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 7 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Seattle Seahawks (@ New York Giants)- Each and every NFL week so far has been an exercise in madness, with unpredictable upsets, flop performances out of nowhere and hideous injuries forcing us to constantly recalibrate what we think we know. The Broncos, fresh off a bye, at home, and going against a winless Giants team inexplicably laid an egg after I listed them as the week’s top option. Despite this, I am doubling down on targeting the G-Men. The Seahawks should be fresh and Big Blue just hasn’t shown any degree of offensive competence, scoring only one offensive touchdown in their first win.
Injuries to Watch: Pass-rushing dynamo Cliff Avril is out for the foreseeable future with a neck injury- HC Pete Carroll has even alluded to the fact that it may be career-ending.
2.) Jacksonville Jaguars (@ Indianapolis Colts)- The Colts have allowed the most points despite having played only 5 games. The Jaguars have allowed the 9th fewest despite the fact that they have played a full 6. The Colts have also scored the fifth fewest points. These facts make for an easy choice – weak offense going against strong defense equals fantasy goodness.
Injuries to Watch: QB Andrew Luck is inching closer to return but he looks unlikely to go this week, leaving the Colts as a team to aggressively stream against.
3.) Baltimore Ravens (@ Minnesota Vikings)- Baltimore was able to put up a great fantasy showing against the neophyte Mitchell Trubisky, recovering two fumbles and scoring twice. The Vikings surprisingly took down the Packers but are still dealing with tons of injuries on the offensive side of the ball making Baltimore an intriguing play.
Injuries to Watch: Minny’s QB situation is a big fat question mark, but none inspire fear. Whether it’s the hobbled Sam Bradford, the pedestrian Case Keenum, or the rehabbing Teddy Bridgewater under center, the Ravens will be going up against a vanilla signal-caller. Stefon Diggs is also dealing with a lower-body injury and missed last week. Ravens DT Brandon Williams remains out, which gives a bit of a boost to the outlooks for Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon. The latter is coming off a nice game.
4.) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)- In recent years Pittsburgh has consistently handed Cinci big brother noogies and embarrassing playoff losses. AFC North contests are always low scoring slogs. I think Pittsburgh’s talented young pass rush might get the better of Cinci’s diminished line. Cinci has played better of late but still feature a 16.7 Turnover Percentage (percentage of drives ending in a turnover) – 3rd worst in the league.
Injuries to Watch: The Steelers should be a full go for this one.
5.) Buffalo Bills (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- Buffalo will be at home coming off a bye and going against a Tampa Bay team that has kind of underachieved on offense so far, not taking the giant step forward that some predicted. Doug Martin has shown well since coming off suspension but it is the QB play that gets me excited for Buffalo – they will either be going against a compromised Jameis Winston as he attempts to play through a sprained AC joint in his throwing shoulder or Ryan Fitzpatrick playing through diminished ability and poor decision making.
Injuries to Watch: S Micah Hyde has been dealing with some nagging ailments but has yet to miss time. Linebacker Ramon Humber has missed multiple weeks but could eventually return from a broken hand- give a small bump to Buffalo’s D if/when he returns.
6.) Minnesota Vikings (vs. Baltimore Ravens)- Speaking of turnover percentage, Baltimore checks in right behind Cinci with 16.4% of their drives ending in a turnover – 4th worst in the league. The Ravens running game has kind of been all over the place, and Minnesota has been stout against the run – allowing the second-fewest fantasy points to running backs through week five before stone-walling Green Bay’s Montgomery/Jones tandem. They have Xavier Rhodes to slap on top WRs, and I don’t think he’ll have any trouble with either Jeremy Maclin or Mike Wallace. This should be a low-scoring affair.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikings offense represents a MASH unit but their defense is close to full strength.
7.) Denver Broncos (@ Los Angeles Chargers)- I am flabbergasted that Denver couldn’t put up a better performance against the wayward Giants last week. I have demoted them but they are definitely capable of a nice bounce back. They didn’t even play poorly – they gave up a sole offensive touchdown. It’s the fantasy points that haven’t been there. They’ve been kind of tough to figure- stifling against both the run and the pass, near the bottom of the league in terms of points and yards allowed, but just not creating turnovers. The takeaway- this defense is still elite and if they start getting some luck their way in the INT or fumble department they could pour on points in bunches.
