Offensive and defensive linemen might not run the rock themselves, but they can still influence fantasy football.
Each week in this spot we break down matchups in the trenches, and how that information affects your lineup decisions. The basis of the discussion are our win rate metrics -- run block win rate and run stop win rate, as well as pass block win rate and pass rush win rate -- which quantify line performance based on player tracking data using NFL Next Gen Stats.
Earlier in the season we used the differential between the win rates to determine the best matchup. But in the back half of the season we're highlighting the players facing the weakest -- and strongest -- defensive win rate teams. The reason: At this stage of the season the blocking that a running back is getting from his offensive line is baked into our perception of him. What changes week to week is the defense. Think of it like a receiver who catches passes from the same QB every game, but each week is squaring off against a different corner.
Below we break down the Week 17 games, identifying the most advantageous and least advantageous matchups based on the strength of the opponent's defensive win rates, for both run and pass.
Let's dive in!
Advantageous Run-Blocking Matchups
Only Dillon played last time the Packers and Vikings squared off, so Aaron Jones is finally getting his shot against the weakest run defense in the league. Dillon averaged 4.8 yards per carry in that Week 11 loss to Minnesota, indicative of the 4.7 yards per rush the Vikings are allowing on average this season.
In that Week 11 game, the Vikings upset Green Bay and Dillon had only 11 carries, but if the Packers take the lead then there could be plenty of rushing volume to go around.
Najee Harris' game against Kansas City was indicative of what we've been writing in this space for several weeks now: The Chiefs' defense is much better than it was, but you can still run on them. Harris, who has struggled with efficiency all year, managed 93 yards on 19 carries (4.9 yards per carry) against the Chiefs in a blowout loss.
Now it's Mixon, who plays behind a much better run-blocking line than Harris, who benefits from the Chiefs' run defense in a week when many fantasy leagues are having their championships. Good timing for those who roster the Bengals' back.
Disadvantageous Run-Blocking Matchups
This is strength on strength blocking-wise in the trenches, though Freeman and Murray are coming off of an inefficient game against the Bengals, a much worse team against the run than the Rams (though they were also playing with Josh Johnson at QB, to be fair). L.A. boasts Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, A'Shawn Robinson and Von Miller -- all above average or elite -- along its defensive line. It should be tough sledding for the Baltimore running backs.
Miami Dolphins backfield (at Titans)
Dolphins run block win rate rank: ninth
Titans run stop win rate rank: second
If you're thinking of a last-minute pivot to Duke Johnson for your fantasy championship, at least think hard about any possible alternatives. Because even if Johnson does get most of the work again, the Titans' run defense is strong. Linebacker Zach Cunningham leads all players in run stop win rate this season, and Jeffery Simmons is 12th among interior defenders.
Advantageous Pass-Blocking Matchup
Without Von Miller, Denver's pass rush isn't frightening at all. That's even with Bradley Chubb, who has a pass rush win rate of just 10% at edge, back. In fact, Denver's Malik Reed ranks last among all qualifiers in pass rush win rate at edge with just a 6% win rate. The Broncos' biggest threat is Dre'Mont Jones, who ranks eighth in PRWR at defensive tackle at 12%.
All of this is setting up for a big rebound game from Herbert, who scuffled against the Texans in Week 16.
Disadvantageous Pass-Blocking Matchup
If Huntley or Jackson return to action in Week 17, they've got a tough matchup in front of them. Expect either to be under duress plenty with Donald (leader among defensive tackles in pass rush win rate), Gaines (15th), Miller (20th at edge) and Floyd (25th) bearing down. Of course, both have a rushing ability that should mitigate the difficulty of the matchup, but it's still far from ideal.
Joe Tryon-Shoyinka, Buccaneers (at Jets)
When he's played Tryon-Shoyinka has been solid as a rookie, with an 18% pass rush win rate at edge (a little above 16% average the position). Tryon-Shoyinka played more last week with Jason Pierre-Paul out and figures to do so again with Shaq Barrett now down because of a knee injury. And he gets an easy matchup: Zach Wilson, who takes sacks at the second-highest rate in the league (9.2% of dropbacks).
Chris Jones, Chiefs (at Bengals)
Joe Burrow is earning plenty of praise this week after dismantling the Ravens. But Burrow still has a severe weakness that can be exploited: taking sacks. In his case, it's probably a combination of his propensity to take them and a very poor pass-blocking line in front of him. But regardless of what causes Burrow's 8.6% sack rate, it's an opportunity for opposing defenses to exploit. Jones has a good shot to take advantage.