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 13 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@Indianapolis Colts)- Jacksonville continues to roll along as the year’s breakout fantasy D/ST. Their opponent, the Colts, just gave up eight sacks to Tennessee. Jacksonville continues to pace the league in sacks. Enjoy.
Injuries to Watch: LB Telvin Smith left last weeks game with a concussion. I don’t see his potential absence as a HUGE issue against this weak-sauce opponent.
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (@Cincinnati Bengals)- Pittsburgh kind of laid an egg last week in a juicy matchup against the Packers, but that is likely a blip on the radar. Deploy them with confidence against a Bengals squad that has been inept offensively and historically dominated by their AFC North rival Steelers.
Injuries to Watch: Pittsburgh will be without Joe Haden as he recuperates from his fibula fracture, which could make the Steelers slightly more susceptible to the long play from AJ Green. Overall, I’m not sweating it.
3.) Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Cleveland Browns)- What a ridiculously juicy matchup for a red-hot defense. The Browns are almost a near lock to cede double digit points to opposing defenses, having failed to do that only four times this season. Only 3 teams have managed more sacks than the surging Bolts and I expect them to come in bunches this week.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing to report here.
4.) New England Patriots (@ Buffalo Bills)- The Patriots continue to build up steam heading towards their annual vomit inducing Super Bowl berth. They thrashed the hapless Dolphins last week, holding them to 11 points and picking up seven sacks. They look like a lock elite play down the stretch with their only tough matchup coming in week 15 against the Steelers. Set and forget.
Injuries to Watch: Does it even matter? They could play your great grand-pappy at weak-side linebacker and sleepwalk their way to 13 wins.
5.) Baltimore Ravens (vs. Detroit Lions)- In general this year the Ravens have been remarkably consistent and I don’t see that changing this week. I see this game falling on the lower-scoring side. Detroit generates most of its offense through the pass, playing into Baltimore’s strength. The Ravens have been remarkably stingy in this respect, allowing the second fewest air yards in the league and also pacing the NFL in INT percentage (5.1%.) Matt Stafford will have his work cut out for him.
Injuries to Watch: The Ravens are fully healthy right now.
6.) Detroit Lions (@ Baltimore Ravens)- The Lions had a tough go on Thanksgiving, serving up heaps of points to the Vikings replete with gravy and stuffing. OBLIGATORY THANKSGIVING REFERENCE!! They have been touchdown mavens, however, leading the pack in this important stat. The Ravens aren’t scaring anyone and the Lions have a nice combo of floor and upside. I’d be happy to use them on this week as the options start to thin out pretty quick from here on.
Injuries to Watch: SS Tavon Wilson has been lost to a shoulder injury of the season ending variety, but I don’t view him as an impact piece.
7.) Los Angeles Rams (@ Arizona Cardinals)- The Rams have been stopped dead in their tracks, posting a combined 2 fantasy points over the last two weeks against two fearsome foes in Minny and NOLA. Look for them to get back on track against a considerably softer opponent in the Arizona Cardinals. The loss of tackle DJ Humphries hasn’t helped the Cards weak O-Line even if he wasn’t playing particularly well. Cards QB Blaine Gabbert has played OK but certainly hasn’t been careful with the ball, turning it over 4 times in his two starts. Don’t let the last two weeks fool you, the Rams should come out and pummel the Cardinals easily.
Injuries to Watch: No new injuries of consequence to report.
8.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ Seattle Seahawks)- I don’t feel great about this recommendation as I think there is real potential for this game to turn into a wild shootout. Looking forward to watching it. Philly earns this spot for a few reasons: 1.) The Eagles defense and team as a whole has been incredibly hot over just about the entire season. 2.) The options below are considerably worse, with an interesting slate this week seeing a lot of great defenses going against great offenses and poor defenses going against poor offenses. 3.) The Seahawks porous line and Russell Wilson‘s wildman playstyle always open up the door for some sack/fumble shenanigans. This probably won’t be the Eagles’ best work but they should be serviceable.
