Offensive line analysis: Green Bay headlines NFC

Success in the NFL can be difficult to achieve unless a team works together as a cohesive unit. After all, pro football is the ultimate team sport. In the world of fantasy football, we cheer for heroes such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson and Randy Moss to fill the stat sheets and lead our teams to victories.

But even the most prominent players can't be productive all alone.

Down in the trenches, where contests are won and lost, lies the athletes that don't receive much media attention but are some of the most valuable assets on the field - the offensive linemen. Without effective pass protection or holes to run through, even the best players can struggle to produce - just ask owners who drafted Larry Johnson.

As a result, we've taken a look back at this season and ranked each team's pass and run lines. Since the goal of the offensive line is to afford quarterbacks and running backs the time and space to produce numbers, our breakdown includes four important statistical categories: touchdowns per carry, yards per carry, yards per pass attempt and sacks allowed per pass attempt.

Much like Rotisserie baseball, we've assigned point values for all four of our categories: 32 points for the best line, 31 points for the second-best line, 30 points for the third-best line and down to one point for the worst line.

We started our examination with the AFC on Jan. 24, so now we'll conclude with the NFC.

1. Green Bay Packers (104.5 points) The Packers ranked a mediocre 18th among offensive lines in 2006 based on our parameters, so their improvement this past season should be evident. Green Bay led all NFC lines and finished second to New England overall, and that was an important part of the success of both Brett Favre and Ryan Grant. Favre had some tremendous protection as he was sacked just once for every 30.4 pass attempts, and quarterbacks averaged a solid 7.4 yards per pass attempt behind the Packers stout linemen.

2. Dallas Cowboys (99.5 points) The offseason addition of G Leonard Davis and G Kyle Kosier proved to be positive moves for the Cowboys, whose offensive line finished as the third-best unit in the NFL behind New England and Green Bay. The Patriots were the lone team to average more yards per pass attempt than Tony Romo and the Polks, who finished with an impressive 7.7 this past season. The Dallas run line was a bit less effective, but it still came in at a solid 10th in the entire league based on our examination.

3. Minnesota Vikings (85.5 points) Based on the immense success of Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor, it's no shock that the Vikes had the best run line in the NFL. No team averaged more touchdowns per carry (22.4) or yards per carry (5.3), as C Matt Birk, G Steve Hutchinson and T Bryant "Mount" McKinnie opened huge holes for A.P. and Taylor to dash through all season. Their pass line wasn't nearly as effective, but the status of the run line will help make Peterson a top-three selection in almost all 2008 fantasy drafts.

4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (82.5 points) The Buccaneers finished the 2006 season with one of the league's worst offensive lines (30th), so the improvement in 2007 is indeed obvious. While its pass line finished a middle of the road 15th overall in the league, Tampa Bay's real strength came as a run line. The Buccaneers had the sixth-best run line, as runners scored one touchdown for every 29.9 carries. That bodes extremely well for the value of Earnest Graham, who developed into an enormous fantasy superstar this season.

5. New Orleans Saints (81 points) Head coach Sean Payton seems to have become the new Mike Martz, as his offense threw the football a ton. As a result, the fact that no offensive line finished with fewer sacks allowed per pass attempt (40.7) is a real testament to the unit's effectiveness. That's also a positive for the value of Drew Brees and Marques Colston in 2008. The run line wasn't as effective as it ranked 19th in the NFL, but the loss of Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush did have something to do with that number.

6. New York Giants (79 points) The NFC representatives in Super Bowl XLII finished the 2007 season with one of the better run lines in the NFL, as it ranked fourth based on our research. The G-Men scored one touchdown for every 31.2 carries and averaged 4.6 yards per carry, which was tied for third overall. That was part of the reason for the success of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. Their pass line wasn't as effective, however, as it finished 18th and allowed a sack for every 19.4 pass attempts.

7. Philadelphia Eagles (71.5 points) It's a great advantage for the Eagles to have a versatile and elusive runner like Brian Westbrook, who is difficult to tackle and can gain yards even out of the most difficult situations. The line did well to create space for runners as well, as Eagles backs averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Philadelphia's pass line was far less effective, as its quarterbacks were sacked once for every 20.4 pass attempts. That needs to improve if Donovan McNabb is to bounce back in the 2008 season.

