I've tried to say, to whoever would listen, that the easiest way to see if a team will be good the following year or come playoff time is to look at how the offensive line is playing.
Most NFL quarterbacks and running backs differ slightly in talent and skills, and it's the talent around them, in this case the players in front of them, that allow them to thrive and succeed statistically and in the team's record.
Here's a look at how the offensive line numbers have impacted the season so far and why they tell a much better story than the regular stats that fantasy fans consider important.
-31 sacks, 53 QB hits so far
No question the worse offensive line the NFL this year, it's actually more surprising that Cutler's only been seriously hurt once this year because of how poorly they've played. Again, while I won't delve into the other parts of the offense as a result, Cutler has a legitimate reason to be throwing to his receivers early and making quick, sometimes poor decisions when you're getting hit around two times at least per quarter.
-37 QB hits, 10 sacks, one rush TD
All the media ever talks about is how many "weapons" the Cowboys have and that it's the penelties and Tony Romo's fault for the team's failures this season. Well judging by these numbers Romo hasn't played half bad this year.
He's been close to the tops in most statistical catagories, despite having to deal with the fifth most quarterback hits in the NFL thus far. Despite the constant pressure and hits, he's only been forced to 10 sacks. Also, the fact that the offensive line can't win red-zone battles hurts a team's chances, and one touchdown this year shows that the offensive line can't finish off drives.
San Francisco 49ers
-46 QB hits, two rush TDs
The drafting of two offensive lineman in the first round this past year's draft and the talent of Joe Staley meant that Alex Smith had a great chance to succeed this year, as well as Frank Gore. However, only the Bears putrid offensive line has beaten the 49ers in quarterback hits.
The offensive weapons haven't clicked with the quarterbacks, and having both little chemistry and little time in the pocket doesn't give the 49er quarterbacks a chance to really succeed.
-2.9YPC, 17 sacks
In the past years of Mike Shanahan in Denver, the numbers for the rushing game were among the tops in the league and always a consistent 4.0 or above. Granted the Broncos have had many injuries at the running back position, but under three yards a carry is nothing short of embarrassing. Josh McDaniels is quickly running the newest version of Mike Martz's offense: Great passing numbers, lots of sacks, poor rushing units, and too many losses.
-36 QB hits, 27 negative run plays (13 from the left side)
In the preseason, one of the strengths of the Redskins was supposed to be this renewed offensive lines. Top five pick Trent Williams was set to man the left side, while traded-for Jamaal Brown from the Saints was slated to be the right tackle to give this team a great rushing attack under Mike Shanahan and time for Donovan McNabb.
McNabb and running back Ryan Torain have had solid starts for this team despite the mentioned QB hits and the league leading 27 negative runs plays, half of which were from the left side where Trent Williams has been hit hard with injuries.
-35 QB hits, 15 sacks
-34 sacks, 83 QB hits in 2009
Obviously the injury to Brett Favre makes these stats worse and more impacful than in 2009, but based on last year's success record-wise and this year's near playoff bubble burst, the offensive line can't be a crutch for the team's frustrations. All of their numbers are par, so it's on Brett Favre and these offensive weapons to pick up the slack
San Diego Chargers
-26 sacks in 2009
-20 sacks allowed thus far
With the Chargers now at 2-5 and at the bottom of the AFC West, it's going to be tough to rebound this year. But, if there is any good news for this team, it's that Marcus McNeil is back and starting to give this team an improved protection front. This team needs to give Phillip Rivers a chance to make some plays.
-15 sacks in 2009, 5.2 YPC
-15 sacks so far, 4.3 YPC thus far
The Titans have played better than many expected this season so far, thanks in large part to the play of Vince Young and the defense. But, if this team hopes to stay in the playoff hunt with Young or Kerry Collins in at quarterback, they'll need to do a better job protecting the quarterback as well as give Chris Johnson a chance to at least get close to half of his preseason goal, 1,250 yards.
Tampa Bay Bucs
-13 negative run plays this year
While Josh Freeman's mobility has overridden the mediocrity of the pass protection the Bucs, the ability of the line to be very consistent in the run game has allowed this team to keep drives alive and keep the time of possession numbers in the Bucs favor.
They have the lowest number of negative run plays in the NFL this year so far, and with Josh Freeman being a game finisher and the line being a consistent run game force, this team will get closer to living up to Raheem Morris's "best team in the NFC" statement.
Kansas City Chiefs
-45 sacks in 2009
-Five sacks thus far, five YPC
What a change from one year to another for the Chiefs even though they made minimal changes, Charlie Weis and the offensive line coaches deserve much recognition for the Chiefs success this year. They allow the least amount of sacks in the NFL, only five so far, and one of the best yards per carry numbers in the NFL, which gives Matt Cassell the best chance to keep this team atop the AFC West.
If they can keep these numbers up, they are for real and could be an adequate playoff team.
-Six sacks allowed thus far
-Tops in the NFL last year
As usual, the Colts have done a great job in pass protection. Whether it's because of the coaching, the lineman's skill set, or most likely the preseason dissection of Peyton Manning, this line does a great job year to year with different players in giving this offensive passing game a chance to succeed.
The running game looks as though it won't be the worst in the league like last year, as well, judging by the few big games by Joseph Addai so far.
New York Jets
-Nine sacks, 12 QB hits, 4.9 YPC
The most impressive offensive line in the NFL so far in my opinion, this is the reason, in my opinion, the Jets are the best team in the NFL. It's been easy for Mark Sanchez to succeed this season so far when he's only getting hit around once a game.
Also, we've seen the emergence of LaDanion Tomlinson with his new team, and while he's been very impressive, it's been the holes that have been opened up and the consistent push by the line that have allowed for huge gains and great games by this Jets running back crew.