- John Parolin, ESPN Stats & Info
In the 2001 AFC Divisional playoff game between the New England Patriots and the Oakland Raiders, swirling winds and heavy snow made for tough kicking conditions. An undrafted kicker from Division-II South Dakota State University nailed a game-tying 45-yard field goal with less than a minute to go. The Patriots won in overtime on Adam Vinatieri's 23-yard kick.
Nate Kaeding had hardly any elements to deal with in the 2009 AFC Divisional Playoff game between the San Diego Chargers and New York Jets. Kaeding (who led the league in field goal percentage that year) missed all three field goal attempts in a 17-14 loss at home.
Given the small sample size involved with critical field goals, there's just no way to predict if a kicker will hit or miss a season-deciding kick. Though veterans generally have an experience advantage over rookies, taking a look at single-season performance can show how practice makes perfect in late-game situations.
In 2001, Vinatieri was 4-for-4 during the regular season in the fourth quarter or overtime with a score differential of minus-3 to tied. Kaeding (and Billy Cundiff, who missed a game-tying field goal late in the Ravens' loss to the Patriots in 2011) had attempted one such field goal. Mike Vanderjagt didn't attempt any in 2005, the year his missed 46-yard field goal cost the Colts a shot at overtime in a 21-18 loss to the Steelers.
An untested kicker during the season is an unknown quantity in the playoffs. Given how close those games will be, chances are it will be enough to send one team home. Here's a look at the league's most clutch kickers this year, and a few others who haven't been tested yet.
John Parolin of ESPN Stats & Info breaks down the best and worst kickers in "clutch" situations. He leads with the Ravens' Justin Tucker, whose 35 total makes this season led the NFL.