Throughout the year, we will be providing our take on the top 16 defenses each and every week, based on matchup, injuries, and recent performance. They will fall into the following tiers:
DOMINANT – I don’t believe that there are any true “set-and-forget” options at the defensive position, as there are scarcely ANY such players at any position in the NFL. However, these groups are as close as you’re going to get. They can be started with supreme confidence most weeks and will just require the odd benching to avoid Foxboro or Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood as I’ve conveniently renamed the whole of Green Bay, Wisconsin. Update: Mr. Hundley’s Hometown?
DISTINGUISHED – This is the high-end streamer tier. They will probably be added and dropped multiple times throughout the course of the season, getting the green light for plus matchups and benched at the first sight of danger. Some lunkhead in your league following the three defense strategy may even draft one or two of these units, but most will likely be available on the wire to start the year. Careful, intelligent management and usage of options in this tier will yield positive results more often than not. There will likely be a few breakouts in the upper half of this group, and this is the tier I’d be looking to draft my defense from.
DEFENSIBLE – Defensible, get it? You could certainly pick a starter from this tier, preferably against a weaker offense at home but these squads are by no means a safe bet. Cover your eyes, hold your nose, and maybe even get out of the house. Do your blood pressure a favor and just check the score after the game. Go take in that indie film you’ve been wanting to see!
DESPERATE – These are the teams you could probably throw on some pads and score against. The dregs of the league reside in this tier. These teams should be started in only the most extreme circumstances (you lost a bet, you hate yourself, you are playing in a bizarre league that rewards awful defensive play) but for the most part will be available on the wire all year long, and for good reason. Below are our ranks for week 14 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) New England Patriots (@ Miami Dolphins)- The Patriots have been remarkably reliable over the last eight games, consistently stifling opponents offenses while terrorizing the opposing defense. Last week was no different with New England holding division rival Buffalo to a scant 3 points. This matchup is similarly juicy against the Miami Dolphins, who are allowing the 4th most points to opposing D/STs.
Injuries to Watch: DE Trey Flowers is New England’s top pass rusher by the sack metric (leads the team with 6) and missed week 13. Give them a bump if he makes it back onto the field.
2.) Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Washington Redskins)- Los Angeles continued their torrid stretch against the Browns, holding Cleveland to ten points and racking up a combined 5 sacks/turnovers. The ferocious Joey Bosa has been a menace since the second he set foot on the gridiron last year, and currently trails only 4 players in the sack department. This matchup is ripe for exploitation. The ‘Skins do have a measure of aerial firepower when they are fully healthy but only Matt Stafford and Jacoby Brissett have been sacked more than Kirk Cousins. The Redskins give up the 8th most points to opposing defenses. 12.2% of their offensive drives end in a turnover, placing them squarely in the bottom third of the league. Don’t shy away from this one. It might not jump off the page as a great matchup at first glance, but it is.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers will be at full strength as they continue to claw for a playoff berth.
3.) Green Bay Packers (@ Cleveland Browns)- The fact of the matter is the poor Browns just can’t get out of their own way and make for an excellent streaming target no matter who they are playing against. They may gain a little bit of offensive juice as the utterly ridiculous Josh Gordon (4 catches for 85 yards on 11 targets in his first game action in years) continues to round into form, but I think they are still going to be a squad to pick on through the end of the year no matter what. The Pack are still on the fringes of contention and will probably bring it this game.
Injuries to Watch: Clay Matthews returned to action last week after missing week 12, a good sign for Green Bay.
4.) Buffalo Bills (vs Indianapolis Colts)- Buffalo looked to be a surprise contender through the week 6 bye as they were playing well beyond expectations. The wheels have since completely fallen off, as the team has been mired in poor play and quarterback controversies with Tyrod Taylor and Nathan Peterman. Still, I think they have enough to put up a great game against one of 2017’s weekly punching bags, the Indianapolis Colts. Indy gives up gobs of sacks and has only yielded single digit points to opposing D/STs 4 times this year. Insane! Start the Bills with confidence against this bottom-five offense.
Injuries to Watch: The health of Tyrod Taylor is pretty big- game script will be much more positive if he goes. If Nathan “Five Interceptions” Peterman is forced into action, the outlook for the Bills is a little bleaker. Even still, they would probably funnel the offense through LeSean McCoy and give the Bills defense a good chance to tee off on Brissett.
5.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Seattle Seahawks)- Sacksonville is undeniably an elite defense but they get a really, really tough test this week against a ‘Hawks team allowing the 8th-fewest points to enemy D/STs. Working in the Jags favor is the fact that Seattle does tend to give up a decent amount of sacks – their mediocre O-Line may be overmatched by Calais Campbell and co. This probably won’t be the Jags best game but they are a good enough defense to warrant usage even in the toughest of matchups.
Injuries to Watch: Give a boost to the Jags if LB Telvin Smith is able to return from his concussion as he is an asset in coverage.
6.) Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Chicago Bears)- Cinci will likely be feeling it after Monday’s tilt with Pittsburgh, one of the more brutally violent NFL contests in recent memory. Lucky for them, the Bears represent a cushy landing spot. Mitch Trubisky is managing games decently well in his rookie season but really lacks the chops right now to do much else- he has cleared 200 yards passing only once in his eight starts. That’s pretty bonkers. Expect a solid, workmanlike effort from the Bengals – something they’ve been delivering for most of the season.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals have a few critical pieces in doubt for this game. Vontaze Burfict was back-boarded off after a dirty hit from the since suspended JuJu Smith-Schuster. Burfict has levied plenty a dirty hit in his day but this was still awful to see. It is incredibly unlikely that he plays, and that’s a significant loss. The ageless Adam Jones exited with a groin injury- give this defense a bump if he’s able to play. Finally, safety George Iloka will likely be ineligible to play following the suspension he received for a helmet-to-helmet on Antonio Brown. Luckily, the Bears don’t have the downfield threats to take advantage of these potential absences in the secondary.
