Buffalo up 4
After missing about a month with an ankle sprain, right tackle Spencer Brown returned last week and played 100 percent of the snaps in the close loss against Minnesota. Brown is a rare athlete, and his recovery puts veteran David Quessenberry back in the swing tackle role. With the rest of the line healthy, Brown's return boosts the Bills' offensive line back to the top five. The Bills have a relatively tough matchup this week against the Browns' defensive front seven at home, but they should be an elite unit down the stretch.
New England up 8
Center David Andrews (concussion) returned to practice during the team's bye week and should be ready to play against the New York Jets this weekend. Andrews has been out of action for over a month since the game against Chicago during Week 7. While the Jets' defensive front is a difficult draw, Andrews' return should prevent defensive Quinnen Williams from running rampant, as he did three weeks ago against Andrews' replacement James Ferentz. While the Patriots' line still has issues at right tackle, with Isaiah Wynn benched and Yodny Cajuste (3 career starts) subbing for an injured Marcus Cannon, the return of their starting center is a piece of good news. This group ranks 15th in the latest tabulation.
Pittsburgh up 3
In the model, it's not often that the ability grades of these players change during the season. Usually, these players are evaluated each preseason, and their grade remains more or less the same until the next year. But in Pittsburgh, the improved play of left tackle Dan Moore cannot be denied. Moore has always been decent in the passing game, but now he also dominates the run game. His improvement has resulted in a rare mid-season ability upgrade. In other news, left guard Kevin Dotson (hip) did not practice, but he is included in the projection against Cincinnati this week, as he played 100 percent of the snaps last week against New Orleans. With most lines falling in the rankings, the Steelers' group is trending the other way, 19th in the current grades.
New Orleans down 15
There's a ton of injury news coming out of New Orleans, but none of it is good. Lewis Kidd got the start with left guard Andrus Peat (biceps) out against Pittsburgh. But Kidd also left the game and had to be replaced by Calvin Throckmorton. Pro Bowl center Erik McCoy (calf) was placed on injured reserve last week and is expected to miss at least a month. The team signed Josh Andrews off the waiver wire, but he has missed practice with an illness. Left tackle James Hurst was forced from the game with a concussion, and Landon Young replaced him. To top it off, All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk is also listed as not practicing this week with an illness. While the model expects Ramczyk to play this week against the Rams, all this shuffling has dropped the Saints' line fifteen spots, and they currently rank 20th in the latest grades.
Denver down 7
Starting right tackle Billy Turner injured his knee during the loss against Tennessee and was placed on the injured reserve. With Cameron Fleming still limited by a quad injury, Quinn Bailey (undrafted fourth-year player from Arizona State) replaced him in the game. Bailey is on track to possibly get his first career start this weekend at home against the Raiders. At center, rookie Luke Wattenberg (fifth-round, Washington) took the final 25 snaps last week for Graham Glasgow, who hurt his shoulder. Glasgow is still in the model, as he practiced this weekend in a limited fashion, but his true status is a guess for this weekend. With Turner out, the Broncos' line drops seven spots to 24th. If Glasgow can't go, they would drop further to the bottom five of the rankings.
Minnesota down 9
This is a tough downgrade, as I've been a fan of the play of the Vikings' offensive line this season. Still, left tackle Christian Darrisaw was forced from last week's win over Buffalo with a concussion. Darrisaw has not been practicing this week and seems unlikely to clear the league's protocol by the weekend. Former sixth-round pick from Oregon State, Blake Brandel, replaced Darrisaw for most of the second half and overtime. Brendel appears to be on track to get his first career start this week against an extremely active Dallas defensive front. Darrisaw has been playing at a borderline Pro Bowl level this season, and his loss drops the Vikings' line to 28th overall.
Chicago down 2
Right guard Teven Jenkins was a late scratch last week before the Lions' game with a hip injury, and he has not practiced this week. In his place, veteran Michael Schofield took 100 percent of the snaps at right guard. Schofield is more of a technician than Jenkins, but the younger player is the more impactful athlete. Schofield appears to be on track to get another start this week which would be his fourth of the season and 85th in his career. In other news, right tackle Larry Borom practiced all last week in full and was a healthy benching in favor of Riley Reiff. That's life in the NFL and why so many offensive linemen try to play through injury. You never know when the coaches will try something different with the lineup. With Jenkins likely out this week, the Bears' line drops to 29th before facing a vulnerable Atlanta Falcons' defensive front.
Tennessee down 5
Center Ben Jones was forced from last week's game against Denver with a concussion, and with the short week of rest, the team has already ruled him out for Thursday Night Football. In his place, journeyman Corey Levin will likely get the start against Green Bay. Jones is quietly one of the better centers in his conference, and the Titans' rushing attack could see a decline in efficiency without their on-field leader. The Titans' grade out 31st this week, down five spots.
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