O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 14
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout the course of our game within a game. Here at 4for4, we’re dedicated to looking at fantasy pieces from all angles, and that includes the positive and negative impact an offensive line has on that team’s fantasy assets.
Below I’m going to be digging into specific weekly matchups between offensive lines and the opposing defense's aFPA —one of the many useful tools available to us here at 4for4. Many sites publish raw fantasy points allowed by position, but 4for4 goes a step further and adjusts those numbers for a defense’s relative year-to-date schedule strength. Beginning this week and moving forward, aFPA will reflect the current season since we believe the three weeks of information begins to show reliable numbers and patterns.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
By comparing a team’s offensive line ranking to the aFPA of their opponent for the week, we can look for beneficial discrepancies to attack for offensive and defensive players. The higher the “Difference” column, the better the matchup for a quarterback; the lower the difference, the better the matchup for the defense.
Cowboys @ Bengals
Dallas spent most of a rare Tuesday night of NFL action getting run all over by a Baltimore Ravens rushing attack, but there was still some fantasy goodness to go around behind a patchwork offensive line. While pretty much every current starter outside of left guard Connor Williams has struggled to fill in the gaps after a monsoon of injuries sidelined every All-Pro at its disposal, the Cowboys line will welcome in a Bengals defense that logs a quarterback pressure on only 28% of their opponents' dropbacks (32nd in the league). Andy Dalton should have plenty of time to capitalize on a revenge game narrative against his old team that currently ranks 31st in aFPA to the QB position, 28th in wide receiver aFPA, and 31st to the tight end.
Out of the rubbage pile that the Cowboys offense has become, Michael Gallup has begun to re-emerge after a mid-season/post-Dak collapse had him precariously close to waiver wire fodder. Over his last three games with Dalton at the helm, Gallup has averaged 52 yards and five catches on eight targets with a touchdown mixed in. While those stats aren’t mind-blowing, they do average out to a back-end WR2/high-end WR3. In playoff leagues that require deep wide receiver plays, you could do much worse.
Browns vs. Ravens
In an event that would seem like utter blasphemy at this same time last year, the Browns have moved into my top spot in these here offensive line rankings, leapfrogging a Saints team that is trying to trudge through some injuries. Baker Mayfield will try to duplicate a career-best performance on Monday night against Baltimore in a game that will have major playoff implications. As a division game, this will be game number two between these teams, and we’ll have to hope that the gelling along the offensive line will help Cleveland from getting obliterated 38-6 as they did back in Week 1.
Though it hasn’t been against the toughest defenses in the league, Mayfield has been on a tear the last three games, accumulating 796 yards, six touchdowns, and zero interceptions, seemingly getting used to a life without Odell Beckham. It could be in the Browns’ best interest to keep the offense running through Nick Chubb to keep the ball out of Lamar Jackson’s hands, but if they test the Baltimore secondary —and I believe they should— Jarvis Landry and Rashard Higgins are the players who will benefit the most. Landry has back-to-back double-digit target games and Higgins has emerged as the second option in the passing attack after turning nine Week 13 targets into six catches, 95 yards, and a score.
Titans @ Jaguars
The Browns Week 13 opponent, the Tennessee Titans, will have another chance to run up the score, and this week it won’t be all in garbage time. Coming off a game in which he saw a career-high in both receptions (11) and receiving yards (182), Corey Davis will attempt to flex his upcoming free agent appeal against a Jacksonville Jaguars defense that allows the tenth-most schedule adjust fantasy points to the wide receiver position. Davis is likely to see a majority of his snaps against the Jaguars’ rookie cornerback, Luq Barcoo, who has allowed 11 receptions on 15 targets for 146 yards and two touchdowns in two and a half games this year.
Tight end Anthony Firkser performed admirably in (partial) replacement of Jonnu Smith who missed the game with a knee injury. Though Firkser got the majority of the passing game work, he did have to share time with MyCole Pruitt (32 snaps) and Geoff Swaim (38). Though the latter two tight ends are used extensively in jumbo packages, you would like to see a larger piece of the pie before starting someone in the fantasy playoffs. If you are desperate for a tight play, well, what the Firk?, plug him in.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Saints @ Eagles
The Eagles currently sport the worst adjusted sack rate (10.1%) in the league, and on Sunday they will welcome to Philadelphia, a Saints team that puts pressure on the quarterback at the fourth-highest clip in the NFL (45.2%). Jalen Hurts’ first career start is going to be a doozy. Whether Jason Peters is just “sore” or the team is giving him an out to stop looking so poor in this retirement-plus-one season is of no consequence; he will likely not play and subsequently, the depth of the offensive line will be tested just as it has been all year. Even the great Jason Kelce —who has long been one of the best centers in the league— is having a down year with a rotating cast of guards switching in-and-out of the lineup on either side of him. The probability is low that Hurts comes out and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Carson Wentz belongs on the bench. At least this week, that is.
49ers vs. Football Team
I’ve seen enough close-up pictures of Alex Smith leg gore over the last few weeks to last me a lifetime and I desperately hope any contact he may receive from his former team leaves him clean and bloody-less. While the Robert Saleh-led 49ers defense may not be instilling fear after allowing the Bills to score 34 points against them, the Football Team’s offensive line leaves much to be desired. After allowing 22 quarterback pressures last week, WFT has now allowed 15+ pressures in a game five times this season, presenting a ripe opportunity for sacks. San Francisco’s D/ST will have a great floor in Week 14, as evidenced by our current top-10 ranking.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
The RB table will work just the same as the above QB table; high “Difference” numbers mean an offense has a favorable matchup, the lower the number, the least favorable.
Bears vs. Texans
Allowing the second-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points to the running back position, Houston has permitted 134 total yards to Jonathan Taylor, 153 combined total yards to an Adrian Peterson/Kerryon Johnson tandem, 137 combined total yards to a Damien Harris/James White tandem, and finally 230 rushing yards to Nick Chubb/Kareem Hunt over the last month. This matchup comes at a good time for David Montgomery who has been improving as of late, racking up 72 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries last week.
In a phenomenon that I’m still trying to peg down (is it because of athleticism, play-calling, strength along the line?), Chicago continues its multi-year stretch of being a better run-blocking team than a pass-blocking team. We’ll focus on that some time in the offseason, but for now, just know that Montgomery is a good Week 14 play.
Colts @ Raiders
Just in time for the fantasy playoffs, the Colts will kick-off the back quarter of the year against the Las Vegas Raiders and the aforementioned Houston Texans. The Raiders haven’t fared much better than the Texans in the run defense department, ranking 26th in aFPA to the running back position. Coming out of a mid-season “mini-benching” for fumbling and inefficiency issues, Jonathan Taylor has now been hovering around the 50% mark for snap%, and —more importantly— has been far-out-touching (42) Nyheim Hines (18) and Jordan Wilkins (12) in his last two non-COVID games. The loss of left tackle Anthony Castonzo has kicked the Colts down a peg in my o-line rankings, but this still presents a good matchup to exploit. Even the pass game should be moving on all cylinders against a Raiders defense that has mustered the third-lowest sacks in the NFL (15).
Running Backs with Bad Matchups
As opposed to breaking down every bad match-up through the rest of the slate, here are some running backs I’m looking to avoid because of their poor offensive line and the strong defensive fronts they will be facing:
*All “pressure” info comes from Sports Info Solutions, pace and Adjusted Sack Rate/Adjusted Line Yards come from Football Outsiders