Getting Defensive: Week 1

Jeff Ratcliffe
Jeff Brubach recaps a busy "Championship Sunday" in the Monday Daily Dose

Editor's Note: Rotoworld's partner FanDuel is hosting a one-week $25,000 Fantasy Football Contest for Week 1. It's $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Here's the link.

Defense wins championships.

This statement is just as true for the NFL as it is for your fantasy team. Yet, owners often overlook their team defense and kickers and leave valuable points in free agency.

Let’s face it. As much as we value our skill position players, fantasy weeks are often won or lost at the team defense and kicker positions. A couple of extra points at each spot can even be the difference between your team making or missing the playoffs.

There’s a lot of variance that comes with these positions on a week-to-week basis, but a careful analysis of the matchups can help you mine some fantasy gold.

Each week during the regular season I’m going a look at all of the fantasy defense matchups, highlighting teams in good matchups, teams in bad matchups, and teams that should be left in free agency.

The Usual Suspects

Teams you’re not even thinking about benching this week include – Houston (at San Diego) and Seattle (at Carolina). Both New England (at Buffalo) and St. Louis (vs. Arizona) sit squarely in my preseason Top 10 and also make for strong starts this week.

Preferred Plays

Your solid fantasy defenses with a weekly matchup upgrade. They're just below the Usual Suspects tier.

1. Tampa Bay (at New York Jets) – With Geno Smith at the helm, the Jets are ripe for the picking this week. Their general mediocrity on offense bodes extremely positively for a Bucs defensive unit that is a bit on the inexperienced side, but has some high upside players. Last season the Jets gave up the second most fantasy points per game to opposing fantasy defenses, including ten games in double-digits. Look for that trend to continue into 2013.

2. Pittsburgh (vs. Tennessee) – The Titans were one of the league’s better fantasy matchups for opposing defenses last season, giving up the sixth most points to the position on a per game basis. Pittsburgh isn’t the stalwart unit of years past, but they still have their core intact. Upside players like Lawrence Timmons and Troy Polamalu can make things happen in a hurry, especially against the shaky quarterback play of Jake Locker.

3. Cleveland (vs. Miami) – If you’ve been paying attention to what I’ve been saying this offseason, you know that I’m a huge supporter of the Browns this season. New coordinator Ray Horton’s aggressive scheme was responsible for strong fantasy defenses over the past two seasons in Arizona. He now gets a Browns defense equipped with a bunch of athletic players like D’Qwell Jackson, T.J. Ward, Paul Kruger, and Joe Haden. Miami yielded the eighth most fantasy points per game to opposing defensive units last season. While the Dolphins have improved, the Browns still make for a strong start this week.


Still Solid

Maybe it’s not the best matchup, but you can obviously still start your stud defenses – Chicago (vs. Cincinnati), Cincinnati (vs. Chicago), and San Francisco (vs. Green Bay). I’d also be comfortable starting Arizona (at St. Louis) and Miami (at Cleveland).


You don't want to rely on these units on a weekly basis, but their matchup is too juicy to pass up.

1. Indianapolis (vs. Oakland) – Perhaps the hottest pickup of the week for those of you who like to stream defenses, Indianapolis faces Terrelle Pryor and the hapless Raiders. Oakland will likely try to conceal Pryor’s Teebow-esque passing ability early on, but I expect he’ll have to throw after the Colts get out to a sizeable lead. That’s when the fireworks will happen. Indy doesn’t have the strongest defensive unit, but they did post double-digit fantasy points in five of the last eight games in 2012. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Colts are the highest-scoring fantasy defense in Week 1.

2. Washington (vs. Philadelphia) – Sure, Chip Kelly is now running the Philadelphia offense. But if you’re a gambler, you could do a lot worse than the Redskins DST this week. Michael Vick may be better suited to Kelly’s offense than he was to Andy Reid’s, but he’s still a potential turnover machine. The Eagles will likely experience some growing pains in Kelly’s offense, making Washington a sneaky upside play this week.  

3. Kansas City (at Jacksonville) - I don’t know why you would be, but if you’re really struggling to find a defense to start in Week 1, the Chiefs are worth a desperation flier. Jacksonville yielded the fourth most fantasy points to opposing defenses on a per game basis last season, including seven games in double-digits. The Chiefs may not have performed well in terms of record, but their defense is deceptively good with Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and Justin Houston all making the Pro Bowl last season. The Jaguars’ shaky quarterback situation makes the Chiefs an ultra-sneaky play this week.

