Thanksgiving Week is here. And in addition to a gathering of friends and family and eating yourself into a food-induced coma, football fans get a triple treat on Thursday—three NFL games.
As has been the case for decades, the first game on Thanksgiving features a matchup in Motown. This year, the Detroit Lions are playing host to their NFC North rivals from Chicago. It's a showdown between a Bears team clinging to their fading postseason hopes like grim death and a reeling Lions squad that's lost four in a row and seven of eight.
The game may not be especially entertaining from an NFL perspective, but if offers quite a bit of intrigue to fantasy owners from a defensive standpoint.
The Bears haven't posted the gaudy takeaway numbers in 2019 that made the team the top fantasy defense in 2018. But after holding the New York Giants to just 14 points while registering a sack and fumble recovery in Week 12, the Bears remain a top-10 fantasy defense in most scoring systems. Chicago's 15 takeaways and 26 sacks in 2019 aren't especially impressive numbers, but the Bears are fourth in scoring defense, allowing just 17.1 points per game.
The Lions haven't been an especially great fantasy matchup for defenses this season, but the Detroit offense struggled in a big way last week in Washington with Jeff Driskel under center. It's been a disappointing season for the Bears Defense, but in Week 13 they should give fantasy owners something to be thankful for.
The thing is, the Lions Defense just might as well.
It's not that the Lions have been an especially good defense in 2019. After 12 weeks, the Lions are a miserable 29th in total defense, 26th in sacks and rank outside the top 25 in fantasy points in most scoring systems.
But compliments of three sacks and two takeaways last week against a bad Washington offense, the Lions were a top-10 fantasy option. The Bears have struggled mightily to move the ball in recent weeks, and while the Lions are hardly a sure bet in Week 13, Detroit usually plays well on Turkey Day. The team's at least on the streaming radar.
Philadelphia Eagles (at Miami Dolphins)
After falling at home to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 12, the Eagles are under .500 and in danger of their season spiraling out of control. Luckily, in Week 13, the Eagles travel to face a team that will fix all that ails you in the woeful Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins rank inside the top-five in just about every statistical category of interest to fantasy owners defensively, whether it's scoring offense (30th), giveaways (tied for third), sacks allowed (46—most in the NFL) or fantasy points allowed to team defenses (first). Matchups don't get any better than this.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Washington Redskins)
The Panthers are reeling as a team, in large part because of a defense that has dropped to 19th in total defense, 27th against the run and 26th in scoring defense. But the Panthers are also second in the NFL with 41 sacks, fifth in the league with 20 takeaways and rank either just inside or just outside the top-10 in fantasy points depending on scoring system. This week the Panthers square off against a struggling Washington offense that has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2019. This feels like a get-right week for the Panthers.
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Green Bay Packers (vs. New York Giants)
The Green Bay Packers are no doubt seething after getting waxed on the road by the San Francisco 49ers, but a bad Giants team presents the Pack with a prime target on which to take out their frustrations. Through 12 weeks this season, the Giants rank second in the NFL with 25 turnovers, have surrendered 35 sacks and lead the NFC in fantasy points given up to team defenses. Long story short, the Giants are an error-prone mess of a football team that will be playing in front of a crowd at Lambeau Field that's every bit as angry as the team is.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Given everything that happened back in Week 11 in Cleveland, there's little doubt that this will be one of the most hard-hitting affairs of Week 13. It also sets up well for the Steelers from a fantasy perspective. Only the New England Patriots have registered more takeaways in 2019 than the Steelers, while the Browns rank inside the top-10 in giveaways this season. The Steelers are also third in the NFL with 38 sacks, while the Browns rank inside the top-10 in fantasy points surrendered to team defenses for the year. This is a game where the defenses are going to set the tone.
New England Patriots (at Houston Texans)
This week's tilt with the Texans is hardly ideal from a fantasy perspective—through 12 weeks this season Houston ranks outside the top 20 in fantasy points per game given up to defenses. But if there's a team defense that's matchup-proof in 2019, it's the Pats. Against the NFL's No. 1 offense in Week 12, the Patriots allowed just 321 yards of offense and nine points while notching a takeaway and blocking a punt. It wasn't New England's best effort of the year (or even close), but it offers a level of optimism heading into Sunday night's tilt with a Texans team that has struggled in pass protection.
