In old-school football circles, grizzled vets and broken-nosed brethren will slam down their beers and boast, “Defense wins championships!”
Is that ideology true in today’s NFL? Eh, it’s debatable. But when you look at fantasy football, it is true. Well, sort of. Hear me out.
In the modern-day era of fantasy football, streaming defenses can win championships. Why? Because in any given season, starting the same defense every single week rarely delivers week-winning points per game.
Check this out: Going back to 2012, the best average of points per game for a defense was:
|Defense / Special Teams
|Points per Game
|New England Patriots
|Kansas City Chiefs
You might be thinking, “Gee, I’d love a guaranteed 11 or 12 points out of my defense each week, so I’ll draft a top-ranked defense in the ninth, 10th, or 11th round of my draft. Seems logical, right?
Well, no, not really. If you go back and look at the same defensive rankings from those previous seasons, you’ll see that the point differential between the top-scoring fantasy D/STs and other top-12 defenses is, in most cases, marginal at best.
To be fair, last year’s Patriots D/ST is an exception—the unit averaged at least four more points per game than every other D/ST in the league. Other than that, though, every other top-12 D/ST averaged nearly identical points per game. That’s not gonna cut it.
Look at it this way: If you start the same defense every week, you’ll be lucky to average 10, 11, or 12 points per game each week. But is that enough to win you your week? Probably not.
But if you stream the right defense in the best matchup against the weakest opponent during ideal conditions—you could score 18, 19, and 20+ points per game! That could be the difference between winning or losing your week, and sometimes one win or loss means making the playoffs or missing out.
Choosing the highest-scoring defense from week to week is easier said than done, of course. But those are problems for you to figure out down the stretch (look for favorable matchups, strengths of schedule, home-field advantages, key injury reports, and so on).
If you want to start the season with the best defense to stream for the first couple weeks or so (before dropping it for a D/ST with a tastier matchup as the season rolls on), here are my three favorite D/ST options to draft toward the end of your draft.
1. Buffalo Bills
The Buffalo Bills host the New York Jets in Week 1 before heading down to South Beach to take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 2. That’s two consecutive games against division rivals, both of which have highly suspect offensive units.
The Jets, for example, have the weakest receiving corps in the league, a mishmash of Le’Veon Bell (who’s been rumored to be traded at some point this season), Frank Gore, and, well, those are the most two notable names on the depth chart. Put those guys behind a hot-and-cold QB, last year’s 28th ranked offensive line, and a borderline psychotic head coach, and you’ve got yourself a dream matchup for a Bills team that’s coming off one of their best defensive seasons in recent memory:
Last year, the Bills D/ST, finished:
- Second in total points allowed (259)
- Second in total INTs (14)
- Tied for second in total passing TDs allowed (15)
- Sixth in sacks per game (3)
- 12th in total rushing TDs allowed (12)
As for the Dolphins? Their O-line, though upgraded, is still regarded as one of the league’s worst units. What’s more, you know you can’t trust Ryan Fitzpatrick or Tua Tagolaivoa against one of the league’s most elite secondaries so early in the season. Or at least you shouldn’t.
Draft the Bills D/ST toward the end of your draft. Start them for a few weeks. But then look out. The schedule doesn’t get any easier after those first couple cupcake matches.
– Mile Necovski (@MDNecovski) August 14, 2020
2. New England Patriots
I know a new-look Patriots offense won’t be running like clockwork and dominating time of possession this year, so the defense might be on the field more than usual in 2020. However, the Patriots D/ST gets the aforementioned Miami Dolphins at home in Week 1, which is a matchup to sink your teeth into.
True, the Pats lost some key defensive players (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon), but has that ever stopped Bill Belichick from prevailing before? Nope, The Hoodie is already experimenting with journeyman linebacker Brandon Copeland, whose versatility could see him play multiple positions.
Be careful, though. After Week 1, the Pats face Seattle on the road, host the Raiders, visit the Chiefs, and then meet the Broncos in Foxboro. Those aren’t the sexiest matchups for the Patriots, which probably makes the D/ST a Week 1 lock, but not much of a consideration again until midseason.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles D/ST ranks only 16th in strength of schedule, but remember, we’re not drafting for a season-long D/ST. We’re drafting for a defense that has the best chance to succeed against less-than-stellar competition in the first few weeks of the season.
Which brings us to Week 1: Philadelphia at Washington. Yikes.
The Washington Football Team had a league’s worst time of possession last season (27:11), and even though fantasy footballers are hyped about Terry McLaurin, Bryce Love, Antonio Gibson, and Steven Sims Jr., the Washington offense figures to be one of the weakest units in the league once more.
And, sadly, Washington is dealing with just too many distractions leading up to NFL Kickoff:
- The team’s front office has been ravaged by sexual assault allegations
- Running back Derrius Guice was arrested for domestic violence and subsequently cut from the team
- Head coach Ron Rivera was recently diagnosed with lymph node cancer
That’s a lot of negative energy floating around the Washington team so close to the season opener, but since the NFL (and fantasy football) is a cruel business, the Eagles D/ST (and fantasy football players) will no doubt take advantage.
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