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 11 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Cleveland Browns)- This is an utter no brainer. You shouldn’t need my advice to tell you to start what has been the league’s top fantasy defense against a historically inept offense. But just in case you do: I hereby recommend it.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags are at full strength and will probably have some fun in this one.
2.) Los Angeles Rams (@ Minnesota Vikings)- Give some credit to Case Keenum for playing admirably and keeping the Vikes O afloat. He’s got moxie and some game but I don’t see him standing up well against the surging Rams, who have put up double-digit fantasy points in ESPN standard in five straight games. Start with confidence.
Injuries to Watch: Double-check on the status of LB Robert Quinn, who missed last week with an undisclosed illness. Give a bump if he goes.
3.) Kansas City Chiefs (@ New York Giants)- The Chiefs have been a pretty big disappointment from a defensive standpoint after finishing last season as a top-2 option, mainly due to gobs of fluky defensive touchdowns. The absence of Eric Berry certainly hasn’t helped. That being said, I love them this week against a Giants team who have completely bailed on the remainder of 2017. They literally just lost to the 49ers.
Injuries to Watch: I’ll like KC even more if LB Dee Ford is able to go as he is currently nursing a back injury.
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Tennessee Titans)- The Steelers have been a menacing force on defense all year long, as only the Jaguars have allowed fewer points and no team has allowed fewer yards. They were somewhat of a disappointment last week in barely squeaking by the pathetic Colts, but I view that as an aberration. The Tennessee Titans are a middle of the road offense who the Steelers should be able to contain easily at home.
Injuries to Watch: DL Stephon Tuitt returned in week 10 from a multi-week absence. CB Joe Haden will miss multiple weeks with a non-displaced fibula fracture. This is a big blow but I think the Steelers will at least be able to manage this easy matchup without him. Monitor the Steelers performance against the pass going forward, though. They will soldier on for now with Artie Burns and William Gay as their top two corners.
5.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Green Bay Packers)- Green Bay will likely make a nice streaming target for the rest of the year, as Brett Hundley hasn’t been able to approximate 1/100th of Aaron Rodgers’ performance, even in victories. Since taking over as the starter in week 6, Hundley has yet to clear 250 yards or multiple passing TDs. RB Aaron Jones will miss this contest as well. The Packers injuries should make it easy for Baltimore’s D to keep rolling. Coach Harbaugh’s crew has been the #3 Defense in ESPN standard and should be fresh coming off their bye.
Injuries to Watch: The Ravens are a full go for this nice matchup.
6.) New Orleans Saints (vs. Washington Redskins)- The Saints utterly stomped out the Bills, hanging a near-fifty spot on their defense while holding their offense to ten points and getting QB Tyrod Taylor benched. They should continue to roll against the infirmed Redskins who may not have enough healthy players to field a chess match.
Injuries to Watch: The Redskins will be without the recently IR’d Rob Kelley. Jordan Reed has not practiced this week and looks unlikely to play as well. The Skins got all of their offensive linemen back, but each are still likely hurting. Saints Defensive back Kenny Vaccaro missed last week with a groin injury but even if he continues to sit the Saints should be able to hold their own against the tandem of Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder, who currently lead the league in disappointment.
7.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ Dallas Cowboys)- The Cowboys offense looks considerably worse without megastud RB Zeke Elliott– Dallas only mustered 7 points last week against the schizophrenic Atlanta Falcons. Now that we can say with certitude that America’s running back will be suspended through week fifteen, I think the Cowboys can be picked on for defensive streaming purposes. I expect a nice game from Philly who had been on a roll prior to their week 10 bye.
Injuries to Watch: A big upgrade in the secondary should be expected with the long awaited return of top corner Ronald Darby likely to occur this week.
8.) Denver Broncos (@ Cincinnati Bengals)- For a while, the Broncos were playing solid real-life defense with less-than-desirable fantasy results. Patience looked prudent. But with the offense struggling for an extended period under abysmal QB play, the wheels finally fell off completely. The Broncos have now allowed the 5th most points in the league after getting pasted by Philly and New England. I did a double take when I saw that, as they spent a lot of the early season as one of the toughest teams to score against. There are clearly issues afoot, but I still think you can use them against a Bengals team that really isn’t scaring anyone. Andy Dalton and co. have managed more points than only the Dolphins and the Browns.
Injuries to Watch: All of Denver’s key defenders are healthy, making their recent struggles all the more confounding.
