Tier One - Must Starts
- Pittsburgh – They are the most consistent, high-scoring fantasy D in the NFL. Only the Vikings have more fantasy points, and they flopped last week. The Steelers consistently put up solid fantasy stats against lesser opponents and despite traveling to the desert, will face a Cardinal team which will be seriously overmatched.
- Chicago – So if the Eagles can put up 15 fantasy points against the Lions, you gotta think Chicago’s D (injuries or not) can put up at least that, if not more.
- Dallas – The Boys have been very solid for the past two weeks, on both sides of the ball. This week, a banged-up Ram team comes to Irving for a big NFC matchup. The Rams are without their main offensive weapon, RB Steven Jackson, and their QB is nursing a few significant injuries.
Tier Two - Good Starts
- Houston – Yup, the Texans. Up this high. Almost a must-start. Take a look at the numbers: started the season with a whopping 28 fantasy points, came back to Earth a bit with 15 fantasy points in Week 2 and then put up a respectable 7 fantasy points against the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts. With that in mind, you gotta think they’ll put up at least 15 fantasy points against the hapless Falcons, no matter where they’re playing.
- San Diego – They probably deserve a higher ranking based on the law of averages, returning home, and their opponent, but a “good start” ranking sounds about right. Expect them to pressure Chief QB Damon Huard and probably pick him off at least once.
- Minnesota – Any way you slice it, the Vikes are the #1 fantasy defense this season. A very tough test awaits this week against a surging Green Bay team. Expect them to shut down the very average Packer run game and pressure QB Brett Favre
- Baltimore – The Ravens have been consistent (11, 9 and 9 fantasy points) but have not put up the “big” numbers that we’re accustomed to seeing That could change this week against a totally overmatched Brown team.
- New England – On production and consistency alone, they probably deserve “must start” status, but this matchup is a tough one. On Monday night, against a very solid offense. However, they’ll probably have the advantage with the Bengals’ Rudi Johnson either out or nursing injury.
- Philadelphia – The Eagles finally got their cylinders firing both on offense and defense last week. A tougher opponent looms this week, but they have a track record of causing havoc against the G-men.
Tier Three – Average Starts
- Indianapolis – After starting the season off very well (24 fantasy points), they put up consecutive 7-point efforts. They return home to face a Denver team that has looked rather average on offense. The Jags put up 7 fantasy points in Denver last week, so it’s not a stretch to think the Colts could top that.
- Tampa Bay – Is the Buc defense of old back on track? Probably not, but led by LB Barrett Ruud and a host of solid veteran defenders like Ronde Barber and Derrick Brooks, this defense put up a very respectable 18 points against the Rams last week. The matchup this week isn’t quite as cherry, but if Panther QB Jake Delhomme is out, David Carr will take the snaps. That could mean some turnovers and possibly a few sacks, if the Panther line is anything like the Texans’.
- Detroit – The Lions are currently the 8th-best fantasy defense this season, a bit of a shock. They may hover around top-10 numbers this week if Brian Griese is not able to spark the Chicago offense.
Track Record – Week 2
Minnesota – 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery, 13 points against (4 fantasy points). Wow, chalk this up to a mild surprise. The KC offense controlled the ball (somehow, with LJ struggling again) and escaped with a home victory. The very opportunistic Viking D has a tough stretch of games (and their bye) upcoming, so you may be able to get them cheap from an owner that’s not sold on them.
New England – 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 INT, 7 points against (13 fp). 13 points is good enough for sixth-best this past week. Would have liked another INT and perhaps another sack or two, but you can’t argue with this production. They face a tough Bengal offense on the road, on MNF this week, so perhaps their production dips a bit, but expect a decent outing and a full rebound the following week against the Brownies.
Pittsburgh – 2 TDs, 2 sacks, 1 INT (16 fp). The Steelers are definitely a must-start each week after this solid performance. They are definitely one of the best fantasy defenses to own for the remainder of the season as they face the Cards, Browns, Dolphins and Rams and only a few tough opponents the rest of the season.
Chicago – 3 sacks, 1 INT (5 fp). Oh man. I guess I should have ranked them even lower but homer pride and track record perhaps clouded my judgment slightly. Sometimes the “ASYS” theory comes back to bite you in the rear. Another example of how matchups play a key role in choosing fantasy defense. Do not fear, though, as the Bears’ schedule softens up significantly, and even the “tougher” matchups still present decent fantasy defense prospects.
Baltimore – 1 TD, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery (9 fp). You would have liked to have seen at least 1 INT against the pass-happy cards, but you can’t argue with the filling of the box score. If it weren’t for a bunch of no-name team defenses moving into the top 10 last week, the Ravens would have been a decent scorer.
Denver – 3 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries (7 fp). You would have liked to have seen at least 1 INT with the strength of their secondary, but it just didn’t happen. The sacks and fumble recoveries are nice, and show you that their front seven is making things happen. Now if they could just combine solid line play with their playmaking secondary, they may crack the top-5.
Washington – 2 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 2 INT (8 fp). The Skins continue to hang around the top 10 each week and show signs of actually being a solid fantasy defense. After their Week 4 bye, their schedule lends itself to decent fantasy defense matchups.
Oakland – 1 sack, 2 INT (5 fp). The Raiders have been a mild disappointment this season. They have a pretty solid front seven with fast LBs and a young, opportunistic secondary, but they just have yet to put it all together. They have a few decent matchups after their Week 4 bye, so keep an eye on them as a backup or spot starter.
San Diego – 2 sacks (2 fp). Wow, I don’t know if this speaks to how poor the Bolts are playing or how well the Packers are playing. Either way you slice it, a measly pair of sacks against the Pack is nothing to write home about. I fully expect them to rebound against a very weak Chief team in San Diego.
Green Bay – 2 sacks, 1 INT (4 fp). Would have expected this D to put up better stats against a reeling Bolt squad at home. Don’t give up hope, though, as their next three opponents may give up some fantasy points to this D. And their remaining schedule, in general, is pretty sweet.
Indianapolis – 3 sacks, 2 INT (7 fp). Barely top-15 numbers, as the Colts were mildly surprised by a Texan team beset by injuries. There are a few decent matchups as the fantasy season draws to a close, so keep your eye on this squad.
Philadelphia – 9 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 INT (15 fp). Hmm, maybe this defense (and maybe the team in general) is putting everything together. They have some cherry team defense matchups in the next 4 games, so perhaps grab and stash them or start them in a pinch.
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.