Though it’s often treated as an afterthought of sorts, special teams is an important area of the game in football. Having a good special teams unit can have a big impact on a game, whether it’s by scoring points on a return, having a reliable field goal kicker, or winning the field position battle with a good punter, specialists can have an underrated impact on games.
Every year, the Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin compiles very good special teams rankings that are based on 22 different categories. Teams are ranked in each category and given point values, with one being the best and 32 being the worst. The scores from each category are then compiled into a ranking, with the team with the lowest point total being ranked the best special teams unit.
This year, the Colts were ranked as having the 8th-best special teams unit in the NFL with 294 points. For comparison, the Eagles were first with 226.5 points while the Chargers were last with 514 points. Furthermore, the Colts were by far the best of the AFC South teams, as the Titans ranked 22nd (409 points), the Texans ranked 23rd (412.5), and the Jaguars ranked 28th (451 points).
In recent years, the Colts have ranked 20th (2015) and 7th (2014), and this past year they also had a top-ten unit. As another note, Gosselin mentioned that 7 of the top 11 teams on this special teams ranking made the playoffs, putting the Colts as one of just four of the top eleven teams to not make it (along with the Eagles, Rams, and Ravens).
It shouldn’t be a surprise to see the Colts score well on the special teams rankings, since they had the best kicking duo in the NFL. Adam Vinatieri converted 27-of-31 field goal attempts (87.1%), including 17-of-21 from 40+ yards out, while also hitting all 44 extra point attempts. Pat McAfee averaged 49.3 yards per punt and 42.7 net yards per punt while being named to the Pro Bowl. The Colts didn’t allow an opponent to return a kick for a score, while Jordan Todman gave the Colts a big spark in the return game by averaging 29.9 yards per kickoff return, including a 99-yard touchdown return against the Packers that earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. It wasn’t all perfect this year for the Colts’ special teams (see some of the gaffes the coverage units had pinning punts inside the 20, for example), but overall they were very good.