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 9 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)- Sacksonville’s back, all right! Jacksonville comes off bye to stake their claim as the week’s top defensive play. I don’t think Cinci has enough on their O-Line to protect Andy Dalton from the relentless Jaguar pass rush, who bolstered their already strong front 7 by adding Bill’s DT Marcell Dareus via trade on their off week. Only Jacoby Brissett, Josh McCown, and Matt Stafford have been sacked more than the Red Rifle. Look for another deluge of QB takedowns.
Injuries to Watch: The Jaguars are at full strength coming off their bye week.
2.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Tennessee Titans)- The Ravens did not disappoint last week, doing what they’ve done all season: take advantage of a good matchup. They bageled the ‘Fins, confounding Miami’s limited offense and taking two Matt Moore INTs to the house. Tennessee is a step up from Miami but have been disappointing in their own right all year long, languishing in the middle of the pack in terms of points scored despite loads of theoretical offensive talent. Through 6 games, Marcus Mariota has produced a baffling 7 combined passing and rushing touchdowns. Start Baltimore with confidence in what should be a low scoring game.
Injuries to Watch: The Ravens are finally fully healthy on the defensive side of the ball.
3.) Los Angeles Rams (@ New York Giants)- When we last saw the Rams, they were brutalizing Carson Palmer, ending his season and hanging a goose egg on the poor Arizona Cardinals. After a week to heal up, they now are gifted with a matchup against the similarly lead-footed Eli Manning, and lining up across from the one offensive line that might be worse than Zona’s. Another great performance is on the horizon.
Injuries to Watch: Top Corner Trumaine Johnson sustained a concussion three weeks ago against the Jags but wound up not missing any time and should be raring to go following the Rams bye.
4.) Houston Texans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)- The Texans and the Seahawks played a classic game this past Sunday in which both teams agreed to not play defense at all. The Bizarro Texans now boast a wet noodle D and one of the league’s most lethal aerial attacks, and have not looked great since losing JJ Watt and Whitney Mercilus. However, the Colts may be just the remedy they need to get their defense back to respectability. Jacoby Brissett and co. continue to hemorrhage points to opposing D/ST units. The Colts have played eight games. If you remove those against the equally pathetic Browns and 49ers, they have only ceded less than 11 points one time. There’s also the chance that TY Hilton and Frank Gore are moved at the trade deadline. They aren’t your daddy’s Texans but can be counted on as a great option this week.
Injuries to Watch: Not necessarily an injury, but the Texans recently shipped out disgruntled tackle Duane Brown in exchange for some help in the secondary in the form of former Seahawk Jeremy Lane. He’s unlikely to start but does add some depth. Update: Jeremy Lane will NOT be heading to Houston as he failed his physical, forcing the Seahawks to complete the trade with additional draft picks instead. Also worth noting is the fact that TY Hilton and Frank Gore both remain with the Colts.
5.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Washington Redskins)- The Seahawks put up 11 points in ESPN standard last week, even in a game where they ceded 38 to upstart QB Deshaun Watson. They’ve been tough to figure – not necessarily dominant, not as suffocating as the Seahawks of old, but a really good play more often than not. This week they face an easier task against the decidedly middle of the pack Redskins, who just can’t seem to run the ball or develop any sort of offensive identity. Seattle specializes at shutting down the one thing Washington does well – pass. Only five teams have given up fewer passing TDs and passing completions than Seattle.
Injuries to Watch: Monitor FS Earl Thomas, who sustained a hamstring injury late against Houston. Downgrade slightly if he can’t go.
6.) Oakland Raiders (@ Miami Dolphins)- I’m not going to act like Oakland are a bunch of world-beaters, and their season has been a bit of a disappointment thus far compared to what they accomplished last year. But the Dolphins offense is flat-out pathetic. Matt Moore went out last week and made dolphins QB Jay Cutler look like cool Broncos era gunslinger Jay Cutler. Cutler was overheard commenting on Moore’s performance last week, as he beamed with pride, “I taught him everything I know.” The Dolphins have scored an utterly incomprehensible 92 points through 7 games, or 13 points per game. Last in the NFL. They do nothing well, residing in the bottom 5 in points, yards, yards per play, first downs, INTs allowed, and rushing yards. They have yet to score a rushing TD. Opponent alone gives Oakland a rock solid floor this week with the upside for more.
Injuries to Watch: CB David Amerson and SS Karl Joseph both missed last week against Buffalo. Upgrade if they go.
7.) New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- The Saints have been surprisingly successful this year by transitioning into a power running and defensive based squad that is nearly unrecognizable from the swashbuckling shootout artists from years past. After getting torn up in weeks 1 and 2 by the Vikings and the Pats, they have tightened up defensively and ceded more than 20 points only once. I like them a lot at home going against a Bucs team that is falling apart at the seams. QB Jameis Winston is now questionable to play as he continues to work through a shoulder injury, and a Ryan Fitzpatrick sighting is a possibility.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing to report here.
8.) Buffalo Bills (@ New York Jets)- Both of these NY teams have played scrappy, respectable football despite their respective GMs trying to ship out anyone and anything that isn’t nailed down. Buffalo’s most recent trade casualty – DT Marcell Dareus, who was moved to Jacksonville for draft picks. The Bills soldier on, a top ten fantasy defense through the season’s first half and coming off their best showing of the season, allowing a scant 14 points and piling up 4 combined INT/Fumbles with a TD to boot. Jets QB Josh McCown has held it together with guts and guile but doesn’t realistically have the talent or weapons to light up a defense, let alone one as stout as Buffalo’s. He has thrown the league’s fourth most interceptions and only Colts QB Jacoby Brissett has been sacked more times. I expect a low-scoring Thursday night slog.
