We're about halfway through the NFL season and the carnage is upon us. There are now between eight and ten teams that will be starting a second-string or third-string quarterback. We'll see back-ups take snaps for the Jets, Titans, Steelers, Browns, Bears, Vikings, Rams, Colts, and also potentially the Cardinals and Falcons. That also doesn't include teams like the Packers, Raiders, Bucs, Commanders, Texans, Panthers and Patriots who are starting either journeyman veterans or unproven rookies.
As a result, we're about to get into one of the wildest weeks when it comes to ranking defenses because it feels almost impossible to predict the offensive performance of 17 of the 28 teams who will suit up this weekend. We also have multiple top 10 defenses either facing each other or facing offenses that don't give up fantasy points to opposing defenses, so you'll see some odd rankings below.
When it comes down to it, this week is going to be a big test for whether you lean towards trusting the matchup or the quality of the defense. What side you fall on could drastically sway whether you're chasing some poor defenses going against back-up quarterbacks or trying to stick with the proven defenses we've come to trust.
BOD Formula and Philosophy
Just a quick reminder of the BOD formula:
(Pressure Rate) + (Knockdowns) + (Pass Defense Rate) + (%Drives ending in a Turnover)
(% Drives ending in a Score) + (Explosive Plays Allowed Per Game)
It's important to clarify that the BOD rankings ARE NOT to be treated as weekly rankings. BOD is meant to tell us who the best fantasy defenses are, but depending on the matchup, they might be ranked differently in a given week. That's why we have this column where I will be breaking down my rankings for each week and an explanation of why I have the defenses ranked the way I do. The rankings will take into account their BOD ranking, opponent, injuries, weather, etc., but I hope my explanation will help make sense of each ranking.
Throughout the season I'll keep track of how many top 10 defenses we correctly predicted. I know it's not quite marking down if I nailed the number one defense each week or the number two, but it's the most logical way I can think of to keep track of how often a defense I predicted would be a good play actually wound up being a good play. I know we always want the top defense, but I think, more often than not, if we get one of the ten performing defenses of the week, we're not mad at the result.
SEASON RECORD FOR TOP 10 PREDICTIONS: 38-of-80 (47.5%)
So how do things stack up for Week 9?
What a weird first tier this is. We just have to get that out of the way because this is such an odd week for defense rankings. A lot of my top ten defenses are either on bye (Jacksonville and San Francisco) or in bad matchups (Kansas City, Dallas, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Buffalo). That means that, as we mentioned above, Week 9 is a big week for deciding if you're the person who trusts the defense or the matchup.
The Browns remain my top defense of the week, and I'm not sure I'll waver from that as the week goes on. Yes, their offense is a mess, but Cleveland is first in opponents' scoring rate, fifth in pressure rate, and 10th in knockdowns per game (sacks plus QB hits). What that means is they don't allow a lot of points, and they're often in the quarterback's face. Why the defense has some flaws aside from that, I think that's enough against a Cardinals team that remains without James Conner and is potentially starting Clayton Tune for one week before bringing Kyler Murray back. Aside from some garbage time drives last week against the Ravens, this offense did nothing, and I think Cleveland is in for a solid week. If Murray does start, I could see moving Cleveland down a bit, but not out of the top 10.
The Saints continue to get by as a fantasy defense thanks to a relatively easy schedule; however, they didn't make things easy last week despite getting a Gardner Minshew-led Colts offense that seemed to love turning the ball over. Now the Saints will get Tyson Bagent and the Bears, who give up the third-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Considering the Saints are first in the NFL in passes defended rate and seventh in opponents' scoring rate, I don't expect the Bears to have a ton of success through the air, which helps to raise the Saints' floor as a defense. If they're 12th-ranked turnover defense can force one or two miscues, then we could be in for a solid fantasy day.
Look, I know Will Levis looked good on Sunday, and you don't want to play a Steelers defense without Minkah Fitzpatrick against him, but I do still believe this is one of the better matchups on the week. The Steelers are second in turnover rate, eighth in knockdowns per game, and eighth in pressure rate. They do give up some big plays, and their secondary without Fitzpatrick will be vulnerable, but they also have the fourth-highest blitz rate of any team in the NFL, so I expect them to send some different looks to confuse Levis on a short week with less time to prepare. I feel good about Pittsburgh as a top 10 option this week, and if Tennessee were to trade either Derrick Henry or DeAndre Hopkins then you know you'll lock it in.
