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 10 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Indianapolis Colts)- The Steel City takes the top spot coming off their bye, going up against the Indianapolis Colts- the same Ponies who will now officially be rolling with Jacoby Brissett the rest of the way following the news of Andrew Luck‘s disappointing shutdown. Perhaps emboldened by learning the job was finally and truly his, Brissett played his butt off and had a legitimately good game this past weekend. However, he was going against a compromised Texans defense that was also undeniably deflated after having wunderkind QB Deshaun Watson unfairly stolen from them. Give credit where it’s due, but Brissett’s recent QB8 (pre-MNF) finish looks like an aberration- it was his first time all season clearing 300 yards and throwing multiple TDs. The Colts O remains one to pick on, and the Steelers will be up to the task.
Injuries to Watch: Key DE Stephon Tuitt has been dealing with nagging injuries all year and missed the Steeler’s last game but has a good chance to get back out there following the bye.
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)- Jacksonville continues to be just a rampaging menace, rolling along to the tune of 14 points in ESPN standard en route to crushing the Bengals. They are firmly locked into weekly must-start territory and have an outrageously soft schedule the rest of the way- LAC, @ CLE, @ ARI, IND, SEA, HOU, @ SF, @ TEN. I don’t think you could dream up a juicier slate. This might actually be the toughest test they face the rest of the way, and I still wouldn’t hesitate to plug them in. The Chargers are currently in the bottom third of the league in points scored.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags D is good to go.
3.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. Houston Texans)- The Rams coasted to an easy win against the Giants last week, stomping them out 51-17. The defense played well, forcing three turnovers and sacking Eli Manning twice. They have held opponents to under 20 points in 4 straight and have a good chance to make it five in a row against the now Watson-less Texans. Houston HC Bill O’Brien is apparently going to test the definition of insanity by running out Tom Savage again and expecting anything other than utter humiliation.
Injuries to Watch: CB Trumaine Johnson returned to action last week and proved his health by registering 6 tackles and an INT, per Rotoworld.
4.) Seattle Seahawks (@ Arizona Cardinals)- The Seahawks teed off last week on an incredibly depleted Redskins offensive line that was missing, well, everyone. They were able to sack Kirk Cousins six times. They get a nice matchup this week against the Carson Palmer-less Cardinals. Drew Stanton played OK against the 49ers, but it was more or less the Adrian Peterson show in San Fran as the veteran turned back the clock and rumbled to 159 yards on 37 carries. That may fly against the talent-thin 49ers, but expect AP to be running into brick walls all day against Seattle as the Seahawks will stack the box and challenge Stanton to beat them. He won’t.
Injuries to Watch: Check on the status of Seattle’s talented secondary – Kam Chancellor played but missed a lot of practice time last week with an ankle issue. Earl Thomas missed the game altogether with a hammy. They’ll be fine either way but give a boost to Seattle’s outlook if both of these guys are out there and healthy.
5.) New Orleans Saints (@ Buffalo Bills)- The Saints D stuffed the stat sheet against Tampa Bay, punishing the QB tandem of the temporarily diminished Jameis Winston and the perpetually diminished Ryan Fitzpatrick. I was slow to take them seriously, but I am on board now. The Saints defense is legitimately good for the first time in a long while. They have allowed the 8th-fewest points in the league. Only 6 teams have reeled in more INTs than the Saints (9), and they are getting after the QB (top ten in sacks) – a must in today’s league. That spells doom for T-Mobile (Tyrod Taylor – is there a cooler nickname?) as his scrambling, erratic style has led to him being sacked the 2nd most times in the league (26.) Expect DE Cameron Jordan and crew to bring the hammer.
Injuries to Watch: The Saints key defenders are all a full go.
6.) Detroit Lions (vs. Cleveland Browns)- It may have been a cheapie against an incredibly compromised Green Bay squad, but Detroit took care of business on MNF. They only scored 6 fantasy points in ESPN standard but got the win and this week get a somehow easier matchup against a team who is not focused on X’s and O’s but rather if one of their heads of personnel is actively trying to prevent the team from improving. This should be an easy win for the Lions and a double digit scoring affair against a Browns team that has been one of the most favorable to opposing D/STs all year long. When the coaching staff was discussing turnovers, the entire Browns QB stable thought they were talking about the dessert and decided to have a lot.
Injuries to Watch: Following the return of LB Paul Worrilow, the Lions defense is back to full health.
7.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Washington Redskins)- This would be a good play no matter what- a solid defense going up against a pretty vanilla O. However, with the Redskins training room currently overflowing with all manner of starters and backups, the Vikings could wind up posting great returns. With Jamison Crowder, Jordan Reed, Trent Williams, Shawn Lauvao, Brandon Scherff, and even K Dustin Hopkins all dealing with varying degrees of injury, the Redskins should make a nice streaming target until further notice. Everson Griffen‘s sack streak looks like a safe bet to continue.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikings D, unlike the Redskins O, is fully H.
