Given that this is Thanksgiving Week, it's only fitting that the team defense fantasy owners are most thankful for is playing in the first game on Turkey Day.
After all, Khalil Mack and the Chicago Bears have been feasting all season long.
After yet another big game against the Minnesota Vikings that included fewer than 300 yards allowed, two sacks and three takeaways (including a pick-six), the Bears are fantasy's top-scoring defense in 2018 by a sizable margin. The gap between the Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers (the No. 2 defense) is about the same as the gap between Pittsburgh and the Detroit Lions.
The Lions rank 26th among fantasy defenses.
It's those Lions who the Bears will square off against on Thursday at Ford Field. Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense have been quite kind to team defenses in 2018, allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to the position in 2018. We've also already seen these teams face one another—quite recently, in fact.
In Week 10, the Lions and Bears met at Soldier Field in a contest the Bears won 36-22. As they have in so many games this season the defense teed off, dropping Stafford six times and notching three takeaways on the way to the second-best fantasy effort of the week by a defense.
There's an excellent chance the Bears will post a similarly stellar stat line on Thursday, providing their fantasy owners with a great start to both the holiday and Week 12.
Pass the gravy, please.
If you're not one of the fortunate few who landed Da Bears this year, here's a look at some of the other top team defense plays this week.
Houston Texans (vs. TEN)
It would be easier to tell you what not to like about the Texans this week—because there's essentially nothing not to like about the Texans in Week 12. At this point on the season Houston ranks fourth in fantasy points, and the team has posted double-digit scoring efforts in five of their last seven games. Monday night the Texans will host a Titans team that was just pounded into goo by the Colts and may be starting Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Gabbert actually played pretty well against the Texans in Nashville back in Week 2, but what are the odds of Blaine Gabbert playing well twice in a…ever?
Pittsburgh Steelers (at DEN)
Believe it or not, despite a 4-6 record the Broncos have actually been rather stingy to opposing defenses in 2018—they rank outside the top-20 in fantasy points allowed in more scoring systems than not. But at this point in the season Pittsburgh is close to a must-start. In addition to leading the AFC in fantasy points, the Steelers are sixth in total defense, 10th in scoring defense, first in the NFL in sacks with 37 and tied for ninth with 15 takeaways. The Denver offense isn't good (or consistent) enough to scare me off that level of fantasy upside.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. OAK)
The Ravens are one of the better defenses in football from an NFL perspective. As a matter of fact, no team in the league has given up fewer yards per game. But since pummeling the Titans back in Week 6, the Ravens haven't really been fantasy-relevant, including in last week's win over the Cincinnati Bengals. This week sets up well for Baltimore to make fantasy owners happy though. The Raiders have had all kinds of trouble both scoring (30th in the NFL at 17 points per game) and protecting Derek Carr, factors that have contributed to Oakland ranking fifth in fantasy points allowed to defenses this year.
Jacksonville Jaguars (at BUF)
If you're a fantasy owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, you're probably feeling a little salty at this point. Complements of three interceptions and two sacks against the Steelers the Jags posted their first top-10 effort in weeks Sunday against the Steelers, but Jacksonville still ranks well outside the top-20 for the season. Let the anger and disappointment go. If ever there was a week to trust in the Jags to meet expectations it's this Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. No team has allowed more fantasy points to opposing defenses in 2018—and it isn't especially close. If the Jaguars were cut loos in your league, make with the scooping—just like mashed potatoes.
