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 16 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Baltimore Ravens (vs. Indianapolis Colts)- Baltimore was eviscerated two weeks ago by Pittsburgh, showing some ill effects of losing elite CB Jimmy Smith. However, last week they were right back to their dominant ways, steamrolling the Browns. They were able to pressure the QB heavily and they get another plum situation for QB punishment this week in the Colts who apparently love to watch Jacoby Brissett get knocked on his ass.
Injuries to Watch: The Colts don’t have the firepower to take advantage of the absent Jimmy Smith.
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ San Francisco 49ers)- Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing really, really well since coming over from New England but he has yet to face a matchup as tough as this. Jacksonville has earned set and forget status through their dominant season-long play and this week is no different.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags are fully healthy for this contest.
3.) New England Patriots (vs. Buffalo Bills)- New England’s hot streak has cooled in recent weeks, as they have scored a total of 2 fantasy points over their past two matchups on the road. Some home cooking against the fading Bills could be a great playoff tune-up for this oftentimes stingy group- they held Buffalo to 3 points in their previous meeting.
Injuries to Watch: Pass-rusher Trey Flowers returned to action last week and registered half a sack. His presence is a boon to NE’s ability to rush down the QB.
4.) Los Angeles Rams (@ Tennessee Titans)- The Rams cemented themselves as an elite team and possible Superbowl threat in their dismantling of Seattle last week, perhaps ushering in a new era for the NFC West. The Titans have represented a pretty non-threatening matchup for most of the year as Marcus Mariota has regressed somewhat. I’m comfortable in using LA, who have allowed the 5th fewest points in the league.
Injuries to Watch: The Rams have no injuries to speak of on defense.
5.) Chicago Bears (vs. Cleveland Browns)- This is a matchup based recommendation. The Browns are just so pathetic that any defense against them is worth taking a shot on, even with Josh Gordon returning and playing respectably. The Browns have are one of four teams AVERAGING double digit points allowed to opposing D/STs, and allow a full point more to opposing D/STs than the second worst offense (Colts.) The Bears are a sneaky-good streamer for this important week.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing of note here.
6.) Los Angeles Chargers (@ New York Jets)- The Chargers flopped in an important week 15 tilt against the Chiefs, but I’m going to go back to the well and recommend them against Gang Green. They have the pieces to tee off against Bryce Petty who has proven to get pretty shaky when a defense gets in his face. The excellent LA pass rush is going to force him into some mistakes.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers have no new injuries on defense.
7.) Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Houston Texans)- Whoo boy. Even with Antonio Brown likely out, this game could be an absolute slaughter. With the Texans down to eighteenth string QB Pig Skin McGillicutty, the Texans don’t have much of a prayer in this one. The Texans have allowed the eight most points to opposing D/STs.
Injuries to Watch: Joe Haden gets back on the field this week, which is great news for the Steelers secondary heading into the playoffs.
8.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Green Bay Packers)- After last week’s loss, the Packers are officially done and have little to play for but pride heading into the offseason. I think they can get steamrolled in this one. Aaron Rodgers is now on IR, meaning the incompetent Brett Hundley will be back under center. The Vikings are one of the truly elite units in the NFL, allowing the 2nd fewest points and 4th fewest yards to opposing offenses as we near the end of the 2017 season. Deploy with confidence.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing to report for Minnesota.
9.) Carolina Panthers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- HC Coach Dirk Koetter may be feeling the heat after Tampa Bay has really underachieved in a year in which they were expected to take a big leap forward. They have struggled mightily on offense (bottom 3rd in the league in points scored) despite having some nice pieces theoretically in place. Mike Evans is still a stud(despite a relatively disappointing fantasy year) but Jameis Winston has regressed in his third year and battled through injury as well. The Panthers look pretty safe this week, getting an easier matchup after having to tussle with Aaron Rodgers last week.
Injuries to Watch: Not an injury, but expect a small decrease in production with enforcing MLB Thomas Davis missing this one due to suspension.
10.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Oakland Raiders)- The Eagles held up in their first game without MVP Candidate Carson Wentz, but get a little bit tougher of a task this week in playing against the Raiders. That being said, Oakland doesn’t offer much to be afraid of. Their season has not gone as expected, with Amari Cooper spending much of it either mind-bogglingly ineffective or injured. Marshawn Lynch hasn’t worked out, and the defense hasn’t taken a step forward. This is a safe, decent floor matchup for the opportunistic Eagles-they won’t win you your week but they won’t lose it, either.
Injuries to Watch: The defense for the Eagles is fully healthy.
11.) Detroit Lions (@ Cincinnati Bengals)- The Bengals are hiding behind a rock, sheepishly waving a white flag. Likely to engage in a full rebuild after the year and spend the next few seasons as one of the league’s worst teams, we are watching an implosion in real time. They have scored the 4th fewest points in the league, and have been especially inept over their last two contests. Don’t hesitate to plug in the Lions, who have shown a knack this year for scoring defensive touchdowns and exploiting easier matchups.
Injuries to Watch: Detroit has no new injuries to report.
12.) Denver Broncos (@ Washington Redskins)- The Redskins have allowed the 9th most points to opposing defenses, so they offer a nice weekly floor anytime they are playing a halfway decent defense. The Broncos have shown some signs of life over their last 3 (albeit against some incredibly soft competition) and could help fill out your lineup as an innocuous option that should provide decent returns.
Injuries to Watch: Edge rusher Derek Wolfe and SS Justin Simmons are both done for the year, but the Broncos should still be enough to muster some resistance against the crumbling Redskins.
13.) New Orleans Saints (vs. Atlanta Falcons)- New Orleans has held tough over their last three, offering decent point totals that no one would have a right to complain about. It’s been a pretty far cry from their mid-season dominance, but they offer a decent floor with upside for more. The Falcons look scary on paper but in actuality haven’t matched the scorched earth offensive fireworks they exhibited in their Super Bowl run last season. Just two weeks ago, New Orleans held the Falcons offense to 20 points and picked off Matty Ice three times.
Injuries to Watch: The Saints secondary is back at full strength.
14.) Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Miami Dolphins)- These last three are dart throws, and if you have made it this far I’d hope you’d have better options. The Chiefs defense has struggled for much of the season but may be worth throwing a Hail Mary against the hapless Dolphins who have allowed double-digit fantasy points to opposing D/STs in four of their last five.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing new to report here.
15.) Washington Redskins (vs. Denver Broncos)- Trevor Siemian is headed to the IR, making the Broncos a worthy mention solely on the merit of the fact that they’ll be going against the perpetually inept Brock Osweiler or the perpetually unaccomplished Paxton Lynch.
Injuries to Watch: The Redskins have injuries up and down their roster but nothing impactful to change my opinion on their potential performance.
16.) Dallas Cowboys (vs. Seattle Seahawks)- This is a sneaky one, as the Cowboys are pushing hard to win out and make the playoffs and the Seahawks are crumbling and all but eliminated. A few weeks ago I wouldn’t have dreamt of making this recommendation, but I wouldn’t be surprised now if Dallas pulls out a win and limits the Seahawks offense.
Injuries to Watch: Sean Lee is the lynchpin of this defense and if he’s out there the Cowboys are always a lot better. He looks healthy for this super important matchup.