NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara selects one AFC and one NFC offensive line to watch heading into the Divisional Round, breaking down what's on the line for each group, potential matchups and other significant factors.
AFC team: Kansas City Chiefs
I'll tell you one thing: If this game starts out Chiefs-Steelers in Week 4, it could be a loooonnnnngggg night for Kansas City. Alex Smith was sacked four times in that game, and Cam Heyward notched three of them. Luckily for the Chiefs, Heyward has been on IR since mid-November. Kansas City's guards really struggled in Week 4, as Zach Fulton and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif gave up 11 hurries combined. Left tackle Eric Fisher allowed a sack and two hurries in that game. This Sunday night, he will be tasked with blocking veteran James Harrison, who is always a good test for an O-lineman's fundamentals -- if you don't have a good punch, Harrison will expose you with the rip rush. However, nobody has given up more sacks than Chiefs right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (nine sacks and 23 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus). He'll be against Bud Dupree.
While playing with the Browns early in my career, it was always a headache going against the Steelers' defense, which has racked up 30 sacks in its last eight games. Pass protection and run-game pickups were always a challenge, and the Steelers love their blitzes. They've had a ton of success crossing their linebackers in A-gaps this season, but I have to give kudos to Chiefs center Mitch Morse. It's a tough job to figure out which blitzer is coming first and Morse has done a good job with that.
NFC team: Atlanta Falcons
There's a lot on the line for both the Cowboys' and Packers' offensive lines in their highly-touted Divisional Round game. But I'm taking a closer look at the Falcons, as I think they have the biggest challenge up front of any NFC team this weekend. Having the No. 1 scoring offense is great, but if the Falcons can't protect Matt Ryan, the unit isn't going anywhere against a Seahawks defensive front that can wreck an entire game plan. In their Week 6 meeting at Seattle, Ryan was sacked four times -- three in the first quarter. Michael Bennett was injured in the second half of the game, which was when Ryan began having more time in the pocket. Bennett, who tied a career high with five QB hits vs. Atlanta in Week 6, moves all over the Seahawks' defensive line and is the looper whenever the team runs its two- or three-man twists. Although he is ranked third in the league with 1.7 QB hits per game, Bennett has struggled in his eight-year career with jumping offsides. If Atlanta uses the hard count at home, a cheap 5 yards or free play downfield could end up being valuable, considering how close these teams' October tilt was.
Two others Atlanta's O-line must contain: Cliff Avril and Frank Clark, who combined for 21.5 sacks in the regular season. As much as Ryan and Co. want to throw the ball downfield -- especially with Julio Jones back -- the Falcons must find a way to run the ball efficiently. Atlanta rushed for just 52 yards against Seattle earlier in the season, but the Falcons will need to lean on their running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Freeman had 11 rushing touchdowns this season and is the only current RB in the league with back-to-back 1,000-yard rush seasons. If the Falcons can find a way to run the ball efficiently, the play-action pass will be quite dangerous.