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Defense Wins Championships (Week 3)

by Dylan Lerch
Sep 22, 2015

Richard Sherman and the Seahawks have a favorable matchup Week 3

Richard Sherman and the Seahawks have a favorable matchup Week 3

Dylan Lerch is one of the pioneers of combining Las Vegas with fantasy football, and he has been writing his Defense Wins Championships column for four straight seasons. Each installment can be found at every Tuesday morning. You can follow him on Twitter @dtlerch.

Sometimes, Monday night can be excruciating. Your team’s lineup gaffes are displayed for everybody in your league to see. However, not every lineup inefficiency is a mistake.

Getting better at mixed games of skill and chance (like fantasy football) requires very careful observation of the results. None of us would be dropping A.J. Green (WR33) for Travis Benjamin (WR5), and none of us would be kicking ourselves for leaving Benjamin (26.5 points) on the waiver wire while starting Keenan Allen (3.6 points). The results themselves matter when we start talking about whole samples, but with n=1, we have to be honest about the process we used to come up with each decision. Ask yourselves the following questions:

  1. Did I evaluate the matchup correctly?
  2. Did I evaluate the player’s usage correctly?
  3. If no to #1 or #2, why not?

If you did evaluate the matchup and usage correctly, then it doesn’t matter what the score ended up being! Congratulations, you made the right choice, and the result doesn’t really matter.

Sometimes, it’s easy to see a mistake and dismiss it because “it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.” You see, I know it was dumb to start Jace Amaro over Rob Gronkowski, but he beat me by 75 so it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Nope. It doesn’t work that way. A mistake is a mistake is a mistake. Mistakes make it more likely that you’ll lose, and losing sucks.

Be honest with yourself, make smart choices, and the winning will follow.


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Week 3 D/ST Scoring (Team – expected points – tier)

  1. New England Patriots – 13.2 – 1
  2. Seattle Seahawks – 12.0 – 1.5
  3. Houston Texans – 11.4 – 1.5
  4. Carolina Panthers – 11.2 – 1.5
  5. Cleveland Browns – 10.7 – 2
  6. Indianapolis Colts – 10.5 – 2
  7. Denver Broncos – 10.4 – 2
  8. Arizona Cardinals – 10.1 – 2.5
  9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 9.7 – 3
  10. Buffalo Bills – 9.3 – 3
  11. Atlanta Falcons – 8.9 – 3.5
  12. Baltimore Ravens – 8.9 – 3.5
  13. New York Jets – 8.9 – 3.5
  14. Minnesota Vikings – 8.9 – 3.5
  15. Green Bay Packers – 8.8 – 3.5
  16. Philadelphia Eagles – 8.8 – 3.5

Also on tier 3.5: Miami Dolphins (8.7) and Pittsburgh Steelers (8.7)

Tier 1 and 1.5: New England, Seattle, Houston, Carolina

Both of these should be extremely obvious by now, especially for long-time readers. You have two defense that are somewhere between “mediocre” and “very good” and each are at home, heavily favored, and have a great matchup. New England gets Jacksonville, which have been a strong fade for dozens of games in a row. Seattle gets Chicago in a game where the forecast is 65, sunny, and 100% chance of Jimmy Clausen. If you’ve got either of these two defenses, you’re starting them, and moving on to the rest of your lineup.

Houston has so much good going for them, but this is purely a matchup play. Unless they scoreand play well this weekend, they’re not worth much more than that. Simply put, Tampa Bay is going to be an excellent fade all year long.

Carolina’s start-worthiness may not even depend on Drew Brees‘ status. However, this line seems the most volatile of them all, so something could change over the week. That said, even with a disappointing Week 2 score of 7, the Panthers were still worth starting in both weeks thus far. Even with Brees, the Saints have conceded eight and then 14 points in MFL Standard.

You can split hairs about which of these four should be ranked 1-4, but you can’t really go wrong with any of them.

Tier 2 and 2.5: Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Denver

Ah, the yearly defensive powerhouses of Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Denver. Can we even remember a time where the Browns or Colts were bad defensively? Oh, yeah, that’s right, they’ve been pretty lackluster for a while – but that’s what is so noteworthy about D/STs compared to other positions. Year-to-year correlations are very weak with D/ST scoring, and we can see bad defenses get good, or vice versa, in a hurry.

Cleveland is the #9 D/ST through two weeks, but it’s been very fragmented; -1 in Week 1 then 23 in Week 2. This one is a matchup play dictated by a low Vegas total of 42, but I would temper expectations. The Browns are still probably mediocre at best, and this play doesn’t have a ton of upside. I hesitate to call it safe because that implies it can’t go wrong, but I would feel pretty safe about the Browns’ floor.

Indianapolis played poorly on Monday night, but I don’t think that’s likely to continue. Andrew Luck will shave his out of control beard and go back to DirecTV before Sunday, and their ship should be righted. It’s a shame too, I’m ready for a world where the Colts are stuck in the cellar for a few years. Without their own offense as a liability, their defense should be able to play better, although their secondary is looking pretty thin due to injury. With the Titans playing so far as a boom/bust fade, Indy looks like a boom/bust play.

While Luck struggled to outduel Ryan Fitzpatrick, Peyton Manning struggled to outduel Alex Smith. It’s a weird world we live in. I don’t often like the “eye test” with D/STs, but when it matches up with the projections, maybe it could be a useful tool? The Broncos definitely pass the eye test. I like them the most out of this tier.

Tier 3 and 3.5: Arizona, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Atlanta, Baltimore, New York Jets, Minnesota, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Miami, Pittsburgh

Strange hodgepodge of teams. Buffalo, NY Jets, Miami, and Arizona all had preseason buzz, and they’ve all been a mixed bag through two weeks. The Buccaneers, Falcons, and Steelers were all so bad last year, and this tier is so large, that they can probably be ignored in all leagues. I’d also want to avoid the Ravens if at all possible. That still leaves a handful of choices.

The Bills were drafted highly enough and have enough long-term potential that they’re my favorite on this tier. Miami probably follows them for the same reason, even though they disappointed last week. They scored 15 points in Week 1, and it will take at least one more disappointment in a good matchup for me to cut bait. In all honesty, my team with the Dolphins will probably play them through Week 4 and then drop them during Week 5.

The Jets are next, since they looked so good on Monday Night against a very good quarterback. They get a matchup at home that seems exploitable, even if the points conceded might get a little high. The Jets are at home and should be able to force multiple turnovers.

Meanwhile, Arizona has looked like one of the best teams in football, and they get a great matchup at home against the 49ers. This one could get high scoring on both sides, but Pittsburgh proved the 49ers aren’t anywhere near as good as they were in the opener. This one really probably should just be in tier 2.5. They’ve got great matchups for a couple weeks in a row too, if you’re into that kind of thing.

There are lots of good choices this week. Good luck grabbing one before they’re gone!

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