Six weeks into the 2019 NFL season, something unprecedented is happening in fantasy football.
The fantasy MVP isn't one player. It's 11—the defense of the New England Patriots.
The Patriots peeled off another massive effort last Thursday night against the New York Giants—the defending Super Bowl champions surrendered just 213 yards of total offense and 14 points, adding a sack and four takeaways. The Patriots also piled on two more touchdowns—one on a fumble return and the other on a blocked punt.
As Riley McAtee wrote for the Ringer, even before this latest explosion the Patriots were in some truly rarefied air.
"Forget D/STs for a minute—the Pats are as productive as just about any single player, at any position," McAtee said. "In standard-scoring leagues, the Patriots’ D/ST is averaging more points than all but two running backs (Christian McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook), every single receiver, every single tight end, and all but six quarterbacks. The gap between McCaffrey and the 10th-highest-scoring running back is 11.5 points. The gap between the Pats D/ST and the 10th-highest scoring D/ST is 12.5 points. As we head into Week 6 of the NFL, having the Patriots’ D/ST has been a bigger fantasy advantage than having McCaffrey."
After Week 6? In NFL.com default fantasy scoring, the Patriots have very nearly doubled up the No. 10 fantasy defense, which just so happens to be the Chicago Bears. This week the Patriots travel to face the New York Jets on Monday night. The Jets admittedly looked a lot better offensively with Sam Darnold under center against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6, but to say the Patriots have become a must-start in fantasy football is the understatement of the year.
Here's a look around the rest of the team defense landscape in Week 7 for those of us poor schmucks who didn't luck into hitting the Patriots lottery before the season.
If there was any doubt about the legitimacy of the unbeaten 49ers, it was settled with their smackdown of the defending NFC champion Rams in LA Sunday. The Niners held the high-powered Rams Offense to just 165 total yards—the second game in a row in which the 49ers have allowed less than 200 total yards. Through six weeks San Francisco leads the entire NFL in pass defense and leads the NFC in both total defense and scoring defense. Now, after smoking the Rams and Cleveland Browns by a combined score of 51-10, the Niners head east to face a Redskins team that ranks inside the NFL's bottom five in both giveaways and fantasy points surrendered to team defenses.
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Buffalo Bills (vs. Miami Dolphins)
There's one more team defense in 2019 that's been just about as sure a bet as the Patriots—whoever is playing the Miami Dolphins in a given week. The Dolphins are so putrid offensively that they made the Washington Redskins a top-10 team defense in Week 6—and the Redskins are stinky poo. For the season, the Dolphins are 31st in total offense, dead last in scoring offense (at just 8.4 points per game), 29th in sacks allowed and dead last in turnover differential. And those are the nicest things I can think of to say about them. The Buffalo defense has propelled the Bills to a 4-1 record this year, and that defense is going to feast (and then some) in Week 7.
Speaking of stinky poo, how about those Cincinnati Bengals? Despite playing a Baltimore Ravens Defense that was allowing the second-most yards per play in the NFL, the Bengals Offense managed just 10 points in Week 6. Whether it was quarterback Andy Dalton, tailback Joe Mixon or wide receiver Tyler Boyd, Cincy's offensive stars pulled an all-around disappearing act on Sunday. The Jacksonville defense isn't quite as stout as in years past, but the Jaguars just held the New Orleans Saints to only 13 points and have a stacked defensive front that's more than capable of getting after Dalton given the sorry state of the Bengals offensive line.
Chicago Bears (vs. New Orleans Saints)
When fantasy owners spent a mid-round pick on the Bears Defense, they were expecting a better return on investment than what they've received to date this season. And at first glance, the New Orleans Saints don't appear a great matchup for Chicago in Week 7. But the Bears won't be facing Drew Brees in this game, and while the Saints are undefeated with Teddy Bridgewater at the controls the team has scored 13 or fewer points three times in five games. The Bears have had an extra week to get healthy and prepare for this game, and the contest is in Chicago. If the Bears aren't a top-five defense in Week 7 they also aren't that far off.
