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 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 the Divisional Round and the Divisional Round 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 Divisional Round winner is ...
1) Jacksonville Jaguars
In a highly anticipated rematch of Week 5 -- when Jacksonville shut down Pittsburgh at Heinz Field, 30-9 -- it was the Jaguars who took it to the Steelers early and often. Jacksonville's offensive line dismantled the defense and helped put the team in the third AFC Championship Game in franchise history.
Sunday's victory was quite the turnaround from last week's wild-card win over Buffalo. Right out of the gate on the first drive, the Jaguars marched down the field with ease. The exclamation point was punching it in on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line. A statement drive that ended with a statement finish was the tone-setter. It's not surprising that the offense succeeded on that fourth-down try, though, as the offensive line was great all season in that category. The Jags were second-best on fourth-and-1 in the regular season, converting 76.9 percent, and they successfully converted 8 of 9 fourth downs this season, playoffs included. This further shows the strength of the front in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
As mentioned, it was clear that the Jaguars were intent on letting Leonard Fournette take over behind a dominant O-line. He became the first rookie to rush for over 100 yards and three TDs in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era, and he remarkably finished with more rushing touchdowns (five) than Le'Veon Bell (four) did this season at Heinz Field. The offense had 129 rushing yards -- not including Blake Bortles' 35 rushing yards -- and 64 of those were before contact. To no one's surprise, the Jaguars were Pro Football Focus' top run-blocking unit of the Divisional Round.
This unit didn't allow a single sack or quarterback hit -- the only group to do that in the Divisional Round -- and only allowed four hurries. I'm super impressed with this effort, considering the Steelers' D led the league in sacks this season, with 56. Center Brandon Linder and left guard Patrick Omameh were great in combination blocks and phenomenal at moving defensive linemen into the laps of the Steelers' linebackers on power runs. The unit was also solid in pass protection, as tackles Cam Robinson and Jermey Parnell held up well in that area. Parnell continues to be one of the best right tackles in the NFL and gets absolutely zero credit. He was fantastic, along with the tight ends, in combination blocks, while Robinson basically pitched a shutout against rookie T.J. Watt by using a lot of short sets to throw off Watt's pass rush.
This O-line allowed the Jags' offensive playmakers to play loose and make plays. They'll have to do the same against the Patriots if they want a chance to play in February.
Runner-up O-line from the Divisional Round
The Eagles relied on Nick Foles and the pass game in the final three quarters after calling 16 run plays against just three pass plays in the opening quarter, putting up a bagel on the scoreboard in the opening stanza. Even though the rush offense was stalled and had only 96 total yards on the ground, Philly gashed the Falcons' defense with some well-designed scheme runs, using the tight end wham play and even some counter runs where the Eagles pulled tackle Lane Johnson. This approach moved the ball just enough and helped the Eagles convert two of three short-yardage plays, including a successful fourth-and-goal on the 1. LeGarrette Blount ran right and got a great pull block by Brandon Brooks and lead block by Trey Burton. The Eagles showed how to convert on these key short-yardage plays, unlike the team over in western Pennsylvania.
In addition, this unit was impressive in pass protection as it gave up one sack, three quarterback hits and eight total pressures. On the sack, left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai was tripped, and that allowed Takkarist McKinley to take down Foles. Other than the sack and a QB hit on the play before, Vaitai didn't allow any other pressures. Center Jason Kelce has been one of the league's best centers all year long, especially on the second level. The Eagles welcomed back left guard Stefen Wisniewski, who did a great job in space and led the way with Kelce on screens. Brooks was also fantastic at handling the Falcons' interior and getting up on their linebackers at the second level.