The Tennessee Titans Have the Best Special Teams in the AFC South

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistApril 19, 2012

Rob Bironas heads the best special teams in the South.
Rob Bironas heads the best special teams in the South.Brian A. Westerholt/Getty Images

I think special teams play is overrated.

There, I said it.

Fans and analysts get all bent out of shape over special teams play, and I've never really understood the fixation.

I'll grant you that the kicking game is important, but most of that is determined by the kicker and punter. Given the instability of field-goal percentages from year to year, I have a hard time getting worked up about it. If a team has a good punter and a good kicker, they've done their job on special teams.

In any given game, a big return can be a huge play, of course, but over the course of a season, the teams with the best return and coverage games don't tend to be very good in the standings. Special teams apologists will cite the San Francisco 49ers, but they never want to name the second-best return game in the NFL in 2012: the Minnesota Vikings.

The New York Giants and New England Patriots were 20th and 29th, respectively, in kickoff return average. Seven of the top 10 punt return teams missed the playoffs, including the top three.

So when it comes to ranking the special teams units in the AFC South, I'm going to focus heavily on the kickers and punters. Everything else tends to be highly volatile, difficult to project and not nearly as important as people think.


1. Tennessee Titans

Rob Bironas had a tremendous year in 2011, going 6-of-7 in field goals over 50 yards. He hit 90.6 percent of his kicks. He controlled the opponent's return game with touchbacks on 56 percent of his kickoffs, which was top 10 in the league.

Punter Brett Kern had the best net average in the division. Their return game was fifth best in the NFL in kickoff average. The Titans finished third in special teams DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in 2011.


2. Houston Texans

Neil Rackers had a solid 2011, but is basically an average field-goal kicker. Houston's punt game was split between two punters and ranked in the bottom third of the league in net average. Houston was better on kickoff returns than punt returns but wasn't special in either category.

They have the second-best unit in the South, but only because the Jaguars and Colts are among the worst. By most every metric and measure, this is a very average special teams unit. That's not a bad thing at all.


3. Jacksonville Jaguars

Josh Scobee has a cannon leg and is one of the best kickers in the league, but the combination of Nick Harris and Matt Turk at punter yielded the fourth-worst net in football.

They were near the bottom in kickoff returns, and the punt return game was 31st in football, better than only the Colts.


4. Indianapolis Colts

Special teams play has been de-emphasized in Indianapolis for years. While I think this is the right decision strategically in a league of limited financial resources, fans have grown tired of it.

Punter Pat McAfee lead the team in special teams tackles. Adam Vinatieri showed he still has a big leg and always seems to hit the big kick.

Still, there's little else to discuss when it comes to the Colts.