(Photo by William Howard/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 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 13.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Carolina Panthers (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
RB Christian McCaffrey has quickly joined RB Todd Gurley for the potential number one overall pick in fantasy drafts next season. As such, nothing in this column should dissuade McCaffrey owners from doing what they’ve done all year – start him every week. However, for DFS purposes, McCaffrey and the Panthers are set up nicely to explode behind their O-line this week. The Bucs ranked 31st in Football Outsiders’ team defense DVOA, and they’ve given up 4.7 Yds/A on the ground. As a team, the Panthers have rushed for 138.4 Yds/G and 5.3 Yds/A. The Panthers O-line have the 8th-best Stuffed Rate in football, according to FO, with only 16.8% 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 at will with McCaffrey and QB Cam Newton. Speaking of Newton, Tampa Bay allows 274.3 Yds/G through the air (6th highest rate in football) and 8.7 Yds/A to opposing quarterbacks, the second highest rate in the NFL. WRs D.J. Moore, Curtis Samuel, and Devin Funchess, along with TE Greg Olsen, should all feast on the road.
Baltimore Ravens (@ Atlanta Falcons)
The Ravens will trot out QB Lamar Jackson for at least one more game. Jackson’s ability to throw the football remains in question, but his ability to run with the football is not. Jackson currently has 329 rushing yards on 65 attempts in the power zone read approach Baltimore has integrated to both hide his limitations as a passer and exploit his prowess as a runner. To complement Jackson, lumbering RB Gus Edwards has emerged as the lead dog in the Baltimore backfield. On the surface, Atlanta looks like a perfect spot for both Edwards and Jackson. They’ve given up 5.1 Yds/A, good for 3rd highest in the league. It should be noted that Atlanta does get rangy LB Deion Jones back for this game, and that should help the team shore up some of its woes, especially with Jones’ sideline to sideline speed and ability to cover running backs. Whether that’s enough to contain the Ravens remains to be seen, but until Atlanta demonstrates that it can stop the run, Baltimore looks like it’s in a prime spot here. Edwards has been battling an injury all week, and the team may activate RB Kenneth Dixon for this game. Newly acquired RB Ty Montgomery touched the ball 11 times for 64 yards, further integrating himself into the offense as he learns the playbook more, so it’s unclear whether Edwards would still offer bell-cow value in this game, especially if Baltimore’s defensive struggles on the road continue and Atlanta forces the Ravens to play from behind. Either way, the matchup on paper makes the Ravens’ ground game quite appealing this week.
Green Bay Packers (at home vs Arizona Cardinals)
The Packers are just playing out the string with a lame duck head coach at this point, but their offense remains capable and potent. More importantly, they draw Arizona this week. The Cardinals are giving up 4.5 Yds/A on the ground and 144.8 Yds/G (3rd highest total in football). RB Aaron Jones shouldn’t need many carries to put up quality stats in this one, while the Packers positive overall pass blocking rating on PFF (13.7, good for 4th best in football) should provide QB Aaron Rodgers with the time he needs to find WR Davante Adams and his other wide receivers along with Jones running routes out of the backfield. The Packers generate 1.46 yards before contact and have FO’s 3rd best Stuffed Rate, providing the Green Bay O-line with a distinct advantage over Arizona.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Cleveland Browns (@ Houston Texans)
The Browns’ O-line has been generating more holes for RB Nick Chubb and giving QB Baker Mayfield ample time to find his pass catchers for TDs, but they still rank 30th in FO’s Stuffed Rank, with nearly a quarter of their runs stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. According to Pro Football Focus, the Browns have the 9th-worst run blocking advantage of any team in football this week in their matchup against Houston (-9% rating). Their overall PFF pass blocking grade of 84.8 is top-5 in the NFL, so the Browns will most likely have more success moving the ball through the air and sending Mayfield out of the pocket where he can make plays and throws on the move as he evades DL J.J. Watt and DL Jadeveon Clowney. The Browns’ offense has been on fire in recent weeks, but their O-line will be tested by Houston’s front-7 on the road this Sunday.
New York Giants (at home vs Chicago Bears)
The Giants host a ferocious Bears’ defense that has truly come together with DL Khalil Mack as the season rolls on. The Bears are only allowing 80.8 Yds/G on the ground (2nd lowest in the NFL) with a middling 3.6 Yds/A. PFF gives the Giants a -19% pass blocking matchup advantage in the against the Bears’ front seven, the fourth-worst mark in the league this week. Even worse, PFF gives the Giants a -42% run blocking matchup advantage this week, the worst in the league. Against Football Outsiders’ number-one defense in team DVOA, expect QB Eli Manning to be under fire early and often in this game, which could greatly hinder the production of WRs Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepardm, and possibly RB Saquon Barkley as well.
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