Offensive Lines Matter (07/24/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Bold Predictions – an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season.

Each day, over the next two weeks (July 13th – 24th), we will reveal an interesting player or team prediction for the 2015 NFL season. The first five articles of the series will have a fantasy focus while the next five will be bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Previous Articles: Hill leads NFL in rushing, Luck highest scorer in fantasy, Landry over 100 receptions, Peterson is No. 1 running back, Mariota over Winston, New Playoff Teams, Steelers Miss Playoffs, Most Likely Super Bowl, Jags on the Clock

Prediction: Offensive Lines Matter

Quarterbacks get the big contracts, running backs are drafted first overall in fantasy and receivers ‘catch' worldwide attention. Of course none of that is possible without the big fellas up front.

Offensive lines matter. When you have a great collection of talent in the trenches common wisdom in the NFL goes out the window. Jerry Jones invested three first round picks in his offensive line in the last four drafts and then let the NFL's rushing leader from last year leave in free agency without replacing him because Dallas' line is that good.

The Cowboys line may be the envy of the league but two other teams, Seattle and Denver, are expected to take a step back this season due to offensive line issues.

Over the past two seasons, the Seahawks and Broncos have each won 25 regular-season games, the most in the NFL in that span. Both teams have benefited from above average, and with the Broncos elite, offensive line play. The 2015 season could be different.

Last season, Seattle led the NFL in rushing (2,762 yards), rushing touchdowns (20) and averaged a league best 5.3 yards per carry. As part of the Jimmy Graham trade the Seahawks dealt their best offensive lineman, and the top ranked center in the league (9.0 out of 10 impact score), Max Unger to the Saints. The defending NFC Champions now have the second worst collection of talent on the offensive line in the NFL.

The Seahawks are projected to rush for 2,401.9 yards and average 4.8 yards per carry. Impressive numbers and not unexpected given how efficient Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson are at rushing the ball. However, in a game where one yard can determine the Super Bowl, regression in rushing efficiency could spell misfortune.

Denver is also facing issues on the offensive line. All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady is out for the season with a torn ACL. The team has a new coach, a new system and now will have to shuffle a thin line in front of an aging Peyton Manning. Denver's offensive line ranking has swung from 4th in 2014 to 29th heading into 2015.

Gary Kubiak's zone blocking scheme has produced positive rushing results for other franchises and will do so in Mile High. The Broncos, as a team, are projected to rush for 1,891.4 yards and 14.2 touchdowns, which is in line with last year's production. The real concern for this line is pass protection.

Peyton Manning was sacked 17 times last season, the lowest total for any quarterback that attempted more than 300 passes. Manning keeps his jersey clean partly because of his 2.2 second average release time, but the future Hall of Famer's quick reads won't be enough this fall. The Broncos, with a deteriorating offensive line, are expected to see its sacks allowed total double. Manning is projected to throw for 4,071.1 yards and 35.7 touchdowns; each would mark his lowest totals as a Bronco.

Don't feel too bad for Seattle (82.1 percent) or Denver (72. percent), both are exceedingly likely to make the playoffs. Yet, poor offensive lines could keep each from hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. The most likely Super Bowl consists of the losers from last year's conference championship games.