Football's O-Line and Home/Road Disparity

Courtesy of Jim Feist

Years ago former NFL head coach John Madden was asked if he had one player to draft to build his team around, who would it be? Everyone expected him to take the top quarterback of the day, such as Terry Bradshaw or Roger Staubach. Instead he replied, "John Hannah," the Patriots Hall of Fame offensive guard.

Madden explained, "What good is having a star quarterback if you can't protect him and he's running for his life?" Madden could have been talking about the 2014 NFL season.

Where have all the offensive lines gone? It's been a season of injuries around the league, littered with downed QBs and star players. The common thread, it seems, is how offensive line injuries have rippled out to influence other areas of the team.

The Chargers: down to their fourth string QB. The Patriots had a terrible offense in September trying to find cohesion on the O-line. The Giants revamped their offensive line, then had a hot and cold stretch with an up and down offensive line, bottoming out when Eli Manning got swamped by the Eagles, 27-0.

At least the Dallas Cowboys got it right, stabilizing the line while leading the NFL in rushing. Coach Jason Garrett told everyone last preseason how the Cowboys would be striving for offensive balance and they finally have it.

Carolina is only in contention to repeat as division champs because everyone has been awful in the NFC South. The Panthers offensive line and backfield has been hit hard by injuries, derailing the offense. What good is a star QB if he's getting sacked four times per game? What good is a star running back if the offensive linemen are blocking while wearing roller skates? And what good is a star wideout if the QB doesn't have time to wait for him to get open?

Switching gears for a moment, take a look at some home/road breakdowns in the NFL. The Saints have struggled on the road again, but they are comfortable at home with their speed-oriented passing attack geared for their indoor track. New Orleans would love to have the same kind of home field edge they used in the 2009 playoffs on the way to the Super Bowl.

The Eagles have been great at home but closer to .500 on the road, the same for the Patriots in the AFC East. Even Jacksonville got its first win at home, 24-6 over the Browns, but continues to be a nightmare away from home. They've lost 34-17 at Philly, 41-10 at Washington, and 33-14 at San Diego.

The Bengals have been incredibly consistent in this regard for several years: Dominant at home, but very shaky on the road. During their 3-0 start, two of the games were at home. It wasn't until a 43-17 loss at New England the wheels started to fall off, continuing with a 27-0 no-show loss at Indy. Good luck in November, Marvin Lewis, as the Bengals play three straight road games! In fact, they play 4 of their last 6 games on the road.

The NFC South should take the cake as far as home/road disparity this season. The Saints and Falcons started with winning records at home through the first two months of the season, but were a combined 0-8 on the road. The Saints are 36-17-2 ATS at home.

In the AFC, even rebuilding Houston started 2-1 at home, but lost three of its first four road games.

They were in command on a Monday night at Pittsburgh last month, leading 13-0, before the roof fell in, stumbling and bumbling their way to a 30-23 turnover-filled loss. Some teams just react differently to adversity when fans are rooting for them or booing against them.

Finally in the AFC, the Patriots and Broncos will be fighting for the top seed in the conference, hoping to play the AFC title game at home. For totals players keep in mind that the over is 30-12-1 in the Broncos last 43 home games, while the Patriots are on a 36-17-1 run over the total in Foxboro.

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