Sometimes, things just don't work out like you planned.
Over the first three weeks of the 2018 season, the Cleveland Browns were a top-five fantasy defense. With Myles Garrett playing like a Defensive Player of the Year contender and the Browns notching takeaways left and right, the Browns quickly became a favorite of the fantasy community.
There was reason to believe the good times would keep right on rolling in Week 4. Yes, the Browns were on the road—but it was to face an Oakland team that had lost all three games this season and failed to score more than 20 points in any of them.
What could go wrong?
As it turns out, quite a lot.
The Browns weren't a complete loss in Week 4—the Browns sacked Derek Carr three times and notched a pair of interceptions. But in allowing a jaw-dropping 45 points to the Raiders in a loss, the Browns went from primo play to "meh" matchup.
The reality is that this happens from time to time. You can study the matchups until you're blue in the face, but in the NFL things don't always follow the script. As a matter of fact, it happens with a fair amount of regularity.
Ask the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3.
This isn't to say that research and playing the matchups aren't an important part of success with team defenses in fantasy football. Only that sometimes things aren't going to go according to plan. When that happens, all you can do is shake off the bad beat and move on.
And that's exactly what we're going to do here.
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Tennessee Titans (at BUF)
If you're a fantasy owner of the Chicago Bears defense and the Titans are somehow available on the waiver wire in your league, then Tennessee should absolutely be at the top of your list. Not only are the Titans ranked well inside the top 10 in most scoring systems, but Sunday the Titans travel to face a Bills team that is struggling mightily on offense. Through four games the Bills are dead last in the AFC in total offense, dead last in the AFC in scoring, dead last in the NFL in sacks allowed (over five per game) and lead the AFC in fantasy points given up to defenses. Other than that though, it's just an "OK" matchup.
Baltimore Ravens (at CLE)
The Baltimore Ravens entered Week 4 first in the NFL in total defense and didn't disappoint, holding Pittsburgh's high-octane offense under 300 total yards and shutting them out in the second half on the way to a 26-14 win. Baltimore also ranks 12th in sacks and in the top-half of the league in takeaways, but just barely inside the top-12 in fantasy points on the season because of a lack of big plays. Said big plays will likely be there Sunday against the Browns, who scored 42 points against the Raiders but also turned the ball over four times and have given up an average of four sacks a game in 2018.
Los Angeles Rams (at SEA)
After a red-hot start to the season, the Rams cooled off in Week 4 in a shootout win over the Minnesota Vikings. But that was rather expected, and after a month only the Chicago Bears have more fantasy points among defenses. The loss of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib hurts, but Marcus Peters' injury wasn't as bad as originally feared. Through four games the so-so Seahawks have struggled to protect Russell Wilson, surrendering four sacks a game. That pressure on Wilson has also resulted in turnovers and made a Seattle an attractive opponent for D/ST fantasy owners.
Carolina Panthers (vs. NYG)
The Panthers were off in Week 4, so in more fantasy leagues than not Carolina is probably available on the waiver wire. That makes them a great potential fill-in for the Chicago Bears or if you're anxious about the Jaguars (more on them in a bit). The Panthers have been a reasonably effective fantasy option in 2018—ranking inside the top-10 in terms of fantasy points per game in most scoring systems. Add in a matchup with a Giants team prone to allowing sacks and turning the ball over (in Charlotte, no less) and you have the recipe for a good stat line.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
San Francisco 49ers (vs. ARZ)
In most week's, it's rather difficult to get excited about the 49ers defensively—San Francisco is 20th in the NFL in total defense, 27th in the league in scoring defense, 21st in sacks, 29th in takeaways and well outside the top-20 in fantasy points. But if ever there was a week for the Niners to get right, it's in Week 5 at home against the raging dumpster fire that is the Arizona Cardinals offense. Through the first month of the 2018 season, the Redbirds are averaging a whopping 208.5 yards and 9.2 points per game. No team in the NFL is surrendering more fantasy points per game to opposing defenses.
