The final week of the fantasy regular season has arrived and postseason berths will be locked up in a matter of days. With each fantasy victory carrying significant weight at this point of the season, it is imperative that our fantasy D/ST and kicker choices have the most advantageous matchups possible. With the most critical weeks upon us, this week’s column will begin to morph into playoff mode. As usual, kicker rankings and D/ST breakdowns can be found below, but you will also find extended fantasy playoff coverage that covers the top Week 14-16 D/ST options, as well as some creative ways to build a fantasy playoff Frankenstein by assembling multiple defenses to do your dirty work. Make sure your knuckles are cracked and coffee is brewing as we hammer through the Week 13 edition of Getting Defensive.
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Top Of The Heap
The St. Louis Rams have been a wreck on offense recently with the ineptitude of their quarterbacks dragging the entire offense down. This week, the Rams will host the (1) Arizona Cardinals (at St. Louis), with either Nick Foles or Case Keenum under center and both would provide great matchups for the Cardinals. Somehow, the Rams have managed to throw for more than 200 yards just twice in 11 games this season and with no threat of a passing game, defenses have been able to stack the box and slow St. Louis’ star running back Todd Gurley. The Cardinals will do much of the same in Week 13 in this gravy matchup.
The (2) Carolina Panthers (at New Orleans) delivered a fine Thanksgiving performance that included enough defensive firepower to wake anyone from a turkey-induced afternoon snooze. The Panthers D/ST has been on a roll in recent weeks, allowing just 13.3 points per game and racking up an impressive ten turnovers over the last three weeks. This week, Carolina travels to New Orleans to take on their division rival. The issue with this matchup is that Drew Brees and the Saints generally play better at home, where they are averaging 31.2 points per game this season. New Orleans did turn in two clunkers on the road in their last two contests, and Brees has thrown at least one interception in five straight games. The matchup isn’t great, but the Panthers D/ST is playing well enough to be trusted in a tough spot.
Turnovers have been big for the (3) Cincinnati Bengals (at Cleveland) in recent weeks, as this defense has recorded six takeaways over their last three games. The Bengals have also held four of their last five opponents to 10 points or less and stroll into a nice Week 13 matchup at Cleveland. With quarterback Josh McCown banged up again, Cincinnati will likely face Austin Davis on Sunday to go with the NFL’s last-ranked rushing offense. The Bengals D/ST is looking at a tap-in birdie putt this week.
The (4) New England Patriots (vs Philadelphia) are allowing just 82.3 rushing yards per game over their last six outings, and that includes coughing up 179 rushing yards to the Broncos last week in the snow. The Patriots will host Philadelphia in Week 13, who have scored more than 19 points in a game just once since Week 6 and have received suspect quarterback play from both Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford this season. No matter which Eagles signal caller takes the snaps this week, the Patriots are a good bet to stuff the run and force Philadelphia into leaning on their passing game that is tied for second in the NFL with 14 interceptions through 11 weeks.
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Mixed Bag, But Worth Starting
Winners of four-straight, the (5) Houston Texans (at Buffalo) have resurrected their defense and allowed an incredible 8.8 points per game over their last four contests. In fact, the Houston defense has allowed only two touchdowns in their last 18 quarters of play. Houston’s Week 13 opponent, Buffalo, doesn’t throw the ball often which will cap the potential of the Texans D/ST this week, but this group should be started right now no matter the opponent as they lead the NFL in scoring defense over the last five weeks and are second in both pass and run defense over that same period.
The (6) Tennessee Titans (vs Jacksonville) are racking up sacks at a blistering pace, recording 20 over the last five weeks. In that same span, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles has been sent to the turf a league-high 17 times, so the Titans should be able to repeat their Week 11 performance where they sacked Bortles four times. Tennessee has also allowed more than 100 rushing yards only once in their past five games, so Titans D/ST owners will be hoping for plenty of Bortles in this matchup.
Although the recent performance of the (7) Denver Broncos (at San Diego) defense has slowed, their pass defense has remained solid, and that is the primary mode of moving the football for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. The San Diego offense ranks 30th among NFL teams in rushing at 81.7 yards per game, so the Denver defense should have plenty of opportunities to stack fantasy points while Rivers leans on his signature shot put-style pass attempts.
The impressive defensive run of the (8) Kansas City Chiefs (at Oakland) was derailed in Week 12 by the Buffalo Bills, although the Chiefs did turn in a solid second-half performance, allowing just six points. Week 13 brings a trip to Oakland for Kansas City, where they will face the Raiders, who have turned the ball over multiple times in three of their last four games. The road matchup isn’t too cushy, but the Chiefs D/ST has given up just 10.7 points per game in their last three road contests.
Seattle hits the road this week to take on the (9) Minnesota Vikings (vs Seattle), who have been solid on defense outside of Week 11 against Green Bay. Seattle has attempted the fewest passes in the league this season, which may cap Minnesota’s upside this week, but the Seahawks have allowed a massive 37 sacks on the season so the Vikings D/ST will have a chance to create fantasy points in other ways.
The (10) Seattle Seahawks (at Minnesota) have had a tumultuous season on defense, but have played relatively well against teams with lower-scoring offenses while struggling against top offenses like Cincinnati, Arizona, and Pittsburgh. This week, Seattle takes on Minnesota, who checks in at 28th among NFL teams in yardage at 333.2 total yards per game. Stopping Adrian Peterson will be the key to this game, and Seattle ranks fifth in rushing defense this season, allowing just 92.9 rushing yards per game. The ceiling for Seattle is low this week, but they should stay afloat from a fantasy perspective if they keep Peterson reasonably in check.
