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. Update: Mr. Hundley’s Hometown?
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 8 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Minnesota Vikings (@ Cleveland Browns)- This might be the weakest slate of options yet with 6 teams on bye, many of which are important in the defensive landscape. Recent stalwarts “Sacksonville” and L.A. Rams are getting the week off, as are the punchless New York Giants. The Packers and Cardinals are dealing with potentially season-ending injuries to their signal-callers and would be great streamer targets if they weren’t getting their bye. But you play the hand you are dealt, and Minnesota gets the number one rank with a big fat purple exclamation point against the comically inept Browns. Cleveland failed to score a TD against the Titans and things aren’t going to get any easier against the Vikes. DL Everson Griffen has been devouring quarterbacks in the midst of a remarkable streak in which he has recorded a sack in every game so far this season. That run has a great shot to continue with Browns stud OL Joe Thomas done for the year with a triceps injury. Deploy the Vikings with obnoxious levels of confidence.
Injuries to Watch: The Vikings could probably slaughter the Browns with one hand tied behind their backs, but they will have their full complement of defensive weapons.
2.) Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Indianapolis Colts)- The Bengals were drubbed by the Steelers, but don’t let that dissuade you from using them this week. The Colts are another (cuddlier, weaker) animal altogether, ceding the 2nd most points to opposing defenses. And that was BEFORE they allowed an utterly preposterous ten sacks to the Jaguars. I see the Bengals having a really nice showing as Andrew Luck continues to be MIA.
Injuries to Watch: CB Adam Jones hasn’t played since week 5. He’ll boost the D if he goes but Cinci is deep enough in the secondary to withstand his absence.
3.) Baltimore Ravens (vs. Miami Dolphins)- The Ravens kind of flopped last week in what should have been an exploitable matchup against the Vikings, but I’m not going to shy away from them here. The Dolphins attained a level of respectability against the Jets in terms of offensive output but still remain non-threatening and may now be forced to start QB Matt Moore with the determined, gritty Jay Cutler likely to miss several weeks with injured ribs. Moore is one of the league’s better backups but is still a backup.
Injuries to Watch: Run-erasing NT Brandon Williams finally returned to the field but up-the-gut plodder Latavius Murray, who should theoretically have been hampered by William’s presence, responded with his best game as a Viking. Go figure. I’ll chalk that up as an anomaly as Williams rounds into form. His big body should improve the Ravens run defense immensely and darkens the outlook for Jay Ajayi.
4.) Philadelphia Eagles (vs. San Francisco 49ers)- The Eagles are soaring, coming off a big in-division win against the rival Redskins and sporting the NFL’s best record at 6-1. Their reward? A laughably soft matchup against a team tied for the league’s WORST record. The offense has been doing a lot of the heavy lifting, helmed by second year dynamo Carson Wentz, but the D has held it’s own and has been a back-end top 12 option to date. The 9ers don’t do anything exceptionally well and are near the bottom third of the league in points scored and sacks allowed. This should be an easy win and a solid defensive performance.
Injuries to Watch: The Eagles did suffer some casualties Monday night. Offense and defense have a synergistic relationship and it remains to be seen what kind of impact will be felt by the loss of the stalwart Jason Peters on the O-Line. Starting MLB Jordan Hicks tore his Achilles and is out for the rest of the year, also a blow. Fortunately, Monster DT Fletcher Cox returned 2 weeks ago and has since put up 1.5 sacks according to Rotoworld
5.) Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Detroit Lions)- In this whacky NFL season, Pittsburgh is suddenly in the discussion for best team in the NFL coming off two nice wins against the then-undefeated Chiefs and division rival Bengals. The defense has been remarkably consistent, allowing 20 points only once. Now they get to go against the Lions who will be missing one of their top receiving options in WR Golden Tate.
Injuries to Watch: Pittsburgh is currently at full strength.
6.) Seattle Seahawks (vs. Houston Texans)- The Seahawks put up a workmanlike effort against the Giants, ceding only 7 points. The Texans have stumbled into Bizarro land- they look like they have found their franchise QB but now have more questions than ever on their normally stout defense. Houston aren’t pushovers on offense anymore but I feel comfortable with the Seahawks as a top 6 play given the dearth of options.
Injuries to Watch: Cliff Avril isn’t coming back but otherwise the Seahawks look good to go.
7.) Miami Dolphins (@ Baltimore Ravens)- The Ravens have gotten kind of unfortunate. If they had a better quarterback, a less injured offensive line, stronger running backs and a few more pass catching options, they might have a shot at fielding a legitimate offense. They don’t have any of those things though. Use Miami against a squad that is allowing the fifth most points to opposing defenses.
