Week 8 was the toughest of the year so far with only three correct top-10 predictions and Tampa Bay still to come tonight. The best I can hope for is 40%, which would be the worst finish of the season.
Weather played a factor, with winds whipping over 20 MPH in a few games across the country on Sunday, but we also had some surprise defensive performances like Miami’s two defensive-touchdown effort against the Rams, Atlanta playing top-10 caliber defense against Carolina, and Seattle taking advantage of three in-game 49ers injuries to finish with a top-10 performance.
However, perhaps the most surprising was Dallas’ unit finishing with 13 points and landing in the top-10. Sometimes it’s just not your week.
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Picking The Right Defenses
One mediocre week isn’t going to take away from the primary strategy that we’ve been using to pick defenses all season. When choosing a defense, you want to be looking for defenses that get consistent pressure and takeaways. Sacks and turnovers are more valuable for fantasy defense than preventing yardage and even, to a certain extent, preventing points. If a defense allows a stingy yards per play number, that’s great and I’ll cite some of those numbers below – but they better also be able to get into the backfield or force turnovers, or else it won’t really matter in the long run. That’s why the Chiefs Defense was so good last year, despite getting into a ton of shootouts. Teams against them were forced to play up-tempo and throw a lot, which led to sack opportunities and turnovers despite giving up lots of points.
Essentially, we need to move away from points against as being the most important factor in choosing a fantasy defense. NFL offenses have scored 5,948 points or 25.2 points per game so far this season and allowed 361.9 yards per team per game, which is the most through the first eight weeks of any season in the Super Bowl era in either stat. With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can’t continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we’re used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.
We can also identify the offenses that we want to attack based on current performance. Injuries can always change this, but, for right now, defenses going up against the Jets, Broncos, Patriots, Giants, Cowboys, Bengals, and Washington Football team have scored considerably more points on average than defenses facing other offenses. Now, attacking these teams doesn’t always work, as people who started the Bills and Chargers Defenses this week know. However, it is a key factor to keep in mind when making your decision.
Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.
Week 9 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings
These rankings are from before the Monday Night Football game and will be adjusted if needed on Tuesday.
Below are my Week 9 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 9 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 9. I’ve broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 9 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league’s waiver wire for a Week 9 pickup or add.
Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) – Since every league’s DST scoring is different, projections don’t always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means “do not start,” then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week’s rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.
Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.
Note: All of these rankings could be drastically impacted by Monday’s COVID news. Green Bay, Baltimore, Arizona and Houston all had positive tests, which could lead to more tests or delays/cancellations. For now, I will rank as if everything will proceed as normal and may adjust as we get more information.
Tier 1 Defenses
We already mentioned above that the Cowboys are an offense to attack and that was even clearer with Andy Dalton out. Dalton may return from his concussion this week, but the Cowboys’ offensive line health issues will not be resolved. The Cowboys are 28th in the league in sacks allowed and 31st in offensive drives ending in a turnover. They are quite possibly the best matchup for a Steelers defense that leads the league in sacks, pressure rate, and quarterback hurries. They are only 12th in defensive drives ending in a turnover, but the Cowboys should offer up more than enough chances to improve that number. I know the Chiefs were a slam dunk #1 option this past week and failed to deliver, but I feel comfortable locking the Steelers into the top spot here.
The Colts are a strong team, but their offense leaves a lot to be desired. They are 21st in total yards gained, 18th in yards per play, and 18th in offensive drives ending in a turnover. Jonathan Taylor may be a bit banged up, getting replaced by Jordan Wilkins, and the Colts can get no consistent production from their wide receivers. While their offensive line remains strong and has allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL, Philip Rivers remains a statue with well below average mobility in the pocket. That’s not good news against a Ravens team that has the second-highest blitz rate, 5th-most sacks, and 3rd-highest pressure rate. Even a good offensive line will likely bend under that kind of pressure, which could lead to more sacks than the Colts are used to giving up and some prototypical poor Rivers throws into coverage against a defense that is 7th in the league in drives ending in a turnover. I don’t expect the Colts to put up many points in this game, even with Baltimore missing Marlon Humphrey, which will make each sack or turnover that much more valuable.
This ranking assumes we’ll see Stephon Gilmore back in action, but the trade deadline could drastically change the way this Patriots roster looks. As it stands, the Patriots are 8th in pressure rate, 2nd in quarterback hurry rate, and best in the league in defensive drives ending in a turnover. That pressure rate will work in their favor against a Jets offensive line that is 29th in sacks allowed and dead last in yards per play. With Sam Darnold re-injuring himself on Sunday, the Patriots could potentially get the chance to take advantage of a more immobile Joe Flacco under center. Since we know that this Jets offense isn’t likely to put up lots of points, that gives the Patriots defense a solid floor of value to work off of and makes them more appealing in this game.