8. Detroit Lions (68.5 points) The Lions showed some improvement on their offensive line, as the unit went from 25th in the 2006 season to 16th in 2007. Their runners scored one touchdown for every 24.9 carries, which was the third-best total in the NFL behind Minnesota (22.4) and Indianapolis (23.4). Detroit did allowed the third most sacks (54) and finished 21st as a pass line, though, so improvements need to be made in that area if Jon Kitna is to find success under new offensive coordinator Jim Colletto.

9. Washington Redskins (66 points) While injuries did have an affect on their personnel, the Redskins offensive line still finished 17th overall this season. That was a serious decrease from the 2006 season, when the unit was a much more impressive eighth based on our research. Despite the success of Clinton Portis, the team's run line still less than impressive as runners averaged just 3.8 yards per carry. The Washington pass line was a little bit better (but not much), as it ranked 14th in our statistical examination.

10. Arizona Cardinals (63.5 points) There were high hopes that the Cardinals would see improvement on their offensive line after the addition of coach Russ Grimm and rookie T Levi Brown. While the unit did move from 23rd in 2006 to 19th in 2007 based on our numbers, Arizona was still porous as a run line as its runners found the end zone once for every 44.6 carries. The pass line remained solid, as it allowed just one sack for every 24.5 pass attempts. That's impressive with the immobile Kurt Warner under center.

11. Seattle Seahawks (57.5 points) The Seahawks used to have one of the better offensive lines in the league, but that was before it lost G Steve Hutchinson to Minnesota. It did move up from 28th in 2006 to 21st in 2007 based on our parameters, but it fell a few places in its effectiveness in the ground attack. In fact, Seattle runners found the end zone just once for every 47.7 carry. The pass line was much better, as it finished 12th in the league. That's great news for Matt Hasselbeck and his talented core of receivers.

12. Atlanta Falcons (40.5 points) The loss of Michael Vick had a serious affect on the numbers of the Falcons run line, as it went from sixth last season based on our parameters to 24th in 2007. Atlanta runners found the end zone once for every 55 carries and finished with an average of 3.9 yards per carry. That includes Jerious Norwood, who led the league with a 6.0 average. The team's pass line improved from 31st to 24th, but overall this unit still needs some real improvement to help the team's offensive stars.

13. Carolina Panthers (38 points) The Panthers have taken a serious fall in the past two seasons. Their offensive line has done the same, as it fell to an awful 27th in the league based on our research. Carolina's runners scored one touchdown for every 64.4 carries (third-worst in the NFL), and it's quarterbacks were sacked once for every 15.3 pass attempts. If Jake Delhomme, DeShaun Foster, DeAngelo Williams and Steve Smith want to find statistical success next season, these numbers need to improve across the board.

14. San Francisco 49ers (33.5 points) There were high preseason hopes for the Niners after the addition of rookie T Joe Staley to an offensive line that made strides in 2006, but this unit turned out to be fool's gold. Our numbers showed that San Francisco's line went from 15th in the league in 2006 to a dreadful 28th this season, as it finished dead last in yards per pass attempt (4.5) and sacks per pass attempt (9.3). It was more a lot effective as a run line, however, which is positive news for the value of Frank Gore.

15. Chicago Bears (31.5 points) The fact that the Bears offensive line ranked 19th based on our numbers in 2006, when the team reached the Super Bowl, and fell to 29th this season, when it failed to make the postseason, tells a real tale. Chicago's pass line surrendered one sack for every 13.2 pass attempts, so it didn't matter if Rex Grossman, Brian Griese or Kyle Orton was under center. The run line was worse, as it ranked 29th in the league. That's bad news for Cedric Benson or whoever starts in the backfield in 2008.

16. St. Louis Rams (26.5 points) It's no surprise to see a line like the Rams, which was riddled with injuries, finish dead last in the NFC and 30th in the NFL ahead of the New York Jets and Kansas City. St. Louis lost T Orlando Pace for most of the season and was without G Richie Incongnito, T Todd Steussie and C Brett Romberg at times as well. With an offseason to heal and a healthier line headed into the 2008 season, look for Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson to rebound from what had to be a frustrating 2007 campaign.

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