Block Stock – Fantasy’s Best and Worst O-line Matchups for Week 14
(Photo by Cliff Welch/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 14.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Oakland Raiders)
The Steelers are coming off a tough loss to the Chargers at home, and they just lost RB James Conner for this week and possibly beyond. However, the O-line has an advantageous matchup that should mitigate the loss, especially when you consider the Raiders generate some of the least pressure of any defense in football; their 10 total sacks are the lowest total in football, and the next-lowest team (Giants) have nearly double with 19. Pro Football Focus gives the Steelers the best pass blocking advantage of any team this week (31% positive advantage), which means QB Ben Roethlisberger should have plenty of time to find WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. TEs Vance McDonald and Jesse James are also sneaky plays here. On the ground, Oakland is allowing 153.2 Yds/G on 5.0 Yds/A, so RBs Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley should offer solid value as well. With the Oakland offense showing some signs of life in recent weeks, the Steelers may have to keep pushing the ball down the field, which should prevent them from standing on the sideline amidst a blowout in the 3rd quarter.
Green Bay Packers (at home vs Atlanta Falcons)
On the surface, Atlanta looks like a perfect spot for Green Bay to get right after a demoralizing loss to the Arizona Cardinals that led to the firing of HC Mike McCarthy. The Falcons are a dome team traveling to a cold weather stadium, and their defense has given up 4.9 Yds/A, good for 6th highest in the league. The return of rangy LB Deion Jones should help some, but Green Bay’s O-line has been stellar this year. PFF gives them a 32% pass blocking advantage in this game (2nd best matchup pass blocking advantage for any team in week 14). Football Outsiders rates Green Bay as the 5th best run blocking O-line in the NFL when it comes to Adjusted Line Yards (4.89), a metric that contextualizes rushing yardage based on O-line impact. The Packers generate just 1.48 yards before contact but have FO’s 10th best Stuffed Rate, generating positive yards on most rushes. Green Bay’s PFF overall O-line grade (88.5) through 14 weeks is also the highest mark for any line in football. Expect QB Aaron Rodgers to find WR Davante Adams and perhaps TE Jimmy Graham early and often, while RB Aaron Jones should not have trouble finding open holes on the ground.
Los Angeles Chargers (at home vs Cincinnati Bengals)
The Chargers are fresh off an inspiring victory over the Steelers in Week 12, and their O-line should be able to plow through a Bengals unit that has allowed 19 touchdowns (most in the NFL) to opposing backfields and a league-high 179.3 yards from scrimmage. Cincy allows 4.9 Yds/A and 153.3 Yds/G on the ground. Additionally, the Chargers 4.83 Adjusted Line Yards ranks 7th in Football Outsiders’ run blocking metric. RBs Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson should find plenty of room to make waves both on the ground and through the air in this one. Los Angeles should also be able to keep the pocket clean for QB Philip Rivers as well, as the Bengals 26 total sacks rank in the bottom-10 of the league, while their 100.5 passer rating allowed is the 7th highest in football. WRs Keenan Allen, Mike Thomas, and Tyrell Williams are all set up to succeed this week.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Indianapolis Colts (@ Houston Texans)
The Colts may have trouble in this game with WR T.Y. Hilton (shoulder) and TE Eric Ebron (back) both trending toward a questionable tag, making it harder for the Colts to threaten Houston deep or in the red zone. Even if Hilton and Ebron are able to play, this is not a favorable matchup against a ferocious Houston front-seven. Indy does rank top-5 in FO’s Stuffed Rank, and their 4.88 Adjusted Line Yards ranks 6th in the league, but Houston only allows 3.7 Yds/A and 91.3 Yds/G on the ground. Additionally, the Texans 34 sacks rank top-10 in football, so QB Andrew Luck may not have as much time as he’d like to find his pass catchers. Coming off a shutout against Jacksonville, the Colts’ O-line will have a hard time overwhelming DLs J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney.
Tennessee Titans (at home vs Jacksonville Jaguars)
It’s anyone’s guess which Jacksonville defense will show up on a given Sunday, but the fact that they kept QB Andrew Luck out of the end zone last week shows the potential this unit has when it can put it all together. The Jaguars have mostly been middle-of-the-pack when it comes to what it allows to opposing rushers (4.1 Yds/A, 108.4 Yds/G), but they are still a top-5 team when it comes to Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA, and they will surely be motivated against yet another divisional rival. The Titans’ O-line carries a positive overall pass blocking grade from PFF (76.6), but they are below average in the run blocking department (62.8). It’s probably not wise to expect much from RBs Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry, nor should QB Marcus Mariota be expected to thrive against a Jaguars’ secondary that boasts elite talent like Jalen Ramsey at CB.