NFL Network analyst and former Pro Bowl center Shaun O'Hara selects offensive line units to watch heading into the week, breaking down what's on the line for each group, potential matchups and other significant factors. Following each week's games, O'Hara will select a Built Ford Tough Offensive Line of the Week.
The Miami Dolphins (9-5) have a chance to clinch a playoff spot for the first time since 2008 with a win over the Bills and a Denver loss on Sunday night. Miami has been on fire as it's gone 8-1 despite being a slow starting team. While the Dolphins allowed the most first-quarter points in the NFL, they rank second in second-half point differential (+58). Benefiting from head coach Adam Gase, the Dolphins have scored at least 30 points in five games this season after only hitting the mark twice last season.
Their success is directly correlated to the ground game as the Dolphins are 8-0 when rushing for 80 yards or more. The offensive line must open up holes for Jay Ajayi to kick his road struggles aside. This season, Ajayi has averaged 52.5 rushing yards per game on the road and 98.9 yards per game at home. Something to keep in mind, though, is he torched Buffalo for 214 yards and a touchdown in Week 7.
Pass protection will be much needed considering quarterback Matt Moore is making his second start of the season -- with last week's start being his first since Week 17 of 2011. The play of the Dolphins' offensive line has been night and day depending on health. With center Mike Pouncey on IR, Craig Urbik will play at center and have a huge challenge against Marcell Dareus. Another defensive threat the Dolphins' offensive line must contain is Lorenzo Alexander (third in sacks with 11.5). Miami's right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja'Wuan James will have their hands full with the premier pass rusher who moves around on the line.
So much has to go right for the Bills to sneak into the playoffs, so in all reality they are playing the spoiler role against the Dolphins. But one thing a lot of these players feel they are playing for Rex Ryan's future with the team. Despite injuries to Eric Wood and Cordy Glenn, the offensive line's productiveness has helped the Bills become the league's No. 1 rushing offense and rack up 200-plus yards on the ground in four games this season. The success of the Bills (7-7) is directly correlated to wins because they are 6-1 when rushing for 100 yards or more. LeSean McCoy has been phenomenal at home with 10 rushing TDs in his last five games in Buffalo. He has four games of at least 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- the most by a player in a season since Chris Johnson accomplished the feat in six games in 2009.
The O-line has struggled in pass protection as Tyrod Taylor has been sacked more than any quarterback in the league (40 times). The unit has its work cut out with sack artist Cameron Wake coming to town. Wake has recorded nine sacks in the last eight games and forced nine fumbles since 2015. Wake presents a good matchup for right tackle Jordan Mills, who's given up eight sacks this year according to Pro Football Focus. Another matchup worth keeping an eye on is right guard John Miller against Ndamukong Suh.
The Falcons are fresh off winning last week's Offensive Line of the Week award but face a completely different caliber defense this time around. In an effort to stay ahead of Tampa Bay, Atlanta must continue its offensive domination against a Carolina Panthers defense that ranks third against the run, second in the red zone and is tied for the league lead in sacks (40). The Falcons have the NFL's top scoring offense and are the only team to average at least 30 points and 400 yards per game this season. They've put up five 40 burgers and are one shy of tying the league record for most in a season.
First- and second-down runs will be key and the Falcons will lean on Devonta Freeman. He's tied with LeGarrette Blount and David Johnson for first in the league with 21 rushing touchdowns since 2015 and needs just 70 yards to record his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season. He'll run behind Pro Bowl center and huge offseason pickup Alex Mack. But the big matchups in the trenches in this game are guards Chris Chester and Andy Levitre vs. Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are coming off their best rushing performance as Ty Montgomery led the way with 162 rushing yards in a win over Chicago. Montgomery and the Packers' ground game is benefitting from a more physical offensive line. The unit has helped the offense's vast turnaround over the last nine games, in which the team is averaging 27.7 points per game. But if Aaron Rodgers and Co. want to put up another big number on the scoreboard, they'll have to go through a Vikings defense that's looking to bounce back after a disastrous performance against the Colts. Despite last week's struggles, the Vikings still have the NFL's third-ranked overall and passing defense.
Rodgers had his worst outing of the season against the Vikingsin Week 2. But he's been one of the best quarterbacks in the league since Week 7, leading the NFL in passing TDs (22). Pass protection will be important and a lot weighs on the shoulders of left guard Lane Taylor and left tackle David Bakhtiari. They'll matchup against Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen.
These two teams have given football fans some of the best rivalry games over the years and I expect nothing different from this Christmas Day clash. The Steelers hold a one-game lead over the Ravens and are 13-2 in December since 2013. They've been on a roll behind Le'Veon Bell, who is second in the NFL in rushing yards per game (104.8). However, the Steelers' ground game will be challenged by a Ravens defense that's only yielded 82.1 rushing yards per game and allowed just seven rushing TDs all season.
This game is always a back-and-forth blood bath and protecting Ben Roethlisberger will be huge. Big Ben has been sacked 17 times this season behind this stellar unit that includes Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro, Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster and Alejandro Villanueva. DeCastro's matchup is defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, while Villanueva will go against Terrell Suggs, who is banged up but has eight sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 16 QB hits.
One thing going Pittsburgh's way is the Ravens' defense hasn't been quite as good on the road. It's allowed 122 more yards and 10 more points on the road compared to at home this season.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs are coming off a tough loss at home to the Titans but they still have a shot at winning the division. More important, Kansas City is looking to bury division opponent and defending Super Bowl champion Denver. No one wants to play the Broncos in the playoffs and their angry defense -- ranked first against the pass and second overall -- isn't going to hold back this week. The Broncos will challenge the Chiefs up front with game-wrecker Von Miller, who's been held without a sack the last two games. In their Week 12 contest, Miller had three sacks and six hurries. I'm curious to see if Mitchell Schwartz can keep Miller quiet with so much on the line. Coach Andy Reid is well aware of Miller's abilities and is sure to run a lot of screens, draws and read-option plays to slow the defensive star down.
The offensive line must protect Alex Smith and pave the way for Spencer Ware. There's nothing flashy about this offensive unit -- ranks 23rd in the league - but the lack of mistakes has been huge this season. A major bright spot has been rookie sensation Tyreek Hill and his ability to get in the end zone. He's totaled 10 touchdowns this season. Hill had the biggest game of his rookie campaign against Denver in Week 12 (nine receptions for 52 yards and a TD, plus an 86-yard kickoff return for a TD).