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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 Aaron Rodgers 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 1.
(a few lines who should pave the way on game day)
New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The Saints were the second most efficient pass blocking unit last year, and they ranked #6 in our preseason rankings. The Bucs’ defense graded out as the worst pass defense in all of football last season, allowing the most yards to opposing passers of any team in football. They also allowed the 6th best QB rating (94.6) and registered the fewest sacks in the league. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and the Saints’ pass catchers should move the ball with ease and score at will.
Tennessee Titans (vs. Miami Dolphins)
The Titans will feature a revamped offense under new OC Matt LeFleur, a proponent of the play-action passing concepts embraced by offensive gurus Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay, and despite a rough preseason learning the new system, Tennessee’s line looks ready to make tremendous strides this season. Their opponent, the Miami Dolphins, finished 29th out of 32 teams in overall defense, allowing 393 points against as they continually fell victim to big plays and breakdowns in the red zone. Look for Dion Lewis, Derrick Henry, Marcus Mariota, Delanie Walker, and Corey Davis to be put in prime position to excel in a game they might have to keep scoring points to keep pace.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
Historically, Philip Rivers has struggled against the Chiefs. For whatever reason, Andy Reid always seems to have his number. But it’s been a long time since the Chiefs project to field a defense as bad as the one they may be trotting out there in 2018. Kansas City traded away stud CB Marcus Peters in the offseason, and safety Eric Berry remains sidelined. Add to that the fact that they allowed the 8th most total yards, yards-per-attempt, and yards-per-game to opposing rushers last season, and it’s easy to see how Rivers, Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon, and the rest of the offense can buck the curse when they open the season at home playing behind arguably the best offensive line they’ve ever had together.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
The Bengals’ O-line was far from a strength last season. They’re ranked as the 25th best unit in my rankings coming into this year, but they did make modest improvements in the offseason with the addition of OT Cordy Glenn and 1st round pick C Billy Price. More importantly, their matchup against Indy’s swiss cheese defense inside a dome is almost too good to pass up. The Colts allowed the 5th most yards to opposing quarterbacks last season, and their secondary got worse this offseason. They also struggle to generate any pass rush and should struggle to contain the Bengals’ pass-catching running backs. Fire up Andy Dalton, Joe Mixon, A.J. Green and company.
(a few lines that may crumble the foundation on game day)
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Denver Broncos)
This one feels like cheating, given how terrible Seattle’s line projects to be and how dominant Denver’s front seven can be. But Russell Wilson, Doug Baldwin, Chris Carson, and Rashaad Penny were drafted to contribute. It may not look pretty this week though, especially considering Wilson’s penchant for slow starts. Denver allowed the fourth fewest yards to quarterbacks last season and the fifth fewest yards-per-game to opposing rushers as well. Add in the fact that this game will be played in Colorado’s thin air, and it’s probably unwise to have high expectations for Seattle’s offense in this game.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Put simply, the Colts did not look good this preseason, and Andrew Luck did not look right. They invested a top 10 pick in OG Quenton Nelson and a top 40 pick in OG Braden Smith, but the Bengals ranked inside the top 12 last season in QB hits, sacks, and fewest touchdown passes allowed. The Colts have home field advantage, but they may be playing from behind most of this game without an established run game. There’s a chance for garbage time points here, but that assumes that Luck’s shoulder is well enough for him to push the ball downfield, something we have yet to see him do with the ease he did before his surgery.