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 I’ll take 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.
So let’s check in on the matchups for Week 1. Remember that the following is breakdown of my thoughts on all of the team defenses for the week, but is not my rankings. Instead, it’s best to consider the following as a set of tiers each week, and use them to help you make decisions at team defense.
Feel free to shoot me a tweet if you have any specific questions about start/sit dilemmas that I don’t answer here.
The Usual Suspects
Okay, so it’s not the best of Week 1 matchups for Seattle (vs. Green Bay), but you didn’t draft them to sit on your bench. Did you? ... Carolina (at Tampa Bay) took many by surprise last season, but the secret is out. They’re locked and loaded in Week 1. ... While I do expect Kansas City (vs. Tennessee) to regress this season, they open with a very favorable matchup. ... St. Louis (vs. Minnesota) takes the cake as this week’s top fantasy unit. Get your popcorn ready for what Gregg Williams is about to unleash on the NFL.
Your solid fantasy defenses with a weekly matchup upgrade. They're just below the Usual Suspects tier.
1. New England (at Miami) – In aword, this Patriots defense is exciting. With Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, New England is going to be fun to watch this season. They open the year in a plus matchup against a Miami team that yielded double-digit fantasy points six times last season. The Dolphins' offensive line woes bode positively for sack production out of the Pats.
2. Cincinnati (at Baltimore) – Mike Zimmer is gone, but there’s still a lot to like about this Bengals unit. They’re loaded with talent along the defensive line, and Vontaze Burfict is back to anchor the linebackers. In their last meeting in Week 17 of last season, the Bengals picked off Joe Flacco three times and found the end zone. It may not be that big of a week, but the Ravens are still a rock solid play in Week 1.
3. Tampa Bay (vs. Carolina) – My favorite sleeper defense this season gets things started with a divisional matchup. The Bucs are young and brimming with talent. They also have the added benefit of Lovie Smith’s scheme, which annually had the Bears among the league’s top fantasy units during his tenure in Chicago. This week they get a Panthers team that isn’t what they were last season. The fledgling Panthers offensive line should allow Gerald McCoy and Michael Johnson to get after Cam Newton early and often. If the Bucs are currently available on your waiver wire, they won’t be after this week.
4. Pittsburgh (vs. Cleveland) – The youth movement in Pittsburgh is on. With an influx of young talent like Ryan Shazier, Jason Worrilds, and Cameron Heyward, the Steelers look revitalized on the defensive side of the ball. This week they face a divisional foe under a new regime with an extremely shaky quarterback situation. This one could get ugly for the Browns.
Houston (vs. Washington) is an excellent candidate to rebound after an abysmal 2013 campaign. They’re a decent option this week, though question marks still remain. ... Likewise, Denver (vs. Indianapolis) isn’t necessary a sure-thing, but they offer intriguing upside this week. ... Baltimore (vs. Cincinnati) picked Andy Dalton off seven times in two meetings last season, but the Bengals won’t be nearly as pass-happy this season. ... There’s a lot to like about New Orleans (at Atlanta) this season, but don’t sleep on this matchup. The Falcons are more likely to resemble their 2012 selves than their 2013 selves. ... Mike Pettine brings his aggressive defense to Cleveland (at Pittsburgh), which means the Browns need to be considered on a weekly basis.
You don't want to rely on these D/STs on a weekly basis, but their matchup is too juicy to pass up.
1. NY Jets (vs. Oakland) – The Jets are this week’s top streaming option, as they get a west coast team coming east and starting a rookie quarterback. While Rex Ryan’s unit struggled to put up fantasy points for most of last season, they managed double-digits in three of their last four games. Be prepared to jump ship if you grab the Jets for this week. They have an absolutely brutal stretch over the next six games of the Packers, Bears, Lions, Chargers, Broncos, and Patriots.
2. Philadelphia (vs. Jacksonville) – While the Eagles don’t get to face a rookie quarterback (free Blake Bortles!), they do get last season’s No. 2 fantasy matchup for team defenses. To be fair, those numbers are a little slanted, as the Jags weren’t as bad following their Week 9 bye. Philadelphia isn’t a stout defensive unit, but they’re a solid streamer this week against a young and inexperienced Jacksonville offense.
3. Detroit (vs. NY Giants) – At this time last season, we had no clue of the ensuing storm that was Eli Manning. Peyton’s brother started the season with 15 interceptions in his first six games. Now, I’m not predicting a repeat, but you have to like your chances if you’re rolling with the Lions this week, especially after the news that the Giants will be without arguably their best offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz. Those who miss out on the Jets and Eagles may want to give Detroit a long look.
