Getting Defensive: Week 9



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There are certain annual constants in life. Some are pleasant—like Christmas (the day itself, not the two months of lead-up and incessant Christmas carols we're going to have to endure to get there). Some are not so pleasant, like tax time and trips to the dentist. Fantasy football is no different. Some things happen just about every single season—without fail. Passing yards from Patrick Mahomes. Big receiving numbers from Cooper Kupp.

And fantasy-relevant defense from the New England Patriots.

Granted, this year's iteration isn't as prolific as the 2019 Patriots defense was. It has been forgotten by many, but over the first eight weeks of that season, the Patriots were a top-10 "player"overall. The year after that, the Patriots finished 10th. Not great, but not terrible, either. Last year, the Patriots led all AFC teams in fantasy points. And in 2022, they are right back in that spot, trailing the same team they did last year—the Dallas Cowboys.

It's not as if the New England defense is especially stifling—the Patriots actually rank in the bottom half of the league in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed. It's not especially star-studded, either—edge-rusher Matthew Judon is probably the biggest "name" on the team, and he's not making "Chunky Soup" commercials.

But after picking off Zach Wilson three times in last week's win over the Jets, the Pats are tied with the Eagles for the league lead in takeaways with 16. Thanks largely to Judon's league-leading 8.5 sacks, the Patriots are fifth in that category with 23. Throw in a pair of defensive touchdowns, and you have a high-end fantasy unit—again.

You know, it's almost like Bill Belichick is good at coaching defense or something. Who knew?

THE NO-DOUBTERS

New England Patriots (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

I'd hope after all that hullabaloo you'd know who was going to occupy the top spot this week. We've already gone over all the things the Patriots have done well this season on defense, so now we'll discuss some of the things their opponent has not done well on offense. Only the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers (who are both on a bye in Week 9) have scored fewer points per game than the Colts in 2022. Only two teams have surrendered more sacks than the 26 the Colts have given up. And no team in the AFC has allowed more fantasy points per game to defenses this season. The Patriots are also undefeated at Gillette Stadium under Darth Hoodie against rookie quarterbacks—and Sam Ehlinger might as well be one.

Buffalo Bills (at New York Jets)

There isn't a team in the AFC playing better defense this year than the Bills. Buffalo and the idle Broncos are the only AFC teams allowing fewer than 300 yards per game. No team in the NFL is allowing fewer points than the 14.0 the Bills are giving up. The Bills are tied for third in the league with 14 takeaways, rank 10th in the league in sacks and are the AFC's No. 1 fantasy defense in terms of points per game. The Jets haven't been hemorrhaging fantasy points to defenses as they did a year ago, but if you force Zach Wilson to try to play catch-up he's going to make mistakes. And rest assured—the Jets will be playing catch-up in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (at Houston Texans)

Matchups like this make one ponder whether or not the NFL should consider a pre-emptive mercy rule. The Eagles are playing lights-out football on offense and defense—in the latter regard they rank fourth in total defense, passing defense and scoring defense, they are tied for the league lead in takeaways, tied for fifth in sacks and trail only the Cowboys in fantasy points per game among defenses. Meanwhile, the one-win Texans are 31st in total offense, 29th in scoring defense and just struggled to score a single garbage-time touchdown against the Titans.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Los Angeles Rams)

The Tampa defense suffered a major blow last week with the loss of edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett, but that doesn't change the fact that was it not for Tampa's defense the Bucs wouldn't even have three wins. From a fantasy perspective, the Buccaneers have admittedly been in a funk defensively—the last two weeks have been short on big plays and long on disappointment. But if you're the type who has trouble letting go, this may be your week. The Rams have problems of their own—especially on offense. The Rams have the third-most giveaways, the fifth-most sacks allowed and the most fantasy points per game given up to opposing defenses in the league.

