Cameron Achord faced a special challenge in his 2020 debut as special-teams coordinator of the New England Patriots.

Achord was replacing Joe Judge, who was hired by the New York Giants as their head coach. Judge was held in such high esteem that he joined the legendary Frank Gansz as the only coaches in NFL history to go directly from NFL special-teams coordinator to a head-coaching seat.

And the guy Judge replaced in New England, Scott O’Brien, was a bit of a legend himself. He coached the Patriots to a No. 1 finish in special teams twice during Bill Belichick’s 20-year tenure as head coach. Clearly there is a high standard for the kicking game in New England. The Patriots have finished in the Top 10 14 times under Belichick, including nine Top 5 finishes.

Achord spent his first two seasons in the NFL as the assistant special-teams coach under Judge before his promotion. He proved more than ready for the increase in responsibilities in 2020, coaching the Patriots to a No. 1 finish in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 42 years.

The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Patriots compiled 214 points to finish eight better than the runnerup Seattle Seahawks at 222.5. Those 214 points, by the way, were a record-low for the Patriots in these rankings.

Five other playoff teams joined Seattle in the Top 9 of these rankings. Indianapolis came in fourth, New Orleans fifth, Baltimore sixth, Buffalo eighth and Chicago ninth. Miami, which missed the playoffs despite winning 10 games, finished seventh.

The Patriots claimed two of the five Pro Bowl spots devoted to special teams in the AFC, punter Jake Bailey and coverage ace Matthew Slater. In addition, Gunner Olszewski was voted first-team all-pro as the punt returner by the Associated Press. Coverage ace Justin Bethel and kicker Nick Folk have been to past Pro Bowls and Joe Cardona has provided six seasons of stability as New England’s deep snapper. This is a seasoned group that expects to perform and does.

“It’s the investment that coach (Belichick) puts into special teams at practice, in the meetings,” Achord said. “It’s not just a third phase. It’s an equal phase. Anybody we need for the units we will use. We have high expectations. We push the guys to meet them and they respond very well. It starts at the top with the coach and goes on to the players, the veteran guys that we have, who pass it on to the young guys. That’s what allows you to continually do this at a high level.”

New England finished in first or with a share of first in six of the 22 categories this season and second in another. There were five other Top 5 finishes by the Patriots and three more in the Top 10. That’s 15 Top 10 finishes in the 22 categories. All punting aspects were a strength with Bailey. The Patriots also blocked two kicks and scored two touchdowns on returns of a punt and a blocked field goal.

The Saints excelled in kick coverage, finishing first in punts and second in kickoffs. New Orleans finished in first or with a share of first in three categories and second in two more. There also were two other Top 5 finishes and four in the Top 10.

The Detroit Lions were a surprising third-place finisher. They were terrible -- finishing 5-11 with the NFL’s 20th ranked offense and 32nd ranked defense – and head coach Matt Patricia was fired after Thanksgiving. But Detroit was ultra-competitive on the kicking downs, especially with NFC Pro Bowl punter Jack Fox.

The Lions blocked a league-high four kicks and finished first or with a share of first in four categories. There also were two second-place finishes, four more in the Top 5 and three more in the Top 10. But special-teams coach Brayden Coombs didn’t survive, either. The Lions fired him during Christmas week.

The greatest improvement was charted by the Colts, who vaulted from 29th in 2019 to fourth in 2020. Special-teams coordinator Bubba Ventrone was hired by the Colts in 2018 away from the Patriots, where he had been O’Brien’s assistant. New England then hired Judge to replace Ventrone. Now it’s Achord’s turn.

Two other teams charted sizable improvements – Baltimore vaulted from 25th to fifth and Buffalo from 28th to seventh.

2020 NFL SPECIAL TEAMS RANKING

1. New England 214

2. Seattle 222.5

3. Detroit 235.5

4. Indianapolis 244.5

5. New Orleans 260.5

6. Baltimore 263.5

7. Miami 281.5

8. Buffalo 287

9. Chicago 292

10. Arizona 311

11. Dallas 311.5

12. Cincinnati 316.5

13. Houston 325

Jacksonville 325

15. Carolina 344.5

16. Las Vegas 346.5

17. Philadelphia 361.5

18. Pittsburgh 383.5

19. NY Giants 398

Kansas City 398

21. Denver 413.5

22. Atlanta 420

Tampa Bay 420

24. Tennessee 424.5

25. Washington 425

26. NY Jets 438

27. SF 49ers 451.5

28. Cleveland 465

29. Green Bay 492.5

30. LA Rams 507

31. Minnesota 518

32. LA Chargers 519

Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:

