When it comes to team defenses in fantasy football, we are largely at the mercy of the scheduling gods. It's all about the matchups, baby.
In Week 7, it's a mixed bag. Some good. Some bad. Some byes.
If you're one of those smart, savvy, handsome (OK, that's enough—it's getting creepy) fantasy managers who prefers to stream at the position, you're in luck. There are a bucketful of defenses available on the waiver wires in many fantasy leagues in Week 7 that have considerable upside.
We'll get to that in a second.
But where the "no-doubters" are concerned, it's a different story. The top two defenses in scoring after six weeks this season (the Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts) are both on a bye in Week 7. So are the surprising Miami Dolphins, who rank inside the top five in many scoring systems after blanking the dumpster fire that is the New York Jets last Sunday.
Thankfully, the Jets are playing. Again, we'll get to that in a second.
Then there's the Pittsburgh Steelers, who sit fourth in the fairly straightforward scoring system I use when formulating this column each week. The Steelers were fantastic last week—four sacks, two picks, just seven points allowed and a defensive score in a 38-7 demolition of the Cleveland Browns. The Steelers lead the NFL with 24 sacks and are tied for the fourth-most takeaways with nine.
Pittsburgh is about as matchup-proof as a team defense gets.
But this week, the Steelers face an undefeated Tennessee Titans team that is tied for the fewest giveaways in the AFC with three. The Titans are tied for the fewest sacks allowed in the NFL with six. And no team in the NFL has allowed fewer fantasy points to team defenses in 2020 than Tennessee.
You're starting Pittsburgh. But don't be stunned if the fantasy production from them is well below average.
Buffalo Bills (at New York Jets)
Remember when the Bills were a good defensive football team? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Kidding aside, Buffalo's having some issues on defense—the pass rush has all but vanished, the team gave up 42 points to Tennessee two weeks ago and in Monday night's loss to the Chiefs the Bills were gashed for almost 250 yards on the ground. But there's room for optimism with the Bills in Week 7. A lot of room. A lot of green, stinky room. The New York Jets are a crumbling nightmare of a team that was just shut out by the Dolphins. If this isn't a get-right spot, there's no such thing as a get-right spot.
Kansas City Chiefs (at Denver Broncos)
Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense hogs all the glory, but the Chiefs Defense is actually pretty good—the team ranks inside the top-10 in fantasy points at the position and has held five of six opponents in 2020 to 20 or fewer points after Monday's win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the real appeal here is the matchup. The Broncos got young quarterback Drew Lock back and downed the Patriots last week, but Denver still couldn't get into the end zone. For the season, the Broncos are 29th in scoring offense, and only the lowly Jets have given up more fantasy points per game to defenses.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Las Vegas Raiders)
Most of the publicity around the 4-2 Buccaneers continues to center around Tom Brady and the Tampa offense. But Shaquill Barrett, Jason Pierre-Paul and the Tampa defense deserve credit as well—especially after the Bucs blasted the undefeated Green Bay Packers in Week 6. This week's matchup with the Las Vegas Raiders isn't a cakewalk by any stretch—when last we saw the Raiders; they were stunning the Chiefs in Kansas City. But the Buccaneers lead the NFC in both sacks (22) and takeaways (11). They've earned the benefit of the doubt in just about every matchup.
New England Patriots (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
The New England Patriots, as a team, are in trouble—this is the first time in a long time that the Patriots have been a sub-.500 team in the middle of October. But despite a bevy of personnel losses in the offseason, the New England defense continues to play relatively well—ninth in total defense, 12th in scoring defense and inside the top-10 in most fantasy scoring systems. The San Francisco 49ers looked good in the first half of last week's win over the Los Angeles Rams, but San Fran has been inconsistent on that side of the ball and ranks inside the top half of the league in fantasy points given up to defenses in 2020.
Los Angeles Rams (vs. Chicago Bears)
The Chicago Bears are 5-1, but the offense has hardly been a juggernaut—Chicago ranks 28th in the NFL in total offense and 27th in scoring. However, to date that hasn't necessarily been kind to fantasy defenses—the Bears are just outside the top half of the NFL in fantasy points allowed to the position. Still, the Rams are at home and coming off a loss, and Aaron Donald was held largely in check last week by the San Francisco 49ers. It's as much a speculative call as anything, but if the Rams are going to keep every-week starter status they need to get back on track at home Sunday.
