Maybe it’s antiquated—especially after seeing last year’s Super Bowl combatants combine for a record point total—but in my eyes, the phrase “defense wins championships” still carries weight. That adage proved true in 2015 when the Broncos, led by bespectacled sack ninja Von Miller, tormented Cam Newton en route to winning Super Bowl 50. That came two years after the Broncos watched Seattle hoist a Lombardi Trophy on the strength of its Legion of Boom secondary.
But the Legion of Boom is no more and Denver’s no-fly-zone is also on the brink of extinction, leaving fantasy football connoisseurs with a daunting existential crisis. I’ll ask the same question recently posed by Twitter contrarian Josh Hernsmeyer: does defense matter?
Defense truthering has been the talk of fantasy football the past few weeks. DFS sharks have mostly rejected Hernsmeyer’s school of thought on the principle that knowing the matchups, whether it’s Tyreek Hill going against a shutdown corner or J.J. Watt facing a bottom-tier offensive line, gives players a noticeable edge on sites like FanDuel and DraftKings. I think the distinction between daily and season-long leagues is important here because on Yahoo and ESPN, you always roll with your studs regardless of the matchup. Benching Patrick Mahomes against Jacksonville, for instance, is textbook overthinking. But with passing numbers on the rise and quarterbacks being treated with kid gloves thanks to the NFL’s new arbitrary sack rules, is it really that crazy to think that maybe we’re living in a post-defense era?
While I agree with Hernsmeyer’s premise that in the long run, we probably place too much importance on specific matchups, I think it’s best to approach this thorny topic on a case-by-case basis. It would make all of our lives infinitely easier if we could simply plug in our best players each week and never worry about the opponent they’re facing, but that’s simply not possible. Dak Prescott and Brock Osweiler both performed admirably against two of the league’s stronger defenses in Week 6, lending further credence to the simmering anti-defense agenda. But what about the Ravens sacking Marcus Mariota into the next century? Should that be ignored too? And what about targeting leaky secondaries like the Bucs and Chiefs, who both allowed in excess of 300 yards passing last week? Without defenses to steer our compass, narrowing our weekly fantasy choices would be a Herculean task.
The rich tapestry of NFL analytics is constantly evolving and so are defenses. Think of our perception of the Rams earlier this year. On paper, L.A.’s defense, especially its star-studded secondary, seemed unstoppable. But that was before Aqib Talib was lost to injury and Marcus Peters turned into a pumpkin. Now fantasy owners can safely target the Rams defense without fearing repercussions.
I still think matchups hold an important place in the fantasy realm, but maybe we can take a more moderate approach and stop running for the hills every time we see Jacksonville on the schedule. Sorry this article is reaching your computer screen a bit later than usual. You can blame the Red Sox and Celtics for that. Here are my Power Rankings for Week 7:
1. Los Angeles Rams
Last Week: 1
The NFL’s last remaining unbeaten took care of business Sunday in the Mile High City, eking out a nail-biter against the Broncos. Touchdown Todd was at it again, supplying a career-high 208 rushing yards on 28 carries in the victory. The NFL’s current rushing yards leader is on pace for 29 touchdowns, 10 more than he had last season. Cooper Kupp’s knee injury had the look of a season-ender, though luckily he escaped with just a sprained MCL. The Rams’ 6-0 start is their best since 2001, which was also the last time they made the Super Bowl.
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2. New England Patriots
Last Week: 4
Tom Brady … washed up? Surely you jest. After struggling early on, the immortal signal-caller has gotten back in the swing of things by completing 73.4 percent of his passes with six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) over his last two games. That coincides with the return of Brady’s go-to target Julian Edelman. Josh Gordon hasn’t made much fantasy noise yet but his workload is on the rise after seeing a season-high nine targets in Sunday night’s win over Kansas City. Since the start of Week 4, only Todd Gurley (368) has rushed for more yards than Sony Michel (316).
3. Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 2
The Chiefs’ hopes of an undefeated season went out the window with a loss to New England in Week 6, but Patrick Mahomes still gave an encouraging performance, shrugging off a listless first half to throw for a career-high 352 yards and four touchdowns. Mahomes got plenty of help from Tyreek Hill, who blew up for 142 yards and three touchdowns while getting a face full of Bud Light for his efforts. Kareem Hunt extended his touchdown streak to five with another momentous effort against the Patriots, gathering 185 yards (80 rushing, 105 receiving) on just 15 touches. Sunday marked Mahomes’ first defeat as an NFL starter.
4. New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 3
All eyes will be on Alvin Kamara when the Saints travel to Baltimore on Sunday. Coach Sean Payton insists his abbreviated workload in Week 5 was the result of an unusual number of long plays, but with Mark Ingram back from suspension, Kamara’s volume can no longer be taken for granted. 2017 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore remains in the league’s concussion protocol. Already down slot corner Patrick Robinson (broken ankle), the Saints can ill afford to lose Lattimore for an extended period. Drew Brees’ next touchdown pass will be the 500th of his career.
5. Los Angeles Chargers
Last Week: 11
Traveling cross country to play an early game is usually the kiss of death for west coast teams, but the Chargers bucked that trend with a convincing 38-14 victory over Cleveland in Week 6. Melvin Gordon met his weekly touchdown quota with three end-zone visits but the real difference-maker was Tyrell Williams, who massacred the Browns for 118 yards and two scores. The Gazelle ranks third in the league in yards per catch behind only DeSean Jackson (23.9) and John Brown (20.2). The 4-2 Chargers are off to their best start since 2014 when they began the year 5-1.
6. Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 10
The Ravens suffocated Marcus Mariota in Week 6, sacking him 11 times for a loss of 66 yards. Through six games, Baltimore’s stingy D has allowed both the fewest points and fewest yards of any team in the league. After seeing weeks of middling usage, the Ravens finally committed to Alex Collins, who out-touched Javorius Allen by a commanding 19-4 margin on Sunday. Collins made two end-zone visits in the victory, upping his season total to five. With Jay Cutler out of the league, Joe Flacco has inherited his title as the league’s stillest wide receiver. Real convincing, Joe.
7. Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 9
The Vikings expected to get Dalvin Cook back in Week 6 but instead the second-year back sat out for the third time in four weeks. With Cook shelved, Latavius Murray bulldozed his way to a career-high 155 yards on 24 carries in a win over Arizona. Meanwhile Adam Thielen continued his torrid start with another 100-yard receiving game in Week 6. His 58 catches are the most ever through six games. Matt Foley has always been my favorite motivational speaker but Kirk Cousins may be a close second.
8. Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 12
Alshon Jeffery stomped all over the Giants in Week 6, embarrassing New York to the tune of 74 yards and two touchdowns. He hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from offseason shoulder surgery, surging to 18 catches for 218 yards and three scores in his first three games. Wendell Smallwood won the touch battle (19-14) but it was Corey Clement who led the Eagles’ backfield with 69 yards from scrimmage in Thursday night’s win. Those two will continue to fill the void left by Jay Ajayi, who underwent season-ending ACL surgery last week.
9. Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 13
Antonio Brown took a lick from Vontaze Burfict (who else?) in Sunday’s grudge match in Cincinnati, but AB got the last laugh, delivering the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds remaining. That score extended Brown’s touchdown streak to four games. Despite rumors of Le’Veon Bell possibly ending his holdout this week, the disgruntled running back remains MIA. With James Conner manhandling opponents on a near-weekly basis—he finished with 129 yards and two touchdowns in Week 6—the Steelers certainly aren’t sweating Bell’s absence.
10. Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 6
Tyler Boyd’s breakout season continued with a 62-yard, two-touchdown performance in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. He and teammate A.J. Green are both on pace for over 1,000 yards receiving. The last time the Bengals featured a pair of 1,000-yard receivers was with Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2007. Joe Mixon has found the end zone in three of four games this season including Sunday against the hated Steelers. The former Oklahoma Sooner ranks third in rushing yards per game behind only Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott.
