If there's one takeaway from a wild and wacky (they always are) Week 1 across the National Football League, it's this:
Whoever plays the Miami Dolphins in a given week will be getting "No Doubter" status in this column.
If Sunday's blowout loss to the Baltimore Ravens is any indication, the Dolphins are taking putridity to a whole new nadir in 2019. In losing to Baltimore by seven touchdowns, the Dolphins scored just 10 points, managed a measly 200 yards of total offense and turned the ball over three times.
It was a performance so bad that multiple Miami players reportedly contacted their agents after the game to ask them to please get them the hell out of there.
It could be worse—the Dolphins could be preparing to play the defending Super Bowl champions, who are coming off a blowout win of their own over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Oh wait—that's exactly what's happening.
The New England Patriots didn't just blast the Steelers, they completely dominated what's supposed to be a high-octane, talent-laden Steelers Offense. The Pats didn't do a lot in the big-play department (one sack, one takeaway), but New England limited the Steelers to three points and 308 yards of offense.
And that was without linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who will be back I Week 2.
If the Patriots Defense is on your fantasy roster, the team is a fantastic starting option in Week 2. If New England's on the waiver wire in your league, consider putting in a claim.
You won't regret it.
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Chicago Bears (at Denver Broncos)
The Bears came up short against the Green Bay Packers at home in the Thursday night season opener, but fault for the loss can hardly be laid at the feet of the Chicago defense. The Bears picked up right where they left off in 2018, putting the clamps on Aaron Rodgers and company. The Pack won the game, but Green Bay scored just 10 points and had a very un-Rodgers-like 213 yards of total offense in the contest. Chicago wasn't able to turn the Packers over, but the Bears did get to Rodgers for a handful of sacks. If there's been any drop-off from the 2018 Bears Defense to this season's iteration, it wasn't evident at Soldier Field last week.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
There's no question whatsoever that the Ravens had the most impressive win of Week 1—even if that win came against the league's pre-eminent tomato can. And for most of Arizona's season-opener against the Lions, the Cardinals Offense floundered. But in the fourth quarter and overtime of that game Kliff Kingsbury's offense finally clicked into gear, with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray finding success on short and long passes alike. Defending this scheme could prove challenging for teams early in the season, adding a tinge of risk to starting defenses playing against them. But the Cardinals still face plenty of questions, and the Ravens still have plenty of talent. Roll them out.
Houston Texans (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
This space was originally occupied by the Denver Broncos, but after watching the Broncos get carved up by the Oakland Raiders (yes, you read that right) in the Monday night nightcap it's time for a change. The Texans gave up 30 points in a wild loss to the New Orleans Saints in Week 1 and didn't generate much in the way of big play production. But that was against Drew Brees in the Superdome, and there's a bit of difference between facing a Hall of Fame quarterback on the road and taking on a rookie making his first NFL start at Reliant Stadium. J.J. Watt and the Texans are going to take out their frustrations on the Jags Sunday. Get a piece of the action.
In fairness, a case can be made for dropping the Bills a notch here, even after an impressive outing against the New York Jets that landed Buffalo well inside the top-10 in fantasy points for the week. The Giants got beaten handily by the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1, but the offense piled up over 450 total yards in defeat. Still, there's no denying that the Bills looked good against Gang Green, piling up four sacks, notching a takeaway and giving up just eight points to the Jets Offense. At day's end, I just don't trust the Giants to put together two offensive efforts like the one in Dallas in a row. The Bills have a very good chance at a 2-0 start, and the defense is the main reason why.
