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 15 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Houston Texans)- Jacksonville held pretty tough in a signature win over the Seahawks, giving up a fair amount of points but also completing the rare feat of picking off Russell Wilson three times. The bad news for this week is that they won’t be matched up against Tom Savage, who will be sitting out after receiving an absolutely vicious concussion. We wish him a quick recovery. The good news? They’ll get TJ Yates, another very exploitable QB matchup. Fire them back up as the elite option they’ve been all year.
Injuries to Watch: No injuries to report.
2.) New Orleans Saints (vs. New York Jets)- Gang Green QB Josh McCown went out with a broken hand early in last week’s contest against the Broncos and the offense completely face-planted after that, getting bageled by a Denver squad that hadn’t won a game in eons. NOLA has been inconsistent at times this year, but recent spotty performances can be explained away by injury to some key players. Now that the secondary is a little healthier, I’d love to roll the Saints out against New York with Bryce Petty/”Clipboard” Hackenburg potentially under center. Expect tons of turnovers.
Injuries to Watch: Stud CB Marshon Lattimore and S Marcus Williams both returned to action last week and picked off Matt Ryan. Their presence is a boon to the pass defense.
3.) Minnesota Vikings (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)- HC Mike Zimmer likely has a few tricks in store for his old team, the floundering Bengals who are coming off an embarrassing loss to the Bears. Cinci’s offense has been average to below average all year and they may be on the verge of mailing in the rest of the season. This is a supremely high floor play with nice upside to boot.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikes are healthy and ready to rock for this one.
4.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Cleveland Browns)- The Ravens were an elite pass defense all year. Then they lost bonafide shutdown corner Jimmy Smith to injury AND suspension, and promptly allowed Big Ben to hang half a centuries worth of yards on them. Ouch. It’s clear that the Ravens will be compromised from here on out, and they do have to contest with the resurgent Josh Brown, so there is some burn potential here. I would’ve felt better about this rec 2 weeks ago. ALL that being said, it’s still the Browns, one of the juiciest matchups out there. Do it.
Injuries to Watch: Outside of Smith, the Ravens have their full complement of defenders.
5.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ New York Giants)- Carson Wentz’s ACL injury is a big bummer and a negative for the Eagles defense as they are less likely to be in consistent positive in-game situations. Still, this could be a laugher against the arguably league-worst Giants as they play out the string of their lost season. I don’t think there’s any chance the G-Men mount any sort of offense against Philly. The Giants O has ceded 13,10, and 7 points to their enemy D/ST over the last three. This is about as safe as it gets.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing new to report here from a defensive standpoint. It will be interesting to see if Nick Foles can recapture his 2013 matchup and pilot this squad that at one point looked like the favorite to come out of the NFC.
6.) Denver Broncos (@ Indianapolis Colts)- The Broncos turned back the clock last week against the pitiful Jets, looking for once like the highly coveted defense they were on draft day. Another cupcake opponent awaits in the Colts who have been a season-long soft landing spot for D/ST streamers.
Injuries to Watch: DE Derek Wolfe is done for the year with a neck injury. His loss is significant but not overly problematic for this matchup.
7.) Los Angeles Chargers (@ Kansas City Chiefs)- The Chargers smothered Washington last week, allowing 7 points on defense and registering a few sacks. They have now allowed a total of 23 points in their last 3 games. KC is a tougher test than any they’ve faced recently, but I’m going to go out on a limb and ride the hot hand. Back in week 3, the Bolts were able to bring QB Alex Smith down 5 times. At that point in the season, the Chiefs were playing a lot better and the Chargers were still a few weeks away from their first win. Since then, KC has fallen off some and LA has been absolutely on fire. Trust this elite defense in a must-win week.
Injuries to Watch: No injuries to speak of.
8.) Carolina Panthers (vs. Green Bay Packers)- Aaron Rodgers looks like he could be back this week as he has been medically cleared. However, even if he does return, he is likely to be rusty after an extended period of missed game action. The Panthers flopped in week 13 vs the Saints but were able to rebound for 3 turnovers and 6 sacks against Minnesota last week. I think they make for a nice mid-level play this week as they push for the playoffs.
Injuries to Watch: You may want to bump the Panthers down a notch or two (for someone like the Bills or the Seahawks) if Rodgers is out there and reports surrounding him are positive.
9.) Miami Dolphins (@ Buffalo Bills)- Credit Miami for playing strong against the juggernaut Patriots, picking off Tom Brady twice, getting in his face and knocking him down. They get a soft landing spot against the innocuous Bills, who are in the bottom third of the league in points scored. QB Tyrod Taylor should be back under center for Buffalo, somewhat lowering the appeal of this matchup.
Injuries to Watch: The Dolphins look healthy for the most part heading into this division rivalry game.