9.) Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Denver Broncos)- So, ABOUT that Denver offense. I think we can use just about any defense against them at this point, and the solid Bengals make a pretty decent play this week. Cinci has been a pretty bad team this year, but you can’t put it on their defense who have held tough with little offensive support. They have allowed the twelfth-fewest points thus far and are really tough on the run, ceding fewer than 4 YPC to enemy backs. This game might end in a scoreless tie.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals have no noteworthy injuries on defense.
10.) Arizona Cardinals (@ Houston Texans)- Ouch. I don’t think there are two more injury ravaged teams in the NFL – the collective injuries of these two squads reads like a Pro Bowl roster – JJ Watt, Whitney Mercilus, David Johnson, Deshaun Watson…Nevertheless, the Texans will be an incredibly attractive streaming target for the remainder of the season with turnover factory Tom Savage helming the offense. Savage coughed up the pigskin four times last week against the Rams. He’ll be without WR Will Fuller this week, further dooming his already grim prospects.
Injuries to Watch: The Cards suffered some casualties in last weeks bloodbath against the Seahawks, but they were on the offensive side of the ball.
11.) Minnesota Vikings (vs. Los Angeles Rams)- This is about where the options start to thin out. I’m usually happy to recommend the Vikings, but the Rams have been red hot and Jared Goff is breathing hot fire. The Vikings just gave up 30 points to a diminished Redskins offense, and things don’t get easier this week. You’re unlikely to have better options if you have been riding them and they likely won’t kill you. It is worth noting that Goff’s recent hot streak has come against some pretty lackluster opponents (@ NYG, vs Hou.)
Injuries to Watch: Everson Griffen was a surprise inactive last week. I expect him to play but downgrade the Vikes if he misses this weeks game.
12.) Detroit Lions (@ Chicago Bears)- The Lions took advantage of another cake matchup last week, smacking the Browns around to the tune of two turnovers, 4 sacks, and a defensive touchdown en route to a finish as the week’s D/ST 5 in ESPN standard. I expect another really nice showing against Mitch Trubisky, who just had his best game as a pro but is still not garnering any Dan Marino comparisons.
Injuries to Watch: Ziggy Ansah missed last weeks game but hasn’t been much of a factor all year long, recording just one sack since week 2.
13.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Atlanta Falcons)- All bets are off with the Seahawks moving forward, as they will be without superstar CB Richard Sherman the rest of the way. This is an inclusion based on the fact that they’ve been solid all year, but I am unsure as to how they will fare against the dangerous Falcons.
Injuries to Watch: It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks secondary fares without Richard Sherman, who has anchored this talented unit for years. Seattle has to hope Earl Thomas is ready to return (as early reports indicate.) The pass defense would be extremely compromised if Sherman AND Thomas are both unavailable.
14.) New England Patriots (@ Oakland Raiders)- Don’t look now, but the New England Patriots are obnoxiously rounding into form. They were great against Denver last week and have held opponents to under 20 points in five straight after an abysmally slow start to the season. They are a fine fill-out-your-roster type option against the good-not-great Raiders.
Injuries to Watch: Top CB Stephon Gilmore returned last week after a multi-game concussion related absence.
15.) Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Buffalo Bills)- I think the Chargers can put up a representative effort this week against the Bills, who will be installing a new QB in the form of 5th round rookie Nathan Peterman. Peterman is kind of an unknown at this point, and I expect LeSean McCoy to get more work than ever. The Bolts strengths lie more with getting after the QB than defending the run, as they are allowing 4.7 YPC to enemy RBs (3rd worst in NFL.) But if the Bills get too one-dimensional they can stack the box and force Peterman to throw. Joey Bosa and co. should play well enough to grab a few points for your fantasy squad.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers are fully healthy on the defensive side of the ball. QB Philip Rivers is in the concussion protocol, but I can’t imagine him not playing. If he does have to sit on Sunday, I wouldn’t like the Chargers as much. Kellen Clemens would be unlikely to provide any meaningful offensive support.
16.) Chicago Bears (vs. Detroit Lions)- Chicago rounds out the top 16 this week despite flopping in a nice matchup against the punchless Pack. They are a top ten unit this year in ESPN standard scoring and match up well against the Lions tendency to throw. Only four teams allow fewer points to opposing QBs than the Bears. The Lions may need to run the ball to find success, and they have exhibited utter ineptitude at doing so for most of the year. Only Miami, Arizona, and Cinci have accrued fewer rushing yards than Detroit.
Injuries to Watch: DE Akiem Hicks had an injury scare heading into last Thursday’s game but played through it and should be closer to full strength after getting ten days of recovery time.