11. Carolina Panthers
Last Week: 5
Greg Olsen didn’t do anything out of the ordinary in his first game back from a broken foot (four catches for 48 yards), though it was encouraging to see him get a full workload, playing 59-of-60 offensive snaps. Rookie D.J. Moore showed his inexperience by losing a pair of fumbles Sunday in a loss to Washington, though coach Ron Rivera said he never considered benching the first-round wide receiver. With upcoming matchups against the Eagles (Week 7), Ravens (Week 8) and Steelers (Week 10), the slumping Panthers don’t have time to go through the motions.
12. Chicago Bears
Last Week: 8
Chicago came out flat after the bye week, yielding a season-high 31 points in Sunday’s loss to the Brock-Osweiler-led Dolphins. At least the Bears got another strong outing from Tarik Cohen, who gave the Fins all they could handle with 121 yards and a touchdown on 12 touches. He’s outgained backfield-mate Jordan Howard by over 200 yards (295-94) since Week 4. If football doesn’t pan out for Leonard Floyd, he may have a future in pro wrestling. Check out his savage and completely illegal takedown of Danny Amendola.
13. Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 14
No Geronimo Allison and Randall Cobb? No problem. Even without two of his top receivers, Aaron Rodgers has still been unstoppable, eclipsing 400 yards passing in back-to-back weeks. Davante Adams has been a menace during that span, delivering 19 catches for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Jimmy Graham brought the hammer in Monday night’s win over San Francisco, clearing 100 yards for the first time since Week 9 of 2016. A week after hitting rock bottom against Detroit, Mason Crosby redeemed himself by drilling four field goals including the game-winner from 27 yards out.
14. Jacksonville Jaguars
Last Week: 7
Blake Bortles has fallen off a cliff over his last two games, struggling to a 55.7 completion percentage with six turnovers (five interceptions, one lost fumble) during that span. Running back has gotten so out of hand for the injury-plagued Jags that blast-from-the-past Jamaal Charles had to back up T.J. Yeldon in Week 6. The tight end position is even bleaker with third-stringer James O'Shaughnessy filling in for Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Niles Paul. Jacksonville has lost three of four with a -33 point differential since beating New England in Week 2.
15. Miami Dolphins
Last Week: 16
Brock Osweiler doesn’t always win, but when he does, it’s usually against Chicago. After throwing for a career-high 380 yards in Week 6, the 27-year-old is now 3-0 in his career versus the Bears. Chicago had no answer for Albert Wilson, allowing the diminutive Georgia State alum to go off for a career-high 155 yards (150 of which came after halftime) and two touchdowns. Frank Gore rumbled to 101 yards in Sunday’s victory, becoming the first player to top 100 yards rushing against Chicago this year.
16. Washington Redskins
Last Week: 18
Washington took care of business against Carolina in Week 6, though Alex Smith did little to help the cause, completing just 21-of-36 passes (58.3 percent) for 163 yards. The first-year Redskin ranks just 25th in yards per attempt behind players like Blake Bortles, Case Keenum and Eli Manning. In fairness to Smith, what was already a thin Redskins’ pass-catching corps has been further gutted by injuries to Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson. Josh Norman continues to be a handful (just ask Jay Gruden) but he came through Sunday against his former team, recording his first interception since Week 16 of 2016.
17. Seattle Seahawks
Last Week: 21
Doug Baldwin finally joined the party in Week 6, gathering six catches for a season-high 94 yards while working his way back into the weekly WR2 discussion. Guy-you’ve-probably-never-heard-of David Moore continued his touchdown binge with another two scores Sunday at Wembley Stadium. He’s officially entered the DFS dart throw spectrum. Russell Wilson was quite the scrambling enthusiast last year—his 586 rushing yards ranked second among quarterbacks. But this year he’s let his arm do the talking, dishing out 13 touchdown passes (sixth in the league) while attempting just 17 rushes for 62 yards.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 25
Like Forrest Gump, Dak Prescott was in a running mood on Sunday, rolling to a career-high 82 rushing yards in the Cowboys’ 40-7 victory. Cole Beasley got to stepping against Jacksonville, burning the visiting Jags for 101 yards and two touchdowns. That ended a 12-game scoreless drought for the veteran slot receiver/rapper. After disappointing the previous week at Houston (54 scoreless yards on 21 carries), Ezekiel Elliott got his groove back in Week 6, topping 100 yards rushing for the third time in four games.
