Getting Defensive: Week 12

Gary Davenport
·9 min read



It's the time of year when Americans give thanks for all the good things in their lives.

That's admittedly a bit more difficult in 2020, although at least this year gives you an excuse to avoid Aunt Gladys and her oyster stuffing. (Seriously…what the hell?). But fantasy managers who spent some draft capital on the Pittsburgh Steelers Defense in 2020 have something to give thanks about 11 weeks into the fantasy campaign.

In Week 11 the Steelers Defense put up another excellent stat line in a blowout win over the Jacksonville Jaguars—just three points allowed, 206 yards allowed, two sacks and four takeaways.

Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick had two of those takeaways and now has four in the past three games. But as Chris Adamski wrote for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, despite the fact the Steelers are 10-0 for the first time in franchise history, the third-year safety feels like there's still plenty of room for the Pittsburgh defense to get better.

"There’s definitely still more to work on,” Fitzpatrick said. “(The Bengals and Jaguars) are two teams that we should’ve beat like that. We’re a very talented team, and we should’ve won those games like that.”

The Steelers face a stiffer test this week than over the past couple of games when the rival Ravens come calling on Thanksgiving Night. The Ravens haven't been an especially good fantasy matchup for team defenses in 2020—Baltimore ranks just inside the top 20 in fantasy points allowed to the position.

But just as they did last year, the Steelers lead the NFL in both sacks (38) and takeaways (21) and lead many scoring systems in fantasy points. The first time these teams played this season back in Week 8, the Steelers sacked Lamar Jackson four times, notched four takeaways and scored a defensive touchdown.

In other words, pass the gravy.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Los Angeles Rams (vs. San Francisco 49ers)

Under head coach Sean McVay, the Rams have mostly been known as an offensive team. But in 2020, it has been the Rams Defense which has arguably been the better unit. Led by tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey, the Rams rank inside the top-five in total defense, pass defense, run defense, scoring defense and fantasy points per game and inside the top-10 in sacks. Sunday, the Rams host an injury-ravaged mess of a San Francisco 49ers team that is half a step this side of trying out guys in a Home Depot parking lot. Play tight end in Pop Warner? Give them a call.

Miami Dolphins (at New York Jets)

The Jets have frankly been a bunch of inconsiderate jerks over their last two games, in that they have almost been competent on offense. However, that "almost" is important—the Jets put up 26 points in Los Angeles last week, but Joe Flacco also threw an awful-looking pick-six in the game. The Dolphins struggled a bit defensively last week in Denver, but Miami is tied for the second-most takeaways in the NFL with 17. Add in that no team in the AFC has allowed more fantasy points to defenses this year than the Jets, and you have a prime bounceback spot.

Cleveland Browns (at Jacksonville Jaguars)

The Browns are becoming the 2020 poster team for the disconnect that exists sometimes between what makes a defense good from an NFL perspective versus what makes one valuable to fantasy managers. In terms of yards and points allowed, the Browns have been average, but the team has amassed 17 takeaways, 27 sacks and posted two defensive touchdowns and a pair of safeties. The Browns were third among all fantasy defenses in points a week ago against the Philadelphia Eagles, and this week's trip to Jacksonville to face rookie Jake Luton and the Jaguars is a similarly favorable matchup.

New Orleans Saints (at Denver Broncos)

The conversation in the Big Easy just about always focuses on Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Alvin Kamara, and the offense—and rightly so. But the New Orleans defense has been nothing to sneeze at, either. Last week against the Falcons, the Saints held a high-powered Atlanta offense out of the end zone, surrendered just 248 yards and got all up in Matt Ryan's business, sacking him eight times. The Denver Broncos showed some signs of life last week, but they remain a mediocre (at best) team that leads the league with 23 giveaways this season.

New York Giants (at Cincinnati Bengals)

Yes, that's right. The New York Giants are about as sure a bet as you're likely to get from a defense for a 3-7 team. The circumstances that brought it about are most assuredly crappy—the nasty knee injury that ended Joe Burrow's season was a real gutpunch for Bengals fans and fantasy managers of any of the Bengals skill-position players. Now the Bengals will turn the offense over to Ryan "Oh Please No Not Him" Finley, and if last week's performance against the Washington Football Team was any indication, he has now shot to the top of the list of quarterbacks we should target when looking for a fantasy defense.

