Tier One - Must Starts
- Green Bay – I can’t believe I’m doing this but the numbers speak for themselves. Yeah, they’re only the 15th-ranked fantasy D this season but the Bears have been allowing opposing defenses (regardless of talent) to put up monster numbers. Will Griese and the Bears get it together this week? Perhaps, but my coin will be on the Pack (even as a Bears fan) to cause serious havoc at Lambeau this week. They might not put up the most fantasy points this week, but if I had my druthers, I’d pick the Pack to pummel the pathetic Bears.
- Pittsburgh – The Steelers are averaging 11 fantasy points against NFC West foes thus far and face another one here this week. The Seahawks have been pretty solid but in this Super Bowl rematch, the Steeler D will certainly be a difference-maker. Don’t bet on many Matt Hasselbeck mistakes but a couple sacks and a fumble recovery are certainly possible.
- New England – I’ve taken some heat (and rightly so) for bagging on the Browns in this column. Each week, I rank the Browns’ opponent pretty high here in this ranking, and each week, we’re rather surprised by the outcome (granted, it’s not really the Browns’ fault…. Read on). The Brown offense has been sparked by solid QB play from Derek Anderson, and the TE/WR combo of Kellen Winslow, Jr. and Braylon Edwards has kept opposing defense on their toes (and yes, the Browns have faced some tough D’s). Well, despite all that, the Patriots’ D is still a must-start this weekend. Sure, they posted a pedestrian 6 points against the Bengals, but in the weeks before they went for an average of 13 fantasy points per game. Not bad, and now that they’re back to Foxboro, you have to assume they’ll put the Browns in their place. And if not, serve me up a giant plate of humble pie. And don’t forget the hot sauce.
Tier Two - Good Starts
- Dallas – 19 points against the hapless Rams (who didn't even score an offensive TD) last week, and facing a nearly-as-hapless Bill squad that won't put up much of a fight? Sounds like a must-start to me. Expect a few sacks and at least two turnovers.
- Houston – So I ranked them at #4 last week and they were a complete disappointment. Given the fluctuation and randomness of team defense rankings, it totally suits the Texan D to be ranked here again. They’re still ranked #6 on the season and host a very vanilla Dolphin offense this week. I’d expect a return to the double digits as they posted in the first two weeks of the season.
- Chicago – As a Bear homer it troubles me to rank them any lower than, I dunno, #2 or 3, but they’ve been pretty consistent in their inconsistency this season and could easily flop against a very hot Packer team, especially at Lambeau. Of course, they could turn up the heat and sack and intercept Brett Favre a few times to the tune of double digit fantasy points, but at this point, even the most ardent homer (ahem, me) has to question the strength of the D from a fantasy perspective. Pass the beer nuts.
- Kansas City – OK, a couple good things going for the Chiefs here. First, their offense is lousy. So that means their D is on the field more. And if they’re a bunch that can handle the additional field time, well then that means there’s more opportunities to make plays that matter. Secondly, well to be quite honest, they’ve played pretty damn good defensive football as of late. They’ve put up 3 consecutive weeks’ worth of double digit fantasy points and they should probably score similarly against the Jags this week at home.
- San Diego – I’m almost tired of typing their name here. But they have to perform at some point, right? Hey, they deserve to be on this list on Shawne Merriman’s name alone, right? Starting to doubt that, people. But you almost have to start them. Law of averages, right?
Tier Three – Average Starts
- Seattle – It would be easy to rank them as a good or even must start, given the fact that they are currently the fifth-ranked fantasy D in this format, but the fact that they have to travel to Pittsburgh to face their ’06 Super Bowl nemesis makes even the least cautious fantasy footballer give pause. Sure, they posted 10 fantasy points against a pretty solid Cincy squad, but traveling east to face the Steelers is a whole ‘nother story.
- Indianapolis – The Colt D has not done much of anything since their opening week blowout, but you gotta consider them this week against a Buc D that could be running their offense with smoke and mirrors.
- Tennessee – The Titans return from their bye to face a pretty weak Falcon team (although they’ve been spreading their wings a bit more the past 2 weeks) and could easily put up double digits at home. They’re a sneaky pick this week as they could put up top-5 numbers.
