O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 13
Evaluating offensive line play regarding its effect on fantasy football output has been a stone unturned throughout 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. These numbers will continue to strengthen through more data points as the season progresses and when compared to a team’s advantages within the trenches will expose fantasy pieces we may not have otherwise considered.
Let’s begin by diving into the passing game to see what o-line/defense match-ups we can exploit.
Favorable Quarterback Matchups
Cowboys @ Saints
The Dallas Cowboys made some questionable shifts along the offensive line during their Thanksgiving game against the Las Vegas Raiders, giving their lineup a shake-up by giving guard Connor Williams and tackle La’el Collins one single series to “keep them involved”, according to head coach Mike McCarthy. Taking a “hot hand” approach with a unit that needs to be familiar with the person playing next to them seems to me like overthinking your personnel, but I’m not an NFL coach. Regardless of who is on the field, the Cowboys have a strong offensive front —particularly in pass protection—, and have no issues with depth since they have guys that can rotate in throughout the game.
While the Cowboys have had issues getting the running game going, the Saints rank first in DVOA against the run, thanks in large part to their 3.29 adjusted line yards, the second-best mark in the league. It will behoove Dallas to move the ball through the air on Thursday night, where they can lean on their impressive pass protection and take advantage of a league-average passing defense. The Saints are a bona fide pass-funnel, clearing the way for CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup to be in all fantasy lineups.
Football Team @ Raiders
Riding a three-game winning streak, Washington will venture out west to take on a Raiders team that ranks 30th in scoring defense, 25th in aFPA to the quarterback position, and 30th to tight ends. Things are adding up nicely for a return to form for Logan Thomas, who was a full-time tight end before injuring his hamstring in Week 4 and being placed on the injured reserve. Thomas played on just 78% of the Football Team’s snaps last week, a downgrade from his 100% of snaps from Weeks 1-3.
The injury to pass-catching back J.D. McKissic would be a boost to Thomas, Antonio Gibson, and possibly even Terry McLaurin in this prime matchup. Our rankings have the latter two as top-12 options this week, while I believe Logan Thomas is firmly a top-10 option as well, considering how weak the tight end position is.
Jaguars @ Rams
The Los Angeles Rams defense has been an absolute sieve as of late, allowing 95 combined points to their last three opponents, and they’ll present a great scenario for this Jacksonville Jaguars offense to right the ship. Perennial defensive player of the year candidate Aaron Donald is always a terror to opposing linemen, but if he can be neutralized, we have seen that the Rams defensive front becomes much less scary. During that aforementioned three-game stretch, the Rams rank 24th in sack percentage and now they will try their hand against a Jaguars team that ranks ninth in adjusted sack rate, coming out of a Week 12 game in which they allowed only six pressures on quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Marvin Jones has an opportunity here to post solid WR2 numbers, while tight end James O’Shaughnessy is back from the injured reserve, and could comfortably cash in six-to-eight targets against a team that ranks 26th in aFPA to the tight end position.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Cardinals @ Bears
While Andy Dalton (26.4% pressure rate on 125 dropbacks) isn’t as prone to running into pressure as teammate Justin Fields (39.8% pressure rate on 261 dropbacks) is, they still both operate behind an offensive line that ranks dead last in adjusted sack rate (10.7%). As it stands, it would seem Dalton will get the nod this week as Fields continues to deal with cracked ribs and though that lowers the floor on using the Arizona Cardinals defense, they are still very much in play.
Coming out of their bye week, the Cardinals will have their entire offense on display for the first time in over a month, a fact that is reflected in their betting line, as eight-point road favorites. The Bears will be playing from behind often in this matchup, which will allow Arizona to bring the heat on Dalton, who has a 39.1 completion% (37th/39 qualifying quarterbacks) and 5.2 yards per attempt (34th/39) while under pressure this season.
Colts @ Texans
Another heavy favorite heading into Week 13’s slate of games, the Indianapolis Colts will take on a Texans offense that just got skunked by the lowly New York Jets. Houston’s 202 total yards of offense were somehow more than they earned in Week 11, and it was only their fifth-lowest mark on the season. Just incredible stuff here.
This will be the second matchup between the two teams this season after the first one ended in a 31-3 Colts victory. The Davis Mills-led Texans earned 5.6 yards per attempt on 43 passes that day, and although Tyrod Taylor has now taken back over quarterback duties, it’s not as if the offense has come back to life under his steed. Since his Week 9 return, he is 34th out of 34 qualifying quarterbacks with 2.6 adjusted yards per attempt (a metric that integrates the approximate value of touchdowns, sacks, and turnovers and integrates it into a yards-per-attempt scale) and has been pressured on an astonishing 44.6% of his 112 dropbacks. Fire up that Colts defense.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
49ers @ Seahawks
The San Francisco 49ers run game has officially been revitalized, as they have accrued 535 yards on the ground over the past three weeks, spearheaded by Elijah Mitchell’s 54-224-1 over that span. With WR/RB hybrid Deebo Samuel (groin) week-to-week, Mitchell could absorb even more work after clearing 79 total yards in five straight games (hat tip John Paulsen for that nugget). Samuel had seen 27 backfield snaps in the last three weeks as Kyle Shanahan explored all options to get his explosiveness onto the field. While missing Deebo could affect the offense in the long term if he is forced to miss extended time, it is unlikely to negatively impact the team in Week 13 against a Seahawks defense that ranks 31st in aFPA to the running back position.
Trent Williams continues to make a bid for the greatest offensive lineman in the game today and he’ll continue to clear the road for whoever San Francisco sticks in the backfield.
Chiefs vs. Broncos
All of the woes about the Chiefs offensive line contributing to Patrick Mahomes’ struggles have suddenly subsided since the team has gone on a four-game winning streak, wiping out the playoff-hopeful Packers, Raiders, and Cowboys in the process. The main three Kansas City passing game weapons of Mahomes, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill will always be in play if they’re on your fantasy roster, but the rushing weapons are in a fantastic spot here. The Denver Broncos rank 25th in defensive adjusted line yards and 26th in rushing DVOA, placing both Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams on the RB2/RB3 map.
Coming out of their bye week, I would expect a healthy Edwards-Helaire to carry the bulk of the load, but desperate managers shouldn’t feel awful if they are forced to start Williams as a flex play.
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