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 5 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Detroit Lions (vs. Carolina Panthers)- It might be time to start taking the Lions seriously as a weekly set-and-forget. Their upstart defense has been the number one option through four weeks against a respectable slate of opponents. They were at it again last week, holding the Vikings to 7 points (no small task against ANYONE in today’s offense-obsessed environment) and racking up 3 fumbles to boot. The Panthers have proven to be prone to mistakes on offense that Detroit will be able to capitalize on. They may slow down at some point but ride ’em while they’re hot.
Injuries to Watch: Jarrad Davis (LB) has missed the last two with various cranial injuries. He is important in run coverage and will boost the unit even more if he can go.
2.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Chicago Bears)- Minnesota has been respectable from a points allowed standpoint, holding opponents to under 20 in 3 of four games. That being said, they have yet to post a fantasy point bonanza that they were dropping seemingly on a weekly basis in 2016. That changes, like, now. I think they tee off against newly anointed starting QB Mitchell Trubisky who, if he knows what is good for him, will be looking to hand/dump off to Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen on nearly every play. The Vikings have a high floor and a high ceiling this week.
Injuries to Watch: Minny is good to go which is bad news for the Bears.
3.) New York Jets (@ Cleveland Browns)- I was really looking forward to tons of butt-fumbling goodness this season, but the Jets have shocked the world by playing decently competent and surprisingly watchable football so far. Perhaps they all have a vested interest in not pissing off the perpetually terrifying Bart Scott, who recently bet Chris Canty a pretty sweet ride that Gang Green could clear five wins. Whatever their motivation, they have been competitive in three of their four games thus far and now get to face a Cleveland Browns squad that is Austin Powers: Goldmember level bad. The Browns have allowed the most INTs in the league and scored the fifth-fewest points.
Injuries to Watch: I really had to do some research on this one, as I didn’t really expect to ever be featuring the Jets in this column. Like ever. But, word on the street is that the Jets are at near full strength. Muhammad Wilkerson has been playing through a shoulder injury but has yet to miss game action.
4.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Oakland Raiders)- The Baltimore D of weeks 1-2 is proving to be a bit of a mirage, but I still think they have enough talent to take advantage of a juicy matchup. Normally going against Oakland is no walk in the park, but QB Derek Carr and his soulful eyes will be on the bench for a few weeks nursing a back injury and contemplating his general richness/handsomeness. E.J. Manuel will be starting for Oakland and therefore you want the Ravens starting for your fantasy squad.
Injuries to Watch: NT Brandon Williams is a run stuffing menace and the Ravens rush defense hasn’t been as good without him in recent weeks as he nurses a foot injury. He looks unlikely to play this week which puts a bit of a bummer on this unit’s appeal.
5.) Buffalo Bills (@ Cincinnati Bengals)- I don’t know how they’re doing it but the Buffalo defense has MacGyver’d their way to a hot start, culminating in a bordering on preposterous two-game win streak against Denver and at Atlanta. They are looking like a safe weekly start and this week draw the Bengals who have played better since firing OC Ken Zampese but still have no semblance of a running game.
Injuries to Watch: DL Shaq Lawson missed last week but didn’t negatively affect the defense in his absence.
6.) Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Buffalo Bills)- Perhaps the most impressive thing about Buffalo’s semi-hot start is the fact that they are doing it despite fielding an offense with almost no firepower whatsoever. Between OC Rick Dennison running a “McCoy and Pray” style offense and “Top” WR Jordan Matthews out for reportedly a month with a thumb injury, I’d start the Bengals at home with confidence. The Bills had scored the third fewest points in the league BEFORE Matthews’ injury.
Injuries to Watch: Cinci is at full go for Week 5.
7.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)- The Steelers were a top play in week 4, holding Baltimore to 9 points and racking up a few turnovers. Now, at home, I’d be comfortable rolling them out against a Jaguars team that just dropped one to the Jets.
