The most overlooked unit to winning in the NFL playoffs is the offensive line. The offensive line gets ignored because they don’t have stats like touchdowns or yards. They are not sexy to watch like a quarterback. The only way an offensive line gets noticed is when something happens like a sack. The offensive line, especially the guards and the center, sets the physical tone for the team. Here are five interior linemen who will play in the wild card round of the NFL playoffs.
Kelechi Osemele (Houston Langham Creek), Oakland Raiders
Osemele is in his first year with the Raiders. The Raiders’ offensive line has been relatively healthy for the most part. Osemele is currently dealing with a knee injury and he is considered questionable against the Houston Texans. Assuming Osemele starts, he’ll play at left guard. Osemele has been a left guard for most of his five-year career. When he was a rookie in 2012, he started 16 games at right tackle for the Baltimore Ravens who went on to win the Super Bowl. The next three years, Osemele started at left guard. Osemele has helped the Raiders establish one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. The Raiders finished sixth in the NFL with 1,922 rushing yards, tied for fifth with 17 rushing touchdowns and tied for sixth with 4.4 rushing yards per carry.
Travis Swanson (Humble Kingwood), Detroit Lions
Swanson is part of a Lions’ offensive line that is young and shows potential. Although they are still a little inconsistent, they’ve helped the Lions convert 329 first downs as a team, which is 12th best in the NFL. Swanson is in his third season and he might be the best of the bunch. He is in his second season as the starting center and it’s the second time he’s made the postseason with the Lions. He was a rookie in 2014 when the Lions lost to the Dallas Cowboys. Swanson started the first 12 games this season before missing the last four games of the season with a concussion. The Lions are 1-3 in Swanson’s absence. He’s questionable against the Seattle Seahawks.
Weston Richburg (Bushland), New York Giants
The Giants have constantly shuffled their interior linemen and that has severely affected their running game. But instability does not apply to center Weston Richburg. Richburg has been a solid, durable center in his first three seasons. He started 15 games in each of his first two seasons, but he played left guard as a rookie and then moved to center in his second season and he’s been consistent at both positions. He was steady again this year at center by starting all 16 games and he hasn’t committed a penalty since the Giants’ third game of the season.
Lane Taylor (Arlington Martin), Green Bay Packers
Taylor is not related to the Packers’ Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor, but he’s made a difference with the Green Bay offensive line. Taylor was a backup his first three seasons, but he became a full-time starter at left guard in his fourth season. T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga have won a championship and they hope to win another with Taylor and David Bakhtiari at left tackle. The Packers don’t run the football frequently like other teams, but thanks to Taylor, they average 4.5 yards per carry, which is tied for the fifth best in the NFL. The Packers play the New York Giants.
Germain Ifedi (Houston Westside), Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks entered rookie Germain Ifedi at right guard in week four against the New York Jets and they went 8-4-1 for the rest of the season. Ifedi started all 13 games and he struggled with penalties. He committed seven penalties for 46 yards, although three of them occurred in one game and they were three false starts against the Los Angeles Rams. It was his first game against Aaron Donald so he had to be a little twitchy. The offensive line for the Seahawks has weakened their running game to 3.9 yards per carry. Some of that could be youth and inexperience and that certainly applies to Ifedi. However, Ifedi will play in his first playoff game and he has a chance to step up and become a leader that Seattle’s offensive line needs.