8.) Carolina Panthers (vs. Miami Dolphins)- The Panthers eked out a win against Atlanta, with the defense holding tough but not posting a great fantasy line due to a lack of scoring/ turnovers. Still, the Panthers have been suitable more often than not and have rarely sunk you. Miami had one of their better offensive games of the season last week against the schizophrenic Raiders, but remain the league’s least prolific offense.
Injuries to Watch: The Panthers key defenders should all suit up for this one.
9.) New York Jets (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- The Jets handled the Bills easily in a game that wasn’t as close as it’s final score suggested. Continue to give credit to HC Todd Bowles for coaching this underdog squad into a position to make a run at a wild card berth. Now, with ten days to prepare against a TB squad that is banged up and will be without suspended WR Mike Evans, they make a nice back-end option.
Injuries to Watch: CB Morris Claiborne sat against the Bills but has a good shot to get back out there in the extended week.
10.) Cincinnati Bengals (@ Tennessee Titans)- The Bengals appear to be falling apart a bit in the midst of a frustrating season in which they are not quite good or awful. They have been about as middle of the road as it gets, but now get a nice run of games against some matchups that their above average defense should be able to exploit. It starts this week against the Titans who have some punch but have been far from world-beaters.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals should be at full health for this road tilt.
11.) Chicago Bears (@ Green Bay Packers)- Let’s take a look at the Bears defense, who have kind of flown under the radar as a sneaky-good unit. Through their week 9 bye, they have been the number 7 scoring option in ESPN standard. A lot of that goodness was accrued in their week 7 pasting of the Panthers, but there is some substance here. Only ten teams have allowed fewer points, and they play staunch run D- holding enemy backs to under 4YPC. Give them a shot against a GB squad that will continue to flounder with Brett Hundley running the show.
Injuries to Watch: The Bears have lost a lot of players to injury and suspension but continue to chug along with no new injuries to discuss.
12.) Buffalo Bills (vs. New Orleans Saints)- The Bills had been really good all year, so it was a shock to see them get kind of embarrassed by the upstart Jets on TNF. I’d be more than willing to give them a mulligan but I am wary this week with them lined up across from the Saints. Drew Brees and co. rarely give it up to opposing D/STs, only 5 offenses have been stingier to date. Hopefully, you can find better options, but if you’re in a pinch this week they may not kill you.
Injuries to Watch: CB E.J. Gaines remains out with a hamstring injury. Upgrade the outlook if he’s able to suit up.
13.) Los Angeles Chargers (@ Jacksonville Jaguars)- We’re starting to get a little desperate here, hence the desperate tier. The Jags have not been generous to opposing D/STs, but the Chargers defense is talented enough to hopefully at least pile up a few sacks. They have also allowed the 6th fewest points in the league, so this could be a low-scoring game.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers have no new injuries on the defensive side of the ball.
14.) Miami Dolphins (@ Carolina Panthers)- The Panthers are a great matchup, with only 7 squads allowing more points to opposing D/STs. Cam Newton has been known to take a sack or two (he’s been taken down 23 times already.)
Injuries to Watch: FS Nate Allen was lost to IR two weeks ago but the Dolphins have no new injuries to discuss.
15.) Green Bay Packers (@ Chicago Bears)- I don’t have a great handle on who I think will win this one, but I don’t anticipate there being a ton of fireworks. I’m forecasting a sloppy, low scoring game in Chicago between two currently inept offenses. Bears QB Mitch Trubisky hasn’t been given a lot to work with, but he has yet to clear 200 yards in his 4 starts and has accounted for twice as many turnovers as touchdowns (2:4 ratio.) RB Jordan Howard continues to chug along but is the only real threat the Bears have and the Packers have played decent run defense. Use them as a low-upside but low-downside dart throw if you are in dire straits.
Injuries to Watch: The Packers have no injuries of note on defense.
16.) New England Patriots (@ Denver Broncos)- The Broncos are imploding before our eyes and haven’t scored a touchdown since Peyton Manning was under center. Not really, but it kind of feels that way, doesn’t it? Their offense has been stuck in the mud for weeks, putting up 52 points (13 PPG) over their last 4. Only 7 teams have scored fewer points than the Broncos. The Patriots D still doesn’t have anyone confusing them with the Steel curtain, but have played better over THEIR last 4 and can fill out your lineup this week if you are lacking for better options.
Injuries to Watch: CB Stephon Gillmore should return from injury and should theoretically give a boost to the secondary.