Gary Davenport

Getting Defensive

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Getting Defensive: Week 8

Monday, October 22, 2018

Week 7 was an object lesson in just how important matchups are for team defenses in fantasy football.


The week started out with one of the best fantasy performances of the entire season by a defense. Facing an Arizona Cardinals team that ranked last in the NFC in most offensive categories, the Denver Broncos went absolutely ballistic—six sacks, five takeaways, just 10 points and 223 yards allowed and two (count 'em, two) defensive touchdowns.


Sunday also contained a matchup play that hit the jackpot. The Indianapolis Colts have hardly been a defensive powerhouse in 2018, but the Colts looked like a decent plug-and-play against a Buffalo Bills team struggling offensively as much as the Cardinals.
Indianapolis paid off and then some. Two sacks. Five takeaways. 303 yards and five (yes, five) points allowed—numbers that slotted the Colts inside the top three.


However, some of the big-name defenses didn't fare so well. The Chicago Bears barely cracked the top-12 against the New England Patriots—actually finishing way behind a Pats team that scored twice on special teams. The Baltimore Ravens checked in at 15th complements of a home date with the New Orleans Saints. A Jacksonville Jaguars team that was the first defense off most fantasy draft boards over the summer finished lower still against the Houston Texans.


That last one's a real problem. Week 7 was the third-straight down game defensively for the reeling Jags. It's legitimately reached a point where smart fantasy owners are exploring other options, especially in weeks where the matchup isn't good.


Because as Week 7 plainly showed, where team defenses are concerned in fantasy football, it's ALL about the matchups.


With that in mind, here's a look around the team defense landscape for Week 8.


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Washington Redskins (at NYG)


The Washington Redskins may well be the best defense in the NFL that no one is talking about. After putting the clamps on the Dallas Cowboys last week, the Redskins rank fifth in the NFL in total defense (325.7 yards per game) and third in scoring defense, allowing just 20.2 points per contest. The Redskins have also done well by fantasy owners, posting the sixth-most fantasy points per game at the position this year. Roll Washington out with confidence Sunday against a New York Giants team giving up the eighth-most fantasy points to team defenses. Hail to the Redskins!


Chicago Bears (vs. NYJ)


Yes, the Bears just allowed over 30 points for the second straight week. After a red-hot start to the season, the Bears have cooled way off of late—their last two games put together are less than their season average in many fantasy scoring systems. However, that average points per game is still the highest in the NFL in many leagues, and this week the Bears host a young Jets team that's 11th in fantasy points allowed to defenses, has surrendered 11 sacks and ranks third in the league in giveaways. Can you say rebound? I knew you could.


New England Patriots (at BUF)


The Patriots are not an especially good defensive football team. Or an average defensive football team. The Pats are 25th in total defense, allowing just under 390 yards a game. And 25th in scoring defense, giving up 25.6 points per game. The Patriots have just nine sacks in seven games, and even with Sunday's two special teams scores factored in the Patriots rank in the bottom half of the NFL in fantasy points. But as we saw quite plainly in Indy last week, the Bills have the ability to make any defense look like the 1985 Bears. Buffalo is ungood on offense. Really, really ungood.


Houston Texans (vs. MIA)


The Texans are the hottest team in their division right now, winners of four straight after smoking the Jags on the road in Week 7. Thanks to four sacks, three takeaways and just seven points allowed, Houston was also a top-10 fantasy defense for the week—the fourth-straight game in which they've put up a solid stat line. The Texans have climbed all the way to third in scoring among defenses for the season, and with a matchup on tap against a Miami team surrendering the third-most fantasy points to the position there's little reason to think the hot streak won't keep rolling.


Philadelphia Eagles (at JAX – London)


The Eagles have actually struggled some defensively this year—struggles that came to a head with the 21 unanswered points Philly gave up to the Carolina Panthers in the fourth quarter Sunday. But the Jaguars have been doing their best Tom Petty impression of late—free-falling. The Jags have risen to fifth in fantasy points allowed to defenses, and over the last four weeks only the dumpster fire that is the Buffalo Bills has been kinder to opposing defenses. Add in the possibility of Cody Kessler starting at quarterback, and this matchup goes from tasty to straight gravy.




Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. CLE)


The Steelers haven't exactly torn it up defensively—the team ranks 23rd in the NFL in total defense and well outside the top-10 in fantasy points. However, despite having already had their bye week the Steelers are second in the NFL with 22 sacks. That's an appealing stat when you consider that the Browns have surrendered 31 sacks in seven games—far and away the most in the NFL. Add in Cleveland's 10 giveaways this season and you have the recipe for a highly favorable fantasy matchup—seventh in points allowed to defenses.


Arizona Cardinals (vs. SFO)


Yes, I'm recommending the Redbirds as a streaming play in fantasy football just one week after they were buried under a 45-point fusillade by the Denver Broncos. But to be fair, the Arizona defense actually isn't terrible, ranking 10th in fantasy points after seven weeks this season. The 49ers have been able to move the ball on a number of opponents, but they've also been error-prone—no team in the league has more giveaways than San Francisco's 18. This game also has the second-lowest Over/Under of the Week 8 slate in Vegas at 43.5—oddsmakers smell a low-scoring game in the offing.


San Francisco 49ers (at ARZ)


This is not a fantasy play for the faint of heart. Or a fantasy play for those who can secure another, more reliable option. The 49ers are having all kinds of problems defensively and rank in the bottom-five of the league in fantasy points. They even gave up 28 points to the Cardinals in Santa Clara in Week 5—a mind-boggling performance given how horrible the Cardinals have been offensively. But the matchup remains a tempting one—especially if you watched Arizona implode against the Broncos last week. A risk/reward play to be sure—but the potential for a payoff is certainly there.


Indianapolis Colts (at OAK)


The Week 8 streaming options have a recurring theme—there isn't really a team widely available on waiver wires (outside of the Patriots) who screams "GREAT MATCHUP!" for fantasy owners. There's risk involved with many of them—and the Colts are no different. This is a team that's 22nd in total defense and 28th in scoring defense even after last week's beatdown of the Bills. But if you picked up the Colts for that matchup with Buffalo consider using them again against the Raiders. Oakland is ninth in fantasy points given up to defenses and won't have tailback Marshawn Lynch for this game.




Denver Broncos (at KCC)


The Broncos were phenomenal for fantasy owners in Week 7, posting the kind of gonzo fantasy score that can win you a week. Their reward for this kind service? Being thrown right back onto the waiver wire—or at the very least being Gorilla-Glued to the bench. The reason is as obvious as it is bright red—the Kansas City offense is an absolute buzzsaw right now. A few weeks ago, the Broncos surrendered almost 450 yards of total offense and 27 points to the Broncos with just a single sack—and that game was in Denver.


Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. PHI – London)


Remember what I said about looking for alternatives to the Jaguars when the matchups are bad? Yeah, this may be one of those weeks. The floundering Eagles aren't a horrible fantasy matchup—the team ranks inside the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to defenses. And the Jaguars are still a very talented defensive team. But the Jacksonville offense is so pathetic right now that the defense is constantly put in an untenable position with no margin for error. If they can't crack the top-15 against Houston, I don't like their chances against a desperate defending champ.


Minnesota Vikings (vs. NOS)


The Vikings haven't quite met fantasy expectations defensively in 2018, but after a solid effort (three sacks, four takeaways and 17 points allowed) against the New York Jets in Week 7 the Vikings have climbed to sixth at the position in fantasy points. Fantasy owners who spent an early pick on the Vikings did so with the intention of using Minnesota as an ever-week starter. But Week 8 is a good time to consider a Plan B. Only the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs have allowed fewer fantasy points to defenses than the Saints, and while Drew Brees will be on the road Sunday night he'll be playing indoors.

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report and a contributing author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2015 FSWA award for Print Article of the Year. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.
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