Updated: Jun 28, 2020
People say ‘the game is won in the trenches,’ but what does that really mean? How important can the offensive and defensive lines really be? Well, let’s look at the offensive side of the ball (stats via footballoutsiders.com).
According to their ‘Adjusted Line Yards’ metric, The top 5 teams in this metric were the following five programs [playoff teams italicized].
New Orleans Saints— 4.92
Dallas Cowboys— 4.91
Baltimore Ravens— 4.73
Tennessee Titans— 4.65
Green Bay Packers—4.6
Note: The Dallas Cowboys had the #1 ranked offense in the NFL this past season and did not make the playoffs, their issue was not one of talent or skill, and rather it was the managing of that talent in MY opinion. But regardless, they will be on most of the lists, as their offense was incredibly successful, it just happened to not turn into playoff success this year
The Vikings, 49ers, and Patriots, who were also playoff contenders were also members of the top 10 on this list.
Now the next question is, well yes successful teams run the ball well, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are successful BECAUSE they run the ball right?
Maybe, maybe not.
The following is the list of the top 5 teams in 2019 in terms of rush play% according to teamrankings.com.
San Francisco 49ers 51.39%
Tennessee Titans 48.79%
Minnesota Vikings 48.30%
Indianapolis Colts 46.36%
Now, these teams have great personnel for running the ball, but you have to think this is also because they have built themselves this way and have their scheme set towards it to maximize efficiency, and this furthers the positive effort rushing the ball. The Ravens, 49ers, and Titans are also the top 3 in the NFL in rushing yards/game. So although they are rushing the ball more than every other team, they are getting the results that one would expect from prioritizing that part of their game.
So now we have established the importance of the offensive line, let's imagine what the NFL season would look like if each matchup was determined by the strength of their offensive lines. Now it is worth noting that these stats are from the performance of these offensive lines last season, so this in no way predicts or accurately represents where these offensives lines may be at going into this next coming season.
If each game was determined by the strength of the offensive lines (from last season) the standings at season end would look like this.
NFC EAST- COWBOYS
NFC SOUTH- SAINTS
NFC WEST- 49ERS
NFC NORTH- VIKINGS
NFC WILD CARDS
AFC EAST- PATRIOTS
AFC SOUTH- COLTS
AFC WEST- RAIDERS
AFC NORTH- RAVENS
AFC WILD CARDS
As the Saints finished with the number 1 offensive line last season (according to these metrics) it stands to reason that they would win the Super Bowl based on this system.
We have established how important the offensive line and the run game is in the current NFL, and while you can’t strictly base game predictions on the offensive line, it is certainly a strong indicator of a well-run team. All I’m saying is keep an eye out on the offensive line rankings throughout the season before you place your bets.