(Photo by Kyle Emery/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)
Cincinnati Bengals (@ Atlanta Falcons)
The Falcons’ defense has slowly been unraveling after losing both starting safeties and stud LB Deion Jones. The Bengals’ revamped line should benefit from the matchup if nothing else, but it’s worth mentioning that this line has opened up enough holes for a 4.5 YPC average on the ground as well as 824 yards via the air (top 12). RB Gio Bernard should excel both between the tackles and in the passing game against a defense bleeding air yards to running backs. In fact, all Bengals (QB Andy Dalton, WRs A.J. Green, and WR Tyler Boyd) are full-go in what could very well be another shootout for Atlanta, assuming Green is able to suit up. The matchup is ripe for Cincy’s O-line to move the ball.
Denver Broncos (at home vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
The game script for this game should not require tea leaves to read. The Broncos will be smart to try and pound the rock with RBs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay rather than try to get into a shootout with the league’s highest-scoring offense. Denver’s O-line has moved mountains so far on the ground, allowing for 5.2 YPC, 3rd best in football. Their 144.7 YPG rushing also ranks third in the league, and the best way to limit Chiefs’ HC Andy Reid’s offense is to keep it off the field. The Chiefs’ run defense is about league average, but their pass defense is tied with Tampa Bay for the worst in football. Expect Denver to pound the rock and exploit mismatches for WRs Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas, and rookie Courland Sutton when they need to move the ball through the air. If the Broncos’ defense can halt a few K.C. drives, then we might finally see the Royce Freeman bell-cow game GM John Elway seemingly promised when he drafted the young running back in the spring. Denver’s best chance at winning this game rests in its ability to lean on its O-line advantage and ride Freeman for as many carries as he can handle, using Lindsay and its savvy receivers to keep long drives alive.
Dallas Cowboys (at home vs Detroit Lions)
Much like the Broncos’ game, Dallas will be best-served using its run game to keep QB Matthew Stafford off the field. The recipe here is simple. The Lions’ run defense is the worst in football, allowing 5.4 YPC and 149.3 YPG. The Dallas offense is built around RB Ezekiel Elliot. It’s hard not to envision Dallas saddling Elliot with over 20 carries in this game, draining the clock while its emerging defense does its best to contain the Lions’ potent passing attack. Detroit currently possesses the best pass defense in the league (league-low 152 YPG). Whether that’s because teams can run on them at will or because their secondary has flashed remains to be seen, but QB Dak Prescott has not looked like the kind of player that can carry the Cowboys. Carry the Cowboys on his back is literally all Zeke has done since getting drafted, so expect the talented Dallas O-line to try and set the tone in this game.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Minnesota Vikings (@ Los Angeles Rams)
If last week’s humiliating drubbing at home by the Buffalo Bills is any indication, the Vikings’ O-line is in trouble against DL Aaron Donald and the Rams. LA currently sits 6th in the league with only 199 passing yards per game allowed. DB Aqib Talib was placed on IR this week, and fellow corner Marcus Peters is listed as DTD with a calf injury, so this matchup would seem to be inviting on paper for Vikings WRs Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. However, if the line can’t give QB Kirk Cousins time to throw, it may not matter. Because of LA’s injuries in the secondary, this matchup isn’t quite as daunting, but it’s impossible to ignore the way a bottom-feeding team like Buffalo feasted on a Minnesota team many consider a Super Bowl contender, so until the Vikings’ right the ship in the trenches, it warrants planting a red flag on their O-line.
Tennessee Titans (at home vs Philadelphia Eagles)
The Eagles boast the best rushing defense in football right now, holding opponents to a 3.4 YPC average and a paltry 61.7 yards per game on the ground. Through 3 games, they have only allowed 1 rushing TD. The Titans are only averaging 3.7 yards per rush, and their quarterback play has been less than stellar with QB Marcus Mariota injured and QB Blaine Gabbert hardly playing competent football. In fact, the Titans are a bottom-5 passing offense right now with a TD:INT ratio of 2:3 and a woeful 162 YPG average. The Tennessee line isn’t a terrible unit, but they aren’t paving the way on the ground either. Although the Titans have rushed for 366 yards as a team (top 10 so far), it required the third-most rushing attempts in football to do that because they are so inept at moving the ball through the air. The Titans’ O-line looks overmatched on paper.
Seattle Seahawks (@ Arizona Cardinals)
It may seem too easy to feature the Seahawks here, given they ranked so low in my preseason rankings. But watching RB Chris Carson rumble for over 100 yards last week may mislead folks into believing this O-line is suddenly starting to play better. It’s not. Carson needed 32 carries to break the 100-yard barrier (3.1 YPC) against a stout Dallas defense, as Seattle opted to go for a ball-control offense after taking a 14 point lead before the half. QB Russell Wilson only finished with 192 yards passing, and Seattle won the game more by winning the time of possession battle against a Cowboys’ offense that couldn’t get anything going against the Seahawks’ defense. Teams have run against Arizona more than any other team in football (102 attempts), which is why they’ve allowed the fifth most yards on the ground thus far. However, those yards come with an uninspiring 3.7 YPC average. The Cardinals are middle-of-the-pack against the pass, but the Seahawks have not been able to muster much through the air with WR Doug Baldwin hurt. Baldwin has a chance to play this week, but even if he does, it will be at less than 100%. This game appears to be shaping up to be a low-scoring affair in which Seattle’s O-line figures to lose more often than not.