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 17 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cleveland Browns)- This one is almost too easy as the Browns continued to display their unique brand of awful offense last week. Double digit points are a mortal lock as the Steelers tune themselves up for the playoffs. They should be motivated to play hard as well with home-field advantage still up for grabs.
Injuries to Watch: Joe Haden is back and as such the Steelers should be close to full strength.
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Tennessee Titans)- Jacksonville got kind of smacked in the mouth last week by football god Jimmy Garoppolo, but that might just be a testament to how good Garropolo has been playing and not any real indictment on the Jags themselves. This contest holds plenty of importance- the Titans are clawing for their chance at a first round playoff exit, and the Jags are getting themselves ready for a potential run at the Lombardi trophy. As such, I’m going back to the well and recommending a defense that has been utterly dominant more often than not.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing new to speak of.
3.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Cincinnati Bengals)- The Ravens have positioned themselves to get into the dance as well, with a wild card berth all but sewn up. A win against the lowly Bengals would cement their spot. Cinci has underachieved on offense all year, scoring the fifth fewest points to date and have really nothing to play for with the front office likely to clean house at the end of the season. I think this one could be a laugher.
Injuries to Watch: The defense has adapted somewhat without Jimmy Smith who won’t be back before next year.
4.) New England Patriots (vs. New York Jets)- Here’s a sentence you probably didn’t think you’d read this year (or ever) – “The Jets defense has been completely neutered in the absence of world-beating future Hall of Fame QB Josh McCown.” All Jokes aside, the Jets offensive attack was respectable with McCown at the helm and has been completely miserable without him as the Jets impressive underdog season has lost a little luster in recent weeks. Bryce Petty just doesn’t have the chops yet to get it done, and he may never have them. The Jets have ceded a little more than 12 PPG to enemy D/STs over the last 3, and the Pats should be motivated by the prospect of home field advantage. This is a great start.
Injuries to Watch: The Patriots have no new injuries to report.
5.) Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Oakland Raiders)- The Chargers took care of the Jets last week and still have a shot at making the dance, so motivation should not be a factor as the Bolts fight for their playoff lives. The Raiders offense has kind of farted along all season and shouldn’t force you to shy away from LAC. The Chargers have had a banner year on the defensive side of the ball, allowing the third fewest points in the league. You can confidently roll them out one more time.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers are fully healthy for this important game.
6.) Buffalo Bills (@ Miami Dolphins)- The Bills still theoretically have a shot at the playoffs also, whereas the Dolphins have been eliminated since back when they signed Jay Cutler in the pre-season. Buffalo has been solid if not unspectacular for the past several weeks and could come out and dominate the offensively challenged Dolphins, who have surrendered double-digit fantasy points to opposing D/STs in four of the past 6 weeks. Their are worse gambles you can take this week.
Injuries to Watch: The Bills have no new injuries of note.
7.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Arizona Cardinals)- One of the final teams still in the hunt, Seattle still has something to play for and can’t be counted out due to their recent run of success and big-game experience and savvy. Give them credit for holding it together in the face of injuries that would’ve ended the seasons of teams with lesser fortitude. I can easily see them whalloping the Cardinals and making the playoffs. After a three week hiccup, Seattle posted a 21 point performance against a Cowboys team that had been surging. They get a nice week 17 cupcake in Arizona who have given up well over double digit fantasy PPG over their last seven contests.
Injuries to Watch: Avril. Sherman. Chancellor. All gone, yet the Seahawks still manage to play representative defense. It may be coming to an end, but take a minute and appreciate what has been one of the better defenses of the last two decades.
8.) Minnesota Vikings (vs. Chicago Bears)- Minnesota, to date, is “only” the eleventh ranked option for the 2017 season in terms of fantasy PPG. But make no doubt about it, the Vikes have been incredibly valuable all year as a high-floor, stifling “real-life” defense that really has only posted a few lackluster performances. At the end of the day, they were the hardest team to score and move the ball throughout the season, and that will translate to success for your fantasy D more often than not. They are hot heading into the playoffs and you can roll them out confidently against the innocuous Bears.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing new worth mentioning, this elite unit looks healthy going into the playoffs.