7.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Baltimore Ravens)- The Steelers will also be nursing wounds from the aforementioned slugfest, but are a solid unit and get a relatively non-threatening Baltimore squad. I expect this to be a pretty low scoring game with PIT coming out on top. The 7-5 Ravens have positioned themselves nicely on the strength of their defense- their offense is currently the 30th ranked unit in the league.
Injuries to Watch: The Steelers are still without Joe Haden, but that likely won’t matter much against the Ravens near-league worst passing “attack.” Perhaps of more consequence is the status of stud LB Ryan Shazier, who might have to watch this game from the hospital after Monday night’s war with Cinci. He’ll certainly be missed but I think the Steelers will hold up without him.
8.) New York Jets (@ Denver Broncos)- Trevor Siemian returned to action as the starter last week and did his best Trevor Siemian impression, “Trevor-Siemianing” the ball three times into the hands of Miami defenders. Sadly, the Broncos don’t really have any other choice but to keep rolling him out there. The feisty Jets make for a decent play against this floundering Denver squad that has now allowed the MOST points to opposing defenses after getting embarrassed by the Dolphins.
Injuries to Watch: Trevor Siemian’s self-worth went to IR last week, but the Jets are looking fully healthy.
9.) Seattle Seahawks (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)- Seattle has held up reasonably well after losing Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman, giving up only 23 points over the past two weeks. Jacksonville is no walk in the park but Seattle may be able to stuff the box against Leonard Fournette and force Blake Bortles into some mistakes. Bortles has been completely neutered as a passer this year, as Jacksonville has ridden a strong run game and defense to their current 8-4 record. Things could get ugly if bunglin’ Blake needs to take on a bigger role – a distinct possibility since only six teams allow fewer YPC to enemy backs than Seattle.
Injuries to Watch: Seattle has been ravaged by injury with several key players heading to IR but they have no new injuries to report.
10.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Carolina Panthers)- BIG PURP as I have never called them played exceptionally well against a dangerous Atlanta team last week, holding last year’s NFC Superbowl representatives to a scant 9 points. This is a good defense, plain and simple. They have yet to score a defensive touchdown, which keeps their overall fantasy production looking modest but few squads have a higher weekly floor.
Injuries to Watch: Mike Zimmer’s squad is at full strength on the defensive side of the ball.
11.) Carolina Panthers (vs. Minnesota Vikings)- Carolina got punched in the mouth last week by the Saints, and this week will be no easier. They get a really tough matchup against Minnesota, who have given up the 3rd-fewest points to opposing D/STs this year. They don’t have a ton of upside but their decent floor earns them the nod here. Minnesota may find some difficulties in moving the ball against the Panthers 6th ranked defense. Carolina has been equally stout against the pass and run. Look for this to be a low scoring war of attrition, and probably one of the week’s better games.
Injuries to Watch: Carolina is a different beast with superman LB Luke Kuechly on the field, and he looks like he’ll definitely be out there.
12.) Tennessee Titans (@ Arizona Cardinals)- It seems like every week the Titans are getting another delicious cupcake. They’ve been eminently usable lately in the face of some pathetic competition, racking up a combined 21 points over the last two against the Colts and the Texans. Feel free to roll them out against the equally low-octane Cardinals who have been completely derailed offensively by injuries to David Johnson and Carson Palmer. Only five teams give up more points to opposing D/STs than Bruce Arians’ boys.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing noteworthy to report here.
13.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Pittsburgh Steelers)- Baltimore has been so good this year. I feel dirty ranking them in the desperate section, but I feel the situation dictates it. For one, they are on the road @ the Steelers, which is about as unfavorable of a matchup as you can get. Additionally, they will be without beastly CB Jimmy Smith, who is not only now out for the year with a torn Achilles but also serving a PED suspension. His loss is MASSIVE as he was playing phenomenal cover corner. Smith hadn’t allowed a touchdown in coverage all season (per Pro Football Focus courtesy of Rotoworld.) The Ravens probably don’t have any hope of containing Antonio Brown with Smith in street clothes.
Injuries to Watch: Monitor the play of the secondary as Smith’s absence may affect Baltimore’s defensive production not only this week but for the remainder of the season.
14.) Detroit Lions (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- Detroit has cooled considerably since their hot start and got utterly trounced in week 13 by the Ravens but make for a decent dart throw against the turnover prone Jameis Winston. The Bucs may be without RB Doug Martin, another plus. Hope one of Winston’s errant throws leads to another touchdown for Detroit, as the Lions have been pretty adept this year at scoring on defense.
Injuries to Watch: The Lions have no new injuries of note.
15.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ Los Angeles Rams)- I really don’t know what to make of this game, but I feel both Philly and LAR merit inclusion on the list due to their season long performances. This game definitely has shootout potential, limiting the upside of Philly on the defensive side of the ball. Down this low, you are unlikely to have better options.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing worth mentioning.
16.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)- This is about as lukewarm a recommendation as I can give, but I simply don’t think there are many better options at this point. I’m not expecting a ton, but LA has the talent on defense to keep Carson Wentz from going bananas. If you feel inclined to use a weaker defense with a better matchup, I couldn’t argue. The Texans (vs. 49ers), Bears (@ Bengals), and Cowboys (@ Giants) all offer similar upside. The Saints and Falcons (playing against each other this week) have both played great defense in spurts this season, but there is no way in hell I’d use either of them during what is likely to be a touchdown bonanza this Thursday.
Injuries to Watch: Give the Rams a slight boost if ILB Alec Ogletree is able to play after leaving last weeks game with a hyperextended elbow.
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