Could kicker Billy Cundiff cost Browns games in 2013?

CLEVELAND - Picture this: Five seconds left on the clock in a one-point game against the division rival Ravens. Billy Cundiff comes out for a game-winning 39-yard field goal.

How comfortable will you feel?

The Browns' new kicker Billy Cundiff is no Phil Dawson - years worth of stats sufficiently bear that out.

Throughout his NFL career, Cundiff has been inconsistent, a stark contrast to the reliable Dawson.

In 11 of his 14 seasons in Cleveland, Dawson hit more than 80 percent of the field goals he attempted. Just once in nine seasons has Cundiff reached that threshold.

Cundiff couldn't cut it last season in Washington, released after missing four of six field goals in a two-game span. On 12 attempts, Cundiff was making his kicks under 60 percent of the time.

Leg strength is a question when it comes to the 33-year-old who has had stints with five teams, including five games with the Browns in 2006.

On attempts of 50 yards of more, Cundiff is 5 for 21, which is less than a quarter converted over the course of his career. Dawson, on the the other hand, was 24 of 34 from that range with the Browns, missing just once in 15 attempts in the past two seasons.

Kickers are unpredictable and have turned it around before. Nick Folk went from despised in Dallas to an relatively effective option with the Jets, rectifying his issues in a matter of a year. It's not an impossibility.

Cundiff has had one very stellar season, notching nearly 90 percent of his field goal tries with the Ravens in 2010. His postseason numbers are solid too, 12 of 14 on field goals and perfect on PATs.

But even that banner year with the Ravens was marred by his 32-yard, game-tying miss in the final seconds of the AFC Championship game in New England.

He was let go by the team the next offseason.

Replacing the productivity of a Pro Bowl kicker who rarely wavered was never going to be an easy prospect for the Browns. Was Cundiff really, however, the best the Browns could do?

While some may think of the kicker as a trivial spot easily filled by anyone who can pick up a football in their backyard, it can and will rear its ugly head at the worst of times.

If the Browns offense can put it together under a new coaching staff, the kicker should be less leaned on to pick up the slack. That has to be the team's hope, at least.

However, in a 16-game season where the competition is so close and margin for error so razor thin, every point matters. When a closer blows a regular season save it's detrimental but not typically devastating in baseball's 162-game big picture.

Brushing off one loss as you would in baseball is difficult to do in football.

A kicker costing you one or two close games can be the difference between fighting for the playoffs and playing out the schedule come the season's final weeks.

Discount the kicker at your own risk. Rest assured though, the first time Cundiff trots out for a pressure kick you'll be remembering his name and weighing the Browns' decision in the hit/miss game of hero or goat.

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