O-Line Rankings and Matchups to Exploit: Week 16
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
Rams @ Vikings
On a rare Tuesday Night Football appearance, the Los Angeles Rams’ passing attack did just enough to propel the team to 20 points on offense, fueled mostly by Cooper Kupp’s 9-136-2 stat line. The team didn’t move the ball with the fluidity that we’re used to, and much of that had to do with third-string right tackle Bobby Evans allowing two sacks while being bull-rushed back into the pocket on more than one occasion. Things should be more steady in that respect for Week 16, as both starting tackle Rob Havenstein and usual back-up Joe Noteboom are slated to be removed from the COVID list ahead of kickoff.
With a refortified line, the Rams are in a good spot for fantasy output, as the Vikings rank 31st in schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed while ranking 32nd in aFPA to the wide receiver position. This makes for a fantastic bounce-back spot for Van Jefferson, who only mustered 3.3 half-PPR points in Week 15 after three promising games. Even with the let-down, Jefferson still ranks second in routes run, yards (210), and air yards (150) since the team’s Week 11 bye, trailing only Kupp in each category. This includes leading the team lead in routes run (37) on TNF. Jefferson can be deployed as a confident WR3 play with WR2 upside in your semi-final matchup.
Cowboys vs. Football Team
On the back of three Mike Glennon interceptions and a Saquon Barkley fumble, the Cowboys were able to grind out a win with 30 rushing attempts and short, efficient throws from Dak Prescott. Prescott’s average depth of target was nearly a full two yards short of his season average (6.0-to-7.7), leaving little meat on the bone for the wide receiver trio of CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Amari Cooper, who all combined for 88 yards through the air.
They turn their attention to another division rival at home this week against a Washington Football Team that ranks 26th in aFPA to quarterbacks and 27th against wide receivers. Washington is happy to have Montez Sweat back on their defensive line, but it’s clear that their pass rush is not close to the same without Chase Young terrorizing the opposing quarterback. As for Dallas, they have predictably coped well with left tackle Tyron Smith being in-and-out of the lineup, as it’s something they have grown accustomed to over the years. Terrence Steele has performed admirably in his steed and the line as a whole should hold up well enough to make the entire wide receiver trio viable as top-36 plays this Sunday.
Broncos @ Raiders
Denver will sadly be heading into this game without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who will be replaced for at least one week by Drew Lock, who is sure to add some volatility to an offense that can be bland at times. Among the 52 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 40 passes this season, Lock ranks first by a long shot with his 9.8 average depth of target. But before you get too excited about having Courtland Sutton and/or Jerry Jeudy in your lineup, it’s worth pointing out that Lock’s 77.1 catchable% rate amongst that same sample of quarterbacks ranks 49th.
It will be tough to play any wide receivers here in your fantasy playoffs, but I think it would be pragmatic to consider Sutton or Jeudy in DFS tournaments this week, as both should be priced down to a point where it makes sense to trot them out against a defense that is allowing the third-most schedule-adjusted fantasy points on the year. Albert Okwuegbunam is also an intriguing low-floor, high-ceiling play, particularly in tight end premium leagues where waiver wires can be barren. With Lock’s tendency to push the ball further down the field, Albert O caught 24-yard passes on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter after Bridgewater exited Week 15.
Favorable Defensive Matchups
Seahawks vs. Bears
The Chicago Bears continued an unfortunate trend in Week 15, allowing three sacks for the 17th time in their last nine games while in the process turning the ball over three times. As a team, they have now committed 25 turnovers, which is the fourth-most in the league, while Justin Fields has a league-worst 12 fumbles even though he has ceded plenty of playing time to Andy Dalton. This all sets up for a high-floor Seattle Seahawks D/ST game, even though they have scored the sixth-fewest fantasy points as a team defense to this point.
Chicago has allowed the most scheduled-adjusted fantasy points to opposing defenses on the year, due in large part to their league-worst 9.3% adjusted sack rate, and we should continue streaming against them for these last few weeks of the season.
Jaguars @ Jets
This is an iffy game if we look solely on the Jaguars’ side of the matchup —they have been allowing 27 points per game over their last six contests, after all— but an already porous New York Jets offense received even more bad news at the time of writing. Due to being placed on the COVID list, here are some current players already announced as out, but are not limited to; guard Alijah Vera-Tucker, wide receivers Elijah Moore, Jeff Smith, and Vyncint Smith, and head coach Robert Salah. Even with a healthy Vera-Tucker, the Jets still rank 28th in adjusted sack rate (7.9%) and have turned the ball over a league-leading 26 times.
Favorable Running Back Matchups
Patriots vs. Bills
The New England Patriots’ dominance in the trenches took a step back in Week 15, particularly from left tackle Isaiah Wynn, who allowed three or more pressures for the first time since Week 4. They’ll have a bounceback opportunity this week against a Buffalo team that ranks 26th in aFPA to the running back position. A late scratch ahead of Saturday’s game, Damien Harris’ absence opened the door for Rhamondre Stevenson to handle 11-of-17 New England backfield touches, though he totaled only 40 yards, being outproduced by Brandon Bolden’s 44 total scrimmage yards. All signs point to a return for Harris, as he will look to build upon his 111-yard performance in Week 13, which also came against this Bills team, in the infamous three-pass-attempt blizzard on Monday Night Football.
If Harris is active, I see him as a back-end RB1 option and if he’s forced to miss again, Stevenson would be the play, but more in the RB2 range.
Colts @ Cardinals
We’ve seen what the Indianapolis Colts can do with their run game when the offensive line is healthy, and pairing that with Jonathan Taylor’s talent has been a sight to behold. Over the season as a whole, the Colts lead the NFL in yards per attempt (5.3) by running backs but if we filter out some of their early-season offensive line injury struggles, and just look from Week 7-on (Quenton Nelson’s return from injury), they are averaging a ridiculous 5.6 yards per attempt as a backfield. As a result, Taylor is leading the league in yards (1,518), yards after contact (894), and touchdowns (17), leading to some interesting conversation about him as an MVP candidate.
Arizona could have a long Saturday night ahead of them, as they allow the fifth-highest yards per attempt and rank 23rd in aFPA to the running back position. Jonathan Taylor could be the highest-scoring skill position fantasy player of Week 16, while Nyheim Hines makes sense as a desperation Flex in what could very likely turn into a shootout in Glendale.
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