Having Washington this high may come as a surprise, but remember that the Giants are 29th in the league in points allowed to fantasy defenses, and they will be playing on a short week after a tough Monday night game against Tampa Bay. The receiving corps has started to get healthy for New York, but they are still 22nd in sacks allowed and 29th in offensive drives ending in a turnover. Washington doesn’t force many turnovers, but they are 6th in the league in sacks, 6th in pressure rate, and 8th in passing touchdowns allowed. The pressure they should be able to consistently get on Daniel Jones will likely lead to both sacks and turnovers, and the Giants have yet to show they can put up high point totals, even against subpar defenses.
Tier 2 Defenses
The Texans come off a bye and get to face a Jaguars offense without Gardner Minshew. The second-year quarterback may not be an elite talent, but he is certainly a major upgrade over rookie sixth-round pick Jake Luton, who is expected to draw the start. We don’t know a whole lot about the Oregon State product other than he is a gigantic 6’7″ with decent mobility for his size but is “not a progression read passer and almost invariably works half-field” (The Draft Network). The downgrade at quarterback will not only limit the Jaguars’ effectiveness at moving the ball, but Luton’s relative immobility, when compared to Minshew, will be an issue for an offensive line that is 27th in sacks allowed despite having already had their bye week. The Texans’ defense has its flaws, but they are 6th in blitz rate, which could lead to some confusion and missed assignments against a rookie quarterback and a poor offensive line. All of which makes the Texans an appealing streaming option in a game where they figure to score easily against a poor Jaguars Defense, which will put Luton in catch-up mode.
At this point, you have to feel bad for the 49ers. They just can’t seem to stay healthy. On Sunday Jimmy Garoppolo, Tevin Coleman, and George Kittle all left the game with injuries. It’s since been announced that both Jimmy G and Kittle will be out against the Packers. That likely leaves the 49ers with an offense led by Nick Mullens, JaMycal Hasty, and Brandon Aiyuk on Thursday. The 49ers Defense is already banged up, and Aaron Rodgers is playing good football, so the 49ers offense will need to move the ball consistently to keep up with the Packers. If they can’t, the injuries will be even more pressure on an offensive line that is 26th in sacks allowed going up against a defense that has failed to get a consistent pass rush during the year. With Jaire Alexander playing at a high level and the 49ers running out of options to contend on the perimeter, it will be tough for them to put up lots of points in this game. Since Jimmy G has become a part of the team, San Francisco is 5-22 with 19.6 points per game without him under center. Fire up Green Bay in this game.
We’ve yet to see Tampa Bay play on Monday night, but their defense has been stellar all season, and the Saints simply aren’t as explosive as they used to be on offense. Michael Thomas may be back next week, but he may also be on another team, so we’ll need to keep track of that situation as we finalize the rankings.
We also haven’t seen the Giants play yet this week, but their defense has actually been fairly solid overall on the season. They’re 5th in pressure rate, 13th in sacks, and 4th in quarterback knockdown rate. They’ve been middle of the road in forcing turnovers but are facing a Washington offense that is 30th in sacks allowed and dead last in sack percentage (percentage of times sacked when dropping back to pass). Even if the Giants aren’t able to turn Kyle Allen over, which I think they will, they should be in the backfield often. James Bradberry has been stellar in coverage this year and should be a solid match for Terry McLaurin, which will force Washington to rely on other, far less consistent, sources of production. That could lead to more mistakes and more points for the Giants defense.
Tier 3 Defenses
Everybody focuses on the Chiefs offense, but their defense will get after you. They are 4th in the league in pressure rate and third in quarterback hurry rate. All of this pressure may only have led to 17 sacks, but it causes chaos, as evidenced by the Chiefs being 3rd in the league in drives ending in an offensive turnover. The Panthers don’t turn the ball over a ton, but they are 20th in the league in offensive drives ending in a turnover and 16th in percentage of times sacked when dropping back to pass, so there are some weaknesses for the Chiefs to take advantage of. The Panthers should be a more dynamic offense with Christian McCaffrey likely back, but it’s hard to envision a full workload for him in his first game back, and the Panthers will still be playing catch-up since their defense has little chance of stopping the Chiefs powerhouse offense. That catch-up mode will likely play into the hands of the Chiefs due to their pressure and turnovers and lead to some fantasy goodness.
The Dolphins destroyed the Rams on Sunday, which came as a shock to most, but it was mainly on the back of its defense. Tua Tagovailoa was 12-22 for 93 yards and one touchdown. He also gained zero yards rushing and fumbled once. The Rams are a tough defense, but it wasn’t as if the rookie really put on a show. This Cardinals defense has been a solid unit throughout the year, currently ranked 9th in pressure rate, 9th in sacks, and 8th in quarterback knockdown rate. They blitz the 4th-most of any unit in the league, which could pose problems for a rookie quarterback behind an offensive line that has been solid but is 12th in percentage of sacks per dropback. Game managing a win in your first start is nothing to turn up your nose at, but it’s not the same as going toe-to-toe with Kyler Murray against one of the blitz-happiest defenses in the league.