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears)

Truth be told, the Packers haven't been a particularly good defensive team in 2020—the pass rush in particular has trailed off considerably, and with it Green Bay's fantasy production. Through 11 weeks, the Packers rank outside the top 20 in fantasy points. But in Week 12, the Pack welcomes in the rival Bears, a team that has been offensively offensive most of the 2020 campaign. To this point in the season, the Bears are dead last in the NFC in both total offense and scoring, largely because the team appears dead set against ever fielding a quarterback who can, you know, throw a football.

Seattle Seahawks (at Philadelphia Eagles)

Had you said a month ago that the Seattle defense might be even a serviceable streaming play defensively, you probably would have gotten a sobriety test. Or maybe a strait jacket. But last week against the Arizona Cardinals, something funny happened—the Seahawks actually played OK on that side of the ball. The trade that brought Carlos Dunlap to town has given the Seahawks pass rush a major boost, and this week Seattle heads east to face a mistake-prone mess of an Eagles team that ranks at or near the top of the league in both sacks allowed and giveaways.

Washington Football Team (at Dallas Cowboys)

Looking to roll out some fantasy players on Thursday so you have a stake in more than just how much turkey you can eat without passing out. The defense for the Washington Football Team might be just what you're looking for. Washington is coming off one of their better defensive efforts of the season—four sacks, two takeaways and less than 10 points allowed in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The Dallas Cowboys looked better offensively I Week 11 than they had in a while, but we're still talking about a team that entered the week leading the NFL in fantasy points given up to defenses.

Dallas Cowboys (vs. Washington Football Team)

If you can't procure a share of the WFT for the Thursday afternoon tilt at Jerruh World, the flip side of that coin could be a decent desperation play. A defensive powerhouse the Cowboys most assuredly aren't, but the team did manage two sacks and a pair of takeaways last week in Minnesota. Thursday the Cowboys welcome in a Washington team that ranks 28th in total offense and 29th and scoring offense while surrendering the fourth-most sacks (32) in the NFL and the sixth-most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses in 2020.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. New York Giants)

OK, so this is admittedly a Hail Mary play—the Bengals Defense has accrued fewer fantasy points through 11 weeks than every other team in the league. But if you're in a deep league or are looking for a dirt-cheap contrarian DFS play, there are a few reasons to have at least some hope with Cincy. The New York Giants have the third-worst offense in the NFL in terms of both yards and points per game. The Giants have surrendered the fifth-most sacks (31) in the NFL. The Giants have the sixth most giveaways in the league. And Big Blue has surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to team defenses this season.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Baltimore Ravens (at Pittsburgh Steelers)

As a whole, the Baltimore defense has been an excellent asset for fantasy managers in 2020—they trail only the Steelers in many scoring systems. But the Ravens have struggled of late, losing three of their last four—and part of the cause for those struggles has been injuries on defense. Baltimore really only has one plus fantasy effort on defense since Week 5, and in Week 12 the Ravens travel to face a Steelers team that sits dead last in the league in fantasy points allowed to the position. If you do roll the Ravens out Thursday, don't be surprised if Thanksgiving ends with some indigestion.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Tennessee Titans)

The Colts are 7-3 and a legitimate Super Bowl contender in the AFC largely because of a defense that has ranked at the top of the NFL in yards and points allowed much of the season. The Colts are also coming a great effort in a Week 11 win over the Packers, turning Green Bay over four times. But we just saw the Colts and Titans play in Week 10, and while Indianapolis only allowed 17 points and scored a special teams touchdown, that was just about it so far as big plays were concerned—Indy did not have a takeaway and managed just one sack of Ryan Tannehill. Only the Steelers have allowed fewer fantasy points to defenses this year than the Titans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)

For most of the 2020 season, the Buccaneers have been stout defensively—the team ranks inside the top-five in total defense, run defense and sacks and ranks well inside the top-10 in fantasy points among defenses. But the Buccaneers were just torched for over 300 passing yards by Jared Goff in the first three quarters of their Monday night matchup in Week 11, and Sunday Patrick Mahomes and the buzzsaw that is the Chiefs Offense comes to the Florida coast. In news that should surprise exactly zero people, the Chiefs are one of the worst matchups in the league for fantasy defenses.