UPDATE 9/12/17: After touting the Panthers in the pre-season and for week one, I bone-headedly omitted them on the original week 2 list. I have slotted them in the dominant tier for week 2, moving everyone else down one. Congrats, you get a bonus defense this week!
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 2 of the 2017 NFL season – Get excited!
1.) Houston Texans (at Cincinnati Bengals) – I’m going to give a mulligan to the Texans following their poor debut in which Tom Savage left the defense in comprising situation after compromising situation. Much like the situation he found many people in when he starred in 8mm. The Bengals offensive line looked like it could be a real problem all season long and I’m willing to roll the Texans out as a dominant option after seeing QB Andy Dalton cede five turnovers to the Ravens in week 1. The fact that this game will likely be a low-scoring Thursday slog after each team played on Sunday only adds to the appeal. If Houston lays another egg we’ll have to do some serious re-evaluation next week.
Injuries to Watch: Brian Cushing would probably get hurt baking a soufflé. He was concussed in the opener and I doubt he’ll be cleared to play in the short window between now and Thursday. He’s a solid piece and his absence isn’t necessarily the best news. JJ Watt dislocated his finger but finished the game. Decreased dexterity in his hand may limit his effectiveness slightly but I don’t see it as a major concern right now.
2.) Arizona Cardinals (at Indianapolis Colts ) – I expect “@/vs. Colts” to be a fantasy oasis for as long as QB Andrew Luck is on the shelf. The Rams absolutely dismantled the Colts in week 1, and the Cardinals are superior in almost every facet. Scott Tolzien may have had a Rams jersey hidden under his Colts one for as often as he turned the ball over. Whether it his him under center or Jacoby Brissett, the Cardinals are as good a bet as anyone to finish atop the defensive rankings at the end of the week. There is the (very real) chance that the loss of RB David Johnson takes the air out of the Cards season, but I like their chances to dominate in this one.
Injuries to Watch: LB Deone Bucannon remains out recovering from ankle surgery but everyone else looks good to go.
3.) Denver Broncos (vs Dallas Cowboys )- The Broncos secondary remains probably the best in the league, and I don’t think Dak Prescott is going to be solving them anytime soon. Dez Bryant had a quiet week 1 tangling with the elite Janoris Jenkins and the Denver corners are of similar caliber. Zeke will probably get his but I see Denver having no problem containing this O and possibly forcing a few mistakes from Prescott. The Broncos played well for the first 58 minutes or so of week one, before allowing two quick-strike TDs to the Chargers in the waning minutes of the game. I expect them to show up for the full sixty against Dallas.
Injuries to Watch: Solid Safety Darian Stewart came out of the Chargers game with a groin injury. Allow for a slight downgrade if he’s compromised for week 2.
4.) Seattle Seahawks (vs San Francisco 49ers) – The Seahawks took the L week 1 against Green Bay but it wasn’t because of their defense – they were able to “stifle” the Pack who scored “only” 17 points. The Seahawks offense may still be unaware that the season started but the Legion of Boom is going to vent their frustrations on a hapless 9ers offense that just mustered only a solitary field goal against Carolina.
Injuries to Watch: Richard Sherman was listed as questionable heading into week 1 with a thigh injury but was able to get out there. Pass-rushers Frank Clark and Cliff Avril both got on the field after nursing injuries and recorded a combined 1.5 sacks.
5.) Carolina Panthers (vs Buffalo Bills) – The Panthers get to open up at home against a middle of the pack offense in Buffalo. Buffalo has a strong rushing attack but not much else. Tyrod Taylor showed decently at home against the Jets but will face a tougher challenge this week. Lesean McCoy is a legitimate superstar and the focal point of the offense but will also have his hands full dealing with beastly DT Kawann Short and the talented Carolina linebacker corps.
Injuries to Watch: The Panthers are full-go for this matchup.
6.) Oakland Raiders (vs New York Jets) – The Raiders just held the buzzy Titans offense to a meager 16 points and will now get a much easier assignment in a Jets team that is seriously lacking playmakers. Jets QB Josh McCown should be commended for making it through the entire game without shattering any bones but that may change once he comes face to face with Khalil Mack. From a statistical standpoint, McCown was lackluster, completing a decent amount of checkdowns and scoring a rushing TD but turning the ball over twice. Whether it is McCown or Bryce Petty under center, the Raiders are going to have a field day on both sides of the ball.
Injuries to Watch: Oakland will as of this writing have all of their key defensive playmakers for this one.
7.) Los Angeles Chargers (at Miami Dolphins) – The Chargers were just decent against an OK offense in week 1, ceding 24 points but also collecting a few turnovers. Phenom Joey Bosa picked up where he left off last year, collecting 1.5 sacks. I expect him to keep it going against the lackadaisical Jay Cutler.
Injuries to Watch: The Chargers are a full go for this contest.
8.) Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Tennessee Titans) – So far, so good for one of my favorite pre-season defensive sleepers who were able to abuse the Texans offense to the tune of seven points allowed, one interception, three fumbles recovered, and a touchdown. Chances are if you used the Jaguars in week 1, you won your matchup. They’ll face tough odds to repeat against a much better QB but have solidified their worthiness of weekly consideration. Don’t expect another bonanza, but rather a solid showing to help you towards a winning weekly total.
Injuries to Watch: The Jaguars remain at full strength on the defensive side of the ball.