Injuries to Watch: The Broncos are not dealing with any significant defensive injuries.
8.) Carolina Panthers (@ Chicago Bears)- The Panthers have been pretty mediocre but they are getting their first decent matchup in weeks against the non-threatening Bears (third fewest points scored among teams that have yet to get a bye.) Mitchell Trubisky has yet to clear 200 yards passing in his first two career starts.
Injuries to Watch: Star LB Luke Kuechly sustained a concussion against Philly but will have extra time to get ready given the fact that it was a Sunday night game. It’d be a substantial blow if he misses this one.
9.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. Arizona Cardinals)- The Cardinals looked rejuvenated with the return of David Joh….wait, that was Adrian Peterson? AP turned back the clock last week but I’m not ready to declare Arizona’s offensive woes completely behind them. The Rams have held opponents to under twenty points in back to back games and could do it again. They have the talent up front to thwart the Cards weak O-line. The Rams are tied for second in the league in sacks per Pro-Football Reference.
Injuries to Watch: Keeping this from being a higher-rated option is the fact that LA is banged up in the secondary – FS Lamarcus Joyner has been out for weeks and now top CB Trumaine Johnson is week-to-week with a concussion that he sustained against the Jags.
10.) Cincinnati Bengals (@ Pittsburgh Steelers)- This week has a few more options available than recent slates with fewer teams on bye, but we have hit the first downturn in quality. Cinci is a strong defense but is going on the road against a team they’ve historically had trouble with. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell cap the upside of any opposing defense.
Injuries to Watch: The Bengals should at least be pretty rested coming off their bye week and riding a modest win streak. No injuries to report on.
11.) Tennessee Titans (@ Cleveland Browns)- Versus or @ Cleveland has been fantasy defense money this year. They have young, mistake-prone QBs and perhaps the weakest pass-catching corps in the league. They offer plenty of turnover potential and don’t have the ability to put up big points. Tennessee’s defense itself is nothing special but make for a good dart throw this week.
Injuries to Watch: Safety Johnathan Cyprien remains out and will boost the secondary upon return.
12.) Dallas Cowboys (@ San Francisco 49ers)- This is more of a bet on game-flow. The Cowboys should be up multiple scores (with or without the recently re-re-re-suspended Ezekiel Elliot) and force the weak 49ers offense into catch-up mode. The Cowboys don’t have a ton of defensive talent but won’t need it to put up a back-end starters worth of points.
Injuries to Watch: The perpetually broken Sean Lee has been out since the season’s 3rd week but may be able to get on the field following the bye. He is arguably the Cowboy’s most talented defender and would shoot their stock straight up if he goes.
13.) New Orleans Saints (@ Green Bay Packers)- Start New Orleans against Aaron Rodgers? Not for all the beef jerky in the world (and I love beef jerky.) Start them against Brett Hundley? Sure, why not. The Saints did just need to put up a fifty-burger to eke out a win against the Lions, so I acknowledge there is blow-up potential. But this far down in the ranks, I’ll take a chance with them going against a team who’s season probably just went down the tubes.
Injuries to Watch: All of the Saints tackling dummies… err… defensive players are at full health.
14.) New York Jets (@ Miami Dolphins)- The Jets continue to play commendable football, holding their own against the rival Patriots and perhaps even being robbed of an upset win on a controversial overturned TD. They make an OK dart throw against the punchless Dolphins.
Injuries to Watch: Muhammad Wilkerson continues to play through a shoulder injury but hasn’t missed any games.
15.) Miami Dolphins (vs. New York Jets)- I continue to pick on the Dolphins offense despite their upset victory over the Falcons, but the Jets offense isn’t anything special either. Expect a low-scoring snoozefest.
Injuries to Watch: CB Byron Maxwell has been out since week 2.
16.) Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Denver Broncos)- The Chargers have had only one true stinker – a game against the Eagles where they netted negative points by giving up 26 and failing to record any turnovers or scores. Otherwise, they have been fine from a points allowed standpoint. The Broncos are an average offense so I expect average returns. CJ Anderson just face-planted against the Giants, and QB Trevor Siemian is banged up as well, boosting the Bolts outlook.
Injuries to Watch: Joey Bosa and crew are currently at full strength.