- Denver – Yeah, they posted a goose egg last week, but um, they’re playing the Chargers. What? The Chargers are one of the best teams in the NFL, right? Hey buddy, where have you been? Philip Rivers looks like a high school QB in the red zone and teams have stacked the box against LT. LT is only one man. The Broncs have put up average numbers against weak opponents so this is a true test.
Track Record – Week 4
(Last week’s rank/Actual rank)
1. (16) Pittsburgh – Well so much for consistent high scores. They put up two sacks and two fumble recoveries (6 fantasy points) against the Cards. Expected at least one INT mixed in there. They’ll certainly remain as a startable fantasy D this week, even against the Seahawks.
2. (5) Chicago – They would have been the second-best scorer if it weren’t for the fantasy defense nobodies in the Lions, Seahawks and Giants rising to the top. Still, can’t argue with 16 fantasy points (TD, 6 sacks, 2 fumble recoveries and they should fare well against their next four opponents.
3. (3) Dallas – Hit this one spot on, with the Boys putting up nice numbers (19 fantasy points, from 3 sacks and 1 INT in a shutout). Gotta like them again this week against the less-than-stellar Bills. But beware the following week as they host the Pats.
4. (27) Houston – So much for them being nearly a must-start. Don’t over-react, though, as they have the parts on defense to make things happen from a football and a fantasy football standpoint. Would have loved to see more than 2 fantasy points (2 sacks) against the Falcons, but we’ll see what they can do next week against another pretty sour offense (Miami).
5. (12) San Diego – The Bolts did not fare poorly with sacks/INTs (2 each for a total of 6 fantasy points) but it was the 23 points allowed that was the shocker. This team is in trouble. Norv Turner is in a lot of trouble. A pair of AFC West rivals are on tap next, so we’ll see what this defense is made of. You might want to bench them if you have better options, especially against the Broncos at Mile High.
6. (21) Minnesota – As expected, this top fantasy D did not fare as well against the surging Packer squad. In fact, they were only able to muster 5 fantasy points (1 sack, 2 fumble recoveries). This is two weeks in a row of lackluster fantasy production, but you have to keep them around, even if this is their bye week, as they face the Bears Week 6 and that could be a fantasy goldmine if the Bears are still struggling offensively.
7. (26) Baltimore – I said it elsewhere, and I’ll say it again here: the playmakers on this squad are aging right in front of our eyes. Does this team miss Adelius Thomas? Perhaps. Either way, 2 points (1 INT) against the Browns isn’t a great stat line. Sure, the Browns have shocked everyone with their consistent offensive play (due mostly in part to QB Derek Anderson), but one would have expected 8-10 fantasy points from the Ravens this week. Time to probably bench – or perhaps even drop – the Raven D, even against the Niners and Trent Dilfer. Of course, if you have no better options, they could work in a pinch.
8. (14) New England – Not horrible numbers (6 fantasy points from 1 sack, 2 INTs and 13 points allowed), especially given the circumstances against a good offense on national TV. As mentioned above, the Browns have been playing consistent football on the offensive side, so we’ll see how the Pat D performs at home.
9. (11) Philadelphia – Yeah that’s right about what we thought they’d do (7 points on 1 sack, 1 INT and 10 points allowed) against the G-men. After their bye, the Eagles have three solid matchups, so if they’re floating on the wire after this week, they might be a nice pickup.
10. (19) Indianapolis – Not exactly what we had in mind when recommending them as a sneaky pickup against the Broncs at home. Sure, they looked dominating at times, and filled the box score with an INT, fumble recovery and sack (5 fantasy points), but it would have obviously been better to see multiple numbers. This week, the Bucs won’t present many problems, so the World Champs could be another sneaky pick this week.
11. (7) Tampa Bay – Ahhh! Maybe they are who we thought they were! Against a Delhomme-less Panther squad, the resurgent Buc D put up a very solid 14 fantasy points (3 sacks, 1 fumble recovery, 1 INT and only 7 points against) but won’t find much success against the Colt juggernaut this week.
12. (1) Detroit – Yup, numero uno (at least in this scoring system) against the Bears. Looks like you can start just about any fantasy D against the Bears and expect solid numbers. The Lions put up 24 fantasy points (2 TDs, 6 sacks, 3 INTs) and now that they’re the third-ranked fantasy D on the season, should be considered every week (and definitely this week against the Redskins).