In today's fantasy-obsessed football world, it's easy to overlook the contributions of one position group: offensive line. Well, NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara is here to fix that. Following each batch of games, O'Hara will revisit the O-line performances of all the teams that played and ultimately select that week's top five units, headlined by a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The rankings that you see below reflect O'Hara's pecking order for Week 17 and Week 17 alone. This is NOT a running O-line Power Rankings for the season. This is NOT a projection into the future. The goal of this weekly column is to answer one simple question: Which five offensive lines stood out above the rest in last week's action?
Without further ado, the Week 17 winner is ...
1) San Francisco 49ers
The Niners might be the only team with a losing record that is genuinely upset about the season being over, as the Jimmy Garoppolo era has gotten off to a sizzling start. Yes, San Francisco was 6-10, but the Niners couldn't lose after Garoppolo became the starter, winning five straight to close out the campaign. This offense looks completely different: efficient, consistent and confident.
Picking up 463 yards of total offense never seemed so easy as it did for the Niners against the Rams on Sunday. San Francisco converted 50 percent of its third downs, which reflects the new normal for this team, as did its 80 percent red-zone efficiency mark (4 for 5). Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida combined for 162 rushing yards (6.0 yard per carry) behind an O-line that is playing at an entirely new level. The unit didn't allow a sack or a QB hit for the first time this season. Joe Staley, who had his best game of the season, didn't allow a single pressure; the same goes for left guard Laken Tomlinson (no pressures allowed for just the second time this season). Huge props also go to Zane Beadles, who started the season at left guard, for making his fourth start at right tackle -- Beadles has played every position but right guard this year. This O-line was the top-ranked run- and pass-blocking unit this week by Pro Football Focus. Just imagine if San Francisco had traded for Jimmy G sooner than late October.
The rest of the top O-lines from Week 17
2) Pittsburgh Steelers: With Pittsburgh resting some of its stars against the Browns on Sunday, the O-line showed its depth. Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro got the spa treatment while B.J. Finney started at center and Matt Feiler got his first start at right guard -- and the Steelers racked up 348 yards of offense, with running back Stevan Ridley averaging 4.7 yards per carry. There were a couple of sacks in the game (including one where the center stepped on quarterback Landry Jones, and Jones fell down), but they were not the result of insufficient play by the O-line. Thus, the unit allowed no real sacks, zero QB hits and just four total hurries, with Ben Roethlisberger taking a breather as well. And then, when Finney went down in the second quarter, Chris Hubbard (who might just be this unit's MVP!) slid in to play center, once again underlining the Steelers' O-line's status as the deepest and most experienced group around. I have no doubt they will enjoy their bye week -- they certainly earned it!
3) New England Patriots: The Pats took care of business against the Jets and ensured the AFC will have to come through Foxborough. New England had another big day on the ground, putting up 147 total rushing yards, with Dion Lewis providing 133 yards from scrimmage. Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes as the O-line turned in another solid day in pass protection. The lone sack attributed to the unit was on right tackle Cameron Fleming, but center David Andrews (zero pressures) and left guard Joe Thuney (one hurry) had very solid performances vs. the Jets' disruptive front.
4) New York Giants: Yes, you read that correctly. I didn't think this group would make the list, given how tough 2017 was for Big Blue. When news broke that the Giants were releasing right tackle Bobby Hart and left tackle Ereck Flowerswas inactive, it sounded like it would be open season on what was left of Eli Manning and this offense when New York took on the Redskins. Given that Chad Wheeler was making his first start at left tackle and sixth-round pick Adam Bisnowaty (recently activated from the practice squad) was making his first start (indeed, seeing his first game action) ever, you could sense the Redskins circling their prey.
Instead, the Giants rolled to 381 total offensive yards (260 on the ground) and closed out an abysmal campaign with a win. Orleans Darkwa took the second offensive play of the game 75 yards to the house and finished with 154 yards (7.7 yards per carry), earning an incentive-based contract bonus by 1 yard, while Wayne Gallman added 89 yards. The O-line gave Eli time in the pocket, which he hadn't had all season to that point, and the unit controlled the line of scrimmage.
Bisnowaty drew a tough straw for his first NFL start, and Ryan Kerrigan took advantage, collecting two sacks. (The second looked like it was on a three-step drop, and the ball didn't come out of the quarterback's hand quickly enough -- but, sorry, when you're a rookie, you take the blame on that one!) The O-line was dealt another blow when left guard John Jerrysuffered a concussion 11 plays into the game. But his replacement, veteran John Greco, played like a man possessed in the run game while not allowing a single pressure on 67 offensive snaps. Wheeler only allowed one hit the entire game and showed some real promise with his punch and footwork. Center Brett Jones had another very solid game and has earned a chance to be a full-time starter. Jon Halapio at right guard has really battled this year, and he has certainly proven he can play at this level. Suddenly, the future looks much brighter for the Giants.
5) Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings finished the regular season on a high note, rushing for 147 yards behind Latavius Murray (who finished with 111 yards, a 5.6 yards-per-carry mark and two TDs). Credit goes to offensive line coach Tony Sparano for the job he's done with this group after 2016's debacle. The offensive line endured yet another change, with center Pat Elflein out and Joe Berger moving over from right guard. That moved right tackle Mike Remmers inside to right guard and Rashod Hill to right tackle. Got it? The unit did allow one sack and just one QB hit, but it was a solid performance by a group that was playing out of position. And -- let's be honest -- they were probably just trying to get it over with so they could get ready for the playoffs and be the first team to host and play in the Super Bowl!