Tier One - Must Starts
- Chicago – Back to the top of the list the Bears go. This week’s opponents, the Minnesota Vikings, have given the ball away 21 times thus far this season. They’ve also given up 27 sacks. Both stats are rather average, but this Bears D is anything but average. They’ll look to possibly clinch the division with a win, so expect the Bear D to be at its best.
- Dallas – The Cowboys have yet to score more than 19 fantasy points, but have consistently been in the low-to-mid teens each week. The Giants have given up 20 sacks and 20 turnovers, both somewhat average, but Eli Manning has looked confused on the field the past few weeks. The hungry and opportunistic Cowboy defenders will surely cause some problems.
- Baltimore – After a huge 35-point Week 12, the Ravens’ D is nipping at the heels of the Chicago Bears in terms of fantasy scoring. However, the Ravens face the high-flying Bengal offense this week. The Bengals have given up quite a few sacks (30 on the season), but have kept the turnovers rather low (15 on the season).
Tier Two - Solid Starts
- New England – They’ve quietly remained in the top 10 (currently #5 per scoring used for this list) this season. They’ll likely move up a notch with the very mistake-prone Detroit Lion team on its way to Foxboro. Weather could be an issue, too.
- Denver – With QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander back in the lineup, the Seahawks’ offense will be far more effective than their 25 turnovers and 35 sacks allowed indicates. But the fact remains: the Denver D has been solid, and they’ll need to be on Sunday night. Could be a snowy mess at Mile High, too.
- Seattle – As noted above, it could be a snowy mess at Mile High. Weather reports indicate snow is possible on Saturday and Tuesday, but who knows what Mother Nature will bring. Even without snow, the Seattle defense has been a consistent scorer this season and will face a rookie QB. Highly touted or not, Jay Cutler is still a rookie and will be susceptible to making rookie errors.
Tier Three - Best of the Rest
- San Diego – Despite not hitting double digits for three weeks, the Charger D remains in the top 10 according to the scoring system used for these rankings. Buffalo has actually taken rather good care of the football (only 17 turnovers on the season), but do give up sacks (35) and we all know J.P. Losman is turnover-prone. Oh, and they’re getting their playmaker, Shawne Merriman, back this week.
- Carolina – If the Colts (27th-ranked fantasy D) can drop 14 fantasy points on the Jeff Garcia led Philadelphia Colts, what do you think the Carolina Panthers could do? Yes, they’ve been a general disappointment this season, fantasy-wise, but expect this talented defense to bring their “A” game on Monday Night Football against the McNabb-less Eagles.
- Cincinnati – The Bengals have put up 16 and 28 fantasy points over the past two weeks. They’re a risky start this week, though, as they’re facing a very hot Baltimore Raven team; a team that’s only turned the ball over 14 times and allowed a very respectable 16 sacks on the season.
- Jacksonville – The Fins have given up 20 turnovers this season, but the Jags have not been taking the ball away much this season. Still, the Jags have remained in the top-10, fantasy-wise. They’ve only averaged around 6 fantasy points over the past three, so don’t expect a huge outing in this all-Florida matchup.
- Minnesota – This ranking really depends on which Rex Grossman shows up for the Bears on Sunday. If he tosses multiple INTs, the Viking D could certainly put up big points.
- Pittsburgh – Too bad the Steelers can’t play themselves. The Steeler offense has given up a league-worst 30 turnovers and a very high 39 sacks. But you won’t see their opponents, the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, on this ranking list. The Steelers, though, make this list based on the possibility of big scoring, defense-wise. Yeah, they put up a goose egg last week, but the Bucs’ offense will be ripe to expose.
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.