Getting Defensive: Week 8

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Week 7 brought with it the Byepocalypse—six teams took the week off. It wasn't as bad where team defenses were concerned as on offense, but there were a couple units fantasy managers had been using frequently that weren't available.

However, we are all about positivity here at Getting Defensive, and on a positive note Week 7 also brought with it a welcome sight for fantasy managers who spent a relatively early pick on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense.

Yes, Tampa's dominant performance in Week 7 (three points allowed, five takeaways, four sacks and the most fantasy points of any defense in the league) had as much to do with the sad state of the Chicago Bears offense and the rawness of rookie quarterback Justin Fields as it did the Tampa D. Yes, the Buccaneers are still all kinds of banged up in the secondary. It was also a little weird to see the Bears enjoy some success running the ball, even if it came in a blowout.

But Tampa is starting to get some players back—hard-hitting safety Antoine Winfield was back against the Bears. After that explosion, the Buccaneers shot all the way from eighth in fantasy points among defenses to third for the season.

And with another favorable matchup looming for Tampa in Week 8, Shaquill Barrett, Devin White and the fellas seem like as good a place as any to start off this week's column.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at New Orleans Saints)

Remember when this NFC South rivalry was one you'd want to steer well clear of from a defensive perspective in the long-ago days of 2020? Well, that's still true for the New Orleans defense given how well Tampa is playing offensively. But the Saints under Jameis Winston are a much different offense than the one we saw with Drew Brees. Even if you blame part of Monday's performance on the awful weather in Seattle, it doesn't change the fact that the Saints came into Week 7 averaging the fourth-fewest yards per game in the league. Alvin Kamara is going to have to earn it this week.

Los Angeles Rams (at Houston Texans)

It's possible that some of the shine could come off this matchup—Texans quarterback Tyrod Taylor will likely return to practice this week, and the Houston offense is a different animal with Taylor under center. With rookie Davis Mills calling the shots, that animal has been roadkill. In the five games that Mills has started, Houston is not only winless but has failed to hit double-digits in points three times. The Texans managed just five points and 160 yards of offense. It's not hard to see why the Texans rank inside the top-five in fantasy points.

Cincinnati Bengals (at New York Jets)

Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase have gotten most of the credit for Cincinnati's surprising 5-2 start and emphatic win over the Ravens last week. But the Bengals defense has quietly been solid—the Bengals are fifth in the league in scoring defense after seven games, Cincy hasn't quite as good fantasy-wise for the season, but after this week's trip to Met Dead (there is no more Life in that stadium when the Jets play) the Bengals should be inside the top-10. This is a team that was allowing the most fantasy points to defenses before Zach Wilson got hurt. But hey, Joe Flacco!

Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cleveland Browns)

The good news for the Browns is that Nick Chubb returned to practice Monday. That's also where the good news ends. Baker Mayfield did not practice, which points toward another week of Case Keenum under center against a Pittsburgh defense that has had two weeks to ruminate about getting rolled by the Browns in Pittsburgh in the playoffs last year. Kareem Hunt is out. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are both banged up. So are both of the Browns starting tackles. The Steelers are going to stack the line and dare Keenum to beat them throwing it—and this Browns fan seriously doubts he can.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Miami Dolphins)

The Bills are another team probably coming off their bye week in a bad mood after blowing it late against the Tennessee Titans in Week 6. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have blown it late so many times in a row now that it had all bled into a six-week long Brian Flores scowl. Miami can't run the ball to save their lives, the offensive line isn't good, and the Bills lead the league in pass defense. Throw in that the Dolphins will all but certainly be playing from behind and have given up the fourth-most fantasy points to defenses in 2021, and you have the makings of more grumbly face from Flores.

San Francisco 49ers (at Chicago Bears)

Usually, matchup plays get treatment in the section that follows this one. But some matchups transcend just calling an opposing defense a streaming play—and the Chicago Bears are rapidly becoming that kind of matchup. Justin Fields is a talented young quarterback with a bright future ahead of him assuming he survives his rookie season, but given that he has been sacked 142 times (approximately) this year that's not a given. All the pressure on Fields (and a distressing tendency to hold the ball too long) are leading to mistakes, and last I looked sacks and turnovers are rather important for fantasy defenses.

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Philadelphia Eagles (at Detroit Lions)

Given how well the Eagles have not been playing even a little on both sides of the ball, it might feel a little strange to see them included here—Philly ranks outside the top-20 fantasy defenses for the season and laid an egg last week in Las Vegas. But in news that should surprise exactly zero people given their record, the winless Detroit Lions rank inside the top-10 in fantasy points given up to defenses. The Lions have scored 20 or more points all of once this season, and that came all the way back in Week 1. They just aren't good offensively, and injuries at wide receiver have only worsened the problem.

Chicago Bears (vs. San Francisco 49ers)

The recent downturn in fantasy production from the Bears defense can hardly be blamed on Khalil Mack and Co.—when a defense in continually asked to defend a short field it's going to give up points. But fantasy managers who either stuck with Chicago or need a streaming option in Week 8 should be able to get at least a serviceable outing from the team. The 49ers have a pair of banged-up quarterbacks and are clearly missing George Kittle in the passing game. From all indications, Kyle Shanahan is sticking with Jimmy Garoppolo under center this week, which is another plus.

Los Angeles Chargers (vs. New England Patriots)

Given that the Chargers were on bye last week and entered said bye barely inside the top-20 and fresh off allowing 76 points over their last two games, the Chargers are probably on more waiver wires than not at the moment. But there's some sneaky value to potentially be had here. Look past the 50-burger the Patriots dropped on the Jets last week and you'll see a team that was allowing the ninth-most fantasy points to defenses entering Week 7. And a team who has beaten the Jets (twice) and Houston Texans for their three wins.

Seattle Seahawks (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

It's going somewhat unnoticed because Seattle isn't winning, but the Seahawks defense has been doing what it can to keep them in games while Russell Wilson is out—Seattle hasn't allowed 27 points in a game since Week 3 and held the Saints to less than half that in Week 7. It's possible that Trevor Lawrence will be able to exploit a Seattle secondary that is the defense's weak spot. But it's also possible that a Jags team that ranks second in giveaways and third in fantasy points surrendered to team defenses will make the sort of poor decisions that turn into a fat fantasy stat line.

Jacksonville Jaguars (at Seattle Seahawks)

Granted, rolling out the Jaguars isn't a play for the faint of heart. Or the sober. The Jaguars have one double-digit fantasy effort defensively all season long, and that wasn't the game with the 109-yard missed field goal return. But Jacksonville has also had an extra week to get ready for a Seattle Seahawks team that has imploded offensively without Russell Wilson. The Saints had 219 yards of total offense against the Saints on Monday night, and 84 of those came on one long play to DK Metcalf. There is an actual, non-zero chance that the Jaguars win this game.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Dallas Cowboys (at Minnesota Vikings)

The Cowboys and Vikings are both coming off their bye, but while the Vikings are trying to keep their season afloat, the Cowboys are cruising along with a huge lead in the NFC East and an opportunistic defense that ranks third in fantasy points per game at the position. But that Dallas defense is actually 23rd in total defense this season and 20th in scoring defense. The Vikings should be healthier coming off the bye and have the offensive firepower to turn this game into a Sunday night shootout. Don't be surprised if the Cowboys first post-bye defensive effort is something of a clunker.