San Francisco 49ers (at Baltimore Ravens)
This call is less recommendation and more fair warning. You almost have to start the San Francisco 49ers defense after watching the team lay waste to the Green Bay Packers in Week 12, but this is a do-or-die week for many fantasy owners, and Sunday the 49ers have the unenviable task of trying to contain Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens. This is a Ravens Offense that blasted the Patriots, putting up 37 points back in Week 9. If you have a spare roster spot and absolutely need a win this week, you may want to seriously consider trotting out one of the streaming options listed below.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Cleveland Browns (at Pittsburgh Steelers)
It would be a lot easier to feel good about the Browns as a streaming option has Cleveland not just given up 24 points to the struggling Dolphins, but from a matchup perspective there's still a lot to like here. The Steelers have been absolutely ravaged by injuries—it's possible that neither JuJu Smith-Schuster or James Conner will play in this game. Pittsburgh's also rolling out a third-string quarterback making his second career start. Two weeks ago in Cleveland, the Steelers scored just seven points and the Browns finished the week as a top-five fantasy defense.
Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The Jaguars entered the 2019 season as one of the first team defenses off fantasy draft boards. After getting shredded by the Tennessee Titans in Week 12, the Jags are barely clinging to streamer status. And there's more than a little risk involved with trusting the Jaguars this week against Tampa—the Buccaneers Offense in plenty capable of chewing up yards and giving up points in bunches. But the Buccaneers also lead the NFL in turnovers, have surrendered 36 sacks and have given up the sixth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses over the first 12 weeks of 2019.
New York Jets (at Cincinnati Bengals)
After an absolutely horrific start to the season, the New York Jets have turned it on of late, peeling off three straight wins. Sam Darnold and the offense have gotten most of the credit for the rebound, but the defense has played its part as well. Against a 6-4 Raiders team in Week 12, the Jets allowed just three points and 208 yards of offense and forced two turnovers—returning one for a touchdown. No team in the AFC has turned the ball over more than the Bengals this season, and only three teams have given up more fantasy points per game to defenses.
Tennessee Titans (at Indianapolis Colts)
It's happened quietly, but 12 weeks into the 2019 season the Tennessee Titans rank inside the top 10 fantasy defenses in quite a few scoring systems. The Titans are 11th in the NFL in scoring defense, tied for the seventh-most takeaways and 12th in the league with 30 sacks. The Indianapolis Colts are a good football team, but in their last outing the Colts struggled offensively, posting just 17 points and less than 300 yards of total offense. The Titans aren't a great defensive play in Week 13, but they could easily be a sneaky-good one for teams looking to stream.
Los Angeles Chargers (at Denver Broncos)
Frankly, at this point in the season the Los Angeles Chargers would probably just as soon carry their bye week over into January. And much like the team itself, the Chargers Defense has been mediocre from a fantasy perspective, checking in just outside the top-15 in fantasy points for the year. However, this could be a week where the Chargers break out a bit—in Week 12 the Broncos generated just 134 yards of total offense and three points in a loss to the Bills. For the season, the Broncos also rank inside the top-10 in both sacks allowed and fantasy points given up to team defenses in 2019.
Denver Broncos (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
It's been a rough season for the Denver Broncos—last week's loss to the Buffalo Bills dropped the Broncos to 3-8 and one step closer to a third straight season with double-digit losses. The Denver defense was also exposed somewhat over its last two losses on the road. But Sunday's AFC West matchup with the Chargers is at Mile High, and it's not like the Bolts are having a better season, when last we saw Philip Rivers, he was tossing four interceptions against the Kansas City Chiefs. Since Week 9, the Chargers check in eighth in fantasy points per game given up to team defenses.
New York Jets (vs. MIA): The Jets have actually been a top-five fantasy defense in some scoring systems this year. They're a great Week 13 waiver wire pickup given that following the matchup with Cincinnati the Jets get an even better one against the Dolphins at Met Life Stadium.
Green Bay Packers (vs. WAS): If the Packers can't completely wash off the stink of that blowout loss in San Francisco against the Giants, a home date with the reeling Redskins should do the rest. Green Bay's stretch schedule is replete with cake matchups outside one more meeting with the Vikings.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. NYG): There isn't a team in the NFL with better matchups for defenses the next two weeks than the Eagles. If you have any of the defenses listed in this week's Looking Ahead, you should be golden at the position to close out fantasy football's regular season.