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 15 and Week 15 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 15 winner is ...
1) Los Angeles Rams
In a highly anticipated showdown between the Rams and Seahawks for control of the NFC West, Los Angeles absolutely lambasted the team that's taken three of the past four division titles. Exacting revenge for the narrow Week 5 home loss to the 'Hawks, Sean McVay's team put it on Seattle, jumping out to a 34-zip lead by halftime before eventually prevailing 42-7.
Yes, the Seahawks are depleted right now -- especially on the defensive side of the ball, with no Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, K.J. Wright or Cliff Avril -- but this is still a proud program that doesn't lay down for anyone, especially at home in front of the rabid 12s. The Rams were just too much, though, and their offensive onslaught revolved around absolute domination in the ground game. L.A.'s offensive line, which Pro Football Focus rated as the second-best run-blocking unit in Week 15, repeatedly blew open holes to the tune of 244 rushing yards -- the most Seattle has allowed since 2010. Left guard Rodger Saffold has been a road grader in the run game all season -- and that continued Sunday -- while center John Sullivan has proven to be a brilliant free-agent signing. The biggest beneficiary of Los Angeles' trench control? Todd Gurley, who gained 14 yards on his first carry of the game and didn't slow down after that. Gurley wound up with three rushing touchdowns (as well as a receiving score), racking up 152 ground yards on 21 carries. That's a robust 7.2 yards per carry -- and the highest single-game rushing total a running back has recorded against Seattle in three years. Don't forget that the Seahawks held Gurley to 43 yards on 14 carries (3.1 ypc) back in October. This time around, Gurley had 144 yards at the half.
With L.A. gaining chunks of yards in the run game, the Rams didn't really need to take to the air much. But it should be mentioned that the offensive line -- particularly bookend blockers Andrew Whitworth and Rob Havenstein -- did an admirable job protecting the franchise quarterback in such a hostile environment. While Los Angeles did give up a pair of sacks, the line didn't otherwise allow Jared Goff to get touched. This is quite an achievement, given how difficult it is to operate as an offensive lineman with extreme crowd noise. The silent count really benefits D-linemen, as evidenced by Frank Clark's second-quarter sack, when he just beat Whitworth with a great get-off.
The Rams' prolific effort on the ground also allowed them to completely control time of possession, 36:46 to 23:14. That's an advantage of 13-plus minutes. In other words, L.A. had the ball for nearly a full quarter more than Seattle. Unbelievable.
No wonder the Rams are an impressive 6-1 on the road this season ... Two things are portable in this league: run game and defense. Both showed up to CenturyLink Field in a big way on Sunday.
The rest of the top O-lines from Week 15
2) Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons stayed right in the thick of the playoff race with a 24-21 win over Tampa Bay on Monday night. With Matt Ryan again having a difficult time connecting with Julio Jones, the game fell in Devonta Freeman's lap -- and the dynamic running back responded in a major way, leading Atlanta in rushing (22 carries for 126 yards) and receiving (five catches for 68 yards and a score). Obviously, though, this wasn't a one-man effort. The offensive line did a fantastic job creating running lanes on inside zones, as well as numerous perimeter plays (the Falcons ran a lot of toss cracks). In fact, Atlanta's O-line was the top run-blocking unit in Week 15, according to Pro Football Focus. And a few individuals deserve special attention ...
Four-time Pro Bowler Alex Mack really did a nice job erasing the nose tackle on run plays. Atlanta's tackles -- Jake Matthews and Ryan Schraeder -- really excelled, as the Falcons piled up 159 yards on outside carries. And Matthews was actually the top-ranked run-blocking tackle in Week 15, according to PFF.
The O-line was just fine when Ryan dropped back to pass, too, as the unit didn't give up a single sack or QB hit.
All in all, Atlanta just overpowered the Bucs' defense, which had a number of players leave the field due to various ailments.
3) Carolina Panthers: Aaron Rodgers' return put the spotlight on this bout between playoff hopefuls, but it was Carolina's offense that set the tone early at the line of scrimmage and went on to control the game. On their first possession of the game, the Panthers marched down the field on a 15-play, 85-yard touchdown drive. And Carolina went on to earn a huge 31-24 win thanks to a balanced offensive effort: 151 yards rushing and 236 passing.
In the ground game, left guard Andrew Norwell was a force of nature, while Amini Silatolu did a fine job filling in for Pro Bowl right guard Trai Turner (concussion). Rookie Christian McCaffrey headlined the rushing attack with 63 yards on 12 carries (in addition to six catches for 73 yards and a touchdown), and Cam Newton chalked up 58 rushing yards of his own.
Of course, Newton also threw four touchdown passes, thanks to fine protection from the quintet up front. Newton was sacked once, but it came on late pressure and wasn't credited to the O-line, as Cam unsuccessfully tried to run out of the pocket. Newton also took a big hit on his 30-yard touchdown pass to Greg Olsen, but the franchise QB wasn't pressured much at all otherwise. Third-year right tackle Daryl Williams continued his rock-solid season with another game of stout pass protection.
4) Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs regained sole possession of first place in the AFC West with a 30-13 victory over the visiting Chargers -- and Kansas City did so by continuing a ground-game renaissance. From Week 6 through Week 13, rookie RB Kareem Hunt didn't reach the century mark a single time, and the Chiefs dropped six of seven games. But over the past two weeks, in back-to-back wins, Hunt has racked up 116 and 155 yards. K.C. is now 6-0 when Hunt rushes for at least 100. Offensive coordinator Matt Nagy, who took the play-calling reins from Andy Reid at the beginning of the month, deserves credit for reinforcing the Chiefs' true identity. But the offensive line should get plenty of praise for stymying the Bolts' disruptive defense. Since Mitch Morse went on the shelf in Week 13 with a foot injury, Zach Fulton has done a great job filling in at center, bringing a real physical presence to the pivot in the ground game.
That said, the O-line's most crucial work on Sunday came in pass protection. Yielding just one sack to this Chargers D -- which is headlined by the terrifying pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram -- is no small feat. Eric Fisher and Mitchell Schwartz performed quite well, as neither offensive tackle gave up a sack or QB hit.
5) Buffalo Bills: Before I get to LeSean McCoy's special day, I have to give props to the offensive line's effort in pass protection in the 24-16 win over the Dolphins. The Bills didn't give up a single sack or QB hit to a Miami unit that had just hit Tom Brady six times and sacked him twice last week. The Bills' offense set the tempo early with a 10-play, 81-yard opening drive that resulted in a touchdown -- the team's first opening-drive TD since Week 11 of 2016. With protection from the O-line, Tyrod Taylor had a decent day passing (224 yards and one touchdown). Oh, and the dynamic athlete also added six carries for 42 yards and a rushing TD.
McCoy didn't put up the 156 yards he managed in the snow two weeks ago, but the 29-year-old back did make some history. McCoy, who accounted for 51.1 percent of the Bills' offensive touches vs. the Dolphins, finished with 20 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown on the ground, adding four receptions for 46 yards and another score. This performance made McCoy the first NFL player to accumulate 10,000 career rushing yards (he's the 30th player in NFL history to reach that particular mark), 400 career receptions, 75 career touchdowns and average over 4.5 yards per carry. It's always a big deal for the offensive line when a running back does something special -- and a number of those guys deserve some special attention of their own. Bills center Eric Wood continues to be a dominant run blocker, while rookie left tackle Dion Dawkins has been exceptional in pass pro the last eight weeks, not giving up a sack or QB hit in that span. Right guard Vladimir Ducasse has also been a solid replacement for the injured John Miller.