Injuries to Watch: The Dolphins are not dealing with any defensive injuries of note.
8.) Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Denver Broncos)- The Chiefs Defense has been pretty “meh,” putting up double digit points only once thus far. However, they have a few things working in their favor this week. They are at home coming off a Thursday night game, which gives them more time to recover/ practice. They also have a pretty juice matchup – compromised by injury or not, Trevor Siemian has been pretty awful of late. The Broncos are putting up a measly 18 PPG, placing them in the bottom third of the NFL. I think the Chiefs get back to business after two straight losses and post a nice defensive outing.
Injuries to Watch: Nothing to report here.
9.) New Orleans Saints (vs. Chicago Bears)- The Saints have been a surprisingly useful defense for a few weeks now, and held tough against an admittedly VERY compromised (read: lacking Aaron Rodgers) Packers squad last week. I have no problem rolling the dice with them again going against what should be another relatively soft matchup in the Bears. I admit there is the chance that they are eaten up by Jordan Howard, as the Saints are currently allowing 4.9 YPC (2nd worst in NFL behind only the Jags.) Deploy cautiously.
Injuries to Watch: The Saints D has no injuries worth mentioning.
10.) Denver Broncos (@ Kansas City Chiefs)- A commenter last week put it nicely: “You drafted the Broncos to start them every week.” I agree. You’ve got to roll them out there if you have them. They continue to play well from a real-life standpoint but have yet to put up a signature fantasy game and unfortunately I don’t see that changing this week. They have a tough matchup and are getting no help from their offense whatsoever. Hold your nose and hope for modest returns.
Injuries to Watch: Sackman Shane Ray could be nearing a return but won’t be eligible to play until week 9.
11.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Carolina Panthers)- The Panthers are awful. Just do it.
Injuries to Watch: Literally doesn’t matter. Cam Newton couldn’t hit water if he fell out of any sort of container that was already in water. Boat or otherwise.
12.) Houston Texans (@ Seattle Seahawks)- I’m very interested to see how the Texans will play without Whitney Mercilus and JJ Watt against a non-Browns offense. The Seahawks are a middle of the pack offense with an exploitable line, but it remains to be seen if Houston has enough firepower left to take advantage of this matchup. This could be a sneaky shootout but this far down you take what you can get and the Texans could theoretically have a decent defensive game.
Injuries to Watch: We’ve already touched on the season-enders to Watt and Mercilus, so there’s nothing else worth mentioning.
13.) Buffalo Bills (vs. Oakland Raiders)- Here’s another one I really don’t feel great about. Oakland may have finally gotten their mojo back with Amari Cooper and Derek Carr finally syncing up to the tune of 200+ yards and two TDs last week, but Buffalo has been respectable for the majority of the year and has a shot at holding them in check. Additionally, Marshawn Lynch is likely to miss this contest due to a boneheaded ref-pushing suspension, boosting the outlook a little for the Bills.
Injuries to Watch: The Bills are banged up in the secondary, with EJ Gaines, Jordan Poyer, and Micah Hyde all dealing with varying degrees of injury. Check their status before gametime and allow for downgrades if they aren’t out there.
14.) Dallas Cowboys (@ Washington Redskins)- I’m counting on this being a low-scoring matchup. Dallas just handled San Fran pretty easily by grinding them down with Zeke Elliott, who has already been guaranteed at least one more game as his infuriating miasma of litigation plays itself out at a snails pace. Washington is a tougher test but I don’t see a lot of offensive fireworks here.
Injuries to Watch: Sean Lee is back, which is a big plus for the Dallas run D.
15.) Oakland Raiders (@ Buffalo Bills)- They take a ding for going on the road across country but that is neutralized by their long week. This is a mere dart throw against a non-threatening offense.
Injuries to Watch: The Raiders D should be close to full strength and enlivened by the recent acquisition of Navorro Bowman, who could have some juice left in the tank.
16.) Carolina Panthers (@ Tampa Bay Buccaneers)- I am so fed up with Carolina it is ridiculous. Getting rid of Josh Norman continues to look downright foolish. How this team made the Superbowl two years ago is beyond me. They just lost to the Bears (admittedly not their fault- the offense ceded two long defensive touchdowns) but should still have enough talent to theoretically stop an offense, so they get this slot.
Injuries to Watch: MLB Luke Kuechly should be back out there, returning from a concussion. He is a stud and boosts Carolina’s defensive outlook considerably.