10.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Los Angeles Rams)- The Seahawks have played admirably well in the absence of some of their stud defensive players, but they have shown uncharacteristic vulnerabilities in the secondary. Blake Bortles was able to get loose on them, which should tell you all you need to know. They were letting up big plays that you just don’t usually see against the “Legion of Boom.” Per ESPN, Bortles was able to complete 5 of 6 attempts 15+ yards downfield after registering a less than 33% mark on the season. Telling. Seattle still has some game but you’ve got to be a little wary of using them against a Rams offense that features a power running game akin to Jacksonville’s and even more vertical juice from Jared Goff and co.
Injuries to Watch: As if the devastation in the secondary wasn’t enough, LB Bobby Wagner added injury to injury by exiting week 14’s game with a hamstring issue. If he can’t go (uncertain as of this writing) it would be another Seahawks D.
11.) Buffalo Bills (vs. Miami Dolphins)- The Dolphins pulled off the surprise upset over New England on Monday night, but for the most part have been one of the more generous offenses to opposing D/STs throughout the 2017 season. Buffalo is coming off an incredibly bizarre game in which they played against Indianapolis on a neutral snow-covered field in Siberia. They haven’t been a great option in the second half, but they have faced some pretty tough offenses during that stretch (LAR, NE, NO among others.) I think they’re a decent option this week against Miami.
Injuries to Watch: Tre’Davious White showed no ill effects after suffering a
brutal mugging failed dance move at the hands of all around fun-loving party guy Rob Gronkowski. He’s played great as a rookie at corner.
12.) Los Angeles Rams (@ Seattle Seahawks)- The Rams defense got utterly dog-walked by Philly with Carson Wentz having to graciously pull himself from the game with an ACL tear just to keep things interesting. The Rams are very tough to predict, with the talent to rack up monster games (3 this year of 20+) but lacking consistency (6 games with 4 points or fewer.) Matchup doesn’t always matter, either. They were thoroughly pummeled by SF back in week 3 but had their way with the much tougher Seahawks and Jags over the next two. This is a high variance matchup with upside and downside galore – I’d be more inclined to recommend them if you view yourself as an underdog and need to swing for the fences. If you think you are favored and just need a solid defensive performance, there are certainly higher floor, safer upside propositions around this rank.
Injuries to Watch: Starting CB Kayvon Webster is done for the year with a ruptured Achilles. He was playing OK and will be replaced by an UDFA, so there is some potential for the Rams to get burnt down the sidelines here.
13.) Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- This is a game script dependent recommendation, as I expect the Falcons to be up early and able to sit on the ball. The Tampa Bay defense has been pretty disappointing this year, and don’t make for an imposing challenge. It’s been a while since ATL has posted a great fantasy D/ST line (last double digit performance in week 11) but I think they could turn in a solid outing here. Jameis Winston still slings it around but has battled turnover problems all season when healthy; he has coughed it up 4 times over his last two starts. The Falcons have a nice cover option to slot in against the mighty but somewhat disappointing Mike Evans in Desmond Trufant.
Injuries to Watch: The Falcons defense is close to full strength.
14.) Cincinnati Bengals (@ Minnesota Vikings)- This is where things get yucky. The Bengals have some theoretical talent and have played well at times but have recently been ravaged by injury and ineffectiveness on both sides of the ball. I think we might finally be seeing the end of the Marvin Lewis era, but I’ve thought that thousands of times before. I digress. Per ESPN, the Bengals just inexplicably allowed the Bears to score 30+ points for the first time since 2015. Insane. They’re going to give up points and lose, but they probably won’t let things get out of hand again like they did last week…right? I wouldn’t argue with using either of the options below over Cinci.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals defense over the past few years just completely goes in the tank without nasty enforcer Vontaze Burfict manning LB, and he missed last week’s game after sustaining a concussion against the Steelers. Check to see if he looks ready to
further compromise his long-term health get back on the field and give a boost if he looks probable. Pacman Jones is done for the year, and that hurts. Dre Kirkpatrick was also injured (head) in the week 14 Concuss-o-rama in Pittsburgh. His return could be a good thing for the depleted secondary.
15.) Detroit Lions (vs. Chicago Bears)- I know the Bears just “broke out” offensively but for the most part they’ve been a pretty nice streaming target for D/STs all year. Their offensive playbook only has one play defensive coordinators need to scheme for – the handoff to Jordan Howard. Neophyte Mitch Trubisky is coming off his best game as a pro and looks like he could be a franchise QB, but he’s not yet someone to be feared.
Injuries to Watch: No new injuries to report for Detroit.
16.) Tennessee Titans (@ San Francisco 49ers)- The 9ers are currently allowing 12th most points to opposing D/STs, making the vanilla Titans defense a fine but unspectacular option to round out your roster. Be somewhat wary, though, as San Francisco has definitely been playing better since the arrival of the really, really, ridiculously good-looking Jimmy Garoppolo.
Injuries to Watch: Don’t let Jimmy Garoppolo injure your heart by stealing your girlfriend.