(Photo by Stephen Lew/Icon Sportswire)
Fantasy production starts up front, in the trenches, with the unheralded behemoths who pave the way for rumbling rushers and prolific passers. Knowing which offensive lines have the best matchups week-to-week, and which ones look poised to struggle based on opponent, can actually give you an edge when it comes to making some tough starting lineup decisions.
If you want a general overview of which lines should block well and which ones should get steamrolled this season, check out our preseason rankings here. However, sometimes even a porous line’s weekly prospects can improve when matched up with a middling defensive line, so this column won’t just focus on the obvious, top flight and elite lines which should block well each and every week provided good health, but also which ones could thrive on a given week due to an advantageous matchup, thus opening the door for positive fantasy production for all skill players involved.
So what’s the formula? Well, all the same caveats that went into ranking the lines during the preseason still apply -PFF overall line grades, offseason changes in scheme and personnel, the strength of schedule, and so on – but all of that gets measured against the success each opposing defense continues to demonstrate based on total passing and rushing yards allowed, yards-per-game allowed, home and road splits, red zone defensive efficiency and overall points allowed using Pro Football Reference’s Team Defense statistics.
Generally speaking, a good offensive line is going to hold up regardless of opponent, so fantasy owners with skill position players playing behind great lines will rarely consider O-line matchups, while owners with skill position players playing behind sieves on the line will perpetually be concerned or, more likely, block out (pun intended) the dismal state of a line and just hope their players will succeed in spite of all the backfield penetration and pass rush. Just like you don’t need a rankings column to tell you whether to play someone like Todd Gurley (you’re starting studs aggressively, regardless of opponent, and expecting fantasy production), you also don’t need to know who the best lines in football are playing unless the advantage is so great or the competition so noteworthy that it’s worth consideration. Thus, you’ll almost never see the top lines appear in this column unless the talent gap between them and their opponent is so vast (or close) that it warrants extra exploitation or notice. The goal here is to let the matchups dictate advantages and disadvantages and unearth a few notable contests.
Let’s take a look at some mouthwatering and concerning matchups for Week 10.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Green Bay Packers (at home vs Miami Dolphins)
Green Bay has struggled to find its identity running the ball, but things have been simplified with RB Aaron Jones taking control of the backfield. Against New England last week, Jones had 14 carries for 75 yards and caught 2 of his 4 targets for 10 yards. The Packers were struggling to keep pace with the Patriots in that game, but that’s unlikely to be the case against Miami. The Dolphins’ defense is allowing 4.6 Yds/A on the ground, good for the 10th highest clip in the league. LT David Bakhtiari is playing at an elite level (PFF overall grade of 89.1) and RT Bryan Bulaga is also playing at an above average level. QB Aaron Rodgers should have little trouble operating within a clean pocket against a Dolphins’ pass rush that has only racked up 15 sacks on the year, the fourth lowest total in football. Expect big production from Rodgers, Jones, and all the pass catchers.
New Orleans Saints (@ Cincinnati Bengals)
The Saints have been involved in some shootouts recently after seemingly leaning more on the run game. Ideally, New Orleans would prefer to keep the pressure off QB Drew Brees until the postseason, but their defense has not allowed the offense to take the foot off the pedal. Fortunately, against a stumbling Bengals team missing WR A.J. Green, the Saints should be able to mount an early lead and maintain it. The Bengals’ defense has holes, and the Saints’ tackle duo of LT Terron Armstead (89.2) and RT Ryan Ramczyk (84.8) are grading out as elite this season under PFF’s overall grading. This should be a game where RB Mark Ingram is fed more as the Saints salt the clock with the lead. Expect solid production in a favorable matchup across the board for the Saints.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
New York Giants (@ San Francisco 49ers)
Coming off the bye, no one is sitting RB Saquon Barkley, but it may be prudent to consider having modest expectations. The 49ers have been torched a lot on the back end, but their run defense has been solid, allowing a middling 4.0 YPC, and their pressure came alive as they feasted on Oakland’s O-line last Thursday to the tune of 7 sacks. Both teams should be well rested, but the Giants’ O-line, paving the way for 4.2 Yds/A and a middling 77.9 Yds/G rushing average, the second lowest in the league. The Giants boast elite talent at running back and wide receiver, but QB Eli Manning has looked completely washed and the line has not blocked well.
Washington (@ Tampa Bay Buccanneers)
Washington lost LT Trent Williams (dislocated thumb) for at least two or three more weeks and LG Shawn Lauvao (torn ACL) and RG Brandon Scherff (torn left pectoral muscle) for the season last week. And a fourth, RT Morgan Moses, has not yet practiced because of a knee injury. In general, Washington has controlled the ball on offense and limited opponents’ scoring (with New Orleans and Atlanta being the exception). Tampa Bay possesses a lot of firepower on offense, but they’re also extremely turnover prone. And despite the injuries, Washington will most likely look to maintain their identity both to keep the Bucs’ offense off the field and get RB Adrian Peterson into a rhythm, but that may prove difficult behind linemen signed off the street. Washington’s diverse array of run schemes – outside zone, inside zone, power gap, etc – could still give them an edge against a Tampa Bay defense with a weak crop of corners but a relatively strong front-7. The Bucs are permitting a tolerable 4.4 Yds/A and 107.1 Yds/G on the ground despite having one of the worst pass defenses in the league. However, with WR Paul Richardson out for the year and QB Alex Smith struggling to connect with TE Jordan Reed, Washington may have no choice but to feed Peterson behind a patchwork line.