Getting Defensive: Week 3

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It happens each and every year.

There is a reason why many fantasy managers are leery on investing heavily in team defenses. There are so many variables from year to year that there will inevitably be units that come from nowhere to impress—and others that don't meet expectations.

Just two weeks into the season it's too early to say that the Washington Football Team falls into the latter category. But given how highly thought of the team's defense was entering this season, the muttering and hand-wringing in fantasy circles regarding Washington isn't unjustified.

Against the Giants in Week 2, the WFT did at least manage to sack Daniel Jones four times. But they didn't force any takeaways and allowed 391 yards of offense and 29 points. We're not talking about garbage-time stat-padding, either—the Washington defense just hasn't played at an especially high level to this point in the season.

Week 3 could prove a turning point—because Washington's opponent (the Buffalo Bills) hasn't been firing on all cylinders either in the early-going. The Bills dropped 35 points on Miami last week, but that had as much to do with Miami losing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as it did the Bills. Bills signal-caller Josh Allen has looked less like last year's MVP candidate and more like the big-armed but inaccurate passer of two years ago.

Still, the Bills allowed the 10th-fewest fantasy points to defenses in 2020, so it doesn't appear the best spot for edge-rusher Chase Young and Washington to get untracked.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Carolina Panthers (at Houston Texans)

Raise your hand if you thought the Carolina Panthers would be leading the NFL in total defense and scoring defense after two games. Now put your hand down—lying is wrong. Yes, the Panthers have benefitted from matchups with the hapless Jets and a game against the New Orleans Saints in which bad Jameis Winston showed up. But Brian Burns, Haason Reddick and the Carolina defense deserves credit for how well they have played. Now the Panthers are travelling to Houston to play a Texans team that will be rolling out a rookie quarterback making his first career start in Davis Mills. The good times just keep on rolling.

Denver Broncos (vs. New York Jets)

The Broncos were my favorite defensive target in drafts this summer, largely because the team opened the season with three gravy matchups. This week brings the best one of the lot. After last week's four-pick meltdown by rookie quarterback Zach Wilson against the New England Patriots, no team has allowed more fantasy points to defenses through two games than the Jets—and that's after leading the league in that category in 2020. Add in that this is Denver's home opener, and even without edge-rusher Bradley Chubb the Broncos should feast here. Enjoy it while it lasts—In Week 4 the Broncos play Lamar Jackson and the Ravens.

Baltimore Ravens (at Detroit Lions)

Given that the Ravens are coming off a primetime tilt with the Kansas City Chiefs after giving up huge offensive numbers to the Las Vegas Raiders the week before, Baltimore may well be on the waiver wire in quite a few leagues. If they are, scoop them up—because the level of competition the team has faced is about to soften significantly. The Lions actually played pretty well in the first half of Monday's loss to the Green Bay Packers. But in the second half it was a different story. The Lions fell behind, started taking chances and making mistakes. Look for the Ravens to build a lead here and then tee off on an overmatched Lions team that struggles to sustain drives.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)

Speaking of elite defenses with issues, the Steelers didn't exactly look themselves in losing to the Las Vegas Raiders at home last week, giving up 425 yards of offense, logging just two sacks and failing to record a takeaway. Pittsburgh is also banged up—edge-rusher T.J. Watt left the game with a groin injury and inside linebacker Devin Bush sat out with a sore groin of his own. Pittsburgh was also without cornerback Joe Haden. However, there is some optimism that some of those players will be available in Week 3, and the Cincinnati Bengals have already allowed nine sacks in two games. Beat up or not, you have to roll Pittsburgh out here.