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Philadelphia Eagles (vs. New York Giants)
If the Philadelphia Eagles lose any more players to injury, they should just hold a raffle and let the winner play for a couple weeks—a sort of Vince Papale vibe with the chance for the franchise to recoup some lost ticket revenue thrown in. But the Philly defense still has a few players, and that's enough for the team to get it done against a Giants team allowing the second-most fantasy points in the NFC to defenses. Giants quarterback Daniel Jones threw for all of 112 yards against Washington last week and tossed his first touchdown pass since Week 1. This matchup is a very Thursday night game.
San Francisco 49ers (at New England Patriots)
After allowing 40-plus points two weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, it's going to take a while for the Niners to get back "no doubter" status. But if last week's ugly loss to the Denver Broncos is any indication, the New England Patriots have gone from a matchup for defenses we avoided like the plague under Tom Brady to one to target under Cam Newton. Against the Broncos, the Patriots failed to hit 300 yards of total offense, scored just 12 points, turned it over three times and gave up four sacks. It was an ugly outing—and there doesn't appear to be an easy fix for it.
Cleveland Browns (at Cincinnati Bengals)
The Browns are not a good defensive football team—Cleveland ranks 27th in the NFL in passing defense and has allowed the third-most points per game in the league. But the Browns have also piled up 14 sacks, 12 takeaways (most in the NFL) and the seventh-most fantasy points among team defenses. Add in a matchup with a Bengals team that has surrendered the most sacks in the AFC and the third-most fantasy points to defenses, and there's streaming potential here. There's also risk—the first meeting between these teams in Week 2 turned into a shootout.
New York Giants (at Philadelphia Eagles)
The amount of column space in this section being allocated to teams in the NFC (L)East is equal parts depressing and distressing—there are half a dozen NFL teams who have as many wins as the entire NFC East combined. But after back-to-back solid fantasy outings against the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team, the Giants have surprisingly moved inside the top-10 fantasy defenses for the season. Three good stat lines in the row is a possibility Thursday—the one-win Eagles lead the NFL in both sacks allowed (25) and giveaways (12). What could go wrong?
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
To say that the Los Angeles Chargers have been a pedestrian defense from a fantasy perspective is being kind—six weeks into the season the Bolts rank outside the top 20 in fantasy points per game. But coming out of the bye the Chargers get a solid matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After six weeks, the Jaguars have averaged three sacks allowed per contest, turned the ball over nine times and rank inside the top half of the league in fantasy points given up to defenses. The Chargers should also have Melvin Ingram back for Sunday's contest, which will give the pass rush a nice boost.
Dallas Cowboys (at Washington Football Team)
The Dallas "defense" is that in name only—the Cowboys just allowed 438 total yards and a staggering 261 rushing yards to the Arizona Cardinals in Week 6. Given those numbers (and all the big, scary ones that came before it) trusting the Dallas defense in any matchup carries quite a bit of risk. But the Washington Football Team has surrendered the second most turnovers, third-most sacks and sixth-most fantasy points to defenses in 2020 in addition to ranking dead last in the NFL and 30th in points scored. If Dallas can't post some fantasy points in this gravy boat, they never will.
Washington Football Team (vs. Dallas)
Had this column been written before Andy Dalton's 2020 debut against the Arizona Cardinals Monday, the WFT probably wouldn't have been included. But Dalton and the Cowboys were awful in a blowout loss, managing just one garbage-time touchdown while turning the ball over four times and surrendering three sacks. The Dallas offensive line also lost guard Zack Martin to a concussion, leaving his Week 7 status in doubt. The Cowboys once-stout offensive line has been obliterated by injuries, and rushing the passer is maybe the only thing that Washington does well.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Chicago Bears (at Los Angeles Rams)
Outside of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who we have already discussed) there isn't really a bad matchup for fantasy defenses in Week 7 that isn't holding up a seven-foot-tall neon sign that says, "stay away!" However, after posting their best fantasy line of the season, some fantasy managers may be considering the 5-1 Bears on the road against a Rams team that wasn't sharp on national TV last week. But while the Bears are winning, it hasn't been with sizzle—the Bears have an OK sack (15) and takeaway (8) total, but in terms of fantasy points it took that big game to get the Bears just inside the top-15. The Rams are also a bottom-five fantasy matchup for team defenses.