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.
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 3 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Baltimore Ravens (at Jacksonville Jaguars) – It may be a function of the teams they have played so far, but Baltimore has now held in-division opponents to a combined 10 points. I’m willing to make them the top start of the week going against a Jaguars squad without Allen Robinson and starting the perpetually turnover-happy Blake Bortles at QB.
Injuries to Watch: LB Za’Darius Smith didn’t go week 2 and his status is still murky. Give the defense a boost if he goes.
2.) Pittsburgh Steelers (at Chicago Bears) – The Steelers are going against a team that just scored a lone touchdown against the Bucs in week 2. They have put up nine sacks through two games and will now get to pound away on the statuesque Mike Glennon.
Injuries to Watch: DL Stephon Tuitt is dealing with a biceps injury and missed week 2. I like this unit even more if he plays but that is looking questionable at best as of this writing (9/18.)
3.) Denver Broncos (at Buffalo Bills) – Denver is elite, plain and simple. I like their chances against an anemic Bills defense that just managed only a field goal against the Carolina Panthers. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo’s key (only?) offensive cog, is battling wrist and groin injuries. If he is at less than absolute full bore, the Bills will struggle to mount any sort of offense at all.
Injuries to Watch: Defensive Lineman Jared Crick was placed on IR but is not a significant loss for the defense. Everyone else looks ready to rock.
4.) Carolina Panthers (vs. New Orleans Saints) – The Panthers have yet to allow a touchdown this season. I think that streak ends this week against Drew Brees and co. but New Orleans just doesn’t have the same sock in the offense that they used to, and they do tend to struggle a bit on the road as well. Perhaps Michael Thomas is fueled by po’ boy sandwiches.
Injuries to Watch: Carolina’s defense is fully healthy through two.
5.) New England Patriots (vs. Houston Texans) – The Patriots got it going last week after somewhat of a letdown in week 1, and I think they keep the momentum going against Houston. They will be scoring a ton and capitalizing on the mistakes Houston is forced into while playing in catch-up mode – something their offense is not built to do.
Injuries to Watch: Dont’a Hightower may go this week. Give NE a boost if he is on the field.
6.) New York Giants (at Philadelphia Eagles) – The Giants struggled a bit without Jackrabbit Jenkins but I like them to rebound in this divisional matchup as long as he is back out there. The Eagles are a bit of a pass-only offense and if the entire game is put on the shoulders of Carson Wentz, he could make a few mistakes for the Giants to capitalize on. Expect a decent, not great game from Big Blue. I also think that the Giants will continue to improve as an entire team as Odell gets healthier – the defense will get better game script once the offense starts scoring more.
Injuries to Watch: Janoris Jenkins is one of the best covermen in the league and his status is huge – make sure he is going. The Giants were also missing tackling machine B.J. Goodson in week 2. He’ll give them a bump if he can go against the division rivals.
7.) Seattle Seahawks (at Tennessee Titans) – The Titans are always a threat to put up points but Seattle has been stout through two games. Demarco Murray is battling hamstring tightness but that may not matter with pounder Derrick Henry finally ready to be unleashed. I don’t think this will be Seattle’s best defensive performance by any means but they have enough to hold Marcus Mariota in check.
Injuries to Watch: Richard Sherman has appeared on the injury report but his on-field play hasn’t betrayed any sort of serious condition.
8.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Minnesota Vikings) – The Buccaneers were raping and pillaging all over the place in their season opener, almost handing the hapless Bears a bagel before ceding a lone touchdown with the game already well in hand. The Vikings represent a slightly tougher challenge but don’t scare you, especially if Sam Bradford sits again in favor of Case Keenum. I think that is unlikely at this point but check back throughout the week and give the Bucs a boost if this is the case.
Injuries to Watch: MLB Kwon Alexander left with a hammy, but the game was well in hand so he wasn’t needed to return. Check his status throughout the week and up/downgrade the unit based on his availability as he is a more than solid player.
