First Tier – Must Starts
- Chicago – Now the top-ranked defense in the Huddle Staff League (see scoring system below). And only the surging defenses of the Vikings and Broncos have outscored them over the past three weeks. Green Bay comes to the Windy City with a green, fumbling RB and a crusty QB that’s been known to throw a pick or two.
- Jacksonville – The fifth-ranked fantasy defense (again, see below) may have to step up even more with their starting QB shelved for over a month. They’ve racked up 16 INTs (third best in NFL) while Cleveland QBs have thrown 14 picks this season (fifth worse in NFL).
- Tampa Bay – Been rather vanilla over the past three weeks, but the matchup against the Aints is just too sweet to ignore. The Bucs have a very respectable 21 takeaways this season, and the Saints have given up a NFC-leading 28 turnovers.
Second Tier – Solid Starts
- Minnesota – Picking team defenses that will score a bunch of points is pretty tough week to week. The best way to approach it is to see who’s been hot (check) and make sure that hot defense has a good matchup (check). Detroit will start Jeff Garcia at QB and will look to control the ball a bit better with HC Dick Jauron, but the Vikings are still a very, very solid start this weekend. Borderline must-start.
- Denver – Despite being hotter than a well-stoked fire, they’ll only come in as a solid start, as they travel to the very hostile environs of Kansas City. Plus, the Chiefs have only given up a total of 15 turnovers (fifth best in NFL).
- Baltimore – This season has seen its share of busts (Jamal Lewis, Michael Clayton, etc.) and Baltimore’s defense has been right up there with the best (or worst) of them. Here’s a small chance at redemption: playing the Houston Texans at home. Last week, the Rams were only able to notch a measly seven fantasy points, but don’t be shocked to see the Ravens double that amount come Sunday.
- Carolina – Can’t ignore the fact that they’ve been the second-best fantasy defense over the past six weeks and the fact that they have a balanced turnover-causing defense (15 INTs and 13 recovered fumbles) which only ranks behind Cincinnati in total takeaways. Atlanta rarely gives it up (18 turnovers this season), but if there’s any team that’ll disrupt Vick & Company, it’s the Panthers.
- Miami – As I hinted at above, it’s all about matchups and who’s hot when picking fantasy defenses. Miami dropped 15 fantasy points on Oakland last week, and this week, they face a Buffalo Bill team that was spanked by the Carolina Panthers last week, who posted 11 fantasy points.
Third Tier - Best of the Rest
- Indianapolis – They’ve slipped a bit, fantasy defense wise, over the past month or so. But they did drop 14 fantasy points on the Steelers last Monday night, and the Titans have given up a total of 20 turnovers on the season. Back in Week 4, the Colts picked QB Steve McNair off once, recovered a fumble and logged a pair of sacks. Figure about the same for this week.
- Washington – Rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick looked pretty good in relief of Jamie Martin last week, but consider this: he was playing against the Texans. Washington’s defense has not been producing fantasy numbers (9 points last week), but fact is, they’re facing a rookie QB that will be doing a good deal of passing. Worth a shot, for sure.
- Seattle – The Seahawks, playing a rare Monday Night game, can clinch the NFC West division title with a win in Philadelphia. Seattle’s only caused 15 turnovers on the season, and Philadelphia’s given it up 16 times. So figure there’s probably a turnover or two to be had on Monday night. The importance of and stage for this game will be huge for Seattle.
- New England – It’s incredibly difficult to recommend a defense that has only scored around four fantasy points per game over the past three weeks, but the Jets come to Foxboro on Sunday for what will be yet another grind-it-out game. The Jets have given up a whopping 27 turnovers this season. And while the Patriots have only caused about one turnover a game, odds are they will double their normal output against this struggling offense.
Note: League scoring used for this column is 2 points for safety, fumble recovery, blocked punt or FG, 1 point for blocked PAT or sack, 6 points for defensive or special team TDs, and anywhere from 10 to 2 points based on points allowed.