9.) New York Giants (vs Detroit Lions) – It’s a good thing this game is on Monday night, as the Giants defense must be utterly exhausted after playing what seemed like a full sixty minutes on Sunday. Despite playing against a Cowboys unit that could generously be described as “meh,” Eli and co. really couldn’t get anything going as the offense completely stalled out without stud WR Odell Beckham – no TDs were scored, and no kicking nets were attacked, smooched, or proposed to. The defense held up well considering they got absolutely no help from their offense and were often quickly back on the field before they could take their helmets off. If Odell plays this week, I expect a much more balanced time of possession and a potentially dominant showing against a Lions offensive group that doesn’t have the same caliber playmakers Dallas boasts. QB Matt Stafford just lit up the Cardinals but historically plays considerably worse on the road.
Injuries to Watch: Giants defenders are likely irritated and sore but aren’t currently dealing with any injuries.
10.) Baltimore Ravens (vs Cleveland Browns) – I’m not sure if the turnover fiesta Baltimore attended week 1 was more a product of Ravens competence or Bengals incompetence, but I’m willing to roll them out there against a Browns team that will likely be eligible to be picked on all year. The Browns just ceded 19 fantasy points to the Steelers in ESPN standard and could be due for a repeat against a defense with similar strengths.
Injuries to Watch: LB Za’Darius Smith was tearing it up before being carted off with a knee injury in week 1. Downgrade the Ravens ever so slightly in the (likely) event that he doesn’t play.
11.) Tennessee Titans (at Jacksonville Jaguars) – Blake Bortles has been making streamers dreams come true ever since he entered the league – QB streamers for his legendary garbage time production and defensive streamers for his deluges of mistakes that produce that garbage time. This week the Titans get to face him, and he just lost his top pass-catcher in Allen Robinson to a year-ending ACL injury. Fournette is scary but Tennessee will be able to stack the box with no Jaguar passing attack to fear. I expect solid, start-worthy returns.
Injuries to Watch: The Titans have yet to sustain any noteworthy injuries on D.
12.) Minnesota Vikings (at Pittsburgh Steelers) – This is where the options take a serious downturn in quality. This is more of a bet on Minnesota’s talent alone, as Big Ben and co. are lethal at the Gigantic Ketchup Bottle (isn’t that what they call it?) Minnesota is the type of defense that you hold even through their bye/ tough matchups, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them give up a big game to Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, or Martavis Bryant. Minnesota was a better real life than fantasy defense in week 1, holding a Saints offense with a lot of firepower to just 19 points but recording just one sack and no turnovers against Drew Brees and the stout New Orleans O-Line. Xavier Rhodes and co. were able to keep Michael Thomas in check but AB might be another story altogether. You can start them this week, but expect better results as the season progresses.
Injuries to Watch: Injuries? The Vikings scoff at your puny injuries.
13.) Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Philadelphia Eagles) – You love that they’re at home and coming off a potentially season-defining beatdown of the reigning SuperBowl champ Patriots – you hate that they will be out mega-stud safety Eric Berry for the rest of the year due to a devastating Achilles injury. This is kind of a ho-hum play, they will give up a few touchdowns but you can feel comfortable they will probably get a sack or two and not get blown out.
Injuries to Watch: Eric Berry’s loss is immeasurable as he is one of the best players in the league. If the secondary struggles in this game the Chiefs season-look fantasy D outlook may need to be re-adjusted, which is a shame for a unit that was a top-two option last year.
14.) Los Angeles Rams (vs. Washington Redskins) – The Rams are coming off a laugher in which they made Scott Tolzien look like Scott Bakula out there (i.e. they made him look more like the star of Quantum Leap than an NFL quarterback) but they will likely face a tougher test against the .Gif-erriffic Kirk Cousins. Running and quarter back devourer Aaron Donald recently ended his hold-out and could potentially give the D a massive boost if he plays, but I’m for the most smart expecting only an average performance from LA.
Injuries to Watch: Aside from Donald’s potential absence as he continues to get up to speed following his holdout, the Rams will have their full complement of defenders.
15.) Philadelphia Eagles (at Kansas City Chiefs) – The Eagles are on the road against a team that just hung forty points on the Patriots, and they just lost top corner Ronald Darby to a multiple week ankle sprain. Their front seven will allow them to hang with anyone but they may be better off being faded against the newly bazooka-armed Alex Smith and hall-of-fame bound Kareem Hunt.
Injuries to Watch: An already questionable secondary needs to be really downgraded for as long as Darby is out.
16.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs Chicago Bears) – The Bucs make a sneaky option this week. They are playing at home, are conceivably fresh after their week 1 contest was wiped out due to weather, and going against a severely depleted Chicago passing game that didn’t have much to deplete from to begin with. WRs Kevin White and Cameron Meredith are likely out for the year, meaning that Mike Glennon/ Mitch Trubisky will be throwing to Kendall Wright, or themselves. Handoffs and dumpoffs to RBs Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen may be the Bears only option to move the offense, and in that case they’ll have to go through the mammoth Gerald McCoy.
Injuries to Watch: The Buccaneers should be at full mast, ready to pillage. I mean healthy.
17.) New England Patriots (vs. New Orleans Saints) – Whoof. Play at your own risk. They were just utterly embarrassed by the Chiefs and will now be heading into the SuperDome to play one of the more prolific offenses of the modern day NFL. Maybe Belichick gets them up for this one. The fact that they are the Patriots is really all that they have going for them but I wouldn’t be completely floored if they put up a decent, gutsy defensive performance following the spanking they got on opening night. They’ll also have an extended slate of practices to prepare since there will be nine days between their games. That being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they gave up points in bunches, either.
Injuries to Watch: WLB Dont’a Hightower, a very important piece, suffered a sprained MCL in the opener and should currently be considered questionable to play. If he can’t go, it would be just another mark against what is already a shaky play this week.