down to the Buffalo 4-yard line?
People don’t really know what teams do best on special teams, that is until you have a fiasco like the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football. When you have three botched punts, people start noticing.
Special teams has a lot of components to it, including making field goals and extra points, blocking punts and kicks, returning punts and kickoffs, as well as punting and kicking to put opponents in bad field position.
SPECIAL TEAMS EPA AFTER WEEK 1
At ESPN, we now have the capability to grade all these elements of special teams and put together an overall special teams rating. It uses the Expected Points framework that underlies Total QBR, which accounts for whether a field goal is from 19 or 63 yards away, whether a punt is pooched down to the 1-yard line or whether it’s blocked, if a penalty nullifies a great return or if a penalty gives a punting team a first down.
After Week 1, we have a group of winners and losers in special teams ratings. Somewhat surprisingly, though, the Raiders weren’t the worst. In fact they were only sixth worst. On the punt unit, they actually come out third worst, with the Houston Texans and Redskins both having given up long punt returns, and the Raiders not actually giving up a score on those botched attempts.
The best team ends up being the Jets, who gained 10.6 points on their overall special teams. Much of this was from the Jeremy Kerley’s 68-yard punt return. They also pinned Buffalo at the 4-yard line on a punt and only once allowed the Bills to start better than their own 20 on a kickoff.
With as much focus as there has been on Mark Sanchez’s stellar performance, the Jets also got a big bump from their special teams.