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 12 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Arizona Cardinals)- Jacksonville was yet again the week’s top play, going to town on the hapless Browns and racking up another fistful of sacks (five.) Blaine Gabbert played surprisingly well last week at Houston but I think he is going to be eating turf this Sunday. RB Adrian Peterson has been hit-or-miss, either clearing 130 yards (2 of last five) or failing to reach 30 (the other three.) The Jags have been surprisingly soft on the run (allowing 4.5 YPC,) but they’ve been so good against the pass it hasn’t mattered. Even if AP gets his (which is no guarantee) the overall returns should be great for Sacksonville.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags will be at full health and all over the Cards weak O-line.
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Green Bay Packers)- Whoo boy. Lamb, meet slaughter. The Steelers stymied the Titans en route to a 40-17 laugher and a D/ST five finish in ESPN standard. Their reward is an even easier matchup against Brett Hundley and the Packers, who just put up a goose egg against the Ravens. I’ve discussed ad nauseum Hundley’s ineptitude; the only new thing you need to know is that it doesn’t look likely to stop anytime soon. Start the Steelers with utmost confidence.
Injuries to Watch: Joe Haden remains out with a leg injury but the Steelers secondary looked no worse for wear in handling Tennessee and face an easier challenge this week.
3.) Baltimore Ravens (vs. Houston Texans)- The Ravens got fat last week against the Packers, turning them over five times and racking up six sacks to boot. The Texans have put up a ton of points, but much of that came when wunderkind Deshaun Watson was under center. Tom Savage has been pretty inept – he played well enough to win last week but will find tougher sledding against Baltimore. The Ravens have allowed the 3rd fewest points in the league through the first 11 weeks.
Injuries to Watch: The Ravens are currently without any key defensive injuries.
4.) Carolina Panthers (@ New York Jets)- When we last saw the Panthers, they were routing the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Cam looked great and the defense was energized from getting the offensive support that was lacking at the beginning of the year. This team looks like the one I was keen on pre-season and could be poised to make a run. I like them as a strong play this week against a Jets team that may be turning back into a pumpkin after suffering an embarrassing loss to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bucs two weeks ago. Carolina has allowed the fifth fewest points in the NFL and the fading Jets are unlikely to mount much of a challenge.
Injuries to Watch: The Panthers are at full strength.
5.) Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Cleveland Browns)- The Bengals held the browns to a lone touchdown back in week 4, and if anything the Browns have probably gotten a little worse since then. Cinci has been a solid play more often than not and make a great option this week against the hapless Browns who allow and average of 13.8 points to opposing D/STs in ESPN standard- the most in the league.
Injuries to Watch: Check on CB Adam Jones who missed last week’s tilt with the Broncos with a concussion.
6.) New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)- The Patriots are finally looking like the stingy unit I predicted they’d be before the season started. Last week, they extended their streak of holding opponents to under 20 points, an impressive run that dates back to week 5. They have established themselves as a high floor option and they get a really nice matchup this week against the Dolphins who still have no idea what they are doing offensively.
Injuries to Watch: Jay Cutler is still suffering from concussion symptoms. His presence would be a boon to the Patriots outlook due to his general ineptitude. I still love the Pats if Matt Moore draws the start, though.
7.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Chicago Bears)- The Eagles have been great in their last three and now draw a great matchup against Chicago and the fledgling Mitch Trubisky. Philly stonewalls opposing runners – only four teams allow fewer YPC to enemy backs and only the Texans have allowed fewer rushing TDs. This is bad news for Chicago as their only real hopes at generating offense rest on RB Jordan Howard being productive. Trubisky just isn’t ready to beat teams on his own yet. This could be a slaughter.
Injuries to Watch: Top CB Ronald Darby returned to action against Dallas and was a rampaging menace, racking up eight tackles, two passes defensed, and an INT. The Eagles strong play allowed him ample time to heal from his anke injury and he should reward their caution with excellent play in the secondary the rest of the way.
