Now that we're five weeks into the 2018 season, we have enough of a sample size to have a pretty good idea where the favorable (and unfavorable) fantasy matchups lie.
And when it comes to team defenses this year, no opponent is more attractive for fantasy owners than the Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals.
To say that the Bills and Cardinals are struggling offensively is one whopper of an understatement. The two teams are piling up 432 yards and 26.4 points per game—combined. By weight of comparison, the Los Angeles Rams average 468.4 yards and 27 points per game by themselves.
It gets even better. The Bills lead the NFL in sacks allowed with 22—an average of almost 4.5 sacks per game. Both squads have turned the ball over eight times. And with rookie quarterbacks helming both teams, there's little reason to believe that the Bills and Redbirds are suddenly going to turn things around.
That rookie quarterback thing is something of a theme for team defenses this year—of the top four teams in terms of fantasy points given up to team defenses, three have rookie starters under center. First-year quarterbacks tend to hold the ball too long, which leads to sacks. They also have a propensity for turning the ball over.
Sacks and turnovers are important for fantasy defenses—or so I've heard.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the better team defense matchups in Week 6—beginning with the two teams set to feast on Arizona and Buffalo this weekend.
It's a good week. No big names with dangerous matchups, and plenty of streaming options to choose from.
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Minnesota Vikings (vs. ARZ)
Yes, the Minnesota Vikings haven't been as dominant defensively as we expected them to be. Yes, the last time the Vikings had a tomato can matchup at home (against the Bills in Week 3) the team rather made a mess of things. And yes, the Cardinals just piled up 28 points in their first win of the season. But that last number is wildly misleading—the Cardinals had all of 220 yards of total offense against the 49ers last week. The odds of the Vikings having another massive letdown are a lot slimmer than the odds that they stomp a mudhole in the hapless Cardinals at home.
Jacksonville Jaguars (at DAL)
The Jaguars were just boat-raced on the road by the Kansas City Chiefs, but to be honest the final score had less to do with a defensive letdown than it did Blake Bortles turning the ball over 37 times. Put that disappointing fantasy day out of your head (it was the Chiefs, after all) and roll the Jags out with supreme confidence in Week 6. The Cowboys are struggling mightily to move the ball this year—especially through air. Dallas is 28th in total offense, 30th and scoring offense and has no passing game to speak of. It's going to be a long day at Jerruh World for the home team.
Houston Texans (vs. BUF)
Just like the Cardinals, the Bills pulled out a win in Week 5, downing the Tennessee Titans in a game that was slightly less enjoyable than a prostate exam. That the Bills allowed just a single sack against the Titans is a small miracle, but it's no surprise that Buffalo scored just 13 points and had only 223 yards of offense. The Texans haven't exactly been a great asset for fantasy owners—the team ranks outside the top 20 in many fantasy scoring systems. But this week's matchup against the Bills is just too good to pass up. Start the Texans with the confidence that only the awful that is the Bills can provide.
Chicago Bears (at MIA)
Through five games this season, the Bears are fantasy's highest-scoring defense—and that includes the team not playing at all in Week 5. Chicago's been absolutely lights-out defensively, largely because Khalil Mack appears hell-bent on putting the Defensive Player of the Year race to bed by Halloween. The Bears are on the road this week, but it's a trip to face a Miami team in free-fall—the Dolphins managed just seven points two weeks ago against the Patriots and surrendered a pair of defensive touchdowns to the Bengals in Cincinnati Sunday.
Los Angeles Rams (at DEN)
The Rams have actually backslid defensively of late, topping 30 points allowed in each of the last two weeks. However, things set up well this week for LA to get right defensively against the reeling Denver Broncos. If you name it, it went wrong for Denver in last week's blowout loss to the Jets. Quarterback Case Keenum threw his seventh pick of the season and was sacked four times. The Broncos have actually been fairly stingy to team defenses, but the Rams put a tom of pressure on opposing offenses to keep up. Against the error-prone Broncos, that sets the stage for a big day.