It's unfortunate that injuries have ravaged Minnesota the way they have because they’ve started to play some solid football. Their defense has been trending in the right direction, ranking eighth in explosive plays allowed per game, 14th in turnover rate, 14th in passes defended rate, and 15th in opponents’ scoring rate. Now they get to face a Falcons team that gives up the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Falcons head coach Arthur Smith mentioned on Sunday that Desmond Ridder wasn’t bench for performance but because he was evaluated for a concussion, so the Falcons could go back to Ridder again. That would be good news for this Vikings defense; however, the Vikings offense could be a trainwreck on Sunday and continuously put the defense in a bad spot, so this matchup does have some risk to it. SUNDAY UPDATE: I thought about moving Minnesota down, but then Drake London was ruled out and we're just going to roll the dice here. This is a SUPER risky pick, but I'm gonna stick to my guns (and my formula).
And here comes the wildness. Yes, I have the Giants in tier two. This defense has really turned a corner over the last few weeks, and they rank fifth in fantasy among defenses over the last three weeks with 10.3 points per game. On the season, they're now 10th in pressure rate, 10th in opponents' scoring rate, and 11th in passes defended rate. They're also getting a Raiders team that looked lost on Monday night and gives up the 6th-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. If the Raiders also wind up trading Davante Adams on Tuesday's trade deadline, this becomes even more of a strong play. SUNDAY UPDATE: With Aidan O'Connell starting, I feel comfortable about keeping the Giants here.
The Falcons defense has been exposed as a little bit fraudulent in their early season success. They currently rank third in pressure rate and ninth in explosive plays allowed but 13th in knockdowns per game, 22nd in passes defended rate, 28th in turnover rate. They can be stingy when it comes to allowing yardage, which is important to factor in if your league counts that, but they don't get a lot of sacks and picks, which lowers their ceiling. They also did lose Grady Jarrett, which is a big blow to their defense; however, that may not be an impact this year as they get a plus matchup against a Vikings offense that will be without Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson and has a really inefficient backfield duo. That makes Atlanta a solid play in my book.
I think we just have to accept that this Chargers defense will never be as good as we wanted or expected it to be with its high end talent and defensive-minded head coach. They rank 9th in turnover rate but 22nd in opponents’ scoring rate, 28th in pressure rate, and 30th in explosive plays allowed per game. The good news for them is that they’re going up against a Jets offense that doesn’t make many explosive plays on offense and also doesn’t score many points. Zach Wilson has been improving enough, and Breece Hall is explosive enough, that this isn’t a smash spot for the Chargers, but I think they provide a safe floor this weekend.
The Commanders also make it into tier two on the backs of some solid defensive metrics but also a matchup against a Patriots offense that just lost Kendrick Bourne and also has DeVante Parker likely out with a concussion. That's bad news for an offense that already gives up the second-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. This Commanders defense isn't great, but they rank ninth in passes defended rate, 11th in knockdowns per game, and 13th in turnover rate, so they can cause some problems for opposing offenses. I just don't trust that New England has the offensive firepower to hit big plays here.
The Raiders defense has been pretty solid of late, averaging 9.5 fantasy points per game over the last four games. However, some of that is due to defensive touchdowns, which are really hard to predict going forward, and also really easy matchups. This Giants offense gives up the most fantasy points to opposing defenses, which makes them relevant, but they've been much better with Saquon Barkley back, and they should get Daniel Jones and some offensive line help back this week. It's just hard for me to trust a Raiders team that looks a bit lost. SUNDAY UPDATE: I don't want to trust the Raiders, but Darren Waller is out for the Giants and Daniel Jones being back could add a few more bad sacks that Tyrod Taylor didn't take. I honestly don't love this play, but I can see the reasoning behind it.
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We’ve come to the point where we simply can’t move the Cowboys down any further. While neither the Cowboys or the Eagles defense has been as consistently elite as we expected coming into the year, they’ve both flashed that top tier upside and are two of the more reliable defenses in fantasy football. They’re also both top 10 in at least three metrics that I use to determine my BOD rankings. The Cowboys are second in pass defended rate. The Eagles are sixth in knockdowns per game. The Cowboys are fourth in turnover rate. The Eagles are fourth in explosive plays allowed per game. However, you see the Cowboys up here and not the Eagles because Dallas gives up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses, while Philadelphia allows the 11th-fewest, so they're slightly better matchup. The Cowboys are a much better turnover defense, and they rank fifth in opponents' scoring rate, while the Eagles rank 14th, so this Eagles defense has given up more points while taking the ball away less. I'd prefer the Cowboys side here, defensively speaking (which is why the Eagles are in the next tier).
