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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 15.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Pittsburgh Steelers (at home vs Oakland Raiders)
The Steelers are again coming off a tough loss, this time to the Oakland Raiders, and they just RB James Conner is questionable to play, at best. However, the O-line once more has an advantageous matchup that should mitigate the loss. Pro Football Focus gives the Steelers the best pass blocking advantage of any team this week (42% positive advantage over the New England Patriots), 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, New England is allowing 4.9 Yds/A (5th highest rate), so RBs Jaylen Samuels and Stevan Ridley should offer solid value as well. It also helps that the Patriots only have 24 sacks, tied for the 3rd fewest in football, increasing the odds that the ailing Roethlisberger can stay upright this week (though the same was said last week against an abysmal Oakland Raiders’ pass rush, and Big Ben couldn’t finish the game). New England possesses the offensive firepower necessary to keep the Steelers pushing the ball down the field, so expect a lot of scoring in this game, especially with the Steelers always playing better at home.
Cleveland Browns (@ Denver Broncos)
The Browns travel to Denver to face a reeling Broncos defense that just got walloped by the 49ers last week. Fresh off a stunning defeat of the Carolina Panthers, the Browns face a front seven that has given up a healthy 4.5 Yds/A on the ground, but with CB Chris Harris unable to play, QB Baker Mayfield should also have a field day targetting WR Jarvis Landry, as well as TE David Njoku and RB Nick Chubb through the air. PFF gives them a 39% pass blocking advantage in this game (2nd best matchup pass blocking advantage for any team in week 15). Expect Cleveland to find success moving the ball against Denver if the playcalling is half as creative as what HC Kyle Shanahan dialed up against the Broncos last week.
Cincinnati Bengals (at home vs Oakland Raiders)
The Raiders stunned Pittsburgh at home last week, but the Steelers almost never win in Oakland these days, so perhaps it shouldn’t have been as surprising as it was. What has been surprising is RB Joe Mixon finding some life despite the offense missing QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green. Ultimately, it’s painfully clear that Mixon is the team’s best offensive threat, so they’re finding creative ways to get him the ball. Despite being the only show in town, Mixon managed a 4.3 YPC average and totaled 111 yards and a TD to go along with 5 catches for 27 yards against the Chargers last week. A similar output is possible this week, as the Raiders give up 4.8 Yds/A and 144.5 Yds/G to opposing backs. Football Outsiders rates Cincinnati as a middle-of-the-pack blocking O-line in the NFL when it comes to Adjusted Line Yards (4.23), a metric that contextualizes rushing yardage based on O-line impact, and middle-of-the-pack should be enough against the Raiders. Additionally, their 107.5 passer rating against is the second highest in football behind Tampa Bay, and their 11 sacks are the lowest total in the NFL by a country mile (the next lowest, Miami, has 22, doubling Oakland’s output). PFF gives the Bengals’ O-line a 16% pass blocking advantage against Oakland (7th best matchup advantage of the week), so the Bengals should be able to pass the ball when they need to do so; however, the offense will most likely revolve entirely around Mixon.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
New York Jets (at home vs Houston Texans)
With news that RB Isaiah Crowell has been put on IR, RB Elijah McGuire’s prospects quickly shot up, and he instantly became a hot commodity if he was still left on the wire in any leagues after getting 17 carries for 60 yards and TD to go along with 3 grabs for an additional 23 yards. However, owners could not ask for a worse week to trust the young back in the fantasy playoffs, as Houston checks in as a top-8 defense according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Their 36 sacks rank inside the top-10, and PFF gives the Jets’ O-line the worst pass blocking (-28%) and 2nd-worst run blocking (-30%) matchup advantages for Week 15. The Texans only give up 3.6 Yds/A on the ground, and a paltry 88.2 Yds/G (2nd best marks behind the Saints). McGuire should have little to no room to run this week, as the Jets’ O-line Adjusted Line yards (3.78, ranked 30th) and Stuffed Rate (29th) are all bottom barrel in the NFL. If McGuire is to find any success in Week 15, it may have to come via the passing game, where owners have to hope he can shake a defender or two.