Author's Note: As this article is written, Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin remains in critical condition at University of Cincinnati Medical Center after suffering cardiac arrest during the first quarter of Monday's game with the Bengals. His health and well-being are absolutely more important than any game (NFL or fantasy), and our thoughts and prayers are with Hamlin and his family. The status of the postponed game (and whether it will be resumed) is unknown.
Seventeen weeks into the 2022 season, for most fantasy managers the season has ended—or will as soon as Monday's postponed game between the Bills and Bengals is resolved. Championships have been won. Trophies will soon be awarded. Prize money will follow in some.
Now that the season has wrapped (for most), it's time to crown the king of fantasy defenses for 2022. And it's a familiar face—thanks in part to Kyle Dugger's pick-six against the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots posted another solid stat line to finish as the top-scoring defense by a fairly impressive margin over the Dallas Cowboys. They were followed by the Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
It was a good year for chalk, apparently.
However, if you're one of the eclectic souls who needs that one extra week of fantasy action and play your title game in Week 18, the Patriots defense could be primed for a letdown. It all depends on whether the Bills have anything to play for Sunday. If Kansas City has the top seed in the AFC bracket sewn up by the time the Bills and Patriots kick off, a desperate New England team (likely) playing against Buffalo's reserves would be a prime start. But if a Bills team that has allowed the fourth-fewest fantasy points to defenses this season is playing at full strength in an effort to land home-field advantage, it's another story.
The last time the two teams met in Week 13, the Patriots managed just two sacks and a fumble recovery.
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San Francisco 49ers (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
Depending on how things play out during the early slate Sunday, it's possible that the 49ers will be locked into the No. 2 seed in the NFC bracket and could rest players. It's also possible that the 49ers could have an opportunity to earn the top seed in the conference and a first-round bye. In any event, given the merry-go-round of mediocrity that has been Arizona's quarterback carousel the past month, San Francisco's second-teamers are as likely as not to feast on the Cardinals this week.
Dallas Cowboys (at Washington Commanders)
The Cowboys have reasons aplenty to go all-out against the Commanders this week—if the Cowboys beat Washington Sunday and the Eagles lose to the Giants later in the day, then Dallas will capture the NFC East. If Dallas wins and Philadelphia and San Francisco both lose, the Cowboys are the NFC's top seed. Dallas is sixth in the league in scoring defense, third in the league in sacks and lead the league with 32 takeaways. The Commanders are sixth in fantasy points allowed to defenses this season.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. New York Giants)
The Eagles are mired in a two-game skid, but there are reasons to think that ends this week—reasons that go beyond Jalen Hurts' potential return. The Giants are locked in as the No. 6 seed in the NFC. They cannot move either up or down. That likely means no Daniel Jones or Saquon Barkley against an Eagles defense that leads the league in yards allowed, ranks eighth in points allowed and has amassed a whopping 68 sacks—the most by an NFL team since 1984.
Buffalo Bills (vs. New England Patriots)
Again, it's hard knowing what we'll get from the AFC's No. 2 defense in yards allowed and No. 2 defense in points allowed—the Bills have been through the emotional wringer this week, and Sunday's meeting with the Patriots could mean a lot more for the Pats than it does for the Bills. However, if the Bills do play to win Buffalo's defense should be a solid play—the Bills put the clamps on the New England offense in Week 13, surrendering just 10 points.
The reeling Colts catch a break in Week 18—they face a Texans team that is floundering even more than Indy has this season. The Texans are the only team in the NFL gaining less than 280 yards per game on average. Only one team (the Denver Broncos) averages fewer points per game than Houston. And the Texans have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to defenses this season. Among defenses widely available on the waiver wire, the Colts are the best Week 18 bet.
This is another situation where it's entirely possible (even probable) that players will be rested—the Buccaneers are locked in as the NFC's No. 4 seed and would gain nothing by rolling out Lavonte David and Carlton Davis is a meaningless game. But much like with the 49ers, it probably won't matter—the Atlanta offense has struggled moving the ball with Desmond Ridder under center, and over the last month the Falcons have been a top-15 fantasy matchup for defenses.
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There is risk involved in trusting the Jaguars in Week 18, for one overriding reason—Derrick Henry has historically owned the Jags, including 121 yards and a touchdown on just 17 carries less than a month ago. But the Titans have become a difficult matchup to pass on in recent weeks—over the past month, Tennessee is eighth in fantasy points allowed to opposing defenses. The Jaguars are also quietly eighth among defenses in fantasy points for the year.
The Seahawks are in a tricky spot—but it's one that could benefit fantasy managers. If the Green Bay Packers win in Week 18, the Seahawks are out of luck where the postseason is concerned. But the Packers don't play until Sunday night, so the Seahawks will have no shortage of motivation to give their matchup with the Rams their all. The Rams are last in the league in total offense, fourth in sacks allowed, ninth in giveaways and fourth in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
Denver Broncos (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
The Broncos have struggled defensively in recent weeks—during the fantasy playoffs, the Broncos are just 25th in fantasy points among defenses. But the Broncos are still sixth in the NFL in total defense, 11th against the pass and 10th in scoring defense. The Chargers will as likely as not be locked into a playoff seed by kickoff, and there's little difference between the fifth and sixth seed anyway. It's likely that Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler and Keenan Allen spend most of this game on the sideline.
Fantasy managers who were considering the Chiefs as a streaming play got a gift when the schedule was announced—in flexing Kansas City's tilt with the Raiders to Saturday, the NFL gave the Chiefs plenty of motivation to keep their foot on the gas in pursuit of the AFC's top seed. Yes, Jarrett Stidham looked good in last week's loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but one start isn't enough to anoint him a quality stater. With that said, it is worth noting that Kansas City's output against the Raiders in Week 5 was—less than ideal…two sacks and 29 points allowed.
Houston Texans (at Indianapolis Colts)
To be clear, the Houston defense is not good by just about any measurable statistic—Houston ranks 30th in total defense, 26th in scoring defense and 23rd in fantasy points. But the Indianapolis Colts are just as bad offensively—especially of late with Nick Foles at quarterback. For the season the Colts are first in the NFL in giveaways with 31. Second in the league in sacks allowed with 56. And first in the NFL in fantasy points surrendered to defenses.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
This recommendation certainly isn't about the Falcons defense—Atlanta is 29th in the league in total defense, 23rd in the league in scoring defense and 27th in fantasy points among defenses. But the Falcons will all but certainly not be seeing Tom Brady in Week 18. Or Leonard Fournette. Or Mike Evans. Or Chris Godwin. It's not a play for the squeamish, but even the Falcons should eat against the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Breshad Perriman.