From pass protection to run blocking, every aspect of the modern NFL offense runs through the O-line. Aside from skill position players themselves, nothing has a larger impact on the outcome of a play call than the battle up front. In the Offensive Line Overview series, we look at which of the league's 32 offensive lines are trending up and down.
With fantasy football playoffs fast approaching, informed lineup decisions are key now more than ever – but tabulating projected points and playing matchups can only go so far. One of the strongest indicators of offensive success remains, as always, the reliability of a team's protective front. Without further ado, let's check in on which O-lines are trending up and down across the league.
The Browns' offensive line paved the way for a convincing win during last week's contest with the Bengals, and the Browns walk away having thoroughly secured their spot as Ohio's best NFL team. Excellent pass protection fueled Baker Mayfield's four touchdown performance, allowing the rookie to post a passer rating north of 140 for the second consecutive week (the first rookie QB to do so). Cleveland has wanted to ground its offense behind a strong offensive line for years, and the pieces finally seem to be clicking together. RT Chris Hubbard hasn't allowed a sack in six games, and the guard duo of Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio has proven one of the most reliable pairings in the league. As things stand, the Browns' offense looks like a force to be reckoned with.
What to Watch: Mayfield is the hot rookie story in Cleveland, but running back Nick Chubb would hold that mantle any other year. In his five games as the Browns' starting running back, Chubb has averaged about 105 total yards and scored six touchdowns. The 22-year-old has notably also earned increasing work in the passing game each week, including a Week 12 highlight reel TD grab.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints offense has certainly made the most of its strong O-line, which is in the conversation for the best unit in the league (along with the Rams and Steelers). Given that their offensive front is a top-5 unit in terms of both run blocking and pass protection, it's no real surprise that New Orleans are averaging a league-high 37.2 points per game. RG Larry Warford gave up his first sack of the season during a Thanksgiving Day win over the Falcons, and will look to bounce back against the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Both he and Ryan Ramczyk are playing at a Pro Bowl level this season. Any doubts about how well the team would fare while Terron Armstead (pectoral) remains sidelined have been thoroughly put to rest.
What to Watch: The running back duo of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram remains as potent as ever. In their last nine games, the Saints have averaged 151 rushing yards and put up 17 rushing touchdowns.
Lamar Jackson led the Ravens to another win last week, beating up on a debilitated Raiders team 34-17. During both of Jackson's career starts, the Ravens have managed more than 240 rushing yards. It didn't hurt at all that the team's O-line didn't give up a single sack or quarterback hit during the Week 12 win, or that rookie running back Gus Edwards managed his second straight game with over 110 yards on the ground. Though both Joe Flacco (hip) and Alex Collins (foot) returned to practice Thursday, it seems likely that Jackson and Edwards will draw another start against the Falcons on Sunday – and another decisive win would make it difficult to bench either rookie in favor of their veteran counterpart.
What to Watch: Lamar Jackson. Who else? The rookie quarterback is one of the most interesting players to watch in the entire league, and is an intriguing fantasy option down the stretch if he manages to hold onto the starting job. The 21-year-old still has some work to do to solidify himself as a passer, and Atlanta's secondary is the perfect team to do so against.
New York Giants
The Giants' O-line is rising, but is still far from being a good unit. A season-long dance has led to the G-Men turning over 60 percent of their offensive front, and has done some notable good. After losing center Jon Halapio for the season, waiver wire-pick up Spencer Pulley entered the starting lineup and veteran John Greco replaced a struggling Patrick Omameh at right guard. Greco has since been sent to the bench in favor of Jamon Brown, who the Giants found on waivers. The end of the Ereck Flowers experiment led to replacement Chad Wheeler, and the whole convoluted change of arrangement at O-line finally appears to have ended – in part because the Giants are just plain out of options at this point. Surprisingly, the unit actually seems to now be meshing better as a whole – wins over the 49ers and Buccaneers, along with a close loss to the Eagles, showcase this well. Eli Manning is still on pace to take 55 sacks this season, which would tie the Giants' record set by Phil Sims in 1984 – so one goal of the tentatively-improved O-line may be to avoid that.
What to Watch: Behind this line, rookie RB Saquon Barkley is still averaging 4.6 ypc. He had his fewest carries (13) since Week 4 during last week's loss to the Eagles, and was apparently given rest due to concerns about his workload. The 21-year-old has excelled as an offensive piece and fantasy starter, but wear may be a concern heading into Sunday's tough matchup against the Bears.
Andrew Norwell was placed on injured reserve earlier this week, after having suffered a sprained ankle during Jacksonville's Week 12 loss to the Bills. The only remaining season-opening starters on the Jaguars' offensive line are RT Jeremy Parnell and RG A.J. Cann. The team's protective front is hanging on by a thread, which poses to set up major pitfalls for Cody Kessler's first start under center (not to mention offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich's first play-calling game). The Jaguars will likely rely heavily on running backs Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon against the Colts on Sunday, but it's hard to imagine that the duo will be monumentally effective in comparison to the Colts' high-flying offense.
What to Watch: Norwell was one of the Jags' most reliable run blockers, and no solid option to replace him stands out on the depth chart. When running back Leonard Fournette returns from his one-game suspension, he'll fight an uphill battle to overcome poor line play, Cody Kessler under center, and a shift at offensive coordinator. In what has been a disappointing sophomore season, Fournette could struggle to close out the year strong.