Ultimate Special Teams Analysis

Updated: April 18, 2003, 2:28 PM ET
By Ryan Early
Special teams have been called the third team, or the hidden team, or even the forgotten unit because they rarely have an obvious impact on the game. Yet they are a very important part of the battle for field position. When they are noticed, it is usually for a colossal mistake that ruins a team's chances for winning. A bad snap by the Giants' Trey Junkin on a last-second field goal attempt cost the team a playoff win over the 49ers while the entire football-watching nation looked on.

Last year, we introduced the Power Points, a new power rating system that measured the importance of each team's offense, defense and special teams. As can be expected, offense and defense were more important to winning games. While the best offense had a +8.5 rating and the best defense was +12.7, the Patriots had the best special teams unit at +3.5 and they were almost double the second best team. But that +3.5 rating meant that, on average, the Patriots' special teams contributed 3.5 points per game more than their opponents' special teams. Kicker Adam Viniateri proved worthy of the largest kicker contract in the league by missing just three field goals all season, none closer than 41 yards. The Patriots' kickoff return unit was the best in the league with Kevin Faulk scoring two touchdowns over the season. And for some reason, opponents hated kicking at the Patriots' new stadium, making just one field goal over 40 yards there all year.