First Tier – Must Starts
- Chicago – A banged up Michael Vick is going to have issues with this defense. Expect the Bears to hammer Vick all day. The weather report calls for very chilly temperatures, so Vick’s sore ribs, given a few good hits, could affect his production.
- Carolina – One fantasy point last week isn’t the best indication of how good this defense is playing. Look for them to take out their aggressions after last week’s home loss to the Bucs on the Saints, who will start Todd Bouman at QB.
- Jacksonville – They’ve put up two straight weeks of just five fantasy points, but hosting the Niners will change that in a hurry. San Francisco has given the ball up 33 times this season (only St. Louis is worse).
- Seattle – The best fantasy defense over the past three weeks. This week, they travel to Tennessee to face a Titan team with a minus-4 turnover margin on the season. The Seahawks are rollin’, and should get to Titan QB Steve McNair a few times this week (45 sacks on the season; the NFL’s best).
Second Tier – Solid Starts
- Cincinnati – All you really need to know is that the Bengals lead the NFL in turnover margin (a whopping +24), and they’re playing Detroit.
- Baltimore – Thumbs down to the geniuses at ABC that scheduled this season’s Monday night games. Sure, Baltimore’s been a general disappointment and Brett Favre’s Packers are a good draw, but this is ridiculous. Baltimore’s D has been up and down over the past six weeks, fantasy-wise, but Green Bay has given up the ball 33 times this season. Expect Favre to toss his typical couple of INTs.
- Denver – The Broncos are second to Cincinnati in turnover margin (+18) on the season, and travel to a blustery, snowy Buffalo for a Saturday night matchup. The Bills will start Kelly Holcomb at QB, who has three picks in 5 starts.
- Pittsburgh – The Steelers’ Week 15 opponent, the Minnesota Vikings, have given the ball up 26 times this season. The Steelers’ opportunistic defense has 24 takeaways. Viking QB Brad Johnson has been steady, but this aggressive defense will get to him.
- Philadelphia – They are a complete mess on offense (although rookie RB Ryan Moats has brought some life), but their defense can still make plays, especially the secondary. St. Louis is the absolute worst in the NFL in terms of giving up the ball, and Philly has a respectable 24 takeaways on the season.
Third Tier - Best of the Rest
- Miami – The Dolphins have 24 takeaways on the season, and the Jets have given the ball up 28 times thus far. The Jets are without RB Curtis Martin, and QB Brooks Bollinger has thrown 5 picks in 8 games this season.
- Indianapolis – The dream season continues. Some say this will probably be the Colts’ toughest test, even at home. The Bolts present a ton of problems on offense, but the Colt D will be pumped at home, going for 14-0.
- Washington – They’ve been completely worthless, fantasy-wise, for most of the season. However, they’ve scored 14 and 17 fantasy points over the past two weeks, and their rivals, the Dallas Cowboys, come to chilly Washington D.C. for a Sunday afternoon romp.
- NY Giants – The G-men are the fifth-best fantasy defense over the past three weeks. Kansas City has only given the ball away 19 times this season, but if anyone’s going to cause the Chiefs to give it up, it’s the Giants, sporting a robust 32 takeaways.
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.