For the first time since 2010, the Seattle Seahawks will travel to the Mile High City, as they open the 2018 NFL regular season against the Denver Broncos. The last meeting in Denver saw the Seahawks get crushed 31-14, but since then the Seahawks have beaten their former AFC West rivals in Super Bowl XLVIII and in the 2014 rematch at CenturyLink Field.
Stakes for the 2018 meeting are a little different. Neither team is really expected to contend for the Super Bowl, in particular the Broncos, who went 5-11 last year. There are still plenty of storylines surrounding this game (for now), including Case Keenum’s Denver debut, Seattle’s offensive line against Denver’s defensive line, and Broncos fans pondering how silly it is to do the “IN-COM-PLETE” chant.
This is all fine and dandy, but the real battle is not in the trenches, or in the secondary, or the two quarterbacks, it’s about that sweet, sweet punting action.
With apologies to Jon Ryan (publishing this on Canada Day, too!), I’m not expecting him to be on the Seahawks roster come September. That means it’s Michael Dickson against Marquette King. If you’re stoked about special teams and kicks at high elevation, this is THE game for you.
Dickson was such a highly touted punter out of college that he declared a year early! Since when do kickers or punters bail for the NFL before their eligibility runs out? The Seahawks even traded with the Broncos to move up seven spots in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft to choose Dickson, which made a lot of us very angry. This is the Texas Bowl MVP we’re talking about here! He’s a former soccer and Aussie Rules football player. This man knows how to put boot to ball, whether spherical or oblong. Pro Football Focus called him the “Aaron Donald of college punters.” He knows how to pin opponents inside the 20, and doesn’t extend his leg all the way up like other punters do.
The Seahawks have had sub-standard punt stats for years now, and last season was the first time since 2010 that Seattle averaged worse starting field position than their opponents. Not to fear, for Michael Dickson is here.
...But wait! He’s not the only punting sensation in this story.
The Oakland Raiders cut Marquette King, saving $2.9 million in salary cap money. Presumably Jon Gruden has inquired about signing Ray Guy. King is both a valuable punter and extremely entertaining.
The 29-year-old was third in the NFL in net-punting last year (42.7 yards), and has had more punts downed inside the 10-yard line (65) than anyone else since 2013. Of course, Oakland’s offense has been so abysmal that King has been called upon to punt 428 times over five years, good for second in the league. Oakland has had positive punting DVOA in 2014, 2015, and 2017. In this table, his Expected Points Added (EPA) is second behind only Johnny Hekker, whereas Jon Ryan... is really far down.
Want to see something funny?
Marquette King was much better at avoiding negative plays and generating positive plays than Derek Carr in 2017 pic.twitter.com/jOek7UFeGJ— Ben Baldwin (@benbbaldwin) April 2, 2018
The Seahawks offense defaults to starting slowly in September, averaging just 19 points per game in season openers under Russell Wilson. Meanwhile, the defense has allowed just an average of 17.3 points per game, so we should expect a low-scoring affair. That means punts, punts, and more punts. Coffin corner attempts and booming big kicks 70 yards give this potential to be a thrilling sub-plot of field position flipping, and it might be the genuine difference maker when all is said and done.