Somehow special teams always winds up being a factor when you get down to the most critical games of the NFL season. And we are certainly there, with only eight teams remaining in the hunt for this year's Super Bowl trophy. Let's look at how the special teams units of the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants match up in advance of Sunday's NFC Divisional Round game at Lambeau Field.
The Packers are 11th in the league in kickoff returns with an average of 24.5 yards per return. Green Bay is 12th in punt returns with an average of 10.9 yards. Rookie Randall Cobb has done the bulk of Green Bay's returning, and he is dangerous. He averages 11.4 yards on 26 punt returns, including an 80-yard touchdown. On kickoff returns he averages 27.4 yards on 34 returns, with a 108-yard touchdown to his credit.
Placekicker Mason Crosby is 24-of-28 on field-goal attempts this season with a long of 58 yards. He has recorded touchbacks on 49 of 108 kickoffs this season, and given up 23.9 yards per return.
Punter Tim Masthay averaged 45.6 yards per punt with a 38.6 yard net averaged and 23 punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
The Giants have struggled in the return game, particularly on punts. Their regular season average of 6.1 yards per return was 29th in the league, and the Giants were one of only two teams without a punt return of longer than 20 yards. Former Packer Will Blackmon is the primary returner. On kickoff returns the Giants average 23.3 yards per return, 20th in the league. Rookie Jerrel Jernigan has done most of the returning recently, exactly hitting that 23.3 yard average.
Placekicker Lawrence Tynes has made 19-of-24 field goals, with a long of 50 yards. Tynes got touchbacks on 34 of his 79 kickoffs this season, and opponents averaged 22.8 yards per return.
Punter Steve Weatherford had an excellent year in his first year with the Giants after being signed as a free agent. Weatherford averaged 45.7 yards per punt on 82 punts, with 25 punts downed inside the 20-yard line. His net average was 39.2 yards per punt.
Advantage: Packers ... The dangerous Cobb gives the Packers an egde. The Giants have not been able to break a big kickoff or punt return all season. Crosby may also have a tad more range than Tynes.