New England Patriots (vs. New Orleans Saints)

After playing a nearly flawless game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, Jameis Winston turned back into the quarterback who wore out his welcome in Tampa last week—Winston thew a pair of interceptions against the Carolina Panthers and the Saints generated just 128 yards of total offense and seven points. While the Saints were collapsing in Charlotte, the Patriots were piling up four sacks and four takeaways in a blowout win over the Jets. There isn't a team in the league better at baiting quarterbacks into bad throws than the Pats. It won't take Darth Hoodie long to set the hook Sunday.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Washington Football Team)

The Bills are the kings of fantasy defenses after two weeks, although that number is skewed a bit by the gonzo line that the team put up once Tua Tagovailoa was forced from last week's game. Still, the Buffalo secondary led by cornerback Tre'Davious White and safety Jordan Poyer is excellent, and the pass rush has been quite a bit better than most expected over the early part of the season. For all Taylor Heinicke's heroics last week against the Giants and in the playoffs last year against Tampa, we're still talking about a player who can count his NFL starts on one hand. If the Bills start putting up points and he has to try to match scores, turnovers could be the result

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Arizona Cardinals (at Jacksonville Jaguars)

Purely from a defensive standpoint, the Cardinals do not inspire a ton of confidence after allowing 419 yards and 33 points in a shootout with the Minnesota Vikings. But this matchup has a lot less to do with Chandler Jones and the Cardinals than it does who they are playing. The Jaguars are doing their level best to "win" the title of the league's worst team—Trevor Lawrence is acting the part of a rookie quarterback, holding the ball too long and making poor decisions with the football. The Jags have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to defenses so far—and that number isn't going to improve.

Las Vegas Raiders (vs. Miami Dolphins)

Despite two less than ideal matchups to open the season against teams that made the playoffs in 2020, the Las Vegas Raiders have quietly been a top-12 fantasy defense. Through two games, the Raiders have amassed five sacks and logged three takeaways. Now, the Raiders are preparing to host a Miami Dolphins team that may be without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa Sunday. When Jacoby Brissett entered the game last week against the Buffalo Bills, the Miami offense essentially imploded. A week of practice isn't going to turn him into a competent NFL starter.

Tennessee Titans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

The Titans are another defense that would not normally be making an appearance in this article—Tennessee was a bottom-five pass defense last year, and if Sunday's game with the Seahawks was any indication said pass defense has improved exactly zero percent. But again, this recommendation has virtually nothing to do with the Titans. With Colts quarterback Carson Wentz dealing with sprains of both his ankles (no, really—both of them), it's highly unlikely that he will play in Week 3. That means that Jacob Eason will make the start for the Colts at Nissan Stadium Sunday. If you watched Jacob Eason play last week against the Rams or in the preseason, then I really don't need to write any more.

New York Giants (vs. Atlanta Falcons)

OK, so this call starts off with some disappointment—it's not very likely that the Giants will log two pick-sixes Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons the way that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did last week. But outside of a couple drives against Tampa, the Atlanta offense has been a disjointed mess this season—the Falcons are 25th in that regard after two games this season. The Giants may not be anyone's idea of a worldbeater defensively, but in James Bradberry and Logan Ryan New York has players to match up on Calvin Ridley and Kyle Pitts. If you can slow those two pass-catchers down, the Falcons offense will all but grind to a halt.

Cleveland Browns (vs. Chicago Bears)

Let's make one thing clear right off the jump—the Cleveland defense has not played well through two games. The Browns rank toward the bottom of the league in a number of categories, and Cleveland has been beyond abysmal on third down. Like comically except it's not at all funny bad. Like can't get Davis Mills off the field bad. But the Browns still have two excellent edge-rushers in Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney going up against a shaky offensive line playing in front of a rookie quarterback making his first career start. I don't love the Browns in this spot, but I can't deny there's some "get right" potential for the defense here.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Los Angeles Rams)

Everything I am about to write can also be said about the team the Buccaneers are facing Sunday. Both Tampa and the Los Angeles Rams have outstanding defenses that were drafted to be every-week fantasy starters. But both Tampa and the Rams are also going up against veteran quarterbacks who have their respective offenses playing at a high level. The only reason I featured the Buccaneers instead of the Rams is that Tom Brady and Tampa are away from home for the first time this season. Fantasy managers will be starting both units. But this game could easily become a shootout where you'll need a turnover or two to salvage a decent fantasy line.