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Gary Davenport

Getting Defensive

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Getting Defensive: Week 15

Monday, December 10, 2018


For much of the 2018 season, the Chicago Bears have been the No. 1 defense in fantasy football by a sizable margin.

 

On Sunday night, the Bears graduated to that most lofty of fantasy heights on the defensive side of the ball.

 

Matchup-proof.

 

Against a Los Angeles Rams team that was averaging well over 30 points and 440 yards per game, the Bears weren't just stout—they were dominant. The Bears surrendered just 214 total yards and six points. Quarterback Jared Goff had only 180 passing yards and was intercepted four times. Tailback Todd Gurley, who entered Week 14 as the NFL's leading rusher, managed just 28 yards on 11 carries.

 

Given the caliber of opposition it came against, it might well have been the most impressive single-game defensive performance of the season.

 

It also hammered home that over the next two (or three) weeks, whether it's against Green Bay or at San Francisco or Minnesota, the Bears defense is an absolute must-start in fantasy.

 

That Week 16 tilt with the Niners almost feels too good to be true.

 

If you aren't fortunate enough to own shares of Bears, Incorporated, here's a look at the best (and in some cases worst) of the team defense plays in this all-important fantasy playoff week.

 

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THE NO-DOUBTERS

 

Houston Texans (at New York Jets)

 

The Texans finally came back down to earth in Week 14, surrendering 24 points in a loss to the Indianapolis Colts that snapped the team's nine-game winning streak. Houston also managed just one interception and a pair of sacks in the game. But it's short memory time where that disappointing effort is concerned. The Texans remain a top-five fantasy defense on the season and draw a matchup this week that's about as good as it gets. Only two teams in the NFL have surrendered more fantasy points to defenses this season than the mistake-prone Jets.

 

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Tampa Bay)

 

The Ravens weren't able to put the clamps on the Kansas City Chiefs like the Bears did with the Rams, but holding the Chiefs to 27 points in an overtime loss at Arrowhead is actually pretty impressive in its own right. For the second straight game, the Ravens will face one of the league's most prolific offenses in terms of yardage in Week 15, But there's a world of difference between the Chiefs and the Buccaneers who lead the NFL in turnovers with 31 and rank 10th in fantasy points surrendered to team defenses through 14 weeks this season.

 

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Miami Dolphins)

 

Hard though it may be to believe, both of these teams are in the hunt for a playoff spot. The Vikings are in a dogfight for one of the NFC's Wild Card spots, while the surprising Dolphins are 7-6 after one of the wildest finishes to a game in the past decade. But it's next to impossible to trust the up-and-down Dolphins to put two solid efforts in a row together, and the Vikings will have the advantage of the raucous home crowd at US Bank Stadium. Against a Miami team that ranks well inside the top-10 in fantasy points given up to defenses, the Vikings will pillage in Week 15.

 

Los Angeles Rams (vs. Philadelphia)

 

The Rams are no doubt in a bad mood after getting their heads handed to them by the Chicago Bears—a game that knocked the Rams from the NFC's No. 1 seed. Of course, the Eagles are coming off a crushing loss of their own in Dallas, and if Philly loses here whatever faint hopes they have of making the playoffs will go up in smoke. The Eagles are desperate and the Rams are mad—that's a bad combination. Philly may well move the ball here, but the Rams are going to do a fair bit more than that. That's going to force the Eagles to take the sort of chances that could lead to turnovers. The Eagles playoff dreams die at the Coliseum on Sunday and the Rams second-ranked fantasy defense will show up.

 

Dallas Cowboys (at Indianapolis Colts)

 

The Cowboys scuffled a bit defensively in last week's overtime win, at least relative to how dominant the defense looked the week before. And the Indianapolis Colts are coming off arguably their best game of the season last week in Houston. The Colts also haven't been especially kind to fantasy defenses this year—ranking outside the top-20 in fantasy points allowed in many scoring systems. But Dallas is a top-10 fantasy defense over the past month playing at an exceptionally high level. Sometimes you just have to trust in (and ride) the hot hand.

 

Buffalo Bills (vs. Detroit Lions)

 

After the Bills allowed 27 points to the New York Jets in Week 14 and posted their lowest fantasy production since Week 9, many fantasy owners who had counted on riding the team again in Week 15 are rightfully wary of doing so. However, from a matchup perspective it remains a wise decision—the Lions are not a good offensive football team. Detroit ranks eighth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to team defenses, and last week the Lions managed just 218 total yards and 96 passing yards in a win over the Arizona Cardinals.