8.) Los Angeles Chargers (@ Dallas Cowboys)- The Chargers had a game for the ages last week, picking off hapless rookie Nathan Peterman five times and scoring two defensive touchdowns. This week they get the Cowboys. Dallas was once a formidable matchup for opposing D/STs but they have slowed considerably since losing Ezekiel Elliott. They have also really been hurt by injury to All-World Tackle Tyron Smith, who looks less than certain to suit up this Thursday. QB Dak Prescott has gotten a bit exposed, failing to clear 200 yards in each of his last two. IF Tyron Smith can’t go, stud pass rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram could eat Dak alive. The Cowboys recent offensive ineptitude give LAC a nice floor with upside for tons of sacks.
Injuries to Watch: Tyron Smith is the key here. He practiced on Tuesday, so there’s a good chance he could play. That would put a little bit of a damper on the Chargers outlook but I like them either way.
9.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Detroit Lions)- The Vikings have played exceptional real-life defense all year long, only ceding more than 20 points twice all year. Their fantasy returns have been good not great as they are just middle-of-the-road in generating sacks and turnovers and they have yet to score a defensive touchdown. The Lions rank as somewhat neutral in terms of matchup rating, but Minny’s play gives them a really high weekly floor.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikings don’t have any key injuries on defense.
10.) Detroit Lions (vs. Minnesota Vikings)- The Lions did it again last week, scoring their seventh defensive touchdown of the season against the Bears. Craziness. Defensive TDs are known to be fluky and they could dry up for Detroit at any moment, but it looks like they have some kind of a knack for it this year. The Vikings aren’t a great matchup for opposing D/STs in general but Detroit has performed well enough all year to give them a spin.
Injuries to Watch: Ziggy Ansah’s season has been a disappointment but he is a decent pass rusher who the Lions could be without. He missed last week with a back injury and might have a tough time getting ready for Week 12 with the Lions playing their annual Thanksgiving tilt.
11.) Oakland Raiders (vs. Denver Broncos)- This is kind of a weird one to figure. Theoretically, the Broncos should be a great matchup for an opposing D/ST. They are fading fast, are in the bottom third in the NFL of offensive scoring, and are going to be turning to their third QB of the season for this contest (Paxton Lynch.) But, the Raiders haven’t been great and could be in disarray following the early-week firing of defensive coordinator Ken Norton. I think they can score you some points against the inept Broncos but I don’t LOVE them this week.
12.) Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- The Falcons have been on a sack rampage in their last two, racking up eleven QB takedowns against the compromised lines of Dallas and Seattle. Jameis Winston remains out, so the Falcons will get Ryan Fitzpatrick who is perpetually on the verge of complete meltdown. This should be an easy win for ATL and the matchup offers their solid defense some nice scoring upside.
Injuries to Watch: All of the Falcons key defenders are available for this one.
13.) New Orleans Saints (@ Los Angeles Rams)- The Saints defense was on an extended hot streak prior to last week, where they fell flat on their faces against the Redskins, ceding 31 points and failing to rack up any turnovers. I am recommending them here based on their season-long performance, not their set-up this week. The Rams are no walk in the park but down this low the Saints are one of the better remaining options.
Injuries to Watch: Make sure top CB Marshon Lattimore is out there after injuring his ankle last week. His absence would be a big blow.
14.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. New Orleans Saints)- We are really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel now. From a season-long standpoint, the Rams have been excellent, the number five option in ESPN standard. But they flopped last week against Minnesota and now get what is probably the worst matchup for a D/ST in the Saints. Philosophically, I’d rather recommend a good defense with a poor matchup than a poor defense with a good matchup, so the Rams get the nod here. But I’m not expecting great things.
Injuries to Watch: The Rams are at full strength and they’ll need all hands on deck for this difficult matchup.
15.) Seattle Seahawks (@ San Francisco 49ers)- A few weeks ago, this would’ve been a no-brainer DOMINANT recommendation. But after losing Richard Sherman AND Kam Chancellor, I don’t think Seattle can really be trusted until we see an extended stretch of good defensive play. They just gave up 28 to the (admittedly much tougher to defend) Falcons. Their opponent this week makes them start-able but I am still wary of their going-forward prospects.
Injuries to Watch: Monitor the performance of the secondary given that it has suffered heavy casualties in recent weeks.
16.) Tennessee Titans (@ Indianapolis Colts)- The Titans defense has been really vanilla all year but they get the reco here facing a Colts team that gives up the 2nd most points to opposing defenses. Plain and simple.
Injuries to Watch: No injuries to report here.