Is Targeting the New Orleans Saints' Defense the Key to a Fantasy Football Championship?

Can a defense be matchup the bad way?

Defense wins championships. 

That maxim has been voiced since Bear Bryant uttered: "Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships."

Over the years, there has been much debate and numerous studies trying to debunk or validate the statement as it pertains to real football. I am not here to further that debate.

I'm here to talk about how it affects the fake football world that we love so much. When we reference defense in fantasy football, we are talking about matchups. Matchups can generate value, and subpar players can be in prime positions if the matchup is right.

Matchups are why a player like Kirk Cousins can throw for 324 yards and 4 touchdowns en route to the best fantasy score among all quarterbacks in a given week -- just like he did in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints.

The Saints have surrendered big game after big game to players of all caliber this year, and they could be your Holy Grail during your run to the fantasy playoffs.

How Bad Could It Be?

The Saints defense allows 31.5 points per game and 424.7 yards per game, both good for last in the league. They are also tied for last with only four interceptions. The 31.5 points allowed pace would put them as the third most generous defense of all-time for a 16-game season, behind the 1981 Baltimore Colts (33.3) and 2008 Detroit Lions (32.3). The 424.7 yards per game would be second all-time, behind the 2012 Saints (440.1). 

Here at numberFire, we utilize a metric called Net Expected Points (NEP). Defensive NEP incorporates variables, such as down and distance, to assess the impact a defense has on preventing the opposition from scoring. A negative number means that they prevented points, while a positive number equates to allowing points. For more information, please visit our glossary.

So how bad are the Saints? 

On a schedule-adjusted basis, their Defensive NEP per play is 0.22, which is last in the league and significantly worse than the 31st-ranked Raiders at 0.15. The league-leading Broncos defense has a score of -0.05. 

When I went to see where the 0.22 mark ranked in history, I chose to use 2004 as the cutoff date. That was the year the NFL reintroduced the old 1978 rule that prohibited defensive players from making contact five yards past the line of scrimmage. So in this era, an Adjusted Defensive NEP per play figure of 0.22 is the worst among all the teams. The 2008 Lions (0.18) would have the second worst mark. 

The rush defense has been average, as they rank 16th among their contemporaries with a 0.00 Rushing NEP per play figure. The culprit for futility has been the pass defense, as they allow 0.34 points per play through the air. That's the worst mark among all teams in this era. The next highest mark is owned by the 2009 Jaguars at 0.29. 

Is There Hope?

On Monday, the Saints announced that they fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His first year as defensive coordinator in New Orleans (2013) was a success, as he led a unit that finished fourth in yards and points allowed. The following year, though, the unit slid to 31st in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. 

There is talent in New Orleans with Cameron Jordan at defensive end, rookie linebacker Stephone Anthony, cornerback Delvin Breaux with safeties Jairus Byrd and Kenny Vaccaro. All the individual talent in the world doesn't mean a thing if they don't play in a useful scheme as a cohesive unit. A new defensive coordinator could make some improvements and stop the hemorrhaging. 

The only problem is that they replaced him with Dennis Allen, who was hired before the season began to help with the secondary. A secondary that is on pace to be the worst of this era. What?

Here is what Allen has contributed to the Saints defense this year. 

I truly feel bad for Saints fans. 

What Does This Mean for Fantasy?

According to, the 2015 Saints defense has allowed 95.99 fantasy points per game: 24.92 to quarterbacks, 22.94 to running backs, 25.55 to wide receivers, 13.08 to tight ends and 9.50 to kickers.

No team has ever allowed 90 fantasy points per game. 

The 24.92 fantasy points to quarterbacks are the most allowed to quarterbacks among all teams since 2004. In fact, there have only been six other occurrences in which a team allowed greater than 20 points per game. 

The 13.08 fantasy points allowed to tight ends is second among all teams since 2004. The 2013 Arizona Cardinals allowed 13.92 fantasy points per game. Since 2004, those were the only two teams to allow 13 or more fantasy points per game to the tight end position. The number is skewed by three huge performances by Greg Olsen (25.4 in Week 3), Delanie Walker (23.5 in Week 9) and Jordan Reed (14.9 in Week 10). There are more consistent tight end matchups to exploit. 

The below chart shows the quarterbacks that have faced the Saints defense this year with their fantasy output and rank for the week.

Quarterbacks Fantasy Points Weekly Rank
Carson Palmer 25.68 2
Jameis Winston 18.58 17
Cam Newton 29.9 3
Brandon Weeden 14.34 20
Sam Bradford 17.62 12
Matt Ryan 18.8 15
Andrew Luck 24.02 5
Eli Manning 38 2
Marcus Mariota 33.34 2

Jameis Winston
was playing in his second career NFL game. Brandon Weeden completed 61.5% of his passes, threw for 246 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Enough said.

Sam Bradford threw for 333 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. It just happened to be that there were some crazy performances that week: Josh McCown threw for 457 yards and 2 touchdowns, Eli Manning threw for 441 yards with 3 touchdowns and Blake Bortles threw for 303 yards with 4 touchdowns. Matt Ryan is well...Matt Ryan

All the listed quarterbacks had no lower than their third-best fantasy day of the season. 

The team's remaining schedule features the Texans, Panthers, Buccaneers, Lions, Jaguars, and Falcons.

So, Jameis Winston again in Week 14, Matthew Stafford in Week 15, and Blake Bortles in the championship week should be on your radar as the season winds down, and targeting any players against this squad should be a smart move.