Injuries to Watch: The Eagles defense will be at full strength for this contest.
9.) Oakland Raiders (vs. New York Giants)- The Raiders defense isn’t good. That being said, I can definitely see using them against a Giants team that is a. awful, b. travelling across country, c. literally starting Geno Smith at quarterback, and d. struggling to field a roster of healthy players on both sides of the ball. Eli Manning’s carefulness and veteran guile has kept the inept G-Men from being a GREAT streaming target, but Smith could be another story entirely. Anything short of five, maybe six hundred interceptions would be a massive upset.
Injuries to Watch: CB David Amerson should return and provide a boost to the secondary. He has been out since week 7 but is likely scrambling to get back onto the field to catch passes from Geno Smith.
10.) Denver Broncos (@ Miami Dolphins)- There’s no getting around it- the Broncos have been a big, fat disappointment. That being said, the Dolphins are allowing the 5th most points to opposing defenses and the Broncos have more than enough theoretical talent on defense to post a decent game in what should be a low scoring slog.
Injuries to Watch: CB Aqib Talib is not injured per se but will be forced to sit out this game due to chain-snatchin’.
11.) Miami Dolphins (vs. Denver Broncos)- QB Paxton Lynch started last week against Oakland and was promptly injured, so Denver will be turning back to Trevor Siemian. That is good news for Miami, who will make for a nice dart throw against a Broncos team that is surprisingly giving up the third most points to opposing defenses. If you like offense I think this will be a game to miss.
Injuries to Watch: The Dolphins will have their full complement of defenders.
12.) Tennessee Titans (vs. Houston Texans)- Texans HC Bill O’Brien has been threatening to bench Tom Savage for weeks, but at the end of the day he really doesn’t have any choice but to continue running the turnover factory out there. That makes Tennessee an OK start despite their overall defensive mediocrity. I’m running out of ways to describe Savage’s ineptitude, but let’s give it another try. He has turned the ball over three times more than he has thrown interceptions and hasn’t cleared 300 yards passing in any game. The Titans have racked up 14 sacks over their last 4 games.
Injuries to Watch: No new injuries to report here.
13.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Atlanta Falcons)- The Vikings have hit a bit of a speed bump recently, giving up 23 points to the Lions last week and 30 to Washington in week 10. I don’t like their matchup against the high-flying Falcons, either. But we are starting to run out of viable options and their talent/season long performance gets them the nod here as a decent floor option-albeit one without a ton of upside this week.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikes are at full-go.
14.) Chicago Bears (vs. San Francisco 49ers)- Chicago is the number 11 season-long D/ST in ESPN standard, but their scoring has been concentrated in a few huge games and they have been pretty “meh” most weeks. That being said, I think they make for a decent option to round out your squad against the low-powered 49ers as they install a new QB (recently acquired Jimmy Garoppolo.)
Injuries to Watch: The Bears have suffered tons of injuries and suspensions on the defensive side of the ball but there is nothing new worth reporting.
15.) New York Jets (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)- The Jets early season magic has worn off, but I am somewhat keen on using them against a Chiefs team that has completely fallen on it’s face after a red hot start. Alex Smith and Kareem Hunt have both turned into pumpkins, with Smith failing to top 300 yards passing since week 7.
Injuries to Watch: The Jets will be at full health for this contest.
16.) Washington Redskins (@ Dallas Cowboys)- Ugh. This is a recommendation SOLELY based on matchup as I am not a fan of the Redskins defense. But the Cowboys have been a complete disaster of late, mainly due to the absence of Zeke Elliott and also Tyron Smith and Zack Martin being in and out of the lineup. It looks like Smith and Martin will both play on Thursday, but Dak Prescott has been coughing the ball up left and right without a running game to hide his inefficiencies. That alone makes Washington a decent upside play. Just don’t expect miracles.
Injuries to Watch: If either of the Cowboys stud linemen are out, this matchup looks a little nicer.