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 4 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Indianapolis Colts) – Seattle has yet to impress really in any facet of the game this year but they have the ultimate get-right opportunity this week, at home against the woeful Colts. Not quite the Legion of Boom of old, but this unit still possesses talent at every level and I think they’ll come out fired up in this one.
Injuries to Watch: Seattle will be at near full health for this game.
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ New York Jets) – Jacksonville has been utterly beastly in two of three contests this year. Their lone blemish came against Tennessee, a team that is looking like it may have one of the league’s best offenses. After nearly handing the Baltimore Ravens a crumpet …er, bagel across the pond last Sunday morning, the Jags now get to take on the pitiful Jets. Fire them up as a top two option, jetlag be damned.
Injuries to Watch: Stud CB Jalen Ramsey is still nursing an ankle injury but has yet to miss a game.
3.) Detroit Lions (@ Minnesota Vikings) – Don’t look now, but Detroit has been the top defense through 3 weeks. A lot of that has been due to the ever elusive defensive TD (they have scored one in each game) but they’ve also been picking off passes in bunches. They’ll either be squaring off against the noodle-armed Sam Bradford or Case Keenum, who is coming off a good game but has a bit of misguided gunslinger in him. Dalvin Cook may present problems but I’m ready to ride Detroit’s hot paws.
Injuries to Watch: LB Jarrad Davis missed last week after being concussed on MNF against the Giants. He could provide a small boost if he goes.
4.) Arizona Cardinals (vs. San Francisco 49ers) – The Cards didn’t hold up against the Cowboys last week but get a far easier challenge in the 49ers in week 4. The 9ers have been a little bit better as an offense than I expected so far (perhaps due to the installation of the Shanahan system) but I still won’t ever be scared to start my defense against a team whose top offensive threats are Brian Hoyer, Carlos Hyde, and Pierre Garcon. Expect a good game out of the redbirds.
Injuries to Watch: The Cardinals defense is at full health coming into week 4.
5.) Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears) – Sometimes you just need to pick on the Bears. On the road in a short week against a team that will probably be carving up their defense, I can’t see Chicago putting up a lot of points. In a week without a lot of elite plays, I like Green Bay as a nice, high floor option.
Injuries to Watch: Defensive linemen Mike Daniels missed last week’s tilt with a hip injury, and it showed as Cinci burst out of the gate and had some success up the middle. He is an important player; if he doesn’t go, downgrade the Pack slightly.
6.) Denver Broncos (vs. Oakland Raiders) – Denver hasn’t been a defensive juggernaut yet, but they opened the year with two tough challenges and held their own. Their most surprising game was last week’s loss to the uninspiring Bills. I think that was an aberration. Oakland is theoretically far more intimidating than Buffalo, but they’ll be playing on the road with a banged up Michael Crabtree. Derek Carr is coming off a pretty bad game, as well. This won’t be Denver’s best game of the year but you’re unlikely to have many better options.
Injuries to Watch: The Broncos should have their full complement of key defenders.
7.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ Los Angeles Chargers) – The Chargers are just one of those snake-bitten teams that is far less than the sum of its parts. They have skill players out the wazoo but are constantly hurt by injuries and insanely untimely turnovers and penalties. Their line has struggled in pass-pro so far – it hasn’t shown up necessarily in the sack numbers but the swashbuckling Philip Rivers has already turned it over 4 times including thrice last week. Philly’s intimidating front seven could eat him up. RB Melvin Gordon is dealing with a bone bruise and his effectiveness may be compromised if he does play.
Injuries to Watch: CB Ronald Darby remains out in the secondary. Elite DT Fletcher Cox left last week’s game with a calf injury. Check injury reports frequently as his absence would be quite significant.
8.) Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Baltimore Ravens) – Pittsburgh has been solid so far, but have yet to play a truly exemplary offense. Luckily that trend will continue this week against a Baltimore squad that was just absolutely trounced by the Jaguars. I don’t foresee a lot of points in this divisional matchup.
Injuries to Watch: The Steelers have a couple of key players on the defense nicked up, namely Stephon Tuitt and T.J. Watt. Tuitt put in a full week of practice before missing the game, so he could be out there this week. Watt is currently questionable with a groin injury. The presence of either or both would be a boon to this unit.