Blaine Gabbert hasn’t quite turned into the mouthwatering streaming target the world envisioned when Colin Kaepernick was booted to the bench in Week 9, but the San Francisco offense is still worth attacking this week as they travel to Solider Field to face the (11) Chicago Bears (vs San Francisco). Gabbert has thrown three interceptions in three games since taking over as the starter and although he hasn’t crumbled like the fantasy world anticipated, the 49ers have averaged just 14.3 points per game in Gabbert’s starts while scoring only four touchdowns in those contests. The Chicago defense won’t look in the mirror and confuse themselves with the 1985 version, but this group has improved during the season and has held opponents to 15.5 points per game since Week 8. The Bears D/ST is a respectable streaming option this week.
With Tony Romo back on the shelf, Matt Cassel takes over at quarterback for Dallas once again, drawing our eyes to the (12) Washington Redskins (vs Dallas) this week. In Cassel’s four starts this season, he tossed four touchdowns and five interceptions, while the Cowboys managed just 16.3 points per game. Washington is no standout on defense, but this group did feast on Eli Manning last week and is certainly capable of doing the same to Cassel on Monday, as Washington has forced two or more turnovers in three of their last four games.
The (13) St. Louis Rams (vs Arizona) have plummeted down the ranks of fantasy defenses, as their sack totals have slowed while coughing up a beefy 387.0 total yards per game over the last three weeks. The St. Louis offense is also not doing this group any favors, keeping the defense on the field far too long while averaging just 2:15 per drive, the second-lowest mark in the NFL, per Pro Football Reference. A matchup with Arizona is not the place to get right, but the Rams have been solid at home this season outside of Week 10.
The (14) Miami Dolphins (vs Baltimore) would be higher on the Week 13 food chain if they hadn’t been getting hammered by opposing offenses over the last five weeks. This week, the Dolphins host the Baltimore Ravens, who will be led by Matt Schaub on a short week. Schaub’s turnover potential alone makes Miami worth considering this week, although this unit will likely need to make a splash in the turnover department as they have surrendered 30.0 points per game since Week 7.
A road trip to Tennessee awaits the (15) Jacksonville Jaguars (at Tennessee) this week, where they will face a Titans team that has turned the ball over two or more times in seven of 11 games this season. Tennessee has also allowed 35 sacks in 2015, good for the third-highest total among NFL teams. Jacksonville held the Titans to 13 points only two weeks ago, and should be able to rack up some fantasy-relevant defensive statistics this week in the rematch.
Proceed With Caution
(16) New York Jets (at NY Giants), (17) Buffalo Bills (vs Houston), (18) Dallas Cowboys (at Washington), (19) Baltimore Ravens (at Miami), (20) Atlanta Falcons (at Tampa Bay), (21) Pittsburgh Steelers (vs Indianapolis), (22) Green Bay Packers (at Detroit), (23) Detroit Lions (vs Green Bay), (24) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs Atlanta)
(25) New York Giants (vs NY Jets), (26) Indianapolis Colts (at Pittsburgh), (27) San Diego Chargers (vs Denver), (28) San Francisco 49ers (at Chicago), (29) Oakland Raiders (vs Kansas City), (30) Philadelphia Eagles (at New England), (31) Cleveland Browns (vs Cincinnati), (32) New Orleans Saints (vs Carolina)
The fantasy playoffs are knocking on the door, so now is the time for adjustments to make sure your lineup is packed with top-notch D/ST plays for the postseason. Below, you will find fantasy playoff (Weeks 14-16) rankings, along with some interesting pairings if your roster has space for two defenses.
1. Seattle (@BAL, CLE, STL)
2. Carolina (ATL, @NYG, @ATL)
3. Kansas City (SD, @BAL, CLE)
4. New England (@HOU, TEN, @NYJ)
5. Cincinnati (PIT, @SF, @DEN)
6. Houston (NE, @IND, @TEN)
7. Denver (OAK, @PIT, CIN)
8. St. Louis (DET, TB, @SEA)
9. Minnesota (@ARZ, CHI, NYG)
10. Arizona (MIN, @PHI, GB)
11. NY Jets (TEN, @DAL, NE)
12. Detroit (@STL, @NO, SF)
D/ST Playoff Pairings
Below is a sampling of fantasy playoff D/ST pairings of lesser-owned options that combine to make three-straight weeks of favorable matchups for your pursuit of a fantasy title.
Cincinnati and Detroit: (14) DET at STL, (15) CIN at SF, (16) DET vs SF
Houston and NY Jets: (14) NYJ vs TEN, (15) HOU at IND, (16) HOU at TEN
Minnesota and Green Bay: (14) GB vs DAL, (15) MIN vs CHI, (16) MIN vs NYG
Pittsburgh and St. Louis: (14) STL vs DET, (15) STL vs TB, (16) PIT at BAL
Kickers Are People Too
1. Graham Gano (at NO)
2. Stephen Gostkowski (vs PHI)
3. Cairo Santos (at OAK)
4. Robbie Gould (vs SF)
5. Steven Hauschka (at MIN)
6. Mike Nugent (at CLE)
7. Chandler Catanzaro (at STL)
8. Brandon McManus (at SD)
9. Adam Vinatieri (at PIT)
10. Josh Brown (vs NYJ)
11. Jason Myers (at TEN)
12. Dan Bailey (at WAS)
13. Connor Barth (vs ATL)
15. Mason Crosby (at DET)