The Dolphins defense is 6th so far in the fantasy defense ranks, so you clearly can’t knock the performance, but the results are just not supported by the underlying metrics. During the first four weeks of the season, they were the 17th ranked defense. Over the last four weeks (three games because of the bye) they are second in total DST points and first overall in DST points per game. However, those opponents were the banged-up 49ers three weeks ago, the Jets, and the Rams. I have no explanation for the Rams game, but the other two offenses were not strong units. On the season, the Dolphins are 19th in yards per play, 11th in sacks, 30th in quarterback hurry rate, and 11th in drives ending in an offensive turnover. That’s not bad, but it’s not the metrics of a dominant fantasy defense. The Cardinals offense is also 5th in sacks allowed, 7th in yards per play, and 14th in drives ending in a score. They are 18th in offensive drives ending in a turnover, so it’s possible the Dolphins can capitalize there, but I don’t see them putting up anywhere near the performance they have in recent weeks.
I whiffed on the Titans last week, but I’ll go back to the well here. Not because I think the Titans are a strong defense, but because I think the Bears are a much worse offense than the Bengals. The Titans remain near the bottom of the league in nearly all pressure metrics, but the Bears just don’t put up much of a fight on offense. The Bears are 25th in fantasy points allowed to opposing DST and most of that comes from an offense that is 30th in drives ending in an offensive touchdown, 17th in drives ending in an offensive turnover, and 24th in sacks allowed. Even with the Titans defense failing to live up to past expectations, I just don’t see the Bears being able to put many points on the board, which will lead to a slow, low-scoring game.
OK, hear me out. The Falcons defense has actually been playing solid football. During the first four weeks of the season, they were a dumpster fire. However, facing Russell Wilson, the Dak Prescott Cowboys, and the Packers in three of your first four games will likely make most teams look terrible. Their Week 3 showing against the Bears is inexcusable, but since those first four games, they haven’t allowed any team to score over 23 points and have increased their pressure rate. They are currently 11th in the league in pressure rate and fifth in quarterback knockdown percentage. It’s not great defense, but over the past three weeks they’ve put up six points against the Panthers, two points against the Lions, seven points against the Vikings. The Broncos offense is worse than all of those units. They are the 30th in the league in fantasy points allowed to opposing defenses, 23rd in sack percentage per dropback, and 30th in offensive drives ending in a turnover. If you take the six or seven points that the Falcons showed they can score against solid offenses and then factor in what the Broncos usually give up, it’s not crazy to see the Falcons scoring eight to ten points on defense this week.
The Bears defense has become a high-floor, low-ceiling unit. On one hand, they’re 8th in yards per play allowed, 12th in drives allowed ending in points, and 2nd in passing touchdowns allowed. On the other hand, they are 28th in pressure rate, 26th in quarterback hurry rate, and 19th in drives ending in an offensive turnover. They’re going to make it tough for the Titans to score points, which is going to make this is a grind-it-out affair, led by Derrick Henry. However, the Bears aren’t likely to get sacks against a Titans offensive line that has allowed the second-fewest in the year, which will severely limit their upside in this game unless they can find their way to a defensive touchdown.
The Broncos defense is coming off of a solid showing by notching two sacks and two interceptions against a surging Chargers offense en route to a surprise upset. While the 485 yards allowed and 30 points are a problem, the Broncos continue to amass fantasy value through a defense that is 8th in sacks and a secondary that is just beginning to get healthy now that A.J. Bouye is back but has still limited opponents to just 5.9 yards per attempt, good for 8th in the league. While the Denver defense has its flaws – it doesn’t generate a lot of turnovers and is missing key pass rushers – they get the benefit of facing a Falcons offense without Calvin Ridley. While Matt Ryan still has Julio Jones, the Falcons will need Todd Gurley to rip off consistent chunks of yards if they want to move the ball and put up points without Ridley. I don’t expect a massive effort from Denver, but I think they have enough talent to limit a banged-up Atlanta team from doing too much damage.
Tier 4 Defenses
A few things to note here: Kenny Golladay is out for this game and potentially headed to the IR, which makes Minnesota a little more intriguing. Also, Jamaal Williams is being viewed as a close-contact of AJ Dillon‘s and potentially being quarantined due to Dillon’s positive COVID test. Since Aaron Jones has missed the last two weeks with a calf injury, there is a chance that the 49ers face Green Bay without any of their top three runningbacks.
Lastly, Pete Carroll seemed to suggest there is little chance Carlos Hyde plays this Sunday and was non-committal about Chris Carson. The way to attack the Bills is on the ground, so the Seahawks would love to have one of those two play in order to really attack this Buffalo defense on the road in what should be another cold and potentially ugly game.
Tier 5 Defenses
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