9.) Cincinnati Bengals (@ Cleveland Browns) – Cincinnati’s defense has played admirably so far despite getting little help from their offense. Andy Dalton and co. looked a little more lively last week after the firing of OC Ken Zampese, and the defense was feisty and almost pulled a herculean upset against the unstoppable Green Bay Packers. I think they get their first win this week against the vanilla Browns, whose lowly quarterback stable has ceded the league’s most interceptions so far (eight.) RB Isaiah Crowell has yet to flash any of the skills that made him an early rounder in drafts this summer.
Injuries to Watch: Not only is Cinci fully healthy, they will get back arguably their best defender in LB Vontaze Burfict. Look for him to rack up punishing hits and oodles of penalty yards.
10.) Atlanta Falcons (vs. Buffalo Bills) – Atlanta is looking every bit the super bowl contender that they were last year, putting up gobs of points and forcing opponents into catch-up mode. They are still without dominant pass-rusher Vic Beasley but I don’t think it matters this week against the Bills. I see a lopsided victory at home and a defensive score.
Injuries to Watch: Pass rusher Vic Beasley is still out for a few more weeks, and he’s a difference maker.
11.) New England Patriots (vs. Carolina Panthers) – I’ll admit, the Patriots defense has been pretty putrid in the early going. I just like the fact that they are up against Cam Newton who looks stratospheres away from the MVP he was two years ago. Top WR Kelvin Benjamin is questionable at best and safety blanket Greg Olsen is also lost for the majority of the year. Outside of Christian McCaffrey, Carolina just doesn’t have much firepower. I think this is going to be a signature, dominant NE win.
Injuries to Watch: Dont’a Hightower looks like he could return. The Pats would welcome him with open arms.
12.) Baltimore Ravens ( vs. Pittsburgh Steelers) – I kind of bit on the Ravens hype last week- they looked outstanding in the first two games, and despite not thinking they were anything special coming into the year I listed them as the top play of the week. They responded by trying to educate London’s fans by giving up nearly a point for every state in the Union! I think their true talent level is a mix of what we’ve seen so far – not as good as the first two weeks but not as awful as last week. Big Ben has been known to turn the ball over on the road, and Le’Veon Bell has yet to truly get going. In a week void of great options, you could do worse.
Injuries to Watch: Run Stuffer Brandon Williams missed last week’s contest. Give Baltimore a boost if he suits up against the division rival Steelers.
13.) New York Giants (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers) – This defense will be the death of me. They just have too many talented defenders. The offense showed some life last week, and that should help get the defense some more sideline time to rest up. My patience is wearing thin but I think they have the chance for a startable performance against Tampa Bay.
Injuries to Watch: LB BJ Goodson missed last week’s game. He is a decent player that piles up tackles. Give a boost if he gets out there. More concerning is the injury to pass rusher Olivier Vernon, who is good bordering on great. I’d reconsider the G-Men as an option altogether if he doesn’t go.
14.) Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Washington Redskins) – The Redskins finally put up a great offensive performance, but they are already littered with injuries (Jordan Reed – everything all the time, Rob Kelley –chest/ribs) and Kirk Cousins has been shaky at best. The Chiefs make for a decent albeit low-upside play that won’t sink you. They’ve held up as well as could be expected in the absence of Eric Berry and you give them a bump playing at Arrowhead.
Injuries to Watch: Eric Berry is long gone but everyone else should be good to go.
15.) Tennessee Titans (@ Houston Texans) – The Titans have the looks of a dominating offense and the positive game script provided will be a boon to their defense most weeks. I also like that the Texans have allowed the most sacks this year. That’s a recipe for success for the fearsome Brian Orakpo.
Injuries to Watch: S Jonathan Cyprien is out again but everyone else should be out there.
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. New York Giants) – I’m not thrilled with this ranking but I’m simply running out of options for this week. The Giants laughable O-Line is always worth a spin.
Injuries to Watch: Tampa’s defense is seriously banged up, and I would have ranked them higher otherwise. DT Gerald McCoy was in a walking boot after Sunday’s game. Lockdown corner Brent Grimes missed last week as well. LB Kwon Alexander missed the game after failing to practice all week. And on top of that, stud LB Lavonte David is now dealing with an ankle injury. The presence of any would be a major boost to this group but they are all looking questionable at best.