 

STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

 

Detroit Lions (at Buffalo Bills)

 

Detroit's riding quite the string of juicy road fantasy matchups. Last week, the Lions traveled to Arizona, where they piled up three sacks, allowed just 279 yards of offense and three points and chipped in a pick-six en route to a top-three finish for the week defensively. This Sunday the Lions are headed to the opposite coast to face a Bills team that leads the AFC in giveaways with 28, ranks eighth in sacks allowed with 39 and most importantly leads the National Football League in fantasy points given up to team defenses. If you grabbed Detroit last week, hang on to them.

 

Arizona Cardinals (at Atlanta Falcons)

 

It's a good week for streaming defenses in you're still alive in the fantasy playoffs—plenty of teams with excellent matchups who are probably available on more waiver wires than not. In that regard the Cardinals certainly qualify—they travel to take on a floundering Atlanta Falcons team that leads the NFL in fantasy points given up to defenses over the last month. The Cardinals are a bad football team with a sneaky-good defense that hasn't given up on the season. Given how they looked last week in Green Bay, that last part can't necessarily be said about the Falcons.

 

Atlanta Falcons (vs. Arizona Cardinals)

 

Given how the Falcons have played defensively this season, it's fair to wonder given this recommendation whether I may have hit the egg nog a little early. But this call has a lot less to do with the Falcons than the birds they are playing in Week 15. The Arizona Cardinals are re-defining the concept of offensive futility on a weekly basis. Not only do the Redbirds rank at or near the bottom of the NFL in just about every offensive category, but no team in the NFC has been kinder to fantasy defenses in 2018. The Cardinals have hit 300 yards of total defense all of twice in 13 games.

 

Seattle Seahawks (at San Francisco 49ers)

 

The days of the "Legion of Boom" are long gone. So are the days of the Seahawks as a high-end fantasy asset defensively—the team barely ranks inside the top-20 in many scoring systems. But this week the Broncos draw a 49ers team that ranks inside the top five in some formats in fantasy points allowed to defenses thanks to the third-most turnovers and sixth-most sacks allowed in the NFL this year. Sure, the 49ers looked pretty good in a Week 14 win over the Denver Broncos, but what are the odds of a three-win, injury-ravaged team playing well in consecutive outings?

 

Denver Broncos (vs. Cleveland Browns)

 

This call looked one heck of a lot better before the Broncos laid a big fat egg a week ago in San Francisco, allowing 20 first half points and a huge game to tight end George Kittle. It also looked better before Baker Mayfield and the Browns laid 26 points and a loss on the Carolina Panthers—Cleveland's days as a tomato can appear to be over and the team has dropped out of the top-10 in fantasy points given up to defenses. But this game is in Denver, where a desperate Broncos team playing in prime time is a much tougher out.

 

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

 

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. New England Patriots)

 

The good news for fantasy owners of the Steelers defense is that Pittsburgh remains a top-five unit in many scoring systems. And…that's about it. The Steelers haven't put up a double-digit scoring effort in almost a month, including a Week 14 clunker against a bad Oakland Raiders team. The Steelers have now lost three straight ahead of a huge matchup with a Patriots team that is itself smarting after Sunday's jaw-dropping loss in Miami. No team in the AFC allows fewer fantasy points to defenses than the Pats—and that's when they aren't ticked off.

 

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)

 

The Kansas City Chiefs haven't been much to look at from an NFL perspective, ranking 30th in total defense (409.6 yards per game) and 28th in scoring defense (27 points per game). However, thanks to 42 sacks, 21 takeaways and four touchdowns, the Chiefs are a top-five fantasy defense in some scoring systems. However, while home teams have enjoyed quite a bit of success on Thursday nights this season, counting on a big game from the Chiefs against a Chargers team that ranks 28th in fantasy points allowed to defenses this year isn't especially wise.

 

Washington Redskins (at Jacksonville Jaguars)

 

This game is a battle of titanic disappointments. The Jaguars entered the season a Super Bowl contender but appeared by all indications to have thrown in the towel last week in Tennessee. The Redskins were in first place in the NFC East not too long ago, but they've come off the rails as injuries have chewed through the quarterback position. Jacksonville's offense isn't exactly lighting it up either—the Jaguars have one touchdown and 15 points in two games with Cody Kessler under center. But Washington just gave up 40 points to the Giants, so good matchup or no the Redskins just can't be trusted.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Washington Redskins)

 

Remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars had one of the best defenses in the NFL? That seems like a million years ago after watching Titans tailback Derrick Henry set a franchise record with 238 rushing yards on just 17 carries last Thursday night. On paper, this looks like a fantastic matchup—Josh Johnson is Washington's fourth starting quarterback of the season, and over the last three weeks only the Atlanta Falcons have surrendered more fantasy points to defenses than Washington. But after watching the Jags miss 137 tackles in Week 14, trusting Jacksonville in a must-win game is a dicey bet.



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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