Vikings vs. NFC North: Kickers

Blair Walsh struggled in 2014, but he is a confident kicker that believes he will turn it around this year.

1. Detroit Lions
Kicker: Matt Prater
Before the 2014 regular season began, Prater was playing for the Denver Broncos and considered to be the best kicker in the NFL. However, Prater failed a drug test before the season began and was forced to serve a four-game suspension and eventually cut from the team.

The Lions then decided to take a chance on him after they struggled with two other kickers early in the season. Prater struggled the first couple weeks with the Lions but was soon able to settle down and find a grove, making 21 field goals on 26 attempts.

This offseason, Prater signed a three-year deal with the Lions. He has a powerful leg, is accurate and is kicking in a dome for all of his home games. That is an advantage he has over the other kickers in the division this year, considering Detroit is the only domed stadium in the NFC North during 2015.

2. Green Bay Packers
Kicker: Mason Crosby
Just a few seasons back, Crosby seemed to be one of the most snakebit kickers in the NFL and it seemed for sure that he was going to be on his way out of Green Bay. In 2012 he made just 63.6 percent of his field goal attempts but the Packers decided to stick with him and he was able to turn things around in 2013, making a career-high 33 field goals.

The success that he was able to find in 2013 continued into 2014, going 27 for 33. When it comes to kicking field goals within 40 yards, Crosby is money, but there is still a problem after that range. Last year he went 9 for 15 on kicks longer than 40 yards,

Crosby’s 1,037 points is currently second all-time for most points scored by a Packer behind Ryan Longwell’s 1,054. He will likely become the Packers’ all-time leading scorer in September.

3. Minnesota Vikings
Kicker: Blair Walsh
Walsh is the youngest place kicker in the NFC North. He originally exploded onto the scene in 2012, going 10 for 10 from 50 yards or more, which set an NFL record. When the season ended, Walsh was named to the Pro Bowl and was named to the All-Pro first team.

The problem, however, is that since his rookie year Walsh has not showed the same kind of consistency. In 2012 he made 92.1 percent of his field goals, then 86.7 percent in 2013 and it dropped once again in 2014 to 74.3 percent. The Vikings moved to an outdoor stadium last year and Walsh seemed to struggle getting used to the changing wind conditions. But after a year in the stadium, he should be able to settle down.

Walsh still shows plenty of potential and has not once shown any signs of a wavered confidence. Not only is Walsh confident in himself, but special teams coordinator Mike Priefer also has confidence in him. He may have struggled last season, but if anyone can turn it around it seems as though it would be Walsh.

4. Chicago Bears
Kicker: Robbie Gould
Gould has had a long and successful career, but 2014 seemed to take a downward turn. In the 12 games he played – missed four years with a quadriceps injury – he made just 75 percent of his field goals. That is a career low for him and the first time he recorded a completion percentage in the 70s since his rookie season in 2005.

Gould’s career has been especially impressive because he has the entirety in Chicago and playing at Solider Field, where the wind is not known to be kind. Playing in that environment year in and year out, he has still made 85.6 percent of the field goals he has attempted.

Gould struggled in 2014 and now he will need to get healthy this offseason and come back ready to improve. Gould will also be looking to break Kevin Butler’s all-time Bears points record of 1,116 – he is just 36 points shy.

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