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Super Bowl 52 features 2 left-footed punters, which shouldn’t give either team an edge

Neither team will be seeing anything new when lefty punters take the field in the Super Bowl.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Left-footed punters are a relative rarity in the NFL, but Super Bowl 52 will be a meeting of two of them, with Ryan Allen of the New England Patriots and Donnie Jones of the Philadelphia Eagles on opposing sidelines.

Despite left-footed punters being fairly uncommon, 10 saw the field during the 2017 NFL season, according to Sports Illustrated. Meanwhile, Giorgio Tavecchio of the Oakland Raiders was the league’s only left-footed placekicker, and the 2017 season was the second consecutive year with no passes thrown by a left-handed quarterback.

In theory, there is a reason a team might prefer a left-footed punter, and Patriots coach Bill Belichick may be one of the people most responsible for people being aware of it.

There’s a small strategic advantage that comes with a left-footed punter

A least, that’s the idea.

Punts off left feet spin in the opposite direction of those coming off the feet of right-footed punters, and former Chiefs returner Dante Hall once described it as trying to catch “a Roger Clemens curveball coming from the sky.”

According to a study in 2013 by Bird Breakdown, 3.24 percent of punts from left-footed punters were muffed over a nearly 12-season span, compared to 2.34 percent of right-footed punters. Less than 1 percent difference isn’t much, but NFL teams love any advantage they can find.

“Now that you have more lefties, I think people get used to it a little bit more,” Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt told SI. “But it’s most definitely still a point of concern and a topic. I’ve never heard anybody say, ‘We are facing a right-footed punter this week,’ ever. But it’s always mentioned if there is a lefty.”

It’s also a small advantage that affects nothing else.

Get a lefty at quarterback and aspects of your offense change, with the right tackle suddenly becoming the blindside blocker. Also, neither a left-handed quarterback nor a left-footed placekicker make a strategic difference.

So as long as a team can find a left-footed punter who does the job as well as a right-footed one, why not give it a shot?

Belichick loves left-footed punters

The Patriots’ coach claims it doesn’t make much difference to him which leg his punters use.

“You know, I’ve been asked about that before. I think it’s a coincidence really,” Belichick said at a press conference in 2013. “I don’t go into it with an attitude like, ‘We have to have a left-footed punter.’”

If that’s the case, it’s one hell of a coincidence:

Patriots punters (2000-2017)

Punter Years Punts (reg. season) Foot
Punter Years Punts (reg. season) Foot
Ryan Allen 2013-2017 345 Left
Ken Walter 2001-2006 211 Left
Zoltan Mesko 2010-2012 175 Left
Josh Miller 2004-2006 175 Left
Chris Hanson 2007-2009 149 Left
Lee Johnson 2000-2001 113 Left
Brooks Barnard 2003-2003 10 Right
Todd Sauerbrun 2006-2006 10 Right

Brooks Barnard and Todd Sauerbrun — two players signed as injury replacements who had 10 regular-season punts each — are the only two right-footed punters for the Patriots since Belichick was hired in 2000.

That seems a little too unlikely to be a coincidence.

Belichick doesn’t do anything on accident, and any rise in the amount of left-footed punters in the NFL could certainly be a case of the rest of the league copying the Patriots. Sports Illustrated says the amount of left-footed punters in the NFL has doubled since Belichick took over in New England.

It probably won’t affect Super Bowl 52

When teams prepare to face a left-footed punter, they usually bring in a lefty of their own for practices. That won’t be necessary for the Patriots or Eagles.

Patriots returner Danny Amendola has spent all season catching punts from Allen in practice, and Eagles returner Kenjon Barner has been catching punts from Jones.

There’s a tiny difference between punts muffed from left-footed punters vs. right-footed punters, but it will probably be negated by the fact that neither team is facing anything new.

But when Belichick finally walks away from the NFL, the rise of left-footed punters appears to be another way his legacy has impacted the game — whether he calls it a coincidence or not.

It’s a good idea to teach your quarterback how to punt