Matchups are a key part of fantasy football at every position. You want to start quarterbacks and wide receivers facing leaky secondaries. Running backs who face defenses that are soft up the middle. Kickers who—OK, no one cares about kickers except maybe their parents.
The same absolutely holds true with team defenses. And there are some defenses right now getting more gravy than at Thanksgiving—because there are a handful of quarterback injuries and benchings that have led to some interesting dudes starting under center.
Last week’s game in Vegas between the Raiders and New York Giants featured a pair of rookies in Aidan O’ Connell and Tommy DeVito. O’ Connell and the Raiders did OK. DeVito and the Giants did not—the G-Men turned it over twice, allowed eight sacks and scored six points. It was even worse for Clayton Tune in his first start for the Arizona Cardinals—the Redbirds tallied all of 58 yards of offense and never got inside the 40-yard line against the Cleveland Browns. Brett Rypien of the Los Angeles Rams isn’t a rookie, but he was a disaster against the Green Bay Packers, completing less than half his passes for 130 yards and a pick in a 20-3 loss in Green Bay.
There are a number of quarterbacks fantasy managers should actively be targeting in Week 10—starting with a game in Dallas that may force the NFL to consider instituting a mercy rule in 2024.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants)
Seriously, y’all. This ain’t fair. DeVito has been abysmal in the two games he’s played so far, and the Giants are stuck with the undrafted rookie—both Tyrod Taylor and Daniel Jones are on injured reserve after Daniel Jones tore his ACL last week. The Giants also have Matt Barkley on the roster, but it’s not like he provides some massive improvement. And whoever starts under center will be playing against arguably the best pass rush in the NFL behind an offensive line that is on pace to allow 98 sacks this season. No wonder all New York’s quarterbacks are hurt. This is Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed. And if you don’t get that reference, shame on you.
What new Vikings quarterback Joshua Dobbs was able to do in leading Minnesota to a win last week five days after joining the team was impressive. But it doesn’t erase the fact that the Arizona Cardinals won one game with Dobbs under center and ranked inside the top-10 in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses. The New Orleans Saints are seventh in the league in total defense, seventh in the NFL in scoring defense and quietly rank third for the season in fantasy points at the position. Odds are good that Dobbs comes back to Earth this week—quite possibly with a thud.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Two times in the last three weeks, the Ravens have dropped a piano on a first-place team, with the most recent beatdown a 37-3 dismantling of the Seattle Seahawks this past week. The Ravens are second in the league in both total defense and pass defense, eighth against the run, lead the NFL in both scoring defense and sacks and have more fantasy points than any team in the AFC. Meanwhile, the Browns are among the league leaders in giveaways and have surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points per game to defenses. Back in Week 4, the Ravens thumped the Browns 28-3 in Cleveland.
The Jets got thumped by the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9, but it certainly wasn’t the fault of New York’s defense—the Jets allowed less than 200 yards of total offense and dropped Justin Herbert five times. For the season, the Jets are ninth in total defense, third against the pass, eighth in scoring defense, have tallied 22 sacks and sit 11th among all team defenses in fantasy points per game. The Raiders may have had their way with the Giants last week, but the team has still surrendered the eighth-most fantasy points per game to defenses.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Green Bay Packers)
The Steelers are one of the more surprising 5-3 teams in the NFL, and most of the credit for that lies at the feet of T.J. Watt and a defense that welcomed veteran defensive tackle Cameron Heyward back last week against the Tennessee Titans. The Steelers are sixth among team defenses on the heels of big plays—Pittsburgh’s 26 sacks are good for ninth in the league and only two teams have more takeaways than the 16 that the Steelers have tallied. The Packers aren’t a great fantasy matchup for defenses, but the Green Bay offense has struggled to move the ball consistently this season.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Denver Broncos)
The Bills have been scuffling a bit, losers of three of five in part due to injuries that have hit every layer of the defense, with the latest being the head injury suffered by leading tackler Terrel Bernard. But the Bills are still fifth in the league in scoring defense, fifth in the NFL with 29 sacks, seventh in the league with 14 takeaways and 10th in the league in fantasy points per game among defenses. The Broncos offense has improved somewhat, but the team still ranks 11th in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses. Expect the Bills to be up for this game—and determined to right the ship.
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Seattle Seahawks (vs. Washington Commanders)
It might seem a tad strange to recommend a defense that just got blasted to the tune of 37 points allowed and almost 300 yards on the ground as a solid fantasy play in Week 10. But the Seahawks aren’t playing the Ravens in Baltimore this week—they are hosting a Washington Commanders team that has allowed a whopping 44 sacks this season, second only to the New York Giants. The Commanders have also turned the ball over 14 times, and the Commanders have given up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses this season.
The Cincinnati Bengals are quietly fifth among team defenses in fantasy points, and it’s a status they have achieved without being especially good in any particular statistical category. With that said, the Bengals have steadily improved as the season has worn on, playing their best defensive game of the season at home last week against the Bills. When last we saw the Texans' C.J. Stroud, he was setting a new record for passing yards by a rookie in a game, but it’s worth noting that the week before that he failed to hit 150 passing yards or throw a touchdown pass on the road against the Carolina Panthers.
The Colts haven’t played especially well defensively this season, ranking 26th in yards allowed per game and 29th in points allowed per game. There have at least been a fair number of big plays—Indy’s 25 sacks rank 11th in the NFL and their 14 takeaways include a pair of Kenny Moore pick-sixes last week against the Carolina Panthers. However, this call has more to do with the opponent than the Colts themselves—the Patriots are 27th in the league in total offense, last in the AFC in scoring and leading the league in fantasy points per game given up to opposing defenses.
Atlanta Falcons (at Arizona Cardinals)
There are a couple of risks involved with trusting the Falcons as a fantasy starter this week. The first is the potential return of Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray, although after a long layoff it’s not unreasonable to assume he’ll be rusty. There’s also the matter of an Atlanta defense that ranks inside the top-10 in terms of yards allowed but that has struggled to make the kinds of big plays that equate to fantasy production. However, the Redbirds have been a plus matchup—ninth in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses.
Las Vegas Raiders (vs. New York Jets)
As the Raiders showed last week against Danny DeVito (sorry, that joke just never gets old) and the Giants, the Vegas defense is capable of taking advantage of a favorable matchup—the Raiders amassed eight sacks, picked DeVito off twice and finished as a top-five fantasy defense. Meanwhile, the Jets allowed the biggest defensive stat line of Week 9, scoring six points, surrendering eight sacks of their own and giving up a punt return touchdown. For the season, the Jets have now given up the fifth-most fantasy points per game to defenses.
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Cleveland Browns (at Baltimore Ravens)
The Browns have been outstanding just about across the board defensively this year—no team is allowing fewer yards per game or passing yards per game, and edge-rusher Myles Garrett is making a strong case for Defensive Player of the Year honors. The problems for the Browns defense this week are twofold. For starters, the Ravens are 27th in the league in fantasy points per game given up to defenses this season. The other is that we have already seen this movie this season—Cleveland’s worst defensive effort of the season came in Week 4 against the Ravens.
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers’ Association Football Writer of the Year. You can follow him on Twitter @IDPSharks.