Middle of the Road

It’s not really the best of times or the worst of times for Minnesota (at Detroit), Detroit (vs. Minnesota), New York Giants (at Dallas), Tennessee (at Pittsburgh), and New York Jets (vs. Tampa Bay). If you own any of these squads, it might be a good idea to go with another option in a more favorable matchup this week.

Matchup Downgrade

They shouldn't be dropped, but a tough matchup limits the fantasy upside of these units.

1. Baltimore (at Denver) – The Ravens are a defense in transition with Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams, and Dannell Ellerbe all gone. Despite losing these players, I don’t think it’s fair to say this year’s unit is any worse for the wear. Still, this week’s matchup doesn’t instill much confidence. The Broncos offense yielded the second least fantasy points per game to opposing defenses, and when these teams met back in Week 15 last season, the Ravens DST posted a goose egg. 

2. Denver (vs. Baltimore) – One good turn deserves another in this contest. While the Ravens were one of the tougher matchups for opposing fantasy defenses last season, this downgrade also has a lot to do with the Denver unit as a whole. The Von Miller suspension and loss of Elvis Dumervil in the offseason are significant blows to what was one of the league’s more potent pass rushes last season. Denver will struggle to create pressure on Joe Flacco in this one, making turnovers less likely for the opportune secondary.

3. Dallas (vs. New York Giants) – You have to love a Week 1 NFC East showdown, but you can’t love this matchup for the new look Cowboys defense. It will be interesting to see how Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 Tampa-2 looks, especially with DeMarcus Ware playing with his hand in the dirt at defensive end. However, that’s as far as the curiosity goes in this one. The Giants yielded the fifth least fantasy points per game to opposing fantasy defenses last season, so it’s best to look elsewhere this week.

I’d also recommend avoiding San Diego (vs. Houston), Green Bay (at San Francisco), and Carolina (at Seattle).

Don’t Get Cute

1. Buffalo (vs. New England) – It seems like an annual tradition to hype the Bills DST. While the fantasy industry didn’t go overboard on the Buffalo unit this season, there still has been a lot of talk about Mike Pettine’s aggressive scheme. His system is definitely going to be fun to watch, but the Bills get a tough Week 1 draw against a Pats team that gave up the least fantasy points per game to opposing defenses in 2012. This one could get ugly very quickly.

2. Atlanta (at New Orleans) – There’s certainly a lot to like about this Falcons unit. While they may not be a top 10 option at the end of the season, Atlanta will be a viable starting option most weeks. This, however, is not one of those weeks. With a Vegas over/under of 54, this contest will almost certainly prove to be an offensive shootout, which bodes poorly for the fantasy prospects of the Falcons DST.

Bottom of the Barrel

Unless it’s a great matchup you’re not starting Philadelphia (at Washington), New Orleans (vs. Atlanta), Jacksonville (vs. Kansas City), or Oakland (at Indianapolis). These defenses were all among the league’s worst last season, and should be left in free agency until further notice.

Can I Kick it?

Here are my top 12 kickers for Week 1:

1. Stephen Gostkowski (at BUF)

2. Matt Bryant (at NO)

3. Blair Walsh (at DET)

4. Matt Prater (vs. BAL)

5. Phil Dawson (vs. GB)

6. Garrett Hartley (vs. ATL)

7. Steven Hauschka (at CAR)

8. Dan Bailey (vs. NYG)

9. Adam Vinatieri (vs. OAK)

10. Greg Zuerlein (vs. ARI)

11. Randy Bullock (at SD)

12. Kai Forbath (vs. PHI)

D/ST Standard Scoring System

Any Touchdown

6 pts


0 points allowed

5 pts


Under 100 yards allowed

5 pts


2 pts


1-6 points allowed

4 pts


101 to 199 yards allowed

3 pts

Fumble Recovery

2 pts


7-13 points allowed

3 pts


200 to 299 yards allowed

2 pts

Blocked Kick

2 pts


14-17 points allowed

1 pt


300 to 349 yards allowed

0 pts


2 pts


18-27 points allowed

0 pts


350 to 399 yards allowed

 -1 pts


1 pt


28-34 points allowed

 -1 pts


400 to 449 yards allowed

 -3 pts


35-45 points allowed

 -3 pts


450 to 499 yards allowed

 -5 pts


46+ points allowed

 -5 pts


500- 549 yards allowed

 -6 pts


550+ yards allowed

 -7 pts