(Photo by Larry Radloff/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 Patrick Mahomes 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 7.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Minnesota Vikings (@ New York Jets)
The Vikings’ rushing attack was seemingly non-existent before last week’s game against Arizona, where RB Latavius Murray rumbled for 155 yards on the ground. The matchup was ripe, but the team’s previous aversion to the run game in favor of going to the air made it hard to trust whether they would (or could) take advantage of the opportunity. The Vikings wisely stayed committed to the run against Arizona, and it paid off. They may want to do the same thing against the Jets, who are giving up 4.3 YDS/A and 108.7 YDS/G to opposing backfields. Those numbers are squarely middle-of-the-pack, but Minnesota should have no trouble throwing against New York to build an early lead, allowing them to stay true to the run game to salt the clock against a defense that isn’t good enough to make them one-dimensional. The Jets are allowing 272 YPG to opposing quarterbacks, and they will likely be without DBs Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine. Expect the Vikings’ O-line to pave the way for QB Kirk Cousins, WRs Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, and RBs Latavius Murray and Dalvin Cook (if he plays). The only concern is that the Vikings have seemingly played down to their inferior opponents at times; nonetheless, the Minnesota O-line has the advantage here.
Kansas City Chiefs (at home vs Cincinnati Bengals)
This game presents ample opportunity for both O-lines, as each has an advantage over the opposing defense. Let’s start with Kansas City’s O-line generating 4.4 YDS/A going against a Bengals’ defense allowing 4.6 YDS/A. The Chiefs have been a more pass-heavy team, but that’s largely attributed to a defense so putrid that they can’t put games away early. While the same case may prove to be true here, the opportunity presents itself to lean on the run game more since no defense in football will stack the box against RB Kareem Hunt when the Chiefs’ passing game is so prolific. The Bengals are giving up 292 YDS/G through the air (the 4th highest rate in football), and their 13 total sacks rank in the bottom half of the league, so Kansas City should be able to score aplenty, making QB Patrick Mahomes and his pass catchers all high-end plays. On the other side of the ball, the Bengals’ O-line has acquitted itself well by opening enough lanes to allow 4.4 YDS/A despite not having RB Joe Mixon for a few games. Mixon is back, and the Bengals would be wise to lean on its run game rather than attempts a shootout with Kansas City. Additionally, the Chiefs’ pass defense is statistically one of the worst in the NFL, allowing 340 YDS/G, an unhealthy 7.9 YDS/A, and 10 TDS through 6 games. QB Andy Dalton, WRs A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd, and to a lesser extent, even TE C.J. Ozomah are all good bets to rack up yardage totals, though Mixon may be more likely to score a TD than the receivers.
Detroit Lions (@ Miami Dolphins)
With RB Theo Riddick looking doubtful, RB LeGarrette Blount looking ineffective, and a bye week under his belt, this could be RB Kerryon Johnson’s coming out party. He’s already the first Lions’ rusher to post a 100-yard game on the ground since the Stone Age, and Miami is allowing a beatable 4.0 YDS/A and 118.2 YDS/G to opposing rushers. The Lions’ O-line has pushed for 4.3 YDS/A, and one could argue that rate would be even higher if not for Blount’s low YPC total depressing it. Detroit has been a decidedly pass-first team (nearly 65%), but with Miami most likely to start QB Brock Osweiler, the Lions should be playing with a lead most of the game. Yes, it’s true that Oz caught the Bears (and just about everyone else) by surprise last week to record arguably his best game as a pro after being an unmitigated disaster in most of his previous starts, but the Lions will be more prepared. Detroit ‘s passing game should also thrive here, as Miami has only collected 10 sacks so far, good for 6th worst in the league. Put simply, they lack a pass rush and they’re going against a prolific pass attack. The Lions should fill the stat sheet coming off their bye.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Buffalo Bills (@ Indianapolis Colts)
The Bills travel on the road in the hopes that QB Nathan Peterman can lead them to victory. You could argue they lost this game before they even stepped on the airplane. The Bills’ O-line seems to have a residency in this section of the article, and it’s because they’ve given up 24 sacks (3rd worst in football) and a passing game that averages a pitiful 5.4 YDS/A. They aren’t much better in the run game either (3.6 YDS/A) despite ranking in the top-10 of attempts. The Colts’ defense has been stout against opposing backs, allowing only 3.7 YDS/A, and their 19 sacks are the 4th highest total in the NFL. They are a legit and underrated defense at this point in the season, while the Bills’ offense is circling the drain. The best fantasy play here might actually be the Colts DST against a Buffalo O-line that lacks the athleticism to compete, so that should tell you everything you need to know about this game. No Bills players are recommended plays unless desperate.
(EDIT: The Bills will start 35-year-old QB Derek Anderson in place of Nathan Peterman. Anderson hasn’t started a game since 2016, and while he represents an upgrade over the historically poor play of Peterman, the Colts DST remains a strong streaming option).
Tennessee Titans (in London vs Los Angeles Chargers)
The Titans are floundering at the moment, and their O-line play has a lot to do with it. They’re paving the way for just 3.7 YDS/A on the ground, but what is surprising is the fact that Tennessee has only accumulated 985 yards through the air (164 YDS/G). This is not what we expected from the Titans’ passing attack, and the poor play can be attributed in big part to an O-line that’s given up 20 sacks and a ton of pressure to opposing defenses. QB Marcus Mariota isn’t the type of talent who raises the play of those around him – his style of play and talent level seem reminiscent of QB Alex Smith – and without the benefit of stellar O-line play, the offense is really struggling. The Chargers have 16 sacks and 8 interceptions through 6 games, putting them a fine DST option.
Houston Texans (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Texans have one of the worst O-lines in football. The Jaguars have one of the most talented defenses in football. We could stop there, really, but for the sake of not phoning it in, let’s take a deeper look to see why Houston will almost certainly struggle this week against a Jacksonville defense intent on getting back on track after getting embarrassed by the Cowboys last Sunday. The Texans’ 655 yards rushing ranks in the top 13, but they’re the only team on that list with a YDS/A average under 4.0 (3.9), and that’s largely bolstered by QB Deshaun Watson’s 5.6 YDS/A on broken plays and scrambles. The 25 sacks the Texans have given up ran second in the league despite having a mobile quarterback. If Houston didn’t have elite playmakers like WRs DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller and a young QB who can run, the O-line would probably be setting new records for sacks allowed and futility. The Jaguars will pressure the Texans’ O-line, and the line will fold.