4. Washington (at Houston) – Okay, so they aren’t a defensive stalwart, but Washington is in a really strong matchup against a Texans team that could struggle mightily early on this season. You’re really swinging for the fences here, but you could do a lot worse than to have your team defense going up against Ryan Fitzpatrick.
5. Minnesota (at St. Louis) – Something tells me that the Vikings are a team that could surprise this season. With Mike Zimmer in at head coach, you know this defense is going to be well coached. Minnesota also possesses some dynamic young talent in players like Harrison Smith and Anthony Barr. They get a strong Week 1 matchup against Shaun Hill and the Rams.
Middle of the Road
Green Bay (at Seattle) has some intriguing pieces in place, but it’s tough to roll with them on the road on Thursday night. ... Likewise, the NY Giants (at Detroit) bolstered their secondary and have a healthy Jason Pierre-Paul this season. Look to stream them this season, just not this week. .... Buffalo (at Chicago) was one of last season’s more impressive fantasy units, though you’ll likely want to pass on them against Marc Trestman’s offense. ... On the other side of that contest, Chicago (vs. Buffalo) is much improved on paper, but you’ll want to see them do it on the field before considering them as a fantasy option. ... The same thing can be said for San Diego (at Arizona).
They shouldn't be dropped, but a tough matchup limits the fantasy upside of these units.
1. Indianapolis (at Denver) – I don’t really need to tell you that even with Wes Welker suspended, this is an absolutely terrible matchup for the Colts. Indy will be a viable streamer at times this season, but this isn’t the time.
2. San Francisco (at Dallas) – What a difference a year makes. The 49ers enter 2014 without two of their top defensive players in NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith. They’re also missing NT Glenn Dorsey. That’s not good folks. This San Francisco unit could struggle over the first half of the season, and they open against a Cowboys team that gave up the third-least fantasy points to opposing team defenses last season.
3. Arizona (vs. San Diego) – Like San Francisco, the Cardinals are a lot worse for the wear than they were 365 days ago. With Daryl Washington suspended and Karlos Dansby in Cleveland, Arizona has had to duct tape together an inside linebacker corps that now features Larry Foote. This week they get a Chargers team that yielded double-digit fantasy points just three times last year.
4. Miami (vs. New England) – This one should be fairly self-explanatory, but it’s tough to get behind the Dolphins in Week 1. New England enters the season with a full complement of weapons for Tom Brady, and will almost certainly rebound from their 2013 woes. It’s best to look elsewhere.
Bottom of the Barrel
Dallas (vs. San Francisco) is in shambles on the defensive side of the ball. ... We can’t go that far with Oakland (at NY Jets), but it’s yet to be seen if this unit will gel. ...Like the Cowboys, Atlanta (vs. New Orleans) lost their best defensive player in the offseason. They open the season with a really tough draw. ...Jacksonville (at Philadelphia) is a darkhorse to be a sneaky defense in 2014, but not this week against Chip Kelly and company. ... Likewise, I’m excited to see what Ray Horton will do in Tennessee (at Kansas City), but you want no piece of them on the road in Arrowhead.
Here are some potential streamers with good matchups in the coming weeks.
Week 2 – Washington vs. Jacksonville, Houston at Oakland, Tampa Bay vs. St. Louis, Green Bay vs. NY Jets
Week 3 – Indianapolis at Jacksonville, Houston at NY Giants, Chicago at NY Jets
Week 4 – San Diego vs. Jacksonville, Miami at Oakland, Detroit at NY Jets, Indianapolis vs. Tennessee
Can I Kick it?
Here are my top 12 kickers for Week 1:
1. Stephen Gostkowski (at MIA)
2. Justin Tucker (vs. CIN)
3. Steven Hauschka (vs. GB)
4. Phil Dawson (at DAL)
5. Dan Bailey (vs. SF)
6. Mason Crosby (at SEA)
7. Matt Bryant (vs. NO)
8. Blair Walsh (at STL)
9. Brandon McManus (vs. IND)
10. Adam Vinatieri (at DEN)
11. Robbie Gould (vs. BUF)
12. Cody Parkey (vs. JAC)
D/ST Standard Scoring System
0 points allowed
Under 100 yards allowed
1-6 points allowed
101 to 199 yards allowed
7-13 points allowed
200 to 299 yards allowed
14-17 points allowed
300 to 349 yards allowed
18-27 points allowed
350 to 399 yards allowed
28-34 points allowed
400 to 449 yards allowed
35-45 points allowed
450 to 499 yards allowed
46+ points allowed
500- 549 yards allowed
550+ yards allowed