3 Fantasy Football Defense Streamer Options for Week 1

Many ages ago, back when the league was still young and 400-touch running backs roamed the gridiron, a Great Schism ruptured our defensive fantasy football forebears into two camps: those who ventured out into unknown territory with Individual Defensive Players (IDPs) and those who remained in relative comfort with Defensive/Special Teams (D/ST) units in their lineup requirements.

Over those long and brutal eras, war was waged – especially once social media allowed the two disparate civilizations to snip at each other from a safe distance – and lines in the sand were drawn. You were either D/ST or IDP, and never the twain should meet. By virtue of how my fantasy lineage evolved, I ended up largely in the IDP camp (@TheIDPGuy on Twitter; follow and like), and for years I decried the stagnancy of D/ST practice.

As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve come to believe the IDP vanguard still have a lot to learn about the old ways. Even those who have kept the D/ST flame alive need to be reminded occasionally how to manage 11 fearsome defenders merged into one unit, and what to look for in a communal force like that. Though it seems heretical, I’m honored to be the next in a line of ambassadors attempting to bring the progress of individualized defensive knowledge to bear as we analyze group-based defensive options for fantasy football.

For you, that means that each week we’re going to look at identifying three streaming D/ST options that have compelling upside, interesting matchups, or a statistical trend that brings them into the startable conversation for that slate of games. These units will each be under 40% rostered in Yahoo! leagues so that you have a chance to snag and start them in your own. Any betting lines referenced will come from FanDuel Sportsbook.

Now, after an introduction 65 million years in the writing (and reading, I’m sure), which D/STs should you look to stream in Week 1?

Tennessee Titans

vs. New York Giants
Spread: TEN -5.5
Roster Percentage: 38%

We are starting off hot, with a unit that just this past week saw its top pass-rusher (edge defender Harold Landry) go down with a season-ending injury. I’m no more convinced than the next guy that Bud Dupree, Denico Autry, and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will be world-beaters off the edge for the Tennessee Titans and their D/ST. Even still, Tennessee didn’t have that many moves to make to polish up their defense.

They spent a second-round pick on rookie cornerback Roger McCreary, got last year’s first-rounder, Caleb Farley, back from injury, cut bait with some fading vets, and should still be better than average even without Landry’s dominant edge presence after finishing last year 10th-best in Defensive Rush Net Expected Points (NEP) and fifth-best in Defensive Pass NEP. Let this serve as a good reminder that the quality of players on a defense isn’t always the be-all and end-all for their fantasy viability, though.

The reason you’re streaming the Titans in Week 1 is their opponents: the New York Giants.

The G-Men were not the staunchest opposition for fantasy defenses last year, allowing an average of 9.8 fantasy points per game – the fifth-most in the league. This is partly due to quarterback Daniel Jones and his hobbies of absorbing sacks (eighth-highest sack rate among 49 quarterbacks to attempt 300 passes or more from 2019 to 2021) and forking over the ball (seventh-highest turnover rate).

New Giants head coach Brian Daboll is credited with the overhaul of athletic-but-chaotic quarterback Josh Allen, so there is a chance he has also worked magic with Jones this offseason. I’m still willing to take the risk here, though, considering Jones’s history and the lack of offensive playmakers and protection in New Jersey.

In addition, this game is projected to be a muddy, rainy slog, but one with the Titans on top, given a total of 43.5 (tied for fourth-lowest on the week) and the Titans being a shade under a touchdown favorite at home. Our model projects the Tennessee D/ST as the fourth-best option at the position in Week 1, with an average of 8.3 fantasy points and a ceiling of 14.5.

Cincinnati Bengals

vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Spread: CIN -6.5
Roster Percentage: 36%

It’s really hard to comprehend how the defense of the reigning AFC champions is still widely available to start the 2022 NFL season.

Sure, the Cincinnati Bengals erupted onto the scene last season thanks to a young and exciting offense, but a squad headlined by safeties Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell, and first-round rookie Daxton Hill, alongside the vicious pass-rush of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard should demand some attention in the fantasy sphere. They were top-half of the league in 2021 in both sacks and interceptions and should build on that success moving forward.

Even better for the striped cats of the Queen City, they get to take on their hated rival Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. You can’t just extrapolate forward the fantasy showing Pittsburgh had last year due to the decrepit Ben Roethlisberger retiring, but he was replaced by some combination of Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph, and apparently unready first-rounder Kenny Pickett; something’s gotta give. Star receiver Diontae Johnson is also banged-up for this contest, which should aid Cincy’s perennial cornerback issues, and Trubisky (named the Week 1 starter) is little threat to a defensive unit’s fantasy hopes.

This contest should also end up pretty low-scoring, tying for sixth-lowest projected total of the week (44.5). That the Bengals are 6.5-point home favorites in likely inclement weather also doesn’t hurt their outlook. Our model projects the Cincinnati D/ST as the seventh-best option of the week, with an average of 7.7 fantasy points and a ceiling of 13.8.

Carolina Panthers

vs. Cleveland Browns
Spread: CAR -2.5
Roster Percentage: 3%

Your less-rostered play of the week comes in the form of a #RevengeGame, as the Carolina Panthers host their new quarterback’s old team -- the Cleveland Browns.

First of all, in my coinflip of deciding whether to include Cleveland or Carolina, I do somewhat like the narrative of the spurned Baker Mayfield and his Panthers getting even with the Browns as a tiebreaker; on the more analytical hand, there’s also good reason to expect success for the NFC South’s feline team.

Despite not being heralded as a premier defense coming into this season, the Panthers quietly finished 2021 with the seventh-highest pressure rate (sacks, hits, and hurries per drop back). With potentially a little more turnover luck incoming thanks to the return of health for cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Jaycee Horn, as well as the addition of safety Xavier Woods, the big cats from Carolina could make some D/ST waves.

Temporary Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett is also fairly familiar with the turf in his time, having an above-average sack rate allowed among quarterbacks to attempt 300 passes or more over the past three seasons. Cleveland is a team that should ride their rushing offense, which is unfortunate for them; last season saw Carolina finish 16th in Defensive Rushing NEP, the far better phase for their defense.

This game sports the lowest projected total on the board, coming in at 41.5. You’d wish Carolina was more than a field goal favorite at home, but considering how available they are, the potential upside of the matchup, and the fact that there should be poor weather conditions that could also keep the score low, this is about as good a deeper punt play as you could ask for.

Our model project the Carolina D/ST for 7.3 fantasy points and a ceiling of 13.4; they’re the ninth-best Week 1 defense/special teams unit.