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 14 and Week 14 alone. This is NOT a running O-line Power Rankings for 2017. 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 14 winner is ...
1) Carolina Panthers
In snapping the Vikings' eight-game win streak with a 31-24 triumph, the Panthers did what no one else has been able to do this season: run the ball down Minnesota's throat. The Vikes entered last week's game with the No. 2 rushing defense in the league, giving up just 77.7 ground yards per game. Carolina nearly tripled that number, posting a whopping 216 yards on 36 carries (6.0 ypc). That's the most rushing yards gained on Mike Zimmer's defense since Week 1 of 2015. Cam Newton and Jonathan Stewart each logged a run of 60-plus yards, which goosed up the total, but this is nothing new for the Panthers, who've eclipsed 200 yards rushing in three of their last five games. Much of the credit goes to Carolina's road-grading guard duo: Pro Bowl RG Trai Turner was his typically dominant self against Minnesota, while LG Andrew Norwell provided one of his best games of the year. And it certainly didn't hurt to have five-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil back from injury.
The Panthers' front also acquitted itself well in pass protection. Newton didn't have his most prolific throwing game (13 of 25 for 137 yards with one touchdown and one pick), but that wasn't due to lackluster play in the trenches. After giving up an early sack, Carolina's offensive line allowed just one additional QB hit on Newton the entire game.
At the end of the day, Carolina's 31 points represented the most Minnesota has allowed this season. The Panthers capitalized on their opportunities: Not counting the game-ending kneeldown possession, Carolina scored a touchdown every time it entered the red zone. And that 3-for-3 mark is nothing to scoff at, considering Minnesota entered Week 14 with the third-best red-zone defense in football.
The Panthers' needed their offensive line to set the tone in a crucial bout between two playoff contenders, and the big boys up front definitely got the job done.
The rest of the top five O-lines from Week 14
2) Jacksonville Jaguars: The Jaguars proved to everyone that they are just as physical and tough on offense as they are on defense, plowing through what's left of Seattle's vaunted D in a 30-24 win that was not as close as the final score indicates. Jacksonville racked up 424 yards of total offense, including 156 on the ground, thanks in large part to Leonard Fournette (24 rushes for 101 yards and a touchdown). The rookie bruiser, who's just 77 yards from 1,000 with three games left in the regular season, is exactly what the Jags hoped for when they snagged him with the No. 4 overall pick in April. Icing the game with a powerful 13-yard run on third-and-11 was an exclamation point to future opponents.
Of course, we've come to expect that kind of production from Fournette and the Jacksonville ground game. But Blake Bortles and the aerial attack taking it to the (impaired) "Legion of Boom"? Yeah, that was a bit more surprising, to say the least. Bortles enjoyed his best game of the season, completing 18 of his 27 throws for 268 yards and two touchdowns (against zero picks). The quarterback certainly benefitted from spectacular protection. Seattle piled up 20 pressures in the Week 13 win over the Eagles, but against Jacksonville on Sunday, the 'Hawks barely breathed on Bortles, accumulating just one QB hit and zero sacks. And that was actually the second straight sack-free game for the Jags.
Four penalties on the offensive line kept the unit from holding down the top spot on this list, but these guys still deserve plenty of recognition. Right tackle Jermey Parnell should make his first Pro Bowl this season, having yet to allow a single sack. Meanwhile, Patrick Omameh is becoming one of the toughest left guards in the game.
3) Dallas Cowboys: Needing a win to stay in the playoff race, Dallas took care of business on the road with a 30-10 result versus the Giants. With the offensive line opening holes and providing stellar pass protection, the Cowboys generated a healthy 454 yards of offense. Hit just once and never sacked, Dak Prescott crossed the 300-yard barrier for the first time this season, finishing with 332 yards passing and three touchdowns (with zero picks). Considering how much Prescott struggled in MetLife Stadium last year (17 of 37 for 165 yards and one touchdown, with two picks and three sacks) and the hand injury he just suffered in Week 13, providing the young QB with a clean pocket was massive.
Dallas didn't enjoy any explosive plays on the ground, but the Cowboys grinded out a robust 122 yards. Zack Martin turned in another strong performance -- the right guard was an animal in the ground game.
4) Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons kept their playoff hopes alive with a very physical effort against the NFC South rival Saints. Winning 20-17, Atlanta overcame three Matt Ryan interceptions and really leaned on the ground attack in this crucial contest. Ranked as the No. 1 rushing offense of the week by Pro Football Focus, the Falcons gained 132 yards on the ground, including 91 by Devonta Freeman. This allowed Atlanta to dominate time of possession, 34:41 to 25:19. The Falcons also converted seven of their 12 third-down attempts -- big in a game that was decided by just three points.
While Ryan struggled in the passing attack, don't blame his prime protectors: Atlanta's O-line wasn't credited with a single sack allowed.
One player who merits special attention: right tackle Ryan Schraeder, who really held his own against a tough Saints defense.
5) Chicago Bears: The Bears absolutely lambasted the Bengals in Cincinnati, 33-7, thanks in large part to a massive day on the ground. Chicago chalked up 232 rushing yards, including 133 before contact -- the league's best figure in Week 14. Jordan Howard became the first Bears back to start his career with consecutive 1,000-yard campaigns (nope, not even the great Walter Payton accomplished this feat) by running for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries Sunday. Rookie Tarik Cohen chipped in 80 yards on just a dozen totes. Meanwhile, fellow first-year man Mitchell Trubisky provided his best effort of the season. Playing in a clean pocket (Chicago's O-line didn't allow a single sack, while yielding just one QB hit), the rookie signal caller completed 25 of his 32 throws for 271 yards and a touchdown.
Center Cody Whitehair had one of his best games of the season, while Tom Compton ably filled in for Kyle Long at right guard.