Baltimore Ravens (at New Orleans Saints)

The Ravens made a big splash on defense just before the trade deadline, sending a pair of picks to the Chicago Bears for Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith. But even before that move, Baltimore has quietly been an OK fantasy defense, ranking eighth in fantasy points after eight weeks. The Saints have been a better team offensively since handing the reins to Andy Dalton, but we're still talking about a squad that has allowed 15 sacks, turned the ball over more than any team in the NFC and who have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses.

Minnesota Vikings (at Washington Commanders)

The Minnesota Vikings don't exactly leap to mind when you think of fantasy defenses, but the Vikings have strung a couple of decent stat lines together—the latest being a four-sack, two interception effort in Week 8 against Kyler Murray and the Cardinals. Over the last month, the Vikings are sixth among defenses in fantasy points per game, and there's reason to think Minnesota can keep it going Sunday in Washington. The Commanders are winning, but they aren't lighting the world on fire—the Commanders have scored 20 or more points once since Week 2. They have also given up the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses in 2022.

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Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Tennessee Titans)

The Chiefs have been a feast-or-famine fantasy option this year, with Game script playing a big role in which side of the spectrum we get. If the Titans can keep this contest close and keep Derrick Henry heavily involved, the Chiefs aren't going to score a lot of fantasy points. But if Kansas City's offense puts the Titans in a hole and they are forced to try to match Patrick Mahomes touchdown for touchdown, then the Titans are going to be completely taken out of their element—and fantasy tastiness will ensue. My money's on that being more or less exactly what happens.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Carolina Panthers)

After the Bengals laid a gigantic rotten dodo egg on Monday night against the Browns, fantasy managers that did have them rostered are likely rethinking the wisdom of that decision. But the Panthers have been inconsistent offensively and somewhat generous to opposing defenses allowing the ninth-most fantasy points per game to the position. Last week's faceplant should have the Bengals somewhere between hungry and desperate to get back on the right track before they fall too far behind the Ravens. They'll play better at home than what we saw in Cleveland.

Indianapolis Colts (at New England Patriots)

The Colts haven't been an especially prolific fantasy defense of late. They don't rack up a ton of sacks. Or log a lot of turnovers. But over the past month, the Colts have been a boringly consistent top-10 fantasy defense. No big weeks. No doughnuts. Just a couple sacks, a takeaway or two and not too many points allowed. The Patriots have been uncharacteristically sloppy offensively this season—after eight weeks the Pats are tied for the league lead in giveaways. Given that, the Colts should at least be able to log another middling stat line. They're a good high-floor bye-week fill-in.

Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Las Vegas Raiders)

I must be a glutton for punishment because this feels like the eleventh straight week that Jacksonville has made an appearance here and I don't think it has worked once—not really. I believe that's Einstein's definition of…something. The Raiders have been arguably the most disappointing team in the entire NFL this season. In last week's 24-0 debacle in New Orleans, the Saints had just 183 yards of total offense and didn't cross midfield until late in the fourth quarter. And Vegas has allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to defenses this season. Call me crazy.

Miami Dolphins (at Chicago Bears)

Like most of the matchup plays during the Byepocalypse, the Dolphins aren't a great defensive team. Or a good defensive team. Miami is allowing the 10th-most yards and 12th-most points per game. There are three fantasy defenses that have scored fewer points than the Dolphins in 2022. But while the Bears have improved offensively, they continue finding new and inventive ways to allow big stat lines to opposing defenses—such as Justin Fields' deciding to hurdle Micah Parsons instead of touching him down last week, For the season, the Bears are 27th in total offense and sixth in fantasy points allowed to defenses.

Carolina Panthers (at Cincinnati Bengals)

Guess which NFL defense has the most touchdowns in 2022? It's rhetorical—given how this column is formatted, I'd hope you could figure that one out. Despite those four scores, Carolina is barely a top-20 fantasy defense, largely because they are, um, not good defensively. But this recommendation is all about who the Panthers are playing. The Bengals looked lost Monday night without Ja'Marr Chase on the field, Joe Burrow is pressing (and turning the ball over) and Cincinnati leads the AFC in sacks allowed (again) with 30. The Panthers are this week's "available everywhere" plug and play.