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 16 and Week 16 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 16 winner is ...
1) Pittsburgh Steelers
No Antonio Brown? No problem. Pittsburgh rolled into Houston without the all-everything receiver and still averaged a healthy 5.7 yards per play in a 34-6 blowout of the Texans. The Steelers excelled in two crucial areas: third down (7 for 12) and red zone (four touchdowns -- and two field goals -- in six trips). And the offensive line, which doesn't always receive the credit it deserves as an exceedingly well-rounded and deep unit, certainly proved its worth against Jadeveon Clowney and Co.
While Le'Veon Bell didn't take over this game with No. 84 on the sideline like many anticipated, Pittsburgh did eclipse the century mark on the ground. The Steelers got fantastic run blocking from the right side of the line: RG David DeCastro and RT Marcus Gilbert, who was fresh off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing substances. And run blocking wasn't Gilbert's only successful pursuit on Monday ...
The Steelers' big boys up front kept Ben Roethlisberger squeaky clean. Pittsburgh's O-line didn't allow a single sack or QB hit, yielding just one hurry over the entire 60 minutes of action. This allowed Big Ben (20 of 29 for 226 yards and two TDs against zero INTs) to efficiently pick apart Houston's secondary by leaning on JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant in Brown's absence. Gilbert looked stout in his first game since Week 11, while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva enjoyed a bounce-back game with zero pressures allowed. Lastly, B.J. Finney did a fine job filling in for Ramon Foster (concussion) at left guard, once again exhibiting the Steelers' enviable depth up front.
All in all, Pittsburgh's offensive line brought energy into NRG Stadium and set the tone in a four-score smackdown of the home team.
The rest of the top O-lines from Week 16
2) New England Patriots: It took a little bit for the offense to get going in Buffalo, but by day's end, the Patriots had 411 yards of offense, including a whopping 193 on the ground. And although this game went to halftime with the score knotted at 13-13, New England wound up rolling to a 37-16 final tally.
With Rex Burkhead and James White on the shelf, Dion Lewis recorded his second career 100-yard rushing game (24 carries for 129 yards and a score). Everyone talks about how pleasantly interchangeable all these backs are -- well, it sure doesn't hurt when the line is blocking like this. The Pats fielded the No. 1 run-blocking unit in Week 16, according to Pro Football Focus, with 80 of their nearly 200 rushing yards coming before contact. Left guard Joe Thuney, a third-round pick in 2016, was a force in the ground attack, while RG Shaq Mason and RT Cam Fleming continue to improve their physical play on the right side of the line.
Todd Gurley led the way with another MONSTER game, rushing (22 carries for 118 yards) and receiving (10 catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns). Something tells me his fantasy owners were grateful ...
Of course, those two have received praise all season. The offensive line? Not so much. It still boggles the mind how zero members of this unit earned a Pro Bowl bid -- LT Andrew Whitworth and LG Rodger Saffold both deserve the honor. On Sunday, the O-line yielded just one QB hit and zero sacks. And Rams running backs averaged a robust 3.13 yards before contract -- the second-best mark in the NFL in Week 16, according to Pro Football Focus.
4) New Orleans Saints: Things can get messy at times down in NOLA, but the Saints rode their two star floats (Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara) while following grand marshal Drew Brees in a 23-13 victory over the rival Falcons, thus clinching their first playoff berth since 2013. Brees became the fastest (and third ever) quarterback to reach 70,000 passing yards, while Ingram increased his career-best rushing TD total to 12.
Still, the Saints' line has been the Cinderella story of this offense. Rookie RT Ryan Ramczyk continues to play beyond his years, while the injury-induced rotation on the left side has admirably maintained a high level of production. On Sunday, Ramczyk, RG Larry Warford and C Max Unger stifled their Falcon foes, refusing to even allow a single presure. The group as a whole didn't give up a sack, though left guard Andrus Peat was a bit suspect, yielding one QB hit and three hurries.
One guy who deserves special attention: right guard Matt Skura. Undrafted out of Duke in 2016, Skura spent all of last season on the practice squad. In 2017, he's logged 11 starts -- and just chalked up a dominant, pressure-free outing on Sunday.