Streaming the Season: Defense Wins Championships

Which defense should we target from here on out?

Thanksgiving, Christmas and the fantasy football stretch run. I'd be lying if I said that list is presented in order of importance. While games always matter, there is a significantly different feeling in Week 11 games compared to the ones in Week 1.

For many out there, another loss would take them out of the playoff picture, while others are already looking at the playoff schedule. Regardless, it's time to start looking at the rest of the season and making moves to optimize our chances every single week.

Let's look at one of the most under-analyzed positions in fantasy football: defense. Defensive fantasy production can be maddening. You could have the best unit in football and they could give you negative two points any given week. The best strategy, in my opinion and the opinion of many others, is to stream them. Because we only start one defense per week, and because they're so matchup-dependent, we can mix and match using the free agent pool week to week, creating a top-10, season-end defense.

But instead of looking at Week 11 only, let's plan ahead - let's take a peek at favorable defensive streaming matchups from here on out, maximizing your lineups potential weeks in advance.

Free Agent Defenses

Below is a chart consisting of defenses that are owned in 30% or less of ESPN leagues. At first glance the pickins' seem slim, but by the time we are done going through these options we can create a formidable defensive unit. An "X" represents a plus matchup for defensive units - matchups where the opposition ranks as a bottom-10 team in Adjusted Net Expected Points per play (Learn more about Adjusted Offensive Net Expected Points here). Because the vast majority of fantasy seasons end in Week 16, I've omitted Week 17 from the study.

PlayerWeek 11Week 12Week 13Week 14Week 15Week 16Total

I let out an audible gasp when I realized the Jaguars have more plus matchups than anyone else in football from here on out. Why wouldn't it be the Jaguars? Of course it is, the fantasy gods can't make anything easy for us.

Because their is no obvious plug-and-play defense out of our free agent pool list, I decided to go through week by week and rank the top-three plus matchups. The main items to look at include: the streamer defensive fantasy points scored rankings, the matchups Adjusted NEP/P ranking, and the matchups defensive fantasy points allowed ranking.

In the matchups below, the team listed first is the team to stream.

Week 11

1. Bills vs. Jets

With a ranking of 30th in Adjusted NEP/P, the Jets are one of the worse offensive teams in football. Due to sacks and rookie Geno Smith’s turnovers, they are the number one stream for Week 11.

2. Raiders vs. Texans

Ranked 13th in D/ST fantasy points scored, the Raiders will see the 24th-ranked Adjusted NEP/P offense in Week 11. Houston is surrendering more D/ST fantasy points than any team not named the New York Giants, making the Raiders a strong Week 11 team to stream.

3. Jets vs. Bills

Buffalo has been starting a carousel of rookie quarterback’s all year, so it’s no surprise they rank 25th in per play efficiency. While the Jets haven’t been a particularly strong defense in terms of fantasy points, Buffalo is ranked eighth in defensive fantasy points allowed, making the Jets a viable fantasy play.

Week 12

1. Jets vs. Ravens

Week 12 streams don’t possess the bite that Week 11 presents. The Jets are our strongest play here. Completely unable to run the ball, Baltimore ranks 26th in offensive efficiency and is ranked 10th in defensive fantasy points allowed.

2. Lions vs. Buccaneers

I don’t consider the Lions to be a particularly strong play in Week 12, but sometimes you have to take a leap of faith when streaming. The good news here is that Tampa Bay is bad, ranking 29th in Adjusted NEP/P. The Lions aren’t a particularly strong fantasy defense, but in facing a rookie quarterback you could do much worse.

3. Chargers vs. Chiefs

Kansas City is undefeated, blah blah blah. They are still inefficient on offense, ranking 23rd in Adjusted NEP/P. But with the Chargers ranking 31st in defensive fantasy scoring, they aren’t the strongest play in Week 12 despite the plus matchup.

