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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 Drew Brees or Todd Gurley (you’re starting them 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 2.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Philadelphia Eagles (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
This one seems obvious, given that Philly deploys one of the best lines around, but when the matchup is this good, it’s too good not to exploit. The Bucs have allowed a rushing TD in seven straight games if you go back to last season. New Orleans feasted on their corners, and Drew Brees had all day to throw. Tampa Bay was the worst passing defense in football last year, did not do enough to appreciably approve this offseason, and finished as a bottom 10 defense overall. Last week alone, on per-play-basis, Tampa Bay gave up the most yards of any team in the league. Even without being at full strength, QB Nick Foles, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Zach Ertz, and pass catching backs Darren Sproles and Corey Clement should all feast. RB Jay Ajayi should also be able to post an above average YPC and find the end zone if the Eagles find themselves near the goal line.
Denver Broncos (at home vs. Oakland Raiders)
Denver looks like it’s going to be a much more competent office this year, even if the potential RBBC in the backfield and QB Case Keenum’s propensity for picks may cause headaches. At the very least, they should thrive in good matchups. Hosting Oakland this Sunday qualifies as a good one. The Raiders didn’t play overly poorly against the Rams on Monday night, but they just traded away stud defender Khalil Mack and are playing on a short week. RB Royce Freeman faced a bevy of 8-man fronts last week, and Denver sought to keep defenses off-balance by using more versatile RB Phillip Lindsay in a near-even time split (26 snaps to Freeman’s 29). This could turn into something similar to what we’re seeing in Tennessee with RBs Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry moving forward. The Raiders were the 7th worst pass defense in football last season, and losing Mack won’t help them improve. They show better in the run, but Mack’s loss there hurts as well. WR Emmanuel Sanders should remain heavily targeted (and highly productive), and Denver should not struggle much to move the ball against a defensive front 7 that lacks punch.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at home vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
The Steelers began the year on a disappointing note by tying the lowly Cleveland Browns in a tough divisional tilt, but terrible weather and high winds didn’t help either. That should not be a problem against the Chiefs this week. Fantasy analyst Warren Sharp had a great tweet earlier this week about the Chiefs RB-pass defense, pointing out that they allowed a 61% success rate and 10.5 YPA on all downs against San Diego. He also pointed out that the Steelers recorded an 80% success rate and 10.2 YPA on passes to RB James Conner on early downs. In layman’s terms, the Chief’s don’t look like they can defend pass-catching backs well, and the Steelers’ offense is predicated on pass-catching backs. Sharp also pointed out that KC couldn’t defend the short middle of the field well at all, allowing a 73% success rate to the Chargers inside that area, meaning that even if they can get consistent pressure against Pittsburgh’s line, however unlikely, QB Ben Roethlisberger should be able to find success on hot routes, quick slants, screens, and short passes to running backs. Expect Kansas City to have trouble containing WRs Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster in what may turn out to be quite a high scoring affair.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Detroit Lions (@ San Francisco 49ers)
It probably could not have gone worse for HC Matt Patricia in his debut with the Lions. Sure, the 49ers still don’t have LB Reuben Foster back, and they were historically atrocious vs the run as recently as 2016, but a better scheme aimed at fixing that, an infusion of talent along the defensive line, and strong play from D-linemen Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, and DeForest Buckner have gone a long way to improve the perception that they’re a defense to target. Plus, this is the same Detroit team that totaled under 40 yards rushing total behind its line. Allegations that the Jets defenders were able to read QB Matthew Stafford’s hand signals and forecast plays notwithstanding, the Lions will play better for sure, but that doesn’t mean they’ll fix what ails them in one week. The Lions passing game remains worth strong consideration given the talent of WRs Kenny Golladay, Golden Tate, and Marvin Jones, but the run game is probably a risky proposition if the line doesn’t start opening up holes to buck the narrative that the Lions will never be able to run the football without Barry Sanders.
Oakland Raiders (@ Denver Broncos)
Put simply, Raiders look like a team in disarray after one week. Seattle couldn’t get much going on the ground against Denver last week, and there’s very little to suggest that “Check Down” QB Derek Carr will be able to keep Von Miller and crew honest enough to give RB Marshawn Lynch much room to run. Denver was a top 5 overall passing and rushing defense last year, and they should be licking their chops to get at Carr in the backfield on Sunday. The Oakland line is good enough to make this offense effective, but Denver represents a stiff test on the road that may prove too difficult to overcome, especially if Carr isn’t challenging downfield to keep the pressure off. Denver has struggled to contain tight end production going back to last year, and Seattle gashed them that way as well in Week 1, so TE Jared Cook has some upside given his market and target share so long as Carr remains tentative to throw downfield.
Cincinnati Bengals (at home vs Baltimore Ravens)
The Bengals line was recommended in this column last week as a building block due to offseason improvements along the line and a cake matchup against the Colts’ porous defense. While I expected even greater production, it’s safe to say Cincinnati delivered with great production all around. This game might be the most intriguing of the week, given its fantasy implications. Week 1 against Indianapolis made RB Joe Mixon look like a potential steal in the 2nd or 3rd round of drafts as a true workhorse back with heavy involvement in the passing game, but the Ravens present a tougher test than the Colts did. Mixon averaged 5.6 YPC last week, and he saw 7 targets in the passing game. It was essentially his best game as a pro after last year’s inefficient debut, and his target and market share represent big upside. The Bengals invested in their line this offseason, and QB Andy Dalton was able to settle down and complete 75% of his passes for an 11.6 YPA. Again though, this was against the Colts. There are still questions about this line, and this Ravens game may offer some insight as to whether Mixon is a sell high candidate or not. With less time to game plan, Thursday Night Football matchups tend to lean run heavy, so Mixon should get plenty of opportunities. On paper, at least for now, the Bengals’ line looks like it should get overmatched by Baltimore. If that happens, and Mixon doesn’t compensate with a solid game through the air, then it might be prudent to consider selling high on him the next time he excels against a plum matchup. However, if the Bengals have their way with Baltimore or produce steady fantasy totals, then it’s safe to raise this Cincy O-line in the rankings moving forward and trust that this offense won’t be hampered by poor line play the way that it was last year.
Atlanta Falcons (at home vs. Carolina Panthers)
The Falcons come home battered and confused after their red zone woes of 2017 followed them to Philadelphia. The line grades out well, but after such an auspicious start and going against a Carolina front seven that finished top 3 in rushing defense last season and just dominated the Dallas Cowboys’ elite (albeit, ailing) line, it’s hard to recommend RBs Devonta Freeman (nursing an injury this week, plus averaging less than 50 yards per game in his career against Ron Rivera’s unit) and Tevin Coleman. The Falcons’ defense took a big hit losing DB Keanu Neal and LB Deion Jones for what looks like the year, and that may lead to more negative game scripts. Carolina can be challenged through the air, and the Falcons certainly have the talent to do that, but the line will likely struggle to get anything going on the ground and hope to pass protect well to move the chains consistently. If the Panthers can build a big lead (which they could do if they involve RB Christian McCaffrey heavily in the passing game now that Atlanta’s ability to cover backs well in the passing game has been compromised somewhat by injuries), then Atlanta may very well abandon the run almost entirely.