Buffalo Bills (vs. JAX)
The Buffalo Bills are not a good football team. The fact the team has won even three games is half a miracle. But the impetus for that Thanksgiving miracle has been a defense that trails only the Baltimore Ravens in yards allowed per game. This Sunday that Bills Defense will play host to a Jaguars team that has re-defined the concept of imploding. The jaguars have lost a staggering six in a row, mainly because of a mistake-prone offense that has turned the ball over 20 times and currently sits eighth in the NFL in fantasy points given up to defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. NYG)
It may feel strange to see the Eagles listed here after watching Philly get blasted 48-7 by the Saints in Week 11, and to be fair Philly's injury ravaged secondary is a hot mess. But there's a big difference between facing the Saints and squaring off with the Giants. The New York offense has improved over the last couple of weeks but they're still inconsistent, and the Giants have surrendered the most sacks (36) in the league this year. The Eagles are beyond desperate at this point in the season and will throw everything they have at Eli Manning. That should mean some big plays—and fantasy points.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
New England Patriots (at NYJ)
The Patriots are the poster children for the important of matchups for team defenses. The team has managed a few big outings when said matchup was favorable, but for the most part the Pats have spent 2018 where they usually do—on the waiver wire. However, this week the Pats will be the hot pickup off the wire defensively, and with good reason. When last we saw the Jets they were getting blasted at home by Buffalo. The Jets have given up 24 sacks, turned the ball over 22 times (second-most in the NFL) and surrendered the third-most fantasy points to team defenses in 2018.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. ARZ)
Yes, when last we saw the Chargers they were Charger-ing, losing a game they should have won to an inferior Denver Broncos squad. The Chargers haven't exactly lit it up defensively from a fantasy perspective this year either, ranking outside the top 15 in more formats than not. But this week's home tilt with the Cardinals is just too good to pass up. The Cardinals are second in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to team defenses this season and have topped 300 yards of total offense just once in 10 games. The return of Joey Bosa should also give the LA pass rush a sizable boost.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. WAS)
The Dallas Cowboys are still in the mix in the NFC East, in large part because the defense has played with a lot more consistency than the offense. However, while the Cowboys rank inside the top-10 in total defense this season, a lack of big plays has the Cowboys slotted outside the top-20 in most fantasy scoring systems. This recommendation has less to do with the Cowboys themselves than it does with the team they face. The Redskins are reeling after the loss of quarterback Alex Smith, and now Colt McCoy has a short week to prepare for his first start since 2014. I smell a blowout here—or maybe that's just the pumpkin pie.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. MIA)
Despite a 1-5 start to the season the Colts are back in the playoff hunt, thanks to a four-game winning streak punctuated by a 38-10 blasting of the Titans in Week 11. The Colts piled up two picks and five sacks against the Titans in that game, numbers that propelled Indy to a top-five fantasy finish for the week that likely helped very few fantasy owners. Don't miss the boat on the Colts again in Week 12—Indianapolis is red-hot on both sides of the ball, playing at home again and squaring off with an erratic Dolphins team that's fourth in fantasy points allowed to team defenses this season.
New Orleans Saints (vs. ATL)
When the Saints and Falcons met in Week 3, it was shootout-city—a 43-37 overtime tilt in which approximately zero defense was played. But that game was in Atlanta. This one's in the Superdome, where the Saints have a tendency to be lights-out. Take last week's 48-7 annihilation of the Philadelphia Eagles—a game in which the Saints allowed less than 200 yards and amassed three sacks and an equal number of interceptions. That outing made New Orleans the No. 3 defense in Week 11, and it at least raises the possibility of the team as a streaming option on Thanksgiving.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Minnesota Vikings (vs. GB)
For the most part, the Vikings have performed as advertised for fantasy owners in 2018—Minnesota sits inside the top-15 fantasy defenses in most scoring systems. However, this week's primetime tilt with a desperate Packers team might be a good week to consider alternate options. Back in Week 2 the Vikings sacked Aaron Rodgers four times, but they failed to notch a turnover and surrendered 29 points and over 350 total yards. That added up to a pretty measly fantasy line—one that tied for the Vikings' second-worst score of the season.
Washington Redskins (at DAL)
Maybe this is an overreaction. It's been the Washington defense that has kept the Redskins in first place this year. The Redskins rank inside the top-10 in a number of statistical categories and inside the top-five in fantasy points among defenses. But the Alex Smith injury was the definition of a hammerblow. It gives me grave concerns about Washington's ability to move the ball with any consistency moving forward, including this Thursday in Dallas. That's going to put that much more pressure on the defense against a Cowboys team that's playing considerably better of late. It's admittedly a gut call, but Washington makes me nervous in Week 12.