(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 someone like Todd Gurley (you’re starting studs 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 8.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
Chicago Bears (at home New York Jets)
The Jets, who are giving up 4.2 YDS/A and 105.7 YDS/G to opposing backfields. Those numbers are squarely middle-of-the-pack, but Chicago 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 266 YDS/G to opposing quarterbacks, and they will may be without DBs Trumaine Johnson and Buster Skrine. Expect the Bears’ O-line to pave the way for QB Mitchell Trubisky, TE Trey Burton and RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and an offense that’s averaging 4.6 YDS/A on the ground thanks to an improved line and athletic, mobile quarterback keeping drives alive.
Kansas City Chiefs (at home vs Denver Broncos)
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 a gaudy 4.8 YDS/A going against a Broncos’ defense allowing 5.3 YDS/A. Chiefs’ RB Kareem Hunt is set up for a massive game as the Chiefs’ O-line has a decided advantage in the run game. The Bengals are giving up 230 YDS/G through the air, but their 22 total sacks rank second in the league, so Kansas City may opt for a more run-heavy approach to keep the pressure off QB Patrick Mahomes. On the other side of the ball, the Broncos’ O-line has paved the way for 5.1 YDS/A, good for second best in the league. The Broncos would be wise to lean on its run game rather than attempt a shootout with a Kansas City team averaging 37 points per game. Additionally, the Chiefs’ pass defense is statistically one of the worst in the NFL, allowing 317 YDS/G, an unhealthy 7.7 YDS/A, and 11 TDS through 7 games. QB Case Keenum, WRs Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Courtland Sutton, and RB Phillip Lindsey are all good bets to produce behind their O-line advantage.
Seattle Seahawks (@ Detroit Lions)
The Seahawks have been heavily committed to the run this season despite coming into the season with an O-line that ranked near the bottom of all advanced metrics. A rotation of three backs (RBs Chris Carson, Mike Davis, and Rashaad Penny) have combined with QB Russell Wilson to average 127.8 YDS/G on the ground so far, and coming off their bye, they get a Detroit Lions run defense that gives up 5.3 YDS/A and 139.3 YDS/G. Wilson has thrown less than 25 passes in each of his last two games as Seattle prioritizes a ball-control approach. With two weeks to game plan, the Seahawks will surely prioritize running the football to keep Wilson upright and Detroit’s high-powered offense off the field. The Lions did trade for DL Damon Harrison, whom PFF called the NFL’s best run defender, but it’s unclear how much of the field he will actually see against Detroit.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Philadelphia Eagles (at home vs Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Eagles have been rumored to be in the market for running back help following the season-ending injury to RB Jay Ajayi. Whether they make a move or stand pat remains to be seen, but this game could go a long way in determining how good the team’s O-line really is. Ranked as the best in the league coming into the season, the unit has not lived up to expectations. OT Jason Peters has allowed the 8th most QB pressures among tackles, according to PFF. On the season, Philly has allowed 22 sacks, good for 7th most in football. The Jaguars have neutralized passing games (180 YDS/G and league-best 6.3 YDS/A), so Philadelphia will need to lean on its run game, where they average just a middling 4.0 YDS/A. If the Eagles can’t move the ball well on the ground this Sunday, this could be the last game where RB Corey Clement and Wendell Smallwood are the main attraction in this backfield.
Oakland Raiders (at home vs Indianapolis Colts)
The Raiders are in the midst of a great purge under HC Jon Gruden, trading away DL Khalil Mack and WR Amari Cooper, the only two 1st rounders they’ve drafted in the last decade to actually make a Pro Bowl. Their O-line has been underwhelming all season due to injuries, but they are a better unit than the numbers indicate. That being said, with a stunted passing game and the Colts likely to put up points early against an abysmal Raiders’ secondary, Oakland may find it becomes tough sledding to move the ball against an Indy defense that is limiting backfields to a pedestrian 4.0 YDS/A on the ground and ranks 4th in sacks with 21. The Raiders’ rushing attack behind RB Doug Martin and Jalen Richard has one of the more favorable rushing schedules remaining this season, but this game represents one of the last stiff challenges.