The Jets are also in tier three in a bad matchup against a Chargers team that gives up the second-fewest points to opposing fantasy defenses. With that being said, this is an elite Jets defense that ranks first in pressure rate, fifth in passes defended rate, eighth in opponents' scoring rate, and 10th in turnover rate. The Chargers are battling some injuries on the offensive line, and I think the Jets defense can keep this game from getting out of hand, providing you with a solid floor play this week.
Another game where we have two defenses facing each other that we’d usually like to play is the Seahawks against the Ravens. Both defenses are ranked on the fringe of the top 10 for me due to some flaws in the profile like Baltimore ranking 22nd in turnover rate and 24th in pressure rate or Seattle ranking 19th in explosive plays allowed per game; however, both defenses have proven that they can create some havoc in the backfield and put up good fantasy totals. What’s more, both of these offenses are a bit more giving to opposing fantasy defenses than the offenses in our other tough showdowns this week. As a result, I think these could be sneaky plays in deeper formats, but I trust the Seahawks more because they're 1st in the NFL in knockdowns, 11th in pressure rate, 11th in turnover rate, and if they can get any snaps from newly-acquired Leonard Williams, it's going to be a big boost.
Kansas City and Miami is the last game that features two defenses that we usually want to play pitted against one another. I know Kansas City dropped the ball for us against the Broncos last week, but I don’t want to put too much of that on their defense. Who would have expected their offense to turn the ball over five times, including a fumbled punt return on their own five-yard line? The defense remains top 10 in multiple key categories: second in opponents' scoring rate, fourth in pressure rate, fifth in knockdowns per game, fifth in explosive plays allowed per game, and eighth in turnover rate. We’ve also seen the Miami offense be stymied a bit by both the Bills and Eagles defenses, so there is a gameplan out there. However, I think that gameplan tends to rely on forcing the Dolphins to play from behind, and I’m not sure this Chiefs offense can do that. That being said, I’m also not keen on using a defense against Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce coming off a bad loss. I know this Chiefs offense hasn’t been as good as we’re used to, but this Dolphins defense also hasn’t been good enough that I want to throw them out there in this matchup (which is why you see the Dolphins in tier four)
I normally am hesitant to play the Packers defense because they haven’t been very good. They rank 11th in pressure rate but 17th in knockdowns per game, 23rd in opponent’s scoring rate, 26th in turnover rate, and 27th in explosive plays allowed per game. That’s not the make-up of a trustworthy fantasy defense; yet, the Rams are likely to start Brett Rypien at quarterback and still have a pairing of street free agents at running back. I think that raises the floor for this Green Bay defense enough to the point where I would entertain playing them in deeper formats. SUNDAY UPDATE: Green Bay moves into tier three with Stafford out, but I really do think this is a deep league only play.
The Bills and Bengals are another game where we’d normally like to play either defense, but the matchup makes it tough. We know the Bills defense is banged up, and the Bengals offense is starting to look healthy and electric again. Without Matt Milano, the Bills have had a real problem against running backs in the passing game, and I think the Bengals will certainly capitalize on that. However, this isn’t a slam dunk play for the Bengals defense either. The Bills used the Dawson Knox injury to change up their offense, putting Dalton Kincaid as a natural tight end and using Gabe Davis in the slot, and it looked pretty good against the Bucs. What’s more, people want to criticize Josh Allen because of his poor Week 1 performance and the team’s offensive inconsistencies overall, but he’s had a pretty good season. Allen ranks first in completion rate, first in QBR, second in passing touchdowns, third in passing success rate, fourth in passing yards, and has as many interceptions as Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts. He’s having one of his better seasons as a passer.
I'm fading the Patriots this week, and you can watch my explanation for that in this week’s episode of Pick 3(DST) here.
I know the Bucs are a trendy pick, but the Texans give up the 3rd-fewest fantasy points to opposing defenses, so I would avoid this play if I had the choice.
I would prefer not to play any of these defenses this week if I had my choice. Especially the ones on bye.
As I mentioned above, I will update and repost this article on Sunday morning in case there are any changes with injuries or weather reports, etc. Until then, good luck to all this week!