Continuity can mean almost everything for an NFL kicker. Good health can mean even more.
Bears kicker Cairo Santos probably won't be able to improve on what he did last year when he won the Bears kicking job, but factors on his side last year remain in place. So it's possible, even if the percentages say otherwise.
For one, he has both long snapper Patrick Scales and holder/punter Pat O'Donnell returning.
"This will be our first time of back-to-back all the specialists coming back," Bears special teams coordinator Chris Tabor said. "We've gotten a lot of good continuity with Scales and Pat O'Donnell, just long snap and short snap, and them being able to bring Cairo right back in the mix and everyone kind of knowing what everyone likes. That's a big plus for us, so hopefully we can continue our development to where we want to go."
For the first time since Matt Nagy was coach, the Bears won't be counting money paid to Cody Parkey against their salary cap. They were still eating money on that fiasco last year, two years after the infamous double doink.
Santos made them nearly forget about that situation and also go away from Parkey's replacement, Eddy Pineiro, because he seized an opportunity and went 30-for-32 on field goals, a Bears record of 93.8% and also Santos' career high.
Anticipating Santos will be better this season would be expecting too much considering he'd never been better than 88.6% before last year and when he did that in 2016 it was the only time he was higher than 83.3%.
So the law of averages suggest Santos declines somewhat.
Santos' problem with a groin injury in the past had led to his decline, and better health to a resurgence. So, if he is able to avoid injury entirely again there is no reason for the Bears to expect he'd tail off.
He also has experience on his side kicking at Soldier Field now, and that's a huge factor considering how fickle the wind can be on the lakefront.
Santos missed his second kick in Soldier Field from 50 yards in Week 2, then made all of them the rest of the season.
"A place that I think is so daunting to kick and we see away teams come in and struggle, many great kickers come in and have pregames that they are just puzzled by some of the ball movements they see," Santos said during this offseason. "But just having that place to use it as a weapon, to kind of sharpen your game, I think it played an advantage for me to not only deal with that for eight games during the year but to go to away places and having fun because that wasn't a challenge.
"The winds that I felt, it wasn't going through my mind. It was just 'aim the ball down the middle and hit it the way you always hit.' And just stay true. I was hitting lots of balls down the middle so it was fun. But it's a process that you have to respect."
Whether Santos can hit for such numbers again also depends on the effectiveness of the offense.
For instance, Green Bay's Mason Crosby made every field goal try he had last year but only kicked 16 times because his team's offense was so efficient getting into the end zone. If the Bears get better in the red zone or more explosive from beyond the red zone, Santos will not have as many tries.
Santos, who turns 30 this season, won the percentage game last year, and after what the Bears went through with Parkey and even somewhat with Pineiro they're glad to have a steadier veteran presence for a key area of the game.
Cairo Santos at a Glance
Career: Eighth season, 138 of 166 field goal tries (83.1%), 197 of 204 on extra-point kicks (96.6%), 46.1% touchbacks on kickoffs.
2020: 30 of 32 (93.8%*), 36 of 37 extra-point kicks (97.3%), 48.8% touchbacks on kickoffs.
Key Number: 27. Santos has made 27 straight field goals, a team record.
2021 Projection: 26 of 29 field goals, 53-yard long, 38 for 38 extra points, 51% touchbacks on kickoffs.