Week 13

1. Browns vs. Jaguars

Has there been a more sneaky defensive play this year than the Browns? It’s disappointing Weeks 13 and 16 represent the only plus matchups for this underrated squad. The Browns rank ninth in defensive fantasy scoring entering Week 11, and are facing the worst offense in football according to Adjusted NEP/P here. It's hard to find a better play in Week 13.

2. Dolphins vs. Jets

I don’t want to sound redundant, but rookie quarterbacks are your friend. The Dolphins rank 15th in defensive fantasy scoring, and I wouldn’t feel bad about firing them up in Week 13 against Geno and company.

3. Redskins vs. Giants

No one is surrendering more defensive fantasy points than the New York Giants. Sacks, turnovers, missed catches...whatever you want, the New York Giants have. Because of their ineptitude, the Redskins are a plus play.

Week 14

1. Raiders vs. Jets

With eight “plus” matchups, Week 14 possesses more possible streamers than any other week from here on out. The Raiders are at the top of the list, facing a Jets team that, again, is bad offensively. Like I've said, the Raiders have been sneaky-good in defensive fantasy scoring too, ranking 13th entering Week 11.

2. Bills vs. Buccaneers

The redundant information may be annoying, but the Bucs defense ranks 29th in offensive efficiency, and the Bills defense is sneaky.

3. Jets vs. Raiders

That Oakland offensive line is beyond bad, and Terrelle Pryor is a turnover machine. The Jets strength are their studs in the trenches, giving this game potential to get ugly up front.

Week 15

1. Bills vs. Jaguars

The Bills top our list of streamers for the second time, and I’ll go ahead and state the obvious: Playing a defense against the Jacksonville Jaguars is never a bad idea.

2. Raiders vs. Chiefs

Number two on our list is significantly less obvious than number one. As stated above, the Raiders can produce fantasy points on the defensive side of the ball, ranking 13rd in scoring. I’d feel much more comfortable running the Bills out there, but you could do worse in the semi-final week.

3. Lions vs. Ravens

Meh. Baltimore ranks 26th in Adjusted NEP/P, while the Lions rank 25th in fantasy D/ST scoring. If you’ve made it to the semi’s, then you should be aiming higher.

Week 16

1. Browns vs. Jets

Ranking 30th in Adjusted NEP/P, the Jets are a fantastic matchup for a Browns squad that gets after it. I’d feel strong about putting them in the championship lineup.

2. Lions vs. Giants

Much like the Jacksonville Jaguars, it is never a bad idea to start the defense who is playing the New York Giants.

3. Dolphins vs. Bills

The Dolphins rank 15th in defensive fantasy scoring, and the Bills are allowing 11.4 fantasy points a game to defensive units. You could do worse.

Top Weekly Streams

WeekStreamerStreamer D/ST Scoring RankMatchupMatchup Adj. NEP/P Rank
Week 11Bills18thJets30th
Week 12Jets24thRavens26th
Week 13Browns9thJaguars32th
Week 14Raiders13thJets30th
Week 15Bills18thJaguars32th
Week 16Browns9thJets30th

Using our top streaming defensive plays, we can come out to an average opponent ranking of 30th in Adjusted NEP/P from now through the end of the season. Just based on matchups, I'd feel stronger playing these teams versus playing a solid, single defensive unit.

Need some perspective on how favorable that is? Everyone's favorite defense this year, Kansas City, faces an average Adjusted NEP/P ranking of 10th. They have one plus matchup through the end of the season, and come in as a middle-of-the-road defense in our remaining year projections.

How about Carolina, everyone's other favorite defensive team? Their opponents have an average ranking of 15th in offensive efficiency to close out the season.

There Can Only Be One

Many leagues have transactions rules that limit one's ability to stream late in the season. If I were to be in such a league and only had the ability to choose one of the above streaming options, I would roll with the Browns. The Browns rank ninth in D/ST scoring heading into Week 11, and their average opponent adjusted NEP/P ranking for the rest of the season is 20th. They only have one "difficult" matchup remaining against the Chicago Bears, who aren't immune to turning the ball over.