KICKOFF RETURNS

1. Buffalo, 27.6 yards

2. Baltimore, 26.7

3. Dallas, 26.1

4. Kansas City, 25.84

5. Indianapolis, 25.83

Worst: Green Bay, 18.9

PUNT RETURNS

1. New England, 15.5 yards

2. Denver, 13.4

3. Detroit, 12.8

4. Buffalo, 11.9

5. Las Vegas, 11.5

Worst: Minnesota, 4.3

KICKOFF COVERAGE

1. Miami, 15.7 yards

2. New Orleans, 17.2

3. Buffalo, 17.9

4. Jacksonville, 18.8

5. Arizona, 19.5

Worst: Tampa Bay 33.6

PUNT COVERAGE

1. New Orleans, 2.3 yards

2. Atlanta, 5.46

3. Detroit, 5.52

4. Baltimore, 5.7

5. Washington, 5.8

Worst: Green Bay, 17.1

KICKOFF STARTING POINT

1. Baltimore, 27.3-yard line

2. Buffalo, 27.0

3. Chicago, 26.9

4. Dallas. 26.6

5. Indianapolis, 26.4

Cincinnati, 26.4

Worst: Denver, 23.6

OPPONENT STARTING POINT

1. Arizona, 23.3-yard line

2. Buffalo, 23.7

3. New Orleans, 23.8

4. Miami, 24.0

5. New England, 24.1

Worst: Minnesota, 27.2

PUNTING

1. Buffalo, 50.8 yards

2. Seattle, 49.6

3. Detroit, 49.1

4. New England, 48.7

5. Washington, 48.0

Worst: Atlanta, 42.5

NET PUNTING

1. New England, 45.6 Yards

2. Detroit, 44.8

3. Seattle, 44.4

4. Washington, 44.3

5. Buffalo, 44.0

Worst: LA Chargers, 34.1

INSIDE THE 20 PUNTS

1. Seattle, 32

2. New England, 31

3. Pittsburgh, 29

4. Chicago, 28

5. LA Rams, 28

NY Giants, 28

Worst: Minnesota, 11

OPPONENT PUNTING

1. Detroit, 41.3 Yards

2. NY Jets, 42.1

3. Jacksonville, 42.7

4. Cleveland, 43.4

5. Carolina, 43.8

Worst: SF 49ers, 48.5

OPPONENT NET PUNTING

1. Jacksonville, 35.6 yards

2. Detroit, 36.2

3. New England, 37.9

4. NY Jets, 38.3

5. Las Vegas, 38.48

Worst: LA Rams, 43.9

FIELD GOALS

1. Atlanta, 38

2. Miami, 36

3. Dallas, 34

4. Las Vegas, 33

5. Indianapolis, 32

Worst: Philadelphia, 14

FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE

1. Seattle, 100 percent

2. Green Bay, 100 percent

3. NY Giants, 96.8

4. Pittsburgh, 95.8

5. Atlanta, 95.0

Worst: Minnesota, 68.1

OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE

1. Baltimore, 66.6 percent

2. Kansas City, 69.2

3. Miami, 73.9

4. Jacksonville, 79.4

5. Detroit, 80.0

Worst: Carolina, 93.5

EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE

1. Miami, 100 percent

2. New Orleans, 98.2

3. Baltimore, 98.1

4. Arizona, 97.8

5. Chicago, 97.2

Worst: Denver, NY Jets, 83.3

POINTS SCORING

1. Indianapolis, 12 points

Jacksonville, 12

Kansas City, 12

New England, 12

5. Philadelphia, 8

Worst: 14 teams tied with 0

POINTS ALLOWED

16 teams tied with 0

Worst: LA Chargers, 20

BLOCKED KICKS

1. Detroit, 4

2. Cleveland, 3

12 teams tied with 2

Worst: 8 teams tied with 0

OPPONENT BLOCKED KICKS

11 teams tied with 0

Worst: LA Chargers, LA Rams, 4 apiece

TAKEAWAYS

1. Arizona, 3

2. LA Chargers, 3

3. Minnesota, 3

4. New Orleans, 3

4 teams tied with 2

Worst: 15 teams tied with 0

GIVEAWAYS

14 teams tied with 0

Worst: SF 49ers, 4

PENALTIES

1. SF 49ers, 3 penalties, 25 yards

2. Tampa Bay, 4-30

3. Green Bay, 6-40

4. Cincinnati, 6-50

5. Arizona, 7-31

Worst: LA Chargers, 22-143