Dallas Cowboys (at Washington Redskins)
This recommendation follows a similar script as the last one. Fantasy owners of the Cowboys likely are none too pleased by the defense's less-than-stellar effort against the New York Giants, and the Redskins had a surprising amount of success moving the ball in the first half of their Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles—who wound up with an even worse stat line than the Cowboys had. But the Dallas defense is a more talented unit than what we saw at Jerruh World. And the Redskins Offense is going to be hard-pressed to consistently repeat that first-half success. We're going to see a return to order Sunday in the nation's capital—and that sets the stage for a big week for the Dallas defense. Call it a hunch.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Cleveland Browns (at New York Jets)
It's understandable that many fantasy owners might be reluctant to roll the Browns out again after Cleveland imploded to the tune of 43 points allowed in a blowout loss at home. Cleveland also didn't force a turnover in the game. However, Monday's trip to Met Life Stadium to face the Jets offers a real chance at redemption. The New York offense floundered in a Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills, amassing just 223 total yards and managing a lone offensive touchdown. The Jets also allowed four sacks against Buffalo—an eyebrow raising number given the regularity with which Myles Garrett and the Cleveland pass rush got home against the Tennessee Titans.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The Panthers drew an awfully tough Week 1 matchup against the defending NFC champions, and while Carolina gave the Los Angeles Rams all they could handle the Panthers fell 30-27 in a game where the Rams piled up just under 350 total yards of offense and 166 yards on the ground. The Panthers will be at Bank of America Stadium again Sunday, but the matchup here is exponentially more favorable. No team allowed more fantasy points to a defense last week than the Buccaneers—due largely to three interceptions from Jameis Winston that included two picks that were returned for scores. Winston continues to be a quarterback for fantasy owners to target defensively.
Green Bay Packers (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
The biggest takeaway for the Green Bay Packers in their season-opening road win over the rival Bears was just how impressive the team's rebuilt defense looked in Chicago. The Packers shut down Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago offense throughout the game, allowing just three points and 254 yards while getting to Trubisky five times and picking him off once. In total it was enough to get the Pack inside the top-three defenses for the week in some fantasy scoring systems. The Vikings had all kinds of success running the ball against the Falcons—so much so that Kirk Cousins only attempted 10 passes the entire game. Green Bay should be more prepared for that run-heavy game-script than Atlanta though, and this game's at Lambeau Field.
Kansas City Chiefs (at Oakland Raiders)
The risk involved with using the Chiefs as a fantasy defense was plainly evident in Week 1. Despite knocking Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Nick Foles out of the game early, the Chiefs were carved up by rookie Gardner Minshew, allowing 26 points and over 425 yards of total offense. The big-play numbers were similarly underwhelming—one fumble recovery, one interception and a single sack. The loss of Tyreek Hill to a shoulder injury is a blow to the return game as well. However, for all the reasons there are to stay away from the Chiefs, there's at least one big one to consider starting them—an Oakland offense that isn't exactly loaded with firepower.
San Francisco 49ers (at Cincinnati Bengals)
In what's rather a theme this week, this is hardly a slam-dunk recommendation. The 49ers were fantasy's No. 1 defense in Week 1, but that had as much to do with a terrible game from Tampa quarterback Jameis Winston as a good game from the Niners defensively—it's not that often that you see three pick-sixes (including two from San Fran) in the same game. Also, while the Bengals came up short in Seattle, the offense was surprisingly effective—Andy Dalton threw for a career-high 418 yards in the loss. However, there are still very real concerns about the state of Cincinnati's offensive line, and the 49ers defensive front features five former first-round picks. Cincy tailback Joe Mixon is also iffy (at best) for this game after hurting his ankle against the Seahawks.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Los Angeles Rams (vs. New Orleans Saints)
The Rams got a hard-fought three-point win on the road at Carolina in Week 1, but the team's defensive effort can't have pleased coordinator Wade Phillips. In addition to the 27 points the Rams gave up, L.A. surrendered 343 yards of total offense and was able to get to Cam Newton just once in the game. The Rams were at least able to tally three takeaways, but all told the Rams finished outside the top-10 in most fantasy scoring systems. Aaron Donald isn't going to be held to a single tackle every week (or even most weeks), but the lackluster effort is cause for significant concern with Drew Brees and the Saints coming to town for a rematch of last year's NFC Championship game.
Philadelphia Eagles (at Atlanta Falcons)
Given how bad the Falcons looked offensively in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, it might seem a bit odd to be cautioning hesitation where the Eagles Defense is concerned. But there are a couple reasons why trusting the Iggles Sunday night could be ill-advised. First, while the Falcons Offense struggled mightily on the road in Week 1, it remains a talent-laden squad that will be playing in front of the home crowd this week. There's also the matter of an Eagles secondary that allowed 380 passing yards and three scores to a Washington passing attack keyed by Case Keenum at quarterback and rookie Terry McLaurin at receiver. This week it'll be an MVP quarterback in Matt Ryan and the NFL's highest-paid receiver in Julio Jones. I'll freely admit I started the Eagles in a number of leagues last week. I'll be hitting the waiver wire in search of a replacement.