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 6 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Denver Broncos (vs. New York Giants)- In a week again lacking a ton of quality options due to the byes and the overall league parity, the Broncos D might as well be lit up in neon and in ALL CAPS. This is the league’s premier defense, coming off a bye, playing at home, and going against a dreadful offense that inexplicably just lost it’s top three weapons in the passing game. Anything less than a week-winning performance will be an earth-shattering disappointment.
Injuries to Watch: All of the Broncos key defenders are good to go. As mentioned before, they will receive a huge boost due to the prospective absences of Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, and Sterling Shepard.
2.) Baltimore Ravens (vs. Chicago Bears)- The Ravens have been a bit schizophrenic thus far, scoring 14+ in 3 games and 2 or fewer in their other two. I think this week we get good Baltimore as Mitch Trubisky continues to look for his footing in the NFL. They handled E.J. Manuel well as he filled in for Derek Carr last week and I don’t think Trubisky will mount much more of a challenge.
Injuries to Watch: Brandon Williams’ absence remains a black mark for Baltimore’s run defense. He is without a timetable for return as of this writing.
3.) Atlanta Falcons (vs. Miami Dolphins)- The Dolphins picked up a win last week, but it was more a function of opponent as their defense had a field day against the overmatched Matt Cassel. I don’t think they’ll find the same success against Matt Ryan. Fresh and at home off their bye, this will be a laugher and a great spot to deploy Atlanta’s defense. The Dolphins remain one of the league’s least dangerous offenses.
Injuries to Watch: Vic Beasley had returned to practice as of this writing and thus has at least a theoretical shot at suiting up. His return, when it comes, will provide an invaluable boost to Atlanta’s pass rush.
4.) Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)- “Maybe I just don’t have it anymore…” That was a quote from Ben Roethlisberger after he got picked off a career high 5 times by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Now he has to go on the road where he has historically struggled to Arrowhead, a venue that is notoriously tough on visitors. The Chiefs brought some fantasy goodness last week despite getting kind of shredded by upstart QB Deshaun Watson in comeback mode – they had held HOU to 13 points through three quarters before the game got kind of bananas. This is more of a hunch but I think they have a really good game against the struggling Steelers.
Injuries to Watch: Watch the status of LB Dee Ford and give a boost if he goes.
5.) Houston Texans (@ Cleveland Browns)- If J.J. Watt hadn’t been lost for the season, this would be a no-brainer. Even with his massive loss, it seems likely that the Texans will be a strong play against the Cleveland Browns who are struggling to just play football for the umpteenth year in a row. Rookie QB DeShone Kizer was benched last week for repeated red zone gaffes. No matter who is under center, the Browns just don’t have enough firepower to compete with any team. Cleveland has scored the fewest points of any team that has played all five weeks so far.
Injuries to Watch: In addition to the loss of the irreplaceable Watt, strong pass rusher Whitney Mercilus was also lost for the year with a torn pec. This defense will need to be re-evaluated after this week but I remain confident in them against the Browns.
6.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Los Angeles Rams)- This should actually be a fun game between two upstart teams. The Rams surprisingly remain one of the league’s most lethal offenses, but Jared Goff regressed somewhat against the Seahawks last week. I am sold on the Jags as an elite unit and I think they have what it takes to contain the passing game. The game will come down to Todd Gurley vs. Malik Jackson, Calais Campbell, and the rest of Jacksonville’s talented line.
Injuries to Watch: The Jags will be at full strength for this matchup.
7.) Philadelphia Eagles (@ Carolina Panthers)- The Eagles were a mild disappointment against the Cardinals last week. On the one hand they held Arizona to a measly seven points, no small feat in today’s game. But their output was modest due to a lack of turnovers. I think that regresses a bit to the mean this week – opponent Cam Newton has played better of late but isn’t accurate enough to take advantage of Philly’s main weakness – the secondary. I like the Eagles to generate a few INTs and pick up some sacks as well.