19. Tennessee Titans
Last Week: 15
He threw us off the trail with an out-of-nowhere blow-up in Week 4 (344 passing yards, 46 rushing yards, three combined touchdowns in a win over Philadelphia), but aside from that outlier, it’s been slim pickings for Marcus Mariota. Including Sunday’s debacle against Baltimore, the former Heisman Trophy winner has now been held under 200 yards in four of five games this season. The biggest problem for Mariota has been staying upright as the former Oregon Duck has taken 13 sacks over his last two contests. The Titans, who are heading to London for a Week 7 matchup with the Chargers, have gone their last eight quarters without scoring a touchdown.
20. Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 22
Julio Jones did everything but score a touchdown in Week 6 (what else is new?), tagging the Bucs for 143 yards on 10 catches. The honorable Judge Ito Smith boosted his vulture credentials by sniping another touchdown Sunday, giving him three scores in his last three outings. Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu were unable to finish Sunday’s game, though they’ll have an extra day to get healthy this week with Atlanta hosting the Giants on Monday Night Football. Tevin Coleman will be asked to carry the rushing load for Atlanta with Devonta Freeman on injured reserve.
21. Houston Texans
Last Week: 23
With Sunday’s win, the Texans moved into a three-way tie with Jacksonville and Tennessee for first place in the AFC South. It wasn’t Deshaun Watson’s best effort (177 yards, two interceptions, one lost fumble), but DeAndre Hopkins still brought it, delivering 63 yards and a touchdown despite a difficult matchup with ace corner Tre’Davious White. The Texans were hoping to get D’Onta Foreman back from the PUP list this week but it looks like he needs more time. The 2017 third-rounder is still working back from a torn Achilles.
22. Cleveland Browns
Last Week: 17
Moving to Baker Mayfield at quarterback was supposed to be a good thing for slot receiver Jarvis Landry, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The 25-year-old LSU alum has disappointed by pulling in just 11-of-29 targets for 114 yards and one touchdown over his last three contests. Like a bold 15th-century explorer, Mayfield has uncovered a hidden gem in his travels, sharing the gift of David Njoku, who has soaked up 13 catches for 124 yards on 22 targets over his last two games. Njoku’s touchdown Sunday was his first since Week 13 of 2017.
23. Detroit Lions
Last Week: 20
The Lions had the week off, which was disappointing since we didn’t get to see any of Kenny Golladay’s heroics. He’s been Detroit’s heartbeat this year, making his presence felt with 27 grabs for 428 yards and three touchdowns. LeGarrette Blount is the broken grocery cart of NFL backs (2.5 yards per carry) but even with a bad wheel or two, the veteran can still vulture touchdowns with the best of them. That’s bad news for owners of Kerryon Johnson, who has been limited to a single end-zone visit.
24. New York Jets
Last Week: 26
The chosen one, Sam Darnold, reached into his bag of tricks to deliver another big fantasy outing in Week 6, showing the Colts extremely little hospitality by gashing the visitors for 280 yards and two touchdowns on 24-of-30 passing (80.0 completion percentage). With Darnold favorite Quincy Enunwa hobbled (he bowed out with a high-ankle sprain), Jermaine Kearse ran rampant against Indy, bullying the Colts for 94 yards on nine catches. Both were season-highs. Former Marist Red Fox Jason Myers had a busy Week 6, delivering seven field goals in the Jets’ eight-point victory.
