7 Fantasy Football Defenses With Favorable Early-Season Matchups
There are four commonly used "onesie" positions in fantasy football, or positions where only one player is started every week. Those positions include quarterback, tight end, kicker, and defense. And because of the differences for each position, strategies on how to approach them vary wildly depending on who you ask.
Many of us here at numberFire stick with a late-round quarterback and tight end approach, and use the replaceability of these positions to our advantage. Kickers, on the other hand, are pretty unpredictable and usually are little more than an afterthought. But defenses are unique in multiple ways, and we can take advantage of those differences in the draft and during the season.
Unlike every other player in fantasy football, your defense is never going to completely bust and not play. There's no one player assigned to your defensive starting position, which means your Seahawks defense isn't doomed if Richard Sherman gets hurt, while your Seahawks quarterback is doomed if Russell Wilson gets hurt, because you drafted the player, not the team.
This means that there are always 32 viable options, and their value fluctuates on a week-to-week basis. Even the best defense will struggle when facing a good offense, while horrible defenses can provide value on weeks when an equally bad and mistake-prone offense is on the other side of the field.
This is the thought process behind streaming defenses, which involves drafting a late-round defense with a bad offense on the schedule for Week 1, and then working the waiver wire to bring in other defenses with favorable opponents all year long. Last season, the top fantasy defenses (Arizona, Carolina, San Francisco, Seattle) finished in the top-12 nine times, while only nine finished with fewer than five top-12 weeks, or usable defensive weeks.
In other words, there is unlimited parity among fantasy defenses, and you need to use that to your advantage.
So rather than spending a pick as high as an eighth rounder on a defense (as people are doing on Fantasy Football Calculator mock drafts), let's take a look at some cheaper options with good early-season matchups that you can use and then switch out for teams with similarly weak opponents later in the year.
When considering the relative strength of offenses, we'll use our 2013 Adjusted Net Expected Points (NEP) rankings (which measure a team's efficiency and adjusts for strength of schedule), and our 2014 team rankings, which project offensive output for the upcoming season based on historical comparisons within our data.
Despite finishing last season with a mediocre defense, Washington has one of the best starts for a fantasy defense in 2014. A Week 1 matchup against the Houston Texans (the third-worst offense last season according to our data, and the second worst for the upcoming season) is followed with a game against the worst team last season - and in our projections for this season - the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Week 4 brings a matchup against the second-worst 2013 offense (and third-worst in our 2014 rankings) in the New York Giants, and favorable matchups against the Cardinals and Titans loom in Weeks 6 and 7. Washington has a schedule loaded with poor offensive opponents, and are more than worth your pick in the last round of a fantasy draft.
New York Giants
The Giants are a pretty easy matchup for opposing defenses, but the New York defense has its own good fortune in terms of early-season opponents this year. Our numbers rank the Lions and Cardinals offenses as two of the bottom-15 last season, and they're the first two teams on the slate for Tom Coughlin's team.
The schedule then gets even easier, with games against the aforementioned Texans and Redskins, who finished seventh-worst in our rankings last year and look like a mess this preseason. That's a solid first month for a defense you can get at the end of your drafts, and then drop with ease when their schedule gets tougher later in the season.
But you may not need to drop them, as our rankings say the Giants will have one of the five-best defenses this year. And since our data has historically correlated with fantasy football scoring from defenses, that could mean the Giants are more than just a streaming option this year.
St. Louis Rams and Indianapolis Colts
We'll use a combination of teams for our next recommendation, as you may need to pair these teams together to get the most use out of them.
The Rams begin the season against the Minnesota Vikings, who were below average last year, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who were in our bottom-five a season ago. The Rams have a very talented defense, and might not be around in the last two rounds of your draft, but if they are, they'll be worth your consideration there.
And if you do start with the Rams, but aren't attached to them and want to stream, you'll want to look at the Indianapolis Colts after Week 2 is over. The Colts start with games against the Broncos and Eagles, and will likely get lit up by those teams. But they then have a cupcake schedule for a month after that tough tandem of matchups.
Games against the Jaguars (mentioned above), Titans (a middle of the road offense according to our rankings, and certainly not a team likely to light up the Colts), Ravens (the sixth-worst offense last season and in our preseason ranks) and Texans (mentioned above) will provide ample opportunities for the Colts to rake in the fantasy points and give an easy streaming option for fantasy owners.
The Texans are a team you should play your defense against, but they also have a talented enough defense of their own to be useful in the right matchups. To start the season, Houston faces the Redskins and Giants in Weeks 1 and 3, and you can read more about their rankings above.
They also face the Raiders in Week 2, who finished in the bottom 10 last year and begin this year the same. Then they'll see the Bills in Week 4, who are our fifth-worst offense entering 2014. Both offenses have train wrecks at quarterback at the moment, as well, and that may lead to turnovers and possible defensive touchdowns for the Texans defense.
New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys
One last combination play for defenses, as you get to string together a series of nice matchups for the first few weeks of the season. The Jets open the season against the Raiders, which makes them an excellent pick as your defense on draft day, as they have an ideal opponent right off the bat.
You can then ditch the Jets and pick up the Cowboys, who face the Titans in Week 2, and the now Sam Bradford-less Rams in Week 3. Add in a date with the Houston Texans in Week 5, and you've got a very cushy start to the year with two defenses that are almost always available in the free agency pool after your draft is over.
The Lions (who play the Jets) and the Buccaneers (who play the Steelers) are a couple of options to fill in for the Cowboys during Week 4, when they play the Saints.
There are other great early season matchups (Like the Bears against the Bills Week 1, and the Eagles against the Jaguars and Redskins in Weeks 1 and 3), so the main takeaway from this article should be to not overdraft at the defense position in fantasy, and use the plethora of solid matchups available to you every week to stream the position.
Start with one of the teams listed above with a favorable Week 1 matchup, and then spend five minutes on your waiver wire every week finding the best matchup. It's as easy as that, and you can keep your eighth-round pick for something less replaceable, like a starting skill position player or some key bench depth.