Who Has the Best Special Teams in the NFL?

When you consider how critical field position is in a close game, no team has a better combination of kicking, punting, coverage and returning than the San Diego Chargers.

This was clear in their playoff win over the Colts when time after time Peyton Manning looked up to find his offense inside their own 20, 10, 5 and even had to start on their one-yard-line. Mike Scifres established himself as one of the NFL’s great punters that night. Even though he’s never been to a Pro Bowl, ESPN recently selected him as the NFL’s punter of the decade. The man who snaps him the ball, David Binn, was selected by ESPN to the same team. Binn has played in more games than any other Charger and was a rookie in their only Super Bowl season (1994). He continues to be a model of consistency and even serves as a backup QB. This same punt coverage squad also boasts a two time Pro Bowler, Kassim Osgood. A frustrated receiver who rarely catches a pass, Osgood has taken his anger out on opposing returners. At least once a game KO makes a play like causing a fumble, recovering a fumble, a great tackle or downing a ball inside the 20. Scifres’ punts are so high that they rarely get returned and he can boom one when the Bolts find themselves backed up in their own territory. It’s not often when a punter can be considered a legitimite weapon and that’s what the Chargers have in Scifres.

Pro Bowler Nate Kaeding has had his share of critics over the years. His early playoff performances were disappointing, his kickoffs didn’t result in touchbacks and his fieldgoal range was limited. However, Kaeding used 2008 to break away from past demons and silence his critics. Since coming into the league Kaeding is the second most accurate kicker in the NFL. He doesn’t get many chances to try long fieldgoals because of the rule change that places missed fieldgoals at the spot of the kick. Almost all kickers are limited in that regard to the end of the first half and the end of the game. At the end of the first half against Tampa Bay last December head coach Norv Turner allowed Nate a chance to try a long one against the Bucs. Kaeding connected on a club record 57 yarder that cleared the bar by several feet. In the playoffs Nate has made his last six attempts to put that problem behind him. His kickoffs could still use some improvement, but nobody’s perfect.

Darren Sproles is the biggest little man in the NFL. He returns both punts and kickoffs for the Chargers and consistently puts his team in good field position. He has three returns for touchdowns in his career, one of those was last year. He’s so darn small that he literally gets lost behind the huge lineman who play this game. His quick little steps are his trademark as he darts through holes no other human could squeeze through. With the new rule change concerning kickoff wedges, there could be more gaps for Sproles to exploit in 2009 and more chances to take it to the house.

The only weakness this unit has is a tendency to let down occasionally on kickoff coverage and no blocked kicks in recent memory. They did execute a critical onside kickoff against the Chiefs that allowed them to steal a win in December and keep their playoff hopes alive. Scifres made the kick, Osgood the recovery. The Chargers might send muliple players from this unit to the Pro Bowl again and the NFL’s best special teams could help their team win it’s first Super Bowl.