​3 FanDuel Defenses to Target for Wild Card Weekend

With little meaningful fantasy football action happening in Week 17, I decided to take a personal vacation from writing NFL content for the last seven days. It was nice and much needed, but it was gone in the blink of an eye. It’s like they say: a week off always goes too fast. In full disclosure, I’m not sure if that’s a common phrase, but I can only imagine it’s what the numberFire editing staff muttered about my long-winded self when I rolled back in for Wild Card Weekend.

Preparation for this weekend of daily fantasy action also feels like it’s zipping along quicker than usual at this time of year. That feeling is likely because we now have two extra games to figure out, with six contests occurring in the Wild-Card Round for the first time ever. With the addition of a seventh playoff seed in each conference, we now have 12 teams to select players from this week. I consider that personally much more exciting: more players often mean better values for cash games, while more options in the player pool also naturally creates more lineup diversity for tournaments. That said, it does make for more data to parse through and more information to inspect.

We have to hustle along and figure out which NFL defenses will be the most useful to you for DFS purposes on FanDuel for Wild-Card Weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers

FanDuel Salary: $4,800

The Pittsburgh Steelers have terrorized opposing offensive lines and passers all season long, and that should continue in Week 18. By numberFire’s Defensive Net Expected Points (NEP) metric, Pittsburgh allowed opposing offenses to generate just -0.07 NEP per play from Week 10 onward, generating positive NEP against them on just 39.7% of their plays – the third-best and best rates in those categories, respectively.

This week, they’ll be taking on a Cleveland Browns team that has not practiced in person this week, due to positive COVID-19 tests, including head coach Kevin Stefanski and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio, who will both miss Sunday’s game. Bitonio had allowed just 10 pressures and no sacks over the last two months (561 snaps), and just one sack all season long. Things also look bleak for starting tackle Jack Conklin, starting right guard Wyatt Teller, and starting center J.C. Tretter, who come into the week with virtual “Limited Practice” designations due to a myriad of knee and ankle injuries.

Even before potentially losing four of their best offensive linemen, the Browns were allowing a middling 16th-lowest adjusted sack rate; now that should skyrocket against a Pittsburgh defense who rushes the passer on 54.5% of their defensive snaps and holds the top defensive adjusted sack rate. I could see a scenario where the Browns keep close due to quarterback Baker Mayfield's efforts in the passing game, but he should absorb enough sacks and make enough mistakes to give the Pittsburgh D/ST a solid floor.

Despite the second-highest salary of any defense on the slate, the Steelers are a really good option if you have the cap space this weekend. Our model on numberFire projects them for 7.12 FanDuel points, which seems a shade low when factoring in all the injury and illness-induced mayhem on the other side of the field.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

FanDuel Salary: $4,300

An even better, albeit chalkier, option is to go with the stalwart defensive unit of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In spite of losing star linebacker Devin White to the reserve/COVID-19 list and run-stuffing defensive tackle Vita Vea to injury, the Bucs ended the 2020 season with a top-six adjusted sack rate (per Football Outsiders). The slight worry is that, from Week 10 onward, Tampa Bay finished the season just inside the 10 best in Defensive NEP per play allowed and near the 10 worst in Success Rate allowed.

Our fears should be calmed, however, by the fact that the Washington Football Team comes in among the 10 most-generous teams by adjusted sack rate, also allowing the fourth-highest pressure per snap rate over the last two months among teams playing this weekend. Even better for our defensive hopes, likely starting quarterback Alex Smith has been worse under pressure than any other Wild Card Round quarterback to take at least 35 drop backs over the last two months. On 60 pressured passing attempts, Smith has a 43.3% completion rate, a 5.0% interception rate, and a 2.0% touchdown rate – good for a QBR of 43.4 when under siege.

The Tampa Bay D/ST are an affordable $4,300 on FanDuel, which is why they come in as the second-best value at the position on the slate. Our models at numberFire project them for a position-leading 7.71 FanDuel points, largely on the back of yardage and point prevention. Considering Washington’s top options at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver are all going through injuries right now, it’s fair to wonder how the WFT will move the ball (let alone score). Tampa is easily the top option.

Buffalo Bills

FanDuel Salary: $4,100

The best of the “pay-down” options in my mind, the Buffalo Bills are unlikely to be on many people’s radars coming into this slate, thanks to the track record of teams like Pittsburgh or the Los Angeles Rams, or the juicy matchups and narratives associated with Tampa Bay or the Seattle Seahawks. The Bills have remained strong defensively this season, posting the sixth-best Defensive NEP per play since Week 10, even if they haven’t been steady – they come in a middle-of-the-road 15th in Defensive Success Rate in the same span of time and just 14th on the season in adjusted sack rate. What really sells me on this option is the matchup against the Indianapolis Colts.

A number of studies have proven that pass blocking matters more to sack prevention/generation than pass rushing does, and the Colts have been mediocre at preventing sacks (third-highest sack rate allowed over the last two months among Wild Card Round teams). With just enough pass rush to get there, and an Indy offensive line that could let up a fair amount of pressure on quarterback Philip Rivers, Buffalo could do some damage. In addition, Rivers throws the highest rate of interceptions when pressured among quarterbacks playing in this round. A few turnovers or sacks could turn the Bills defense into a big fantasy value this week.

Our models project the Buffalo D/ST for just 6.2 FanDuel points (sixth-most), but they’re a fine salary-saver and – to my mind – have more upside than another cheap team like the Seahawks, who could find themselves on the field for much of the game thanks to a stalwart Rams defense and ball-control offense themselves.

Joe Redemann is not a FanDuel employee. In addition to providing DFS gameplay advice, Joe Redemann also participates in DFS contests on FanDuel using his personal account, username jayarr_ff. While the strategies and player selections recommended in his articles are his personal views, he may deploy different strategies and player selections when entering contests with his personal account. The views expressed in his articles are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of FanDuel.