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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 Patrick Mahomes or 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 11.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Carolina Panthers (@ Detroit Lions)
The acquisition of DL Damon Harrison was meant to stabilize the Lions’ run defense, but the Lions remain 30th in football according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Lions have been better, but the addition of Harrison doesn’t entirely reverse a run defense that has allowed 4.9 Yds/A on the ground to opposing rushers. While RB Christian McCaffrey may have to make some of his hay outside the tackles this week, the opportunity will be there for solid production, while QB Cam Newton should have the time to pick apart the Lions’ secondary that features only 1 above average starter in SS Quandre Diggs, according to PFF advanced metric ratings. As an offense, Carolina is averaging 5.1 Yds/A and 138.4 Yds/G rushing, good for 3rd best in football. After the embarrassing loss to the Steelers in Week 11, look for the Panthers to bounce back in a big way in Detroit.
Baltimore Ravens (at home vs Cincinnati Bengals)
The Ravens will be starting some combination of rookie QB Lamar Jackson and QB Robert Griffin III at quarterback, so it’s reasonable to expect that the team will lean on its run game with RB Alex Collins and newly acquired RB Ty Montgomery. Baltimore is only averaging a paltry 3.6 Yds/A on the ground, but against a toothless Bengals’ defense that has been gashed weekly, they should find some room to move the ball. The Bengals coughed up 500+ yards for the third consecutive game last week, an NFL first, and they are giving up 141.2 Yds/G on the ground and 5.0 Yds/A, the second worst marks in the league. Additionally, their atrocious secondary is allowing a league-high 313.3 Yds/G through the air with 21 TDs allowed (3rd most). The numbers are staggering when you consider that DT Geno Atkins (87.9), DT Andrew Billings (71.1), and DE Carlos Dunlap (76.5) all possess above average, high quality, or elite overall PFF grades. The loss of LB Vontaze Burfict has been destabilizing, as the other linebackers rate below average or poor and the secondary has been a sieve. While the uncertainty at QB makes WRs John Brown and Michael Crabtree somewhat risky plays, the chances are good that the Ravens will be able to put up yards and points regardless of who is under center.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Denver Broncos (@ Los Angeles Chargers)
The Broncos had already lost OL Ronald Leary and OL Matt Paradis and OL Max Garcia tore his ACL in practice yesterday. A decimated line will struggle to protect QB Case Keenum or open holes for RBs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. Even without DE Joey Bosa, the Chargers boast top-end talent in PFF highly graded defenders like DE Melvin Engram III (80.1), DT Corey Liuget (74.1), and MLB Hayes Pullard (87.0), who is playing at an elite level. Not to mention, Los Angeles boasts a talented secondary with CB Casey Hayward Jr. (74.2) and electric rookie FS Derwin James (83.2). The Chargers are giving up 4.5 Yds/A on the ground, but the Broncos O-line figures to be overwhelmed by this playoff-caliber defense, ranked 11th best in Football Outsiders’ DVOA.
Jacksonville Jaguars (at home vs Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Jaguars embattled O-line has struggled to stay healthy, and they draw a tough assignment this week against a Pittsburgh defense that ranks in the top half of Football Outsiders’ DVOA and has held opposing teams to a middling 90.8 Yds/G on the ground, the 5th lowest rate in the league. With QB Blake Bortles unable to truly challenge teams through the air, RB Leonard Fournette continues to face stacked boxes, as his career 3.7 Yds/A illustrates. More concerning is the fact that underwhelming play and injuries along the O-line have reduced that average to 2.8 Yds/A this season, though the sample size is relatively small given how much time Fournette has missed with injury. Jacksonville has pass protected better this year than in the past, and with the defense not playing up to last year’s standards, the team may have no choice but to air it out to keep up with Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense. The set-up makes Bortles a decent streamer for the desperate, while Fournette should find it tough to find any open lanes on Sunday.