25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last Week: 19
Jameis Winston went full throttle in his first start of 2018, contributing 395 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to the Falcons. Sunday was Winston’s first four-touchdown game since Week 1 of 2016, which also came against Atlanta. Tampa Bay had a chance to steal a victory on Sunday but the dream ended when DeSean Jackson let a lateral fall through his fingertips. The Bucs canned defensive coordinator Mike Smith, which was probably for the best. Nobody has allowed more points per game than Tampa Bay (34.6) this year.
26. Denver Broncos
Last Week: 24
Denver’s losing skid is up to four and if the Broncos can’t get it done Thursday night in Arizona, it could cost Vance Joseph his job. According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Broncos upper management is “closely monitoring” the situation. Emmanuel Sanders enjoyed a productive outing in Week 6 (7-115-1) but may have cost his team a touchdown with this bone-headed taunting penalty. Signal-caller Case Keenum has more interceptions through six games (eight) than he had all of last year (seven).
27. San Francisco 49ers
Last Week: 30
Iron man Matt Breida played through a sprained ankle in Week 6, much to the dismay of Alfred Morris owners like Matthew Berry. Morris barely saw the field on Monday night, playing just one snap while ceding 12 carries to special teams ace Raheem Mostert. Marquise Goodwin looked as healthy as he has all year in the loss to Green Bay, exploding for 126 yards while recording his first career multi-touchdown game. C.J. Beathard has quietly entered the streaming conversation, totaling 892 yards with seven touchdowns over his last three games.
28. Buffalo Bills
Last Week: 29
And you thought Jay Cutler was apathetic. Kelvin Benjamin is so checked out, he won’t even play catch with Josh Allen. Speaking of Allen, the rookie is going to be out a while after injuring his UCL in Week 6. That means we’ll see Derek Anderson (gulp) under center Sunday at Indianapolis. The running-back-needy Eagles seem to be angling for a reunion with LeSean McCoy but for now, it sounds like the aging workhorse is staying put.
29. Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 27
After seemingly rising to the top of Indy’s backfield scrap heap, Nyheim Hines’ lead status took a major hit with the return of Marlon Mack, who shimmied his way to 89 yards on 12 carries in Sunday’s loss to the Jets. Backfield confusion aside, Andrew Luck has been a beast in the fantasy realm, slinging 11 touchdowns over his last three contests while throwing to no-names like Chester Rogers and Zach Pascal. Eric Ebron gutted it out in Week 6, leading the team in receiving yards despite playing through quad, shin, knee and ankle injuries.
30. New York Giants
Last Week: 28
Saquon Barkley cemented his place among the NFL’s elite backs with a mesmerizing effort in Week 6, setting career-highs in both rushing (130) and receiving yards (99) in a loss to Philadelphia. He’s been a rare bright spot for the Giants, who have now lost three in a row and five of six under new coach Pat Shurmur. Odell Beckham’s meltdown tour continued with another one of his patented sideline explosions, drawing the ire of owner John Mara. With Eli Manning circling the drain, Giants fans are already clamoring for Oregon stud Justin Herbert, the likely first overall pick in next year’s draft.
31. Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 32
In a sad development, David Johnson has bottomed out, averaging a lethargic 3.2 yards per carry (fourth-worst among qualified rushers), while achieving touchdown-or-bust fantasy status. Luckily he’s been pretty active in that area, generating five touchdowns (four rushing, one receiving) over his last four contests. With Arizona headed for a lengthy rebuild, now might be the time to start unloading veterans including All-Pro Patrick Peterson, who would be a worthy addition for a cornerback-needy team like Kansas City.
32. Oakland Raiders
Last Week: 31
Turns out, the Raiders aren’t any better across the pond than they are on American soil. Oakland took a beating in London, falling to a deeply mediocre Seahawks team in Week 6. Marshawn Lynch was quiet against his old mates, managing a mere 45 rushing yards in the loss to Seattle. Amari Cooper (concussion) and Derek Carr (arm) left Sunday’s game with injuries, though both will have the bye week to recover. Cooper has been the subject of recent trade discussions, though he’s not going anywhere unless the Raiders lower their absurd asking price.
Biggest Jump: Cowboys7
Biggest Drop: Jaguars7