9.) Minnesota Vikings (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – The Vikings get another tough draw against a Bucs squad that looked explosive in their season opener. The Vikings D, however, represents a much tougher challenge than the pathetic Bears. I think corner Xavier Rhodes is the kind of large, physical player that can hold Mike Evans in check.
Injuries to Watch: LB Anthony Barr was questionable heading into last weeks matchup but managed to gut it out.
10.) Tennessee Titans (vs. Seattle Seahawks) – This one is more a function of the opponent. The Seahawks offensive line is completely torpedoing any chance that Russell Wilson and co. have at putting up points, as Seattle has been one of the lowest scoring teams in the early going. I don’t love them to figure things out any time soon and as such the Titans get the nod as a decent albeit modest upside play.
Injuries to Watch: Safety Johnathan Cyprien is out for a few weeks with a knee injury. Luckily, Seahawks pass-catchers are dealing with some issues of their own (particularly Jimmy Graham) and may not be able to capitalize on his absence.
11.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. New York Giants) – The Giants have proven to be completely one-dimensional as a head coach under Ben McAdoo, seemingly forgetting that you are allowed to run the ball. Philly (and any team going against big blue) has excellent potential going against New York’s sieve-like O-line. The only potential mismatch is New York’s dangerous receivers against Philly’s lackluster secondary but the G-Men may not be able to exploit this matchup with Eli Manning likely scrambling (read: falling down) for his life all day.
Injuries to Watch: Ronald Darby’s ankle injury may make it difficult for Philly to deal with Odell Beckham. This may allow Philly to give up some chunk yardage.
12.) Kansas City Chiefs (at Los Angeles Chargers) – The Chiefs held up admirably in the absence of superstar Eric Berry. This week they get the Chargers who have a lot of offensive firepower. I wouldn’t be thrilled to start the Chiefs this week but I’m not shying away either.
Injuries to Watch: Eric Berry is done for the year but everyone else on the defensive side of the ball is good to go.
13.) Green Bay Packers (vs. Cincinnati Bengals) – The Bengals have played poorly enough through two games to get their offensive coordinator fired. There have also been some rumblings that some in the locker room are clamoring for QB Andy Dalton’s benching in favor of the currently unsigned Colin Kaepernick. That is really all you need to know – Cinci will be a recommended streaming target until they prove they can score a touchdown.
Injuries to Watch: DT Mike Daniels is likely out with a hamstring injury.
14.) Oakland Raiders (at Washington Redskins) – Oakland got up big and let the foot off the gas somewhat last week, allowing the Jets to score some cheapies. This game will likely be a bit more competitive but the opponent is fiercer – the Washington passing game has been underwhelming so far but if they get it going they do have blow-up potential. This could be a sneaky shootout, limiting Oakland’s upside.
Injuries to Watch: The Black and Silver are still at full power.
15.) Jacksonville Jaguars (at Baltimore Ravens) – …………..Sorry I just got off the phone with the Ravens. They were asking me if I was interested in playing on their offensive line as they are currently just looking for warm bodies. Marshal Yanda, arguably the league’s best Guard, is out for the year now with a fractured ankle. DE Calais Campbell is going to be terrorizing Joe Flacco all day. The Jags laid an egg last week but I’m willing to give them a shot in a game that is likely to be a messy, low-scoring slugfest.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags get a bit of a mulligan for the beating they took as they were dealing with some injuries in the secondary – Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye were both on the injury report leading up to the game and likely playing at less than 100 percent. Returns could be better if they are healthier.
16.) Los Angeles Rams (at San Francisco 49ers) – I like the Rams here for two reasons: they are playing a patented low-scoring Thursday night game against a pee-wee level offense, and they may have the force of nature Aaron Donald back.
Injuries to Watch: CB Trumaine Johnson left the Redskins game with a lower-body injury and may be up against it to get on the field Thursday. Of Course, give a massive Aaron Donald sized boost to this D if the Aaron Donald sized Aaron Donald is out there.