Offensive line analysis: New England leads AFC

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, lie 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'll start our examination with the AFC.

1. New England Patriots (108.5 points) The fact that the undefeated and Super Bowl bound Patriots are atop our list shows how important an effective offensive line can be to statistical success. The P-Men fielded the best offensive attack the NFL has ever seen in 2007, and it all started at the line of scrimmage. New England was fifth as a run line based on our parameters, and the pass line was second to Green Bay. That effectiveness was the true foundation for the record-breaking numbers of both Tom Brady and Randy Moss.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars (96.5 points) One of the more underrated offensive lines in the league, Jacksonville finished with the second-best run line based on our research (the offense scored one touchdown every 29 carries), which was evident in the success of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The Jaguars weren't as effective as a pass line but still finished 11th in the NFL based on the compilation of points from our four categories. That's good news for David Garrard, who will be a breakout candidate in the 2008 season.

3. Cleveland Browns (96 points) The addition of rookie T Joe Thomas and G Eric Steinbach did wonders for the Browns, who finished with one of the better offensive lines in the league based on our parameters. Cleveland ranked seventh as a pass line and ninth as a run line, which had a lot to do with the success of both Derek Anderson and Jamal Lewis. Anderson was sacked once for every 28.6 pass attempts, which was one of the better ratios in our research, so the quarterback was well protected and should be once again in 2008.

4. Indianapolis Colts (94.5 points) The Colts were not as effective a pass line compared to their rank after the 2006 season (first overall), but this unit still finished a solid fifth this season based on our numbers. Where Indianapolis did improve was in touchdown production, as runners found the end zone one time for every 23.4 carries. Just one offensive line (Minnesota) had a better ratio based on our parameters. That bodes well for Joseph Addai, who will no doubt be a top-five selection in most 2088 fantasy drafts.

5. San Diego Chargers (91 points) It's no shock that the Bolts had the top run line in 2006 based on the immense success of LaDainian Tomlinson, and it continued to serve its backs well this season. San Diego ranked fourth as a run line, as runners scored one touchdown for every 25.5 carries. That will continue to boast the value of L.T., who will be one of the top three players taken in all drafts next season. The Chargers weren't as effective as a pass line, however, as it was 13th in the NFL based on our categories.

6. Denver Broncos (85 points) The Broncos have long been praised for the success of their offensive line, so it's no surprise to see them ranked in the top 10 among AFC teams. While not overly impressive in our four categories, Denver did finish 13th as a run line and 10th as a pass line in the NFL based on our research. Should the unit continue to allow adequate protection for its quarterback, Jay Cutler could be on the verge of a breakout season. He'll be an attractive middle-round option in leagues with 12-plus teams.

7. Houston Texans (80 points) The Texans offensive line finished an awful 26th in the NFL in 2006 based on our research, but it vaulted to 12th this season and finished a solid seventh in their conference. While Matt Schaub did take numerous hard hits, his line allowed a respectable one sack for every 24 pass attempts. Texans Quarterbacks also averaged 7.0 yards per pass attempt, which tied for fifth best overall. The Houston run line wasn't as effective, however, as it finished 22nd in the league based on our four categories.

8. Cincinnati Bengals (74.5 points) There might not have been a bigger disappointment in the AFC this season than the Bengals, who didn't reach the postseason and seemed like a team in dire straits at times. Still, the offensive line proved to be one of the better pass units in the league, as New Orleans was the one team to allow fewer sacks per pass attempt. That's good news for Carson Palmer, who will remain an attractive option next season. The run line wasn't as solid, though, as it ranked 26th in the league overall.

9. Tennessee Titans (64.5 points) The Titans offensive line didn't produce tremendous results in any of our four categories, so it's no shock to see this unit ranked in the middle of the AFC pack. Where Tennessee took the greatest hit was as a run line, as it finished 15th based on our research. That's a grand fall from the 2006 season, when it was fourth in the entire league. It's also not an attractive statistic to have a mobile quarterback such as Vince Young fall to a defensive sack for every 15.4 pass attempts.

10. Miami Dolphins (57.5 points) Miami had an atrocious 2007 season, and part of its failures came at the line of scrimmage. The Fins finished 28th in the NFL as a pass line, as it allowed one sack for every 13.2 pass attempts. Miami Quarterbacks also averaged a mere 5.4 yards per pass attempt, which was one of the worst totals based on our research. It did find success as a run line, however, as the Dolphins ranked 12th in those categories. That's good news for Ronnie Brown, who was a fantasy superstar before injuring his knee.

11. Pittsburgh Steelers (56.5 points) The Steelers offensive line was productive when it came to yards per carry (4.2) and yards per attempt (9.4), but it was dreadful in our other two categories. San Francisco (9.3) was the lone team to allow more sacks per pass attempt than Pittsburgh (9.4), and their touchdown to carry ratio (one touchdown for every 56.7 carries) was at the bottom half of the NFL. This decrease in the line's effectiveness shouldn't be seen as a shock in the first season after Russ Grimm left for Arizona.

12. Buffalo Bills (53 points) The Bills made several moves in the offseason to bolster a porous line, as G Derrick Dockery and T Langston Walker were brought in. Based on our research, however, these additions didn't bear statistical fruit. Buffalo was no better than a middle-of-the-road pass line (16th in the NFL), and it was worse as a run line (23rd in the NFL). Numbers such as these need to improve if Marshawn Lynch is to reach his potential and emerge as a fantasy breakout candidate in 2008.

13. Baltimore Ravens (46 points) Despite the fact that the Ravens drafted T Marshall Yanda and G Ben Grubbs and had T Jonathan Ogden back for another season, their line still fell short based on our parameters. Baltimore averaged an awful 5.4 yards per pass attempt, and its quarterbacks were sacked once every 14.2 pass attempts. The Ravens were not much better as a run line, as players rushed for one touchdown for every 40.5 carry. Still, Willis McGahee had one of the best all-around seasons of his pro football career.

14. Oakland Raiders (45 points) The Raiders finished with the worst offensive line in the league last season based on our parameters. While it did move from 32nd in 2006 to 25th in 2007, this unit still failed to help its offensive skills position players find statistical success. Oakland finished in the bottom half of the NFL in all four of our categories, but it was worse as a pass line. In fact, the Raiders allowed just 5.8 yards per pass attempt and had their quarterbacks sacked one time for every 11 pass attempts.

15. New York Jets (23 points) The future of the Jets offensive line seemed bright after the 2006 additions of T D'Brickashaw Ferguson and C Nick Mangold, but the opposite has occured. New York finished 20th in the NFL in our examination of offensive lines in 2006, but it fell to 31st in the 2007 season. Their anemic offense scored one touchdown for every 74.3 carry, averaged 3.8 yards per carry and allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked every 9.6 pass attempts. That's really bad news for their prominent players in 2008.

16. Kansas City Chiefs (16 points) The loss of potential Hall of Fame lineman Willie Roaf and Will Shields turned the Chiefs line to dust, as it finished dead last in the NFL based on our research. Kansas City was last in the league as a run line, as it scored one touchdown for every 63.6 carries and averaged 3.3 yards per carry. What's more, the pass line surrendered a sack every 10.2 pass attempts. There needs to be improvement (a zone-blocking run scheme could be installed) if Larry Johnson is to return to elite status.

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