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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 16, Championship Weekend for most leagues.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Kansas City Chiefs (@ Seattle Seahawks)
Kansas City travels to Seattle to take on a Seahawks team fresh off an upset defeat to the 49ers. Whether the Chiefs find a reeling Seattle team still stunned by that loss or a team motivated by a fervent home crowd remains to be seen, but the matchup in the trenches still favors Kansas City. The Seahawks are allowing a healthy 4.8 Yds/A to opposing rushers, making RBs Damien Williams and Spencer Ware (assuming he plays) upside plays. The Chiefs are a top-12 team in Football Outsiders Stuffed Rate, which measures the percentage of runs where the rusher is tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. Only 18% of the Chiefs’ runs have been stuffed this season. Kansas City also boasts a top-7 pass blocking unit, as their O-line has only allowed 25 sacks with a 5.7% Adjusted Sack Rate from FO. Seattle has played better against the pass, but PFF gives the Chiefs a 20% pass blocking advantage (8th best of the week) and 24% run blocking advantage (5th best) over the Seahawks this week. QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Tyreek Hill, and TE Travis Kelce should benefit from the O-line advantage to provide ample fantasy production in a contest that still has playoff implications for both teams.
Denver Broncos (@ Oakland Raiders)
The Broncos have been steadily collapsing as injuries pile up and their elimination from playoff contention sets in, but this may be a viable week to use them. The Raiders rank 30th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA and only have 12 sacks on the year, good for the worst total in the entire NFL (the next lowest total is Miami’s 24, double what Oakland has produced). Additionally, the Raiders are allowing a 103.1 QBR to opposing passers, so even QB Case Keenum should be able to move the ball against them, setting up the run game for RBs Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman. On the ground, Oakland is giving up a league-high 146.4 Yds/G and 4.8 Yds/A to opposing rushers. To put things in perspective, they’ve given up nearly 1,000 yards more on the ground than the best run defense in football (New Orleans). The Denver offense should have time to find its groove in Oakland.
Cleveland Browns (at home vs Cincinnati Bengals)
The Browns travel home to face dismantled Bengals defense that ranks 28th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. Fresh off yet another victory, the Browns face a front seven that has given up a healthy 4.8 Yds/A on the ground and 142.4 Yds/G, making RB Nick Chubb a viable play. QB Baker Mayfield should also have a little trouble targetting WRs Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway, as well as TE David Njoku and RB Nick Chubb through the air. PFF gives them a 22% pass blocking advantage in this game (6th best matchup pass blocking advantage for any team in week 16). Expect Cleveland to find success moving the ball against the Bengals.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Miami Dolphins)
The Jaguars are a team spiraling out of control after getting blown out by the Titans two weeks ago and losing to a Washington team starting QB Josh Johnson under center last week. Their O-line is decimated by injury and simply can’t get much push off the line of scrimmage. PFF gives them a -13% pass blocking advantage and -5% run blocking advantage this week, suggesting they will struggle to both run and pass the ball without pressure or stacked fronts. RB Leonard Fournette has been a veritable bust this year, and Week 16 against Miami could very well be the last straw that sinks any fantasy owners still around who are brave enough to rely on him. The Jaguars passing game led by QB Cody Kessler barely has a pulse (Kessler’s stat line against Washington last week: 9/17 for 57 yards and 1 INT). Those looking for a silver lining will point to the fact that Miami is allowing 145.2 Yds/G and 4.8 Yds/A to opposing rushers (2nd highest totals in football behind the Raiders), but Washington (4.6 Yds/A allowed) wasn’t significantly better, and Fournette only received 11 carries for 46 yards and spent much of the second half on the sideline. With the Jags playing out the string to close the year, it’s risky to trust Fournette in the fantasy playoffs behind an O-line that isn’t getting it done and a coaching staff that intentionally limited his carries against Washington as part of its game plan despite the fact that he’s their only viable playmaker.