The new kickoff rule has a lot of people scratching their heads. During the 2016 season, kickoffs that result in a touchback will give the offense the ball on the 25-yard line, rather than the 20. This is a clear incentive not to return the kick.
Obviously, the rule is player safety initiative.
In 2015, 56 percent of kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.
Should returners ever return kickoffs caught in the end zone now that this rule is in place?
Most numbers-crunchers have concluded that teams with strong returners ought to return kicks, whereas teams with below-average return games should take the touchback.
But other factors come into play, such as the score of the game and the time left in the game or the half. Those factors may prompt a return attempt despite poor odds. Weather and field condition might also influence the choice.
And just to avoid the injury risks several teams will probably elect to always take the touchback, but what about teams that have very good return units?
Coincidentally or not, the top four kickoff return averages (10 or more returns) in 2015 belonged to NFC North returners. They were led by the Minnesota Vikings’ Cordarrelle Patterson (31.8) and followed by the Chicago Bears’ Deonte Thompson (29.2), Detroit Lions’ Ameer Abdullah (29.1) and Green Bay Packers’ Jeff Janis (29.0).
The Packers’ Ty Montgomery was averaging 31.1 on seven returns prior to an ankle injury that ended his season.
These choices will likely be based on early 2016 kickoff return results, as there is high turnover on kick return units each year.
At this point, however, it looks like the odds are in favor of the Packers and the rest of the division electing to return kicks regardless of where they’re caught.