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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 6.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Seattle Seahawks (in London vs Detroit Lions)
NFL games in London have historically been higher scoring than the betting lines would suggest. Seattle’s O-line is not good, and that’s well documented in this space. But somehow, Oakland’s defensive line is worse. They are last in the league in sacks and field a bottom-five rushing defense, yielding 4.9 YDS/A and 127.2 YDS/G. RBs Chris Carson and Mike Davis have formed a productive tandem as the Seahawks force the run game (SEA’s 143 rushing attempts are top-5 in the league), likely to keep QB Russell Wilson upright and prevent their defense from being over-exposed. The strategy should work well abroad against the Raiders. It remains the be seen whether “less than 100%” WR Doug Baldwin will finally come out of his shell, but Wilson should have more than enough time to throw in this one.
Philadelphia Eagles (@ New York Giants)
The Eagles boast one of the league’s most talented O-lines, and even though it’s not playing as well last year, the line still paves the way for 4.4 YDS/A on the ground. With RB Jay Ajayi out for the year, RBs Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood will share the load on Thursday Night Football. Both backs should be able to move the ball against a Giants’ defense that’s allowing 124.4 YDS/G and 4.6 YPC. The Eagles have given up 17 sacks so far (7th most in the league), so establishing a strong run game will be paramount to keep the pressure of QB Carson Wentz, fresh off last year’s season-ending injury. It will be difficult to predict the touch distribution between Philadelphia’s running backs, but the matchup is favorable for a productive evening on the ground.
New England Patriots (at home vs Kansas City Chiefs)
We saw RB Sony Michel post back-to-back solid games as New England’s O-line, and the offense in general, finds its rhythm. Kansas City has been a sieve, allowing an ungodly 5.8 YPC to opposing running backs. They’ve been even worse through the air, as they’ve given up 1,715 passing yards – the most in the NFL. On the road, the Chiefs’ unit should struggle in what looks like it could be one of the best shootouts of the season, and a marquee matchup of the present (QB Tom Brady) and future (QB Patrick Mahomes). Assuming health, all Patriots fantasy-relevant skill position players are set up for success behind an O-line that should have little trouble opening up holes in the run game and paving the way to bleed Kansas City through the air. The one thing the Chiefs have been able to do this year is sack the quarterback (15, tied for 5th in the NFL), but OC Josh McDaniels always dials up schemes that exploit the short and intermediate area of the field to prevent Brady from finding himself under siege.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Arizona Cardinals (@ Minnesota Vikings)
It may be tempting to ride RB David Johnson this week after he scored twice against San Francisco. However, turnovers led to short field position, and Johnson didn’t have to do much heavy lifting to find the end zone. This week against Minnesota will be tougher sledding. Minnesota is one of only 13 teams allowing less than 100 YDS/G, and they will get to play this game at home. The Cardinals’ O-line has “opened” enough lanes for nothing more than 3.3 YDS/A, second-worst in football ahead of only Tampa Bay. The Vikings have been far more generous through the air thanks to the surprising drubbing they received from Buffalo and shootout with the Rams. Despite all that, the Vikings have accrued 14 sacks, good for top-10 in the league. The game script projects a healthy lead as well, which means Arizona’s O-line will likely be in pass protect more often than not, and that’s where Minnesota can get to rookie QB Josh Rosen. The Cardinals have only allowed 9 sacks on the year, but they haven’t faced the same caliber of defense that the Vikings will trot out on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills (@ Houston Texans)
The Bills, despite finding a way to win a few games with middling talent, remain a veritable dumpster fire on offense. A visit to Houston will do them no favors. The Bills’ O-line has given up a league-leading 22 sacks, and they paved the way for a paltry 3.5 YDS/A for their running backs. Houston’s secondary remains a liability, but their front seven, with DE’s J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, should eat against this O-line. The Texans feature a top-10 run defense, allowing only 3.4 YDS/A and less than 100 YDS/G. The Bills will attempt to throw in this game, but it’s unlikely they have the talent at wideout to really thrive here on the road. All Bills’ skill players are poor bets this week.
Dallas Cowboys (at home vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Jaguars are allowing 4.0 YDS/A, but that’s largely because of one play – RB Saquon Barkley’s 68-yard TD run. It will be obvious to nearly everyone that the Cowboys’ have zero receiving threats to challenge Jacksonville’s vaunted secondary, so RB Ezekiel Elliott will command virtually all the attention in the form of stacked boxes. Take that play out, and the Jags are allowing less than 3.0 YDS/A. The Cowboys’ O-line has generated a lot of push up front, as the team is averaging 5.2 YDS/A on the ground and 135.8 YDS/G overall, making them a top 5 rushing attack. They have not been as proficient when it comes to pass blocking where they have allowed 16 sacks (top-8) and QB Dak Prescott has averaged less than 180 YDS/G. Even at home, Dallas will be hard-pressed to post anything near those rushing averages against a Jaguars’ defense whose sole focus will be stopping the run while their corners neutralize the passing game in man coverage.