Injuries to Watch: SS Jordan Poyer missed last week but has been practicing and could bolster the secondary if he returns.
9.) Detroit Lions (@ Green Bay Packers)- The Lions started out red hot and were the top fantasy defense through the season’s first five weeks. They have since given it up, surrendering big games to the Panthers, Saints, and Steelers. That being said, I wouldn’t be too scared to roll them out against the Brett Hundley-led Packers. Green Bay will be an offense to stream against until Hundley mounts any kind of threat – he threw for a putrid 87 yards in his first start. He could improve as he gets more time with the 1s but I’m not shying away this week.
Injuries to Watch: LB Paul Worrilow has missed several weeks with a sprained MCL but could theoretically be nearing a return.
10.) Denver Broncos (@ Philadelphia Eagles)- Through 8 weeks, the Broncos are only the 13th ranked fantasy D/ST despite playing exceptional real-life defense, continuing to be plagued by a lack of touchdowns, turnovers, and offensive help. They are exceedingly tough to move the ball on, be it on the ground (fewest rush yards allowed) or the air (third fewest pass yards allowed.) That gives them the floor of a set and forget weekly starter. But if you drafted them as the first or second defense off the board, you’ve been rightfully disappointed. I’m not afraid to use them against the surging Eagles, but I’m not expecting them to break out of their season-long fantasy malaise. Expect modest returns.
Injuries to Watch: Shane Ray returned last week and as such the Broncos defense is now at full strength.
11.) Cincinnati Bengals (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)- Cinci has been stalwart all year, with the lone exception being a spanking handed down by their eternal foil- the Steelers. I’m just not incredibly keen on starting them against a Jaguars team that a.) probably won’t let the Bengals offense score all that much, b.) doesn’t typically allow great performances to opposing D/STs and c.) could be getting human Mack truck RB Leonard Fournette back from injury. In short – still an OK option but likely to have better weeks than this one.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals D is a full go.
12.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Denver Broncos)- The Eagles are coming off one of their best performances of the season and have been a solid back-end option all year long, lacking a ton of upside but rarely hurting you and tied to an elite offense. They make for a decent start against a Broncos offense that has ground to a complete halt in the face of injuries and inefficiency.
Injuries to Watch: Top corner Ronald Darby has resumed practicing and will provide a significant boost to the Eagles secondary once he returns – check his status throughout the week and upgrade Philly’s outlook once he’s scheduled to play.
13.) Miami Dolphins (vs. Oakland Raiders)- The Dolphins defense is respectable and legitimately good in some aspects, but fall into the desperate tier given the fact that they receive no help from their offense. They may keep this one from being a laugher but don’t possess a ton of upside. They’ll at least have some extra time to practice after getting drubbed last Thursday.
Injuries to Watch: FS Nate Allen departed last week with a calf injury and didn’t come back, but it may be because he was sick of watching Matt Moore throw pick six after pick six. Check his status and give a boost if he goes.
14.) New York Jets (vs. Buffalo Bills)- The Jets continue to play the little engine that almost could, falling just short of victory for three straight weeks while playing competently yet unspectacularly. Give credit to HC Todd Bowles for squeezing some solid play out of a team that looked like an absolute dog coming into the season. You could do worse than using them against the Bills on a short week. I don’t see either team lighting it up this Thursday night. Be wary, though – the Bills have only gifted opposing D/STs double digit points twice.
Injuries to Watch: Top CB Morris Claiborne didn’t practice on Monday, nursing a foot injury. He generally shadows opposing number 1 receivers- something the Bills don’t really have. His absence would hurt but perhaps not as much as if the Jets were facing a team with scarier downfield weapons. Update: The Bills acquired WR Kelvin Benjamin at the trade deadline. His impact may not be immediate but he definitely strengthens the Bills WR corps and immediately becomes their top option in the passing game.
15.) Tennessee Titans (vs. Baltimore Ravens)- The Titans can be used in a pinch against the right opponent, and the low-octane Baltimore Ravens qualify. They have scored double-digit points in ESPN standard in two of the last three weeks, will be at home, and should be fresh coming off their bye. Give a slight boost if Ravens QB Joe Flacco sits due to his concussion.
Injuries to Watch: SS Johnathan Cyprien has been out since week 1 with a knee injury that was clearly more serious than the team either understood or let on. Give a boost if he can go but his status remains up in the air.
16.) Arizona Cardinals (@ San Francisco 49ers)- The Cardinals defense has been nothing special, and the 49ers give up surprisingly few fantasy points to opposing Ds for a team with so few offensive threats. But the 9ers are unlikely to light it up, giving Arizona a decent floor to fill out your lineup. Adding to the appeal is the fact that San Fran will be using some practice time installing a new QB (and attempting to do so in a hurry) after trading a 2nd round pick to New England for Jimmy Garappolo late Tuesday night. C.J. Beathard will start but now has the former Pat breathing down his neck.
Injuries to Watch: The Cardinals defense is currently at full strength.
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