Tier One - Must Starts
- Chicago – The Bears continue to put up gaudy stats on the defensive side of the ball. Another 28 points last week against the Vikings. This week, they travel down I-55, southwest to St. Louis to face the Rams. The Rams have actually taken rather good care of the ball (16 turnovers in 12 games), but hey, if the Cardinals can put up double digits against them, think of what the studly Bears will do. The Rams allow quite a few sacks, which the Bears’ D could easily convert into turnovers and maybe scores.
- New England – The Patriots’ D has been consistent all season, after a rather slow and inauspicious start. The Dolphins represent their fourth straight sub-.500 opponent. The prior three opponents have yielded double-digit fantasy points to the Patriot defense. Miami gives up the ball about twice per week, and has allowed 33 sacks on the season. The Patriot run D is stingy, and will be facing a gimpy backup RB in Sammy Morris. They can put more heat on QB Joey Harrington and force him into costly mistakes.
- Baltimore – Baltimore’s Week 14 opponents, the Chiefs, allow about 2 sacks per game yet have only turned the ball over 17 times. After a down week against the solid offense of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens could disappoint again. But with the talent and playmaking ability on the defensive side of the football, they’re pretty much must-starts again this week.
Tier Two - Solid Starts
- Pittsburgh – Their defense, despite being without the services of superstar Troy Polumalu, is pretty much all the Steelers have going for them at this point. They put up a solid 24 fantasy points last week against a poor Buc team. They’ll most likely do similar damage to a similarly poor Brown team on Thursday night. Cleveland is tied for the NFL’s lead in turnovers (31) and could be without QB Charlie Frye.
- Minnesota – The Vikes continue to surprise a bit, scoring just about 10 fantasy points per week for the past 6 weeks. Their Week 14 opponents, the Detroit Lions, have been a mess this season: 46 sacks allowed, 28 turnovers. Ugly.
- Cincinnati – The Bengal D is starting to heat up. They’re certainly not the turnover-hounds they were last season, but just about 17.5 fantasy points per game over their past three bodes well for them, facing the Oakland Raiders.
- Seattle – The Seahawks continue to put up solid defensive fantasy stats. 19 points against the Broncos last week was their second-highest score of the season. Of course, they were facing a rookie QB in his first NFL start. Cardinal QB Matt Leinart is a bit more seasoned, but can and will make rookie mistakes.
Tier Three - Best of the Rest
- San Diego – QB Jay Cutler has had a full week of tape review and practice after a pretty lousy first start against the Seahawks. But he’s never faced a beast like Shawne Merriman. The Bolts’ D only scored 4 fantasy points against the Broncos Week 11, but expect that total to double – at very least – this week.
- Carolina – Don’t look at their past two weeks’ fantasy totals. Look at what they did to the Rams Week 11 (27 fantasy points) and Bucs Week 10 (15 fantasy points). Eli Manning has had some problems recently (prior to last week, Manning had thrown 2 INTs in each of his past three games), with a QB rating in the 50’s. Carolina’s D will look to put early pressure on Manning to avoid yet another 4th quarter letdown.
- Dallas – This game figures to be high-scoring, so for those in leagues that are points-against heavy, perhaps you should look elsewhere. Add in the fact that the Saints have only given up one sack per game, and have an ultra-low 20 turnovers on the season. Finally, the Cowboys’ D has been somewhat quiet, fantasy-wise, over the past two weeks.
- Arizona – The Cards’ D has put up double-digit fantasy points in each of the past three weeks against average NFC opponents. The Seahawks’ offense is anything but average with RB Shaun Alexander and QB Matt Hasselbeck healthy. The Cards have been getting to the opposing team’s QB quite a bit lately, and Seattle’s given up 3 sacks/game this season. Could mean good things for the Cards’ D in their second-to-last home game of the 2006 season.
- Houston – With the offense sputtering, the Texan defense has spent quite a bit of time on the field. With a playmaker like DeMeco Ryans anchoring the linebacker corps, this defense is capable of putting up fantasy points. Against the poor Oakland offense last week, they put up 28 fantasy points. The Titans, under Vince Young’s control, has looked very good as of late. But Young could force things against the team that passed on him in the draft. Consider the Texans a decent sleeper D this week.
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.