New Orleans Saints (at Chicago Bears)
The Saints sit at 5-1 despite the loss of their starting quarterback in no small part because of a defense that has played lights-out football of late. In Week 6 the Saints limited the Jacksonville Jaguars to just six points and 226 yards of total offense—the second time in the last three weeks that the New Orleans defense has held an opponent to 10 points or less. For the season, the Saints rank 10th in the NFL in total defense, sixth in sacks and sit inside the top five among defenses in many fantasy scoring systems. The Bears hope to have quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under center Sunday at Soldier Field, but it's not like the Bears Offense was chewing up yardage and scoring in bunches even when the starter was healthy.
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Tennessee Titans (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
If you'd be so kind, please bow your head and offer a moment of silence for the poor schmucks who are forced to ply their trade as members of the Tennessee Titans Defense. Despite the fact that the Titans haven't allowed more than 20 points in a game this year, the Titans are stuck at 2-4 thanks to their pathetic offense. That Titans Defense ranks fifth in the league in scoring defense (15.3 points per game), eighth in total defense (321.8 yards per game), sixth in sacks (18) and inside the top-10 in fantasy points in most scoring systems. Facing a reeling Chargers team that often struggles in 1 PM ET games, there isn't a better streaming play to be had in Week 7.
Green Bay Packers (vs. Oakland Raiders)
In fairness, credit where credit's due—the 3-2 Oakland Raiders are one of the more surprising teams in the NFL. They sit just half a game back of the West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. And their run-first approach could pose some problems for a Packers Defense that is excellent against the pass but ranks outside the NFL's top 25 in run defense. However, the Raiders are traveling to Lambeau Field to face one of the NFC's better teams, and if the Raiders are forced to take to the air Oakland's likely to have issues with a Green Bay pass rush that is markedly improved in 2019. This isn't quite a good enough matchup for no-doubter status, but the Packers should at least be a serviceable streaming play.
Los Angeles Chargers (at Tennessee Titans)
In each of the past two weeks, I have advised rolling out the Los Angeles Chargers Defense as a matchup play. And in each of the last two weeks, the Chargers have proceeded to get rolled by teams that entered the matchup with one win combined between them. And yet here I go again. What could motivate me to do such a thing? Have I finally cracked up? Am I a masochist? Or could it be that the Chargers face a Tennessee Titans team that was just shut out in Denver, has a burgeoning quarterback controversy between Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill and ranks 27th in total offense, 25th in points scored and leads the NFL with a staggering 29 sacks allowed through six games.
Arizona Cardinals (at New York Giants)
There's not a lot in the way of streaming options in Week 7, and the ones that are out there require a leap of faith. Plunge into a chasm. Whatever. Such is the case with the Arizona Cardinals, who will head to New York Sunday with a defense that's surrendering 414 yards per game—the third-highest total in the NFL. The Cardinals are also allowing over 28 points per game—the fourth-highest total in the league. However, this recommendation has a lot less to do with the Cardinals Defense than it does with this week's opponent—the Giants rank inside the top-10 in fantasy points allowed to defenses, have been hit hard by injuries and have turned the ball over more than any team in the NFL.
Los Angeles Rams (at Atlanta Falcons)
On one hand, this doesn't look like a great matchup for the Rams—the Falcons are a 1-5 train wreck of a football team, but the offense ranks seventh in the league in yards, leads the NFC in passing yards and checks in a respectable 13th in the league in points scored. Never mind that the Rams aren't exactly lighting it up defensively—this is the team that got 55 points dropped on it by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the beginning of the Rams three-game losing streak. But the Falcons also ranked inside the top 10 in giveaways and fantasy points allowed to defenses entering Week 6. It's an admittedly an emergency play, but there's at least some reason for optimism.
Minnesota Vikings (vs. Washington Redskins): The first game of Week 8 is a Thursday night affair between the surging Vikings and the reeling Redskins. The Vikings usually play well at US Bank Stadium, and the Minnesota defense is well set up for a big game here.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Miami Dolphins): The Miami Dolphins happy happy team defense fun time tour takes us to the Steel City in Week 8. Pittsburgh's defense looked great against the Chargers in Week 6 and will have had a week off to get players like inside linebacker Mark Barron back on the field.
Philadelphia Eagles (at Buffalo Bills): The Bills are off to a great start this year thanks to the defense, but the offense will enter Week 7 28th in the NFL in points scored. This game has the makings of a low-scoring affair in which both team defenses could be good fantasy plays.