Injuries to Watch: Fletcher Cox remained out last week with a calf injury and will provide a huge boost upon return.
8.) Carolina Panthers (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)- Carolina started hot but has crumbled recently in the face of some tougher match-ups. Philly is a little more middle of the road so I am expecting solid but unspectacular results for a unit that will be at home and still has a decent amount of talent.
Injuries to Watch: CB Daryl Worley returned but S Kurt Coleman remains out. The ageless Julius Peppers was questionable heading into last week but managed to gut it out and record a sack, to boot.
9.) New England Patriots (@ New York Jets)- New England finally put out something resembling a defense in Thursday night’s squeak-by victory against the young Bucs. Now with an additional few days to prepare and going against the scrappy Jets for the division lead, I expect the Pats to begin to round into shape. Their season-long performance makes me a little wary, but their opponent and superior coaching make me like them as a decent option on a thin week.
Injuries to Watch: NE is not dealing with any injuries of note (on the defensive side of the ball, at least.)
10.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (@ Arizona Cardinals)- The Cardinals have made a solid streaming target since losing key offensive cog David Johnson. The Bucs just held the Patriots to 19 points – they should have a much easier time on extra rest going against the punch-less Cardinals.
Injuries to Watch: The Bucs have gotten a little healthier in recent weeks with the returns of Gerald McCoy and Brent Grimes but will still likely be without key LBs Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David.
11.) Green Bay Packers (@ Minnesota Vikings)- On the one hand, Green Bay is coming off their highest point total allowed all season (31 to the Cowboys.) Working in their favor, however is the fact that they’ll be going against the Vikes who due to injury have been dealing with varying levels of uncertainty on offense. Dalvin Cook is lost, Sam Bradford is banged up again and top WR Stefon Diggs suffered a groin injury Monday night. They will also catch Minny coming off a short week and therefore missing a day of recovery and practice. Green Bay always makes for a decent dart throw due to the godly game script QB Aaron Rodgers can often afford them.
Injuries to Watch: Green Bay is at full go from a defensive standpoint.
12.) Washington Redskins (vs. San Francisco 49ers)- This is more of a set-up thing: The Washington defense is nothing special but is coming off a bye, at home, and going against a non-threatening offense. They have a decent floor this week and make an OK choice to round out your lineup.
Injuries to Watch: Dampening Washington’s appeal is a multiple week injury to stud CB Josh Norman who is recovering from a small lung puncture (OUCH!)
13.) Detroit Lions (@ New Orleans Saints)- Things change lightning fast in the NFL – A week ago I had Detroit as the top option and now they are looking barely startable on the road against a historically lethal offense. I’m willing to give them a mulligan because a.) they were really good in weeks 1-4 and b.) I’m running out of options. Start at your own risk but consider yourself lucky if you get a decent performance. This week should go a long way in letting us know who the Lions really are.
Injuries to Watch: DL Haloti Ngata was pulled last week with an elbow injury and represents a big loss if he misses the contest.
14.) Arizona Cardinals (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- I’ll be honest- there’s a reason they are in the desperate tier. They just took a 34 point shellacking from Philly and now things don’t get much easier going against the Bucs. A filler option that won’t net you negative points.
15.) Tennessee Titans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)- The Titans D took advantage of a good matchup, getting 11 points against the offensively anemic Dolphins and gritty, intense, really cares about football QB Jay Cutler. Andrew Luck is out again for week 6, meaning the Colts offense doesn’t really stand a chance. Here is some footage of a recent Colts practice.
Injuries to Watch: The Colts make a fine streaming target for as long as Andrew Luck is out.
16.) Indianapolis Colts (vs. Tennessee Titans)- This is assuming Matt Cassel is out there again under center. If Marcus Mariota suits up, don’t even think about it. On a side note, could we get this game blacked out nationally? Seriously…this is the Monday night game? And the NFL wonders why their viewership is way down.
Injuries to Watch: Again – it comes down to one thing. If Mariota gets the start, forget I ever wrote this (except for the blacking out the game part.)