Baltimore Ravens (at TEN)
The Ravens fell last week in Cleveland, but it wasn't the defense's fault—five games in the Ravens lead the AFC in scoring defense and rank fourth in the NFL in total defense. That hasn't exactly translated to fantasy success—a relative lack of big plays has Baltimore just inside the top-10 in fantasy points. However, the Ravens shouldn't have much trouble posting a nice stat line this week in Nashville. The Titans are a hot mess offensively, averaging just 17 points and 294 yards per game. This is a team that just lost to the Bills, for Pete's sake.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Green Bay Packers (vs. SFO)
Yes, the Packers just faceplanted defensively in a Week 5 loss in Detroit. But the week before, the team was the highest-scoring defense in fantasy in a shutout win over the Buffalo Bills. That latter result is the much more likely outcome next Monday night against the reeling 49ers. This is a team that just lost to the winless Arizona Cardinals despite doubling them up in yardage. The reason was simple—turnovers, turnovers and more turnovers. After that Motown meltdown, the Pack is going to be angry—they'll take that anger out in a primetime pasting of one of the league's worst teams.
Cleveland Browns (vs. LAC)
Don't look now, but the Cleveland Browns might actually be a decent football team—and the defense is leading the charge. Not only is second-year pass-rusher Myles Garrett just off the NFL lead with five sacks, but the Browns have peeled off an impressive 15 takeaways—far and away the most in the NFL. The Chargers have been impressive offensively—averaging just over 405 yards per game. But the Bolts have also been known to lay an egg when traveling east to play at 1 PM—just as they will do this week on the shores of Lake Erie. They are also seventh in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
Los Angeles Chargers (at CLE)
The Cleveland Browns have plenty of reasons to be optimistic. After all, the Browns just won their first division game and first game on a Sunday period since 2015. But some of the same things that make Buffalo, New York and Arizona attractive opponents applies to the Cleveland Browns. In two and a half games, Baker Mayfield has turned the ball over five times. Only the Buffalo Bills have allowed more sacks in 2018 than Cleveland's 21. And while the Browns have been competitive in every game this year, they've managed to top 21 points scored just once and rank eighth in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
New York Jets (vs. IND)
The No. 2 team defense in fantasy football through five games isn't the Minnesota Vikings. Or the Philadelphia Eagles. Or the Jacksonville Jaguars. It's the New York Jets. For reals. To be fair, much of that scoring came in New York's demolition of the Lions in Week 1, but just as they did with four sacks and an interception against the Broncos the Jets have posted at least a decent stat line each and every week. The Colts have gotten better offensively as the season progressed, but they still rank inside the top-10 in many scoring systems in fantasy points given up to defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. NYG)
The Eagles entered 2018 as one of the most sought-after team defenses in fantasy football—a "No Doubter." However, after five weeks the Eagles are 2-3 and the defense ranks well outside the top 20 in most fantasy scoring systems. The pass-rush isn't getting home, and that has exposed a weaker-than expected secondary. This is it—a last chance for the Eagles D to turn things around and avoid being cast off to the waiver wire. The Giants are three off-ramps farther down Desperation Highway than the Eagles and have allowed 16 sacks in five games.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. JAX)
The Cowboys offense has struggled (and then some) in 2018, but the defense has essentially single-handedly kept Dallas in most of its games. Dallas is eighth in the NFL in total defense and tied for sixth in the league with 15 sacks. This is a streaming pick that carries considerable risk—if the Jaguars offense that smoked New England shows up Sunday things could get ugly quickly. However, if Bad Blake Bortles takes the field and a Jags team that leads the league in giveaways starts turning it over like they did in Week 5, gambling on the Cowboys could pay off big.
Indianapolis Colts (at NYJ)
This one admittedly isn't a play for the faint of heart. The Colts are 22nd in the NFL in total defense and 28th in scoring defense. They are also all kinds of chewed up by injuries—it's possible the team's leading tackler (Darius Leonard) and starting strong safety (Clayton Geathers) will both sit out this game. The Jets also just piled up 34 points on the Denver Broncos with a flurry of big plays. But the New York offense has been wildly inconsistent in 2018, Sam Darnold has thrown six interceptions this year and the Jets are fourth in fantasy points given up to team defenses this season.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. PIT)
After the Bengals exploded for a pair of fourth-quarter defensive touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 5, some fantasy owners may be considering Cincy as a streaming option at home Sunday. After all, the Bengals are now a top-five fantasy defense in many scoring systems, and the team just got outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict back from suspension. Don't. Put it out of your head. It's a bad idea. The Steelers rank in the bottom half of the league in fantasy points allowed to the position, have a dynamic and talent-laden offense, and Pittsburgh has won each of their last six meetings with the Bengals.