(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
With each new passing week, we learn a bit more about the NFL and its teams. Sometimes, these stories take a couple of months to completely play out and other times our assumptions are quickly confirmed. Here’s how I would break down the league so far:
- Elite (SB Contenders): Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Buffalo, New Orleans, Tampa Bay
- Good (Playoff Threats): Baltimore, Indianapolis, Tennessee, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Arizona, LA Rams, Seattle, Miami
- Mediocre (Could make playoffs, no real threat): New England, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, Minnesota
- Bad (Playing for nothing): NY Jets, Cincinnati, Houston, Jacksonville, LA Chargers, Denver, the NFC East, Atlanta, Carolina
- Rising (3+ win streak): Minnesota, Las Vegas, Miami, New Orleans
- Falling (2+ losing streak): San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina, Chicago
So to be fair, most of this isn’t shocking or even surprising. I could have easily picked that ‘contender’ list before the season started. Sure, I didn’t have Pittsburgh at 9-0 right now. They were a rising team in the second half last year, though, and they are a perennially successful franchise. Buffalo is a newcomer to the ‘contender’ list as New England has run away with the AFC East for as long as I can remember. Still, I know I saw this coming with Tom Brady leaving town. The door was left wide open, and the Bills were a young playoff team last year. Their ascension was a good bet. So, how does this list help us?
Early in the season, we saw Tampa Bay ascend as a defense to an excellent level. Sure, they’ve slowed down a bit since then. They haven’t cracked eight points in their last four games. In the five games before that, though, they averaged close to 13. It’s important to find these hot defenses and ride them until the wheels fall off. So who are the hot defenses at the moment?
- Miami has averaged 12.3 fantasy points over their last four contests, which were against the Jets (0-9), the Rams (6-3), the Cardinals (6-3), and the Chargers (2-7). Two of those teams are playoff-bound, and one (the Chargers) is much better than their record indicates. The Dolphins averaged two sacks, one interception, and one fumble recovery per game in that span, and they have the Broncos and Jets up next. In two weeks, everyone who isn’t yet will be gushing about the Dolphins.
- The LA Rams have averaged 11 points in their last three contests against Seattle, Miami, and Chicago. They averaged three sacks, a pick, and a fumble recovery per contest. Most impressive here is the way the Rams handled Seattle’s high-flying attack. It’s a tough matchup coming against the Buccaneers, but the Rams should be useful against San Francisco, New England, and the Jets.
- Indianapolis has averaged 10 points in their last three games against Tennessee (6-3), Baltimore (6-3), and Detroit (4-5). They have found success by getting to the quarterback, limiting opponent scoring, and scoring a pair of defensive touchdowns. I don’t love counting on defensive scores, but this group has been strong all year and it’s continuing.
Here’s a look at how the top-12 played out last week:
|Rank||Team||Opponent||Fant. Pts.||% Owned||Sacks||Interceptions||Fumbles|
|1||Las Vegas Raiders||Denver||16||15%||2||4||1|
|2||New Orleans Saints||San Francisco||14||93%||2||2||2|
|3||Los Angeles Rams||Seattle||13||48%||6||2||1|
|6||Jacksonville Jaguars||Green Bay||11||1%||1||1||1|
|9||San Francisco 49ers||New Orleans||7||45%||3||0||2|
|T-10||Miami Dolphins||LA Chargers||6||57%||2||1||0|
We talked about the defenses who are hot. Here’s the offenses we want to attack:
- Chicago is scoring fewer than 15 points per game over their last four contests. They also give up close to four sacks per game and just lost starter Nick Foles. Hello Tyler Bray!
- Denver just gave up five turnovers to the Raiders and Drew Lock is looking like a complete disaster.
- San Francisco has 8 turnovers in their last three games, and their vaunted running game is looking terrible. Oh, and Jimmy G, George Kittle, and Deebo Samuel are all still out.
- After 10 weeks, the NFC East leader is 3-5-1. Keep targeting every team in this division as it continues to spiral out of control.
- The Jets are still the Jets. Target them hard until Adam Gase is fired.
Okay, here’s who I’m looking at in week 11.
Miami Dolphins (59%, @ Denver)
This week feels too good to be true. We have three strong under-owned defenses as well as one streamer I love and another solid one. We start off with the Miami Dolphins. I mentioned earlier how well they’ve been playing, but it bears repeating. They have averaged two sacks, a pick, and a fumble recovery over their last four contests, three of which were against tough teams. Miami draws Denver who has been a complete disaster. The other draw for grabbing Miami is that they face the Jets and Bengals after this. That three-game stretch might just lock up your playoff spot. Get Miami if you can and ride with them for these next three weeks.
Minnesota Vikings (56%, vs Dallas)
Minnesota, once upon a time, was 1-5 with the season spiraling out of control. How quickly things can change. The Vikings went ona three-game tear against their three division rivals, and they are 4-5 with Dallas, Carolina, and Jacksonville ahead. The defense has been solid, averaging two sacks and two forced turnovers per game. They’ve also limited opponents to fewer than 20 points per game in the same span. Like Miami, you can grab Minnesota and hold onto them for three weeks. That is an excellent list of opponents, especially if Teddy Bridgewater is still out by the time week 13 rolls around.
New England Patriots (55%, @ Houston)
Our last under-owned squad is definitely the least compelling, but still worth the look if you miss out on Miami and Minnesota. New England has seemingly gotten back on track with a big win over the Ravens, and they face the struggling Houston Texans this week. Bill Belichick is a savvy enough coach to win this one and we know the talent this defense has. Sure, the New England offense has been a bit of a mess. They may not have to score too much, though, if they can just contain Deshaun Watson. Cleveland showed the blueprint last week.
Week 4 Streamers
Los Angeles Chargers (44%, vs NY Jets) Stream of the Week
Poor Chargers fans. True, Justin Herbert is looking like a stud; still, the team just can’t seem to win a game. Here are the margins in their defeats: 3, 5, 7, 3, 1, 5, and 8. That is brutal. The Chargers are the best ‘terrible record’ team in the NFL right now, but they should have an easier time in week 11 against the Jets. The Jets have looked a little better as of late, but let’s note kid ourselves: their ultimate goal is the first overall pick in the draft. I imagine the Chargers, playing at home mind you, trash the Jets and finally pick up their third win. The Jets are only averaging slightly over 11 points per game in their last five outings, and they shouldn’t scare anyone–outside of apparently New England. The Chargers are my easy choice for stream of the week.
Cleveland Browns (19%, vs Philadelphia)
Here’s what Cleveland does well: run the ball and get to the quarterback. Here’s what Philadelphia does poorly: stop the run and protect their quarterback. Any questions? Here’s how I imagine this one goes: Cleveland pounds the rock early and often with Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb. They break a big play or two and slowly build a 10-14 point lead. Philadelphia, meanwhile, struggles to keep Carson Wentz upright as Myles Garrett grabs a pair of sacks. The Browns probably won’t be a top-3 defense this week, but they feel safe. Sometimes safe is good. I’d be happy to roll with the Browns this week if I couldn’t grab anyone else on the list.