9.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Dallas Cowboys)- Philly has won two in a row with Nick Foles under center and now gets a Cowboys team that is likely to be deflated and unmotivated after Seattle officially ended their season last week. I like Philly as a nice decent floor option in their regular-season finale.
Injuries to Watch: The Eagles are a full go for this one.
10.) New Orleans Saints (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- The Bucs are probably looking at wholesale changes this offseason after an incredibly disappointing year. The team started to melt down on the field last week with Jameis Winston getting into it with teammates in an ugly scene. The Saints should be a safe start against a mediocre offense playing out the string.
Injuries to Watch: Kenny Vaccaro has been placed on IR – this may have ramifications for the playoffs against stiffer competition but I don’t think it impacts the Saints playability this week.
11.) Tennessee Titans (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)- The Titans are playing for their lives this week, and sometimes desperation can yield results. I don’t have INCREDIBLY high hopes for Tennessee, but they could be a sneaky fill-in play. It’s worth noting that Jags HC Doug Marrone has insisted that he’s playing to win – JAX could use this game to regain some momentum heading into the playoffs after getting shellacked by the 49ers. But if the Titans can grab a lead early, he could easily change his mind and decide to rest some of his key offensive contributors. I admit this is a gamble but it could be one worth taking in the always wild week 17.
Injuries to Watch: Give a boost if starting CB Logan Ryan is able to return from his ankle injury.
12.) Carolina Panthers (@ Atlanta Falcons)- I am somewhat wary in the recommendation as the Falcons need this game to secure their berth and the Panthers don’t have much to play for other than seeding. But Carolina has been stout on D all year and could be motivated to keep their divisional rivals out of the dance.
Injuries to Watch: The Panthers have no new injuries of note.
13.) Detroit Lions (@ Green Bay Packers)- This is likely to be a snoozefest between two eliminated teams playing out the season. The presence of Brett Hundley under center for Green Bay is always a boon to opposing defenses.
Injuries to Watch: The Lions have nothing to report on the defensive side of the ball.
14.) San Francisco 49ers (@ Los Angeles Rams)- This is a really interesting game. Jimmy Garoppolo has been playing excellent football and has lifted the performance of his surrounding teammates- the 9ers are coming off a pretty impressive surprise victory over Jacksonville. Jimmy G has been playing well enough that I didn’t even consider the Rams defense this week as an option. Additionally, Rams HC Sean McVay has admitted some key cogs on offense may sit for LA (Goff, Gurley, Whitworth being some of the names mentioned.) This is a bit of a dart throw, but I see the 49ers winning this game and playing reasonably well. Game script alone could make this a sneaky option to fill out your roster.
Injuries to Watch: The 9ers have no injuries to key defensive players.
15.) Houston Texans (@ Indianapolis Colts)- Plain and simple, the Colts give it up to opposing defenses. They have played slightly better of late but have been one of the best streaming targets for your D/ST all year and as such I’m going to recommend picking on them one more time. This is strictly based on opponent as the Texans haven’t played particularly well themselves. Don’t be afraid to go with your gut and use a lower/unranked option if you feel so inclined as I don’t feel great about this option.
Injuries to Watch: The Texans have been ravaged by injury all season long and recently lost rookie NT D.J. Reader to IR.
16.) Atlanta Falcons (vs. Carolina Panthers)- Backed into a corner and forced to defend their playoff spot, the Falcons should be fired up for this divisional matchup. I like that they’re at home, but this isn’t a particularly great matchup. The Chiefs (@ Denver) and the Redskins (@ the utterly pathetic Giants) were both considered at this spot and I could see using either of them over the Falcons or Texans if you feel strongly about either.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing worth noting here.