In fantasy leagues that use a team defense format (which is most leagues, but you IDPers are still cool), investing anything of significance during your draft in a defense is often foolish. This year the Seahawks’ defense was heavily lusted after, with an average draft position of 81.9. That meant a “player” at a position with little separation between the top and bottom was being selected in the same round as Michael Vick, Jordan Cameron, Stevie Johnson, and Greg Jennings, all of whom will receive far more opportunities in a game to accumulate meaningful fantasy numbers.
There will always be random defensive booming, but to achieve that a defensive touchdown is usually involved, as sacks, interceptions, and fumble recoveries are usually worth only two points apiece. Last year in the NFL over the entire season (512 games) there were 92 defensive touchdowns, meaning only 17.9 percent of games featured a fumble or interception that was returned, and the highest scoring defense belonged to the Bears (nine touchdowns).
So that’s one strike, and the other is value. Last year between the top ranked defense and the 20th ranked defense, there was a difference of 115 fantasy points. For quarterbacks that gap was larger at 136, and for running backs it was larger still at 158. Similar to wide receiver (gap of 79), the differentiation just isn’t there for team defenses, and it’s replaced by maddening randomness. Last week the Chiefs were among the defensive leaders with 26 fantasy points, and they’re currently owned in only 15% percent of Yahoo leagues.
You see where this is going. Unless you’re among the few who reached for the Seahawks, 49ers, or Broncos before Von Miller’s suspension, there’s no reason to be loyal to a defense throughout the entire year. Pick up a new one nearly every week, and play the matchups. The options are deep, as in standard 12-team leagues there are always 20 defenses available in the free agent pool (not counting the few fools who carry two defenses). Hell, even in deep and unhealthy leagues like my 20-teamer, a dozen defenses are still floating out there.
Every week we’ll highlight a few widely available defenses in appealing matchups to consider. So let’s do that.
New Orleans Saints @ Buccaneers (Percentage owned: Yahoo – 7%) : We begin by acknowledging that although there will be an improvement over last year, the Saints defense will generally still be, um, less than satisfactory after allowing a league worst 440.1 yards per game in 2012 (and it wasn’t close, as the Giants were 31st at 383.4). But most weeks the improvement in the secondary along with the growth of the pass rushers (hi, really scary Cameron Jordan) will compensate for any persistent leaks in the front seven. This week, here’s what that translates to: Doug Martin will get his (especially with the defensive line injuries), but the still raging toxic dumpster fire that is the Bucs and Josh Freeman could be highly profitable.
You may be concerned about the weapons Freeman is throwing to, and the possibility that we’ll see the good Freeman this week. Indeed, that possibility exists, as last year during one of the two games between the divisional rivals he threw for a season-high 420 yards and three touchdowns. But then later in the year the opposite was oh so very true when Freeman threw four interceptions against a secondary that didn’t yet employ Kenny Vaccaro or Keenan Lewis.
Last week against an even more threatening Falcons offense (albeit with Roddy White hobbled) there was bending, but little breaking. The Saints allowed 17 points, a giant leap down from the 28.4 they allowed per game last year, while sacking Matt Ryan three times. Toss in the interception and fumble recovery by Roman Harper, and a unit with — dare I say it — some promise under new coordinator Rob Ryan posted 10 fantasy points using standard scoring. That’s a mighty fine total against Ryan and the gang, leading to the promise of much more against Freeman.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Chargers (Percentage owned: Yahoo – 8%): When winter came for the Eagles’ defense last year, it was the kind that defeated all defensive species known to man. Gone are Jason Babin and Nnamdi Asomugha, the two most notable defensive exits who were part of the esteemed Dream Team acquisitions a few summers ago. But now a near complete overhaul has brought in Conor Barwin to bring pressure and Isaac Sopoaga to anchor the defensive front, along with Patrick Chung, Bradley Fletcher, and Cary Williams to reinforce the secondary. The new bodies are an improvement, to be sure, because after last year there was only really one direction to go, and it’s upwards. But overall the Eagles’ efforts to stop movement of the ball on defense will be much more of a struggle than doing the opposite on offense. In this matchup, we could have an exception.
Even though Philip Rivers et al looked surprisingly competent against the Texans while amassing and then promptly handing back a three-touchdown lead, there was little explosion of any kind. Rivers completed only 48.3 percent of his passes while averaging 6.7 yards per attempt. And while there were completions for 34 and 47 yards thrown to Antonio Gates and Malcom Floyd, his other 12 receptions were all under 20 yards. With a wobbly offensive line (Rivers was sacked three times on just 12 drop backs in Week 2 of the preseason), there simply isn’t enough time to inflict serous pain.
Yes, the Eagles were spanked around by the Redskins in the second half Monday night, but they were also left on the field for far too long by an offense that abruptly lifted its foot off the accelerator. With the utter lack of a running game and the mediocre receiving options Rivers has, this is a far more appealing streaming matchup. There may be points, sure, but the real fantasy defensive cash comes in turnovers and fumbles. Rivers and the Chargers O-line will kindly provide plenty of those.
Miami Dolphins @ Colts (Percentage owned: Yahoo – 15%): The offseason signing of Gosder Cherilus was nice and all, but overall the Colts still have the same weak offensive line that left Andrew Luck scrambling and trying to keep his limbs in their proper working order far too much last year. A line that watched their quarterback crumble 41 times in Luck’s rookie season started poorly against Oakland in Week 1, giving up four sacks to a front seven without a truly imposing pass rush threat. The Raiders finished with a whole 27 sacks in 2012, and Desmond Bryant, one of their sack leaders with all of four, departed for the Browns.
So now here comes Cameron Wake, who already has 2.5 sacks this year after a career high 15 last season. Put another way that’s far more appealing, Wake’s individual 2012 total is over half of the Raiders’ team total, meaning that his presence alone in this matchup is a great reason to make a few clicks now and start the Miami defense. Then there’s also the Colts’ non-existent running game which now shifts primarily onto the hollowed bones of old man Ahmad Bradshaw following Vick Ballard’s season-ending injury, and the addition of Brent Grimes to sufficiently slow Reggie Wayne.