Denver Broncos (at NYJ)
To be fair, this was written before Denver hosted the Chiefs on Monday Night Football and gave up 800 passing yards and 27 touchdowns to Patrick Mahomes. At least that's what I'm assuming will happen—if it doesn't this becomes that much better an idea. To say there's a step down in competition between facing the Kansas City juggernaut and the New York Jetsernot is an understatement—Gang Green is 29th in the NFL in total offense, 20th in scoring. Over half of those points came in Week 1 against the Lions, and the Jets are allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses after the first month of the season.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. MIA)
The Bengals aren't exactly firing on all cylinders defensively. In each of the last two games the Bengals have allowed over 30 points and been a complete non-factor for fantasy owners. But those matchups were on the road against NFC South teams in Carolina and Atlanta who have MVP quarterbacks and made the playoffs last year. This week, however, Cincinnati's at home against a Miami Dolphins team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback that just exposed by the New England Patriots. Look for a return to the top-10 numbers of the season's first two weeks in Week 5—especially with talented linebacker Vontaze Burfict returning.
Houston Texans (vs. DAL)
Don't look now folks, but he's baaaack! The two sacks of Andrew Luck by JJ Watt Sunday gives the three-time Defensive Player of the Year five over the last two games. The Texans also posted their first defensive score of the season last week against the Indianapolis Colts, although the Texans still rank outside the top-15 fantasy defenses for the season. They could muscle their way back into the top-10 in Week 5, however—Houston plays at home in primetime in a top-10 fantasy matchup with a Cowboys team that's 27th in total offense and 28th in scoring through four games. Another imperfect streaming option, but the matchup's right.
Cleveland Browns (vs. BAL)
Yes, last week's recommendation of the Browns didn't quite turn out like we'd hoped. And a road matchup with a good Ravens team isn't ideal. Cleveland wouldn't be my first choice as a D/ST streamer in Week 4. Or my second. But if you're in a pinch, consider this—even in last week's loss in which the Browns gave up yardage and points galore, the Browns continued to make the big plays that have defined the defense this year. Cleveland's seventh in the NFL in sacks with 12, and no team in the league has been better at forcing takeaways. It's a risk/reward play.
New York Jets (vs. DEN)
To be fair, the Jets ranking of third in fantasy points among defenses is rather misleading—the majority of those points came in the team's Week 1 stunner in Detroit. But rolling the Jets out in Week 5 as a bye-week fill-in or spot-starter has less to do with the Jets than who they play. Over his first three games with the Broncos, Case Keenum hasn't exactly been careful with the football, throwing five picks. With the Broncos making the trip east to play at 1PM on top of that, the Jets might be a serviceable option if your league's waiver wire is a bit on the thin side.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. MIN)
Sure, the Eagles are at home this week against a suddenly reeling Vikings team. Said Vikings have also been surprisingly friendly to opposing defenses from a fantasy perspective—only two teams have given up more fantasy points to the position over the first four games of the season. But here's the thing—and it's rather a large thing. The Eagles have struggled to defend the pass—big time. The Eagles are 20th in the league in pass defense, and honestly that ranking doesn't demonstrate the level to which Philly's pass defense is scuffling. The Vikings are loaded in that regard—starting the Eagles is all but banking on a D/ST score to salvage a big day.
Minnesota Vikings (at PHI)
The Vikings are an impossibly difficult call in Week 5. On one hand, the Philadelphia Eagles are having significant problems moving the ball right now, and Carson Wentz has been sacked nine times in the two games since he returned. On the other hand, Wentz threw for almost 350 yards against the Titans, and the Vikings are still smoldering after being absolutely immolated by the Los Angeles Rams a week ago. Add in that the game will take place in Philadelphia, and the scales here tip into the area of "Buyer Beware" in Week 5. That's what Caveat Emptor means, by the way.
Jacksonville Jaguars (at KCC)
One of the most exciting matchups of Week 5 takes place in Kansas City, where the Jaguars come to town to face the Chiefs in a classic battle of offense vs. defense. The last time it appeared the Jaguars had a bad matchup Jacksonville made fantasy owners regret their lack of faith, having a great game against the New England Patriots. But that was at home, and good though the Patriots mat be the Chiefs are operating on a different level offensively. The Jaguars are a hard team to sit in fantasy football, but in Week 5 you have to at least consider it.