The temperatures outside have plunged and the fantasy playoffs have kicked into high gear. Watching teams play in snow, wind and freezing conditions, it's all about the offensive line at this time of year.
The big men, pancakes, the offensive line: Let's get after it!
JAX + 6
While other teams are reeling with injury, the Jaguars' offensive line has been getting healthier. Left guard Patrick Omameh returned to the lineup last week during the Jaguars' home win over Seattle. Omameh is a tough run blocker. While he is not elite, Omameh is a noticeable upgrade over his substitute, Chris Reed. Center Brandon Linder has been performing at a high level since his return from illness. Right tackle Jermey Parnell has not allowed a sack this season and is garnering Pro Bowl consideration
One situation that should be watched is that of left tackle Cam Robinson. Robinson has been dealing with a back injury and sat out Wednesday's practice. However, the rookie has not missed a game all season and these rankings assume Robinson plays this weekend against an undermanned Houston defensive front. For the second week in a row, and the third time this season, the Jaguars' offensive line find themselves the top upgrade in the weekly article.
CHI + 6
Last week, this Chicago line was downgraded for losing right guard Kyle Long for the season. But after the display of power-running at Cincinnati last week, the Bears' offensive line has again clawed its way into the top tier of the rankings. Long's replacement Tom Compton was a mauler in the run game, but he did have a noticeable illegal block in the back penalty that nullified what would have been a Tarik Cohen touchdown. This offense, like Jacksonville, is one of the few in the league that still emphasize the run to open up the pass, instead of the other way around. This smash-mouth style is a throwback and eats clock. It has obvious disadvantages in a comeback situation. Still, when it works, as we all saw last week, it really works.
WAS - 4
Grading this Washington offensive line has been a tremendous challenge this season. On one hand, they are a tough and talented group, putting in a heroic effort week after week to grind through injury (and not go on the reserved list). Last week left tackle Trent Williams was forced from the game during the third quarter but was able to re-enter the game after only missing three offensive plays. On the other hand, there's only a finite amount of heroism in any given season, as illustrated by right tackle Morgan Moses (playing on two bad ankles) leaving the game in the first quarter and not being able to return. Ty Nsekhe filled in capably but the constant shuffling is far from ideal. Will both tackles start and finish this week's game at home against Arizona? No one really knows. Washington's offensive line has top-tier talent but bottom-tier durability (at least this season). That leaves them about average compared to the other units in the league. This Washington will probably debut in the top tier next season, but right now they are among the league's most beat-up lines.
SF - 13
Right tackle Trent Brown was inactive last week with a shoulder injury and has not been practicing this week. The San Francisco offensive line has been playing with renewed life as this season winds down, but they currently lack the depth to replace Brown. Their usual starter has missed two of the last three games and there are some who believe the way Brown is handling his current injury is stalling the team's contract negotiations. Comments from the coaches were lukewarm at best as head coach Kyle Shanahan said on Monday that he had "no expectation" of Brown suiting up for this weekend's game against Tennessee. Erik Magnuson was an interesting young replacement before he went on the injured reserve list with torn ligaments in his foot. Zane Beadles (usually a reserve guard) was spotty last week in place of Brown; Beadles allowed one sack and six quarterback hurries. Usually a top tier unit, the 49ers' offensive line falls to the mid-tier in the latest rankings.
CAR - 10
The Panthers' offensive line has been in good form recently, but there is cause for concern: right guard Trai Turner is currently in the league's concussion protocol. Turner is arguably the team's best lineman and he has has already been ruled out for this weekend's game against Green Bay. Look for Turner to be replaced by some combination of Taylor Moton, Amini Silatolu, and Tyler Larsen (if available). Larsen had been starting at center for most of the season but gave way to Ryan Kalil, who returned to the lineup prior to last week's win. Larsen should be the easy start but he has been dealing with minor injuries of his own. In the short-term, this top-tier unit falls to the mid-tier in the latest rankings.
AZ - 10
Left tackle Jared Veldheer was placed on injured reserve this week with a broken elbow. Veldheer had started the season as the team's right tackle but was forced to swap sides after former first-round draft pick D.J. Humphries was also placed on the injured reserve. Will Holden replaced Veldheer during the contest and will likely start this weekend at Washington. Another starter, right guard Earl Watford, is likely to miss a week or two with a high ankle sprain. Evan Boehm will be asked to step up. While Holden and Boehm are actually decent prospects, swapping two veteran starters for less experienced players will likely cause problems for the Cardinals' offense as the season winds down.
NYG - 4
Right tackle Justin Pugh was placed on injured reserve this week. Pugh will be taking a prescription for rest (not surgery) to treat his ailing back as he enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. Pugh had been trying to play through the injury and actually got the start last week against Dallas. Pugh couldn't finish, however, and gave way to Bobby Hart. Look for Hart to get the call again this weekend at home against a tough Philadelphia defensive front. The Giants' offensive line remains in the low-tier.
|4||PIT||4||0||30.03||A||A||A||RT Gilbert suspended (Hubbard).|
|5||JAX||11||6||29.78||A-||A||B+||LG Omameh returned.|
|6||MIN||6||0||29.58||A-||A||B+||RT Remmers could return.|
|7||ATL||7||0||29.55||A-||A-||A-||LG Levitre (Garland).|
|MID TIER||12||NO||14||2||29.03||B+||B+||B+||LG Peat (Kelemete).|
|16||NE||20||4||28.78||B||B||B||RT Waddle (Fleming).|
|17||WAS||13||-4||28.68||B||B+||B-||LT Williams & RT Moses playing hurt.|
|18||SF||5||-13||28.6||B||B+||B-||RT Brown (Beadles).|
|20||CAR||10||-10||28.35||B-||A-||C+||RG Turner (Larsen).|
|21||DET||22||1||28.23||B-||B-||B-||RT Wagner (Mihalik).|
|LOW TIER||22||IND||23||1||28.2||C+||B-||C||C Kelly (Person).|
|23||MIA||24||1||28.18||C+||B-||C||RG Bushrod (Davis).|
|25||KC||27||2||27.9||C||C+||C-||C Morse (Fulton).|
|28||AZ||18||-10||27.83||C-||D+||C||LT Veldheer to IR (Holden). RG Watford (Boehm).|
|30||NYG||26||-4||27.6||D+||D+||D+||RT Pugh to IR (Hart).|
If there are any questions about a team or lineman not specifically talked about in this article, please feel free to contact me via Twitter.