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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 12.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Carolina Panthers (at home vs Seattle Seahawks)
The Seahawks have played much better football this season (top-10 in Football Outsiders’ DVOA), but they’ve still given up 4.9 Yds/G on the ground. As a team, the Panthers have rushed for 130.2 (5.0 Yds/A). The Panthers have the 9th-best Stuffed Rate in football, according to FO, with only 16.7% of their runs being stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage). They’re also top-10 in yards earned between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Expect the Panthers to pound the rock with QB Cam Newton and RB Christian McCaffrey. On the other side of the ball, OL coach Mike Solari has turned an O-line that vastly underperformed under former coach Tom Cable into arguably football’s best rushing unit. The Seahawks currently lead the league in rushing (both total yards and Yds/G) behind the three-headed RBBC comprised of RBs Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny, and Mike Davis. All of this makes the rushing attacks on both sides of the line ones to target this week.
Baltimore Ravens (at home vs Oakland Raiders)
The Ravens reinvented their offense with QB Lamar Jackson rushing 27 times under a power zone read approach behind lumbering RB Gus Edwards. No longer working with the element of surprise, it remains to be seen whether this approach can remain successful – though common sense would dictate that running the quarterback more like a bell-cow rusher and absorbing all those hits simply isn’t sustainable. Against Oakland, however, it still may be. RB Alex Collins took a back seat to Edwards and newly acquired RB Ty Montgomery didn’t touch the ball. It’s unclear how the touch distribution will shake out this Sunday, but one thing that is clear is that Baltimore went from averaging a paltry 3.6 Yds/A on the ground to averaging 5.7 Yds/A with Jackson and Edwards last week against the Bengals. The embattled Raiders hardly pose a more formidable threat, so look for the success on the ground to continue, especially with Jackson so limited as a passer.
Indianapolis Colts (at home vs Miami Dolphins)
The Colts have reaffirmed their status as an elite offense, with QB Andrew Luck tossing 3 or more TDs in seven straight games behind an offensive line that ranks top-3 in pass protection with a 4.2% Adjusted Sack Rate, according to Football Outsiders. Even more impressive, the Colts have finally established a potent rushing attack, as they rank top-3 in Stuffed Rate as well. Put simply, this Colts’ O-line has emerged as one of the best units in football, and it’s without a doubt the best line play Luck has ever enjoyed in his career. The Dolphins are getting gashed on the ground to the tune of 142 Yds/G and 4.8 Yds/A. The Colts’ O-line should be able to have their way with Miami’s defensive front, paving the way for RB Marlon Mack to eat. Expect big things from Luck, Mack, and WR T.Y. Hilton in this one.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Minnesota Vikings (at home vs Green Bay Packers)
The Vikings have quickly emerged as one of the worst O-lines in football. According to Pro Football Focus, Minnesota has the worst pass blocking advantage of any team in football this week in their matchup against Green Bay (-50% rating). Their overall PFF pass blocking grade of 60.5 is the 2nd worst in the NFL, with only Arizona (54.5) being lower. The Vikings boast elite talent at WR with Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and QB Kirk Cousins is always dangerous with the football. However, if the Vikings can’t establish a strong run game behind RB Dalvin Cook in this one and find themselves trying to keep pace with QB Aaron Rodgers, then it could be a long game for Minnesota.
Denver Broncos (at home vs Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Broncos host a Steelers defense that has truly come together as the season rolls on. Pittsburgh is only allowing 99.6 Yds/G on the ground, and they’re starting to really get after the quarterback (PFF gives the Broncos a -32% pass blocking matchup advantage in the against the Steelers’ front seven, the second-worst mark in the league this week). PFF gives the Broncos a -37.5 pass blocking grade. Expect QB Case Keenum to be under fire early and often in this game, which could greatly hinder the production of WR Emmanuel Sanders and RB Phillip Lindsay.