Injuries to Watch: T.J. Watt and Stephon Tuitt both played and gave the Steelers defense a huge boost. The Steelers D is now back at full strength.
8.) Seattle Seahawks (@ Los Angeles Rams)- Seattle unsurprisingly got it going last week against a woeful Colts offense, but this week they get a much tougher test against a Rams squad that has shockingly scored the most points in the NFL thus far.
Injuries to Watch: Cliff Avril is a solid pass-rusher and will be out for multiple weeks with a neck injury.
9.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@Pittsburgh Steelers)- The Jaguars defense played OK against the Jets but given the opponent their ten point output was a bit of a letdown. I am wary of starting them on the road against a devastating Steelers passing attack, but they are talented enough to hold their own.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags are full go.
10.) Carolina Panthers (@Detroit Lions)- The Panthers got out of the gate strong but have faltered in recent weeks in the face of some tough matchups (vs. NO, @ NE.) I am not necessarily a huge fan of starting them against a hot Detroit squad but in our first week of byes their simply aren’t a ton of quality options. Hope for some turnovers but don’t expect them to hold the Lions (top ten in scoring) to a low point total.
Injuries to Watch: Give them a slight downgrade in the face of starting FS Kurt Coleman’s MCL injury.
11.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. Seattle Seahawks)- The Seahawks offense is still finding its rhythm and is also quite banged up, with Doug Baldwin nursing injuries and breakout RB Chris Carson done for the year with a broken leg. I think this one may wind up being a low-scoring affair.
Injuries to Watch: The Rams are at close to full strength.
12.) Tennessee Titans (@ Miami Dolphins)- The Titans defense has been pretty sub-par. This is a call strictly based on opponent. The Dolphins had their season opener canceled due to weather but have since inexplicably scored a total of 25 points in their first three. That is absolutely ridiculous. Perhaps they get right against Tennessee but I think the Titans D can be deployed as a decent (albeit low ceiling) dart throw.
Injuries to Watch: S Johnathan Cyprien has missed a few with a knee injury. Give the Titans a boost once he is able to get back out there.
13.) Los Angeles Chargers (@ New York Giants)- We’re starting to really scrape the bottom of the barrel here. With Jason Verrett out I don’t think LA has much chance of containing ODB, but I do expect Joey Bosa to get fat on the Giants paper-thin offensive line.
Injuries to Watch: The loss of CB Jason Verrett to a season-ending knee injury should prove problematic for this defense moving forward. It’s a shame – the Chargers seem to be absolutely snake-bitten in recent years and just can’t seem to take advantage of their above-average collection of talent.
14.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Arizona Cardinals)- The Arizona Cardinals offense has stalled out in the absence of megastud David Johnson, near the bottom third of the league in scoring. The Eagles talented front seven could tee off on the cement-shoed Carson Palmer, who is literally screwed into the ground at the beginning of each game.
Injuries to Watch: I’d like the Eagles a lot more if they weren’t dealing with injuries to Ronald Darby and Fletcher Cox.
15.) Houston Texans (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)- Houston showed last week why I thought so highly of them coming into the season, netting 5 turnovers and a defensive score. Sadly, going against the high-octane Chiefs is a different story altogether. I’m interested in them again but they don’t have much upside in this matchup.
Injuries to Watch: Talented but boneheaded LB Brian Cushing is currently serving a ten-game suspension. Side note: doesn’t Cushing look like he would have no problem shoving you into your locker?
16.) Kansas City Chiefs (@Houston Texans)- The Chiefs have been inarguably the best team in a watered-down league thus far, hitting the ground running at 4-0. That being said, they’ve done it by lighting up the scoreboard and employing a bend-don’t-break defensive game-plan. Rookie QB Deshaun Watson has looked surprisingly good so far. The Chiefs are a low-upside middling play.
Injuries to Watch: Eric Berry isn’t coming back but the Chiefs are otherwise healthy on D.