(Photo by David Rosenblum/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 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)
New England Patriots (@ Detroit Lions)
This could very well be RB Sony Michel’s breakout game. The Patriots’ line isn’t exactly bowling over opponents, but the Lions have given up a league-worst 359 yards to opposing rushers through two weeks to go along with 5.6 YPC and 3 TDs, including a long run of 66 yards, which plays right into Michel’s wheelhouse. The Lions will have their hands full trying to contain TE Rob Gronkowski and New England’s productive receivers, so it’s unlikely that Michel will ever see stacked boxes up front. The game script should set up New England’s line nicely to pave the way for productive fantasy days for all its skill position players.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at home vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
Put simply, the Bucs look like the best offense in football right now along with the Kansas City Chiefs. No one quite knows how long QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s “FitzMagic” will run out, but with goliath pass catchers in WR Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to go along with speedster DeSean Jackson, it’s difficult to see how Pittsburgh’s swiss cheese defense will be able to contain them. Through two weeks, the Steelers have already allowed 7 TDs through the air, and their run defense has been gashed for 304 yards (4.8 YPC). If there was ever a spot for RB Peyton Barber to improve upon his putrid 2.6 YPC, this matchup surely fits the bill. In fact, it would not be surprising to see The Bucs finally active 2nd-round RB Ronald Jones, who has sat out the last two games as he learns the offense after an appalling preseason performance. This would be the perfect spot to let the rookie run behind the first team O-line to bolster his confidence and see what he can do on the ground to compliment the team’s historic air attack.
Chicago Bears (@ Arizona Cardinals )
The Bears’ offense continues to find its way under new HC Matt Nagy, and a road tilt with Arizona offers the best opportunity to date for some prolific production. The Cardinals have given up the 5th most rushing yards so far, in addition to the 6th most passing yards allowed to opposing quarterbacks. They were obliterated up front by the Rams last week, and the Bears’ line should be able to win in the trenches, making RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen appealing plays. The passing game will see top WR Allen Robinson go up against CB Patrick Peterson, so QB Mitch Trubisky may finally lean on TE Trey Burton up the middle of the field as his line gives him time to throw.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Given how many points the Steelers have been scoring to open the season, it may seem surprising to see them here among the “Broken Blocks.” However, it should be noted that RB James Conner was only able to muster 17 yards on 8 carries last week against a putrid Chiefs’ defense. While the Bucs have allowed the second most passing yards to opposing passers so far, much of that is due to negative game scripts as their offense has gone nuclear, forcing opponents to throw for nearly the entire game just to keep up. On the ground, the Bucs have allowed the second fewest yards to opposing rushers on a pedestrian 3.6 YPC. The Buccaneers boast a front 7 that includes DE Jason Pierre-Paul, DT Gerald McCoy, and rookie DL Vita Vea clogging the trenches and attacking the quarterback. They’ve struggled to keep rushers out of the end zone (4 TDs through two games), but on paper, this matchup appears better suited for the Steelers’ pass blocking than their rushing. Another shootout seems likely, with Conner potentially struggling to set the tone on the ground.
New York Jets (@ Cleveland Browns)
The Jets looked overmatched in Week 2 against Miami, and Cleveland poses a far stiffer test in Week 3 for young QB Sam Darnold. The Browns are currently tied for 5th in the league in sacks (7) and INTs (5) through 2 games, and they’re only allowing 3.8 yards-per-carry despite hovering in the middle of the pack in terms of yards allowed to opposing rushers. In a Thursday night game that figures to be somewhat run-heavy for both teams, DE Myles Garrett and emerging stud DT Larry Ogunjobi figure to make life difficult for the Jets’ offensive line.
Buffalo Bills (@ Minnesota Vikings)
The Bills field arguably the NFL’s worst roster, and now star RB LeSean McCoy is dealing with cracked ribs. This game should be over before halftime, but if you’re looking for statistical reasons to avoid anything being led by Buffalo’s offensive line, there are a few things to consider. The Vikings’ elite front 7 has not allowed a run over 16 yards yet this season, and they’ve limited opposing ball carriers to a paltry 3.8 average and zero touchdowns through two weeks to go along with 3 INTs and 7 sacks against far better offenses than what the Bills will trot out against them on the road. Avoid all Bills players if possible.