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Some weeks, this column can be a real bear to write, The NFL's elite defenses wind up in marquee matchups with high-octane offenses. The kind of tomato cans that fantasy managers like to target defensively wind up in a battle of Hunts vs. Heinz with another terrible team.
It's difficult (if not impossible) to get excited about the slate.
Then there are weeks like this—the opposite end of the spectrum.
Simply put, fantasy managers in 12-team leagues should have no problem finding a starter for Week 13. Many of the higher-end defenses have matchups that range from tasty to positively succulent. For the managers with shares of teams whose matchups aren't quite so delectable, there are multiple streaming options that should be out there on the waiver wire.
Maybe it's the universe balancing the scales after a week where Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey got hurt (again) and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf went full milk carton. More likely it's just dumb luck—a random confluence of matchups.
But whatever the reason, even this week's two caveat emptor matchups (which happen to be in the same game, because of course they are) have more than a little fantasy upside.
What a time to be alive.
Los Angeles Rams (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
Over the first seven weeks of the 2021 season, the Los Angeles Rams ranked sixth in fantasy points among defenses. That was expected. Since Week 8, there is only one fantasy defense that has scored fewer fantasy points. That was not. The Rams defensive issues were laid bare by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers last week. But Green Bay won't be Aaron Donald's opponent this week. The Jacksonville Jaguars are. As in the Jaguars who have allowed the most fantasy points per game to defenses in the AFC this year. The Jags could barely move the ball against Atlanta. Against an angry Rams team? Um…no.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Atlanta Falcons)
These Buccaneers are not the same team defensively as last year's Super Bowl winners—especially in the secondary. Against a competent NFL offense with actual receivers and whatnot, that's a problem. But this Sunday the Bucs travel to face a team whose best offensive weapon is a converted kick returner. If the Falcons can't run the ball (and against Tampa they will not be able to run the ball) the offense tends to, um, suck. Add in that no team has surrendered more fantasy points per game to defenses this season, and you get a matchup so cake it has fondant on it.
Indianapolis Colts (at Houston Texans)
The Colts came up just short against Tampa last week, and in that game, Indy admittedly had their struggles defensively. But much like the Rams, the Colts aren't playing a Super Bowl favorite in Week 13—they are playing a Houston Texans team averaging 196 yards of offense over their last two games that just lost to (and I am not making this up) the New York Jets. Houston is dead last in total offense, dead last in scoring offense and has given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2021. If this ain't a "get right" game, then nothing is.
Arizona Cardinals (at Chicago Bears)
If you'll kindly look out the window to your left, you'll see the next doormat on our tour—the Chicago Bears. Yes, the Bears won on Thanksgiving so Matt Nagy didn't have to explain to his kids why everyone in Chicago hates him even on holidays, but the Bears are still a hot mess of a football team that leads the NFL in sacks allowed with 37. Given that ridiculous number, the over/under on how many sacks Markus Golden and Chandler Jones will rack up in Week 13 is approximately 24. The Bears are also 30th in total offense and have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses.
Dallas Cowboys (at New Orleans Saints)
Yes, the Dallas Cowboys have scuffled a bit of late, and the defense isn't piling up fantasy points at quite the gaudy rate of earlier in the season. But there isn't a defense in the NFC that has more points than the Cowboys for the season, and Dallas is a respectable fifth even over the last month. On Thursday the Cowboys will be squaring off with a New Orleans offense in free-fall that will likely turn to a quarterback in Taysom Hill for whom the forward pass is not a particular strength. If (when) New Orleans falls behind and has to go pass-heavy, this game could get ugly quickly.
Miami Dolphins (vs. New York Giants)
Not that long ago, the Dolphins had been left for dead. But after peeling off four straight wins the team is at least on the fringes of playoff contention, and the team's defense has played a big role in that resurgence, The Dolphins aren't especially impressive statistically, but they have made big plays when they had to—as evidenced by their eighth-place ranking in fantasy points on the year. The Giants may have won last week, but this is still a team that ranks 24th in total offense, 26th in scoring offense and that has given up the 10th-most fantasy points per game to defenses this season.
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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Denver Broncos)
Remember when everyone was wondering what was "wrong" with the Kansas City Chiefs? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Over the last month-plus, the Chiefs have peeled off four consecutive victories, and the team's defense has played exponentially better over that span—from Week 8 to Week 11 the team ranked fourth in fantasy points. A week 12 bye likely landed the Chiefs on the waiver wire in quite a few leagues, but with the Broncos (led by either an injured Teddy Bridgewater or an awful Drew Lock) coming to Arrowhead Sunday night, they're arguably this week's top streaming option.
Baltimore Ravens (at Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Ravens got some run in this column last week as a streamer, and the team came through—three sacks, a pair of takeaways and 10 points allowed in a win over the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens defense isn't what it once was, but neither are the rival Steelers—Pittsburgh just had their doors blown off by Cincinnati in a game where they didn't score a touchdown until garbage time. If the Steelers can't run the ball with rookie Najee Harris, the offense falls apart—and the Ravens just absolutely shut down the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL.
Philadelphia Eagles (at New York Jets)
The Eagles looked like a prime streaming candidate last week against the New York Giants. But the "Jekyll and Hyde" act that has plagued the team all season long struck once again—the Eagles managed just a single sack in an ugly 13-7 loss. However, sometimes you have to go back to the well when the matchup looks too good to pass up—and this week's most assuredly does. The Jets have been very kind to opposing defenses this season, allowing the third-most fantasy points per game to the position. It probably has something to do with New York's 24 giveaways—the most in the NFL.
San Francisco 49ers (at Seattle Seahawks)
It has been a disappointing season from a fantasy perspective for the 49ers defense—the team ranks either just inside or just outside the top 20 in fantasy points defending on scoring system. But this play is more about who the Niners will be facing Sunday—a reeling Seattle team that has to be the unquestioned kings of disappointment in the NFL this season. Seattle's offense has completely imploded—only the Houston Texans are averaging fewer yards per game, and Seattle has scored just 28 points over their last three games combined.
Minnesota Vikings (at Detroit Lions)
To say that the Minnesota Vikings have struggled on defense this season is an understatement—only the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets have allowed more yards per game, and Minnesota ranks 24th in scoring defense at 25.1 points allowed per game. But if Detroit manages to score 25 points, that will most likely signal the beginning of the Apocalypse—the Lions are 29th in total offense, 30th in scoring offense and haven't scored 20 points in a game since Week 1. In Week 5, the Vikings had their best fantasy effort of the season against the Lions, logging four sacks and two takeaways in a 19-17 win.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Buffalo Bills (vs. New England Patriots)
The final game of Week 13 features the top two fantasy defenses to date this season. The Buffalo Bills are coming off an excellent outing in a blowout win over the New Orleans Saints on Thanksgiving. And fantasy's No. 2 defense faces a New England Patriots team Monday night that ranks in the middle of the pack for the season in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses. But the Bills lost Pro Bowl cornerback Tre'Davious White in that game, and since Week 7 no team in the AFC has been stingier to opposing defenses than the Pats. The Bills could easily backslide here.
New England Patriots (at Buffalo Bills)
Let's get this out of the way off the jump—if I had any shares of the Patriots defense, I would start them against Buffalo and not give it a second thought. The Pats lead the league in fantasy points at the position, rank inside the top-10 in just about every statistical category that matters, and New England has logged double-digit fantasy points in a remarkable six straight games. But keeping that streak going against Josh Allen and the Bills isn’t going to be easy—Buffalo sits 29th in the league in fantasy points per game surrendered to defenses.