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Getting Defensive: Week 12

Matt Judon

Matt Judon

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It’s déjà vu all over again.

At the beginning of the 2021 season, the New England Patriots defense was generally viewed as a low-end weekly starter. The Pats finished the 2020 season either just inside or just outside the top-10, depending on scoring settings. That’s right about where the team was drafted in more leagues than not—a “meh” addition by teams in the last round that could be off to the waiver wire if they got off to a slow start.

Sure enough, the Patriots did wind up walking the wire in some leagues—after a big Week 2, the Pats went through a month-long string of uninspiring performances that saw them rank outside the top 20 fantasy options at the position from Week 3 to Week 6.

C’est la vie. Most fantasy managers just cut them loose and moved on.

Since we’re talking about the Patriots in the intro to this column, you can probably guess what happened next.

Starting with a two-sack, three takeaway performance against the New York Jets in Week 7, the Fighting Darth Hoodies went on a five-week rampage. In each of those contests, the Patriots piled up double-digit fantasy points. The Patriots weren’t just the No. 1 fantasy defense in the league over that span—they were the top defense by a massive margin. After four sacks, four picks and a touchdown in a Week 11 shutout of the Atlanta Falcons, the Patriots now own the title of fantasy football’s No. 1 defense for the season.

The Patriots don’t have a $20 million a season superstar edge-rusher like Myles Garrett—although Matthew Judon is trying to stake a claim as one. They don’t have a huge name in the secondary—although cornerback J.C. Jackson is certainly playing like one.

What the Patriots do have is talented players who know their roles in a scheme that is conducted by maybe the greatest defensive maestro in league history.

And if you have them rostered, you’re set on defense for the fantasy stretch run.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

New England Patriots (vs. Tennessee Titans)
The New England defense has been a big part of the team’s winning streak. After 11 weeks the Pats are third in total defense, now lead the league in scoring defense, rank seventh in sacks with 28 and sit third in the NFL with 21 takeaways. In other words, it’s no fluke that they lead all defenses in fantasy points. Now the Patriots will play host to a Tennessee Titans team that just turned the ball over five times in a sloppy loss to the Houston Texans. Since the Titans lost Derrick Henry the offense isn’t the same, and now A.J. Brown could potentially be sidelined this week as well.

Buffalo Bills (at New Orleans Saints)
Fantasy managers who have relied on the Buffalo Bills defense this season took a punch to the junk a week ago when Jonathan Taylor of the Colts gashed Buffalo for over 200 total yards and five touchdowns in a 41-15 rout. However, it’s short memory time where the Buffalo defense is concerned. The New Orleans Saints have played better than most would expect given all the injuries the team has endured, but all the losses are starting to take a toll. It’s also not especially likely that Alvin Kamara will be available on a short turnaround on Thursday night.

Carolina Panthers (at Miami Dolphins)
The Carolina defense came roaring out of the gate for fantasy managers this season, but what followed was a mishmash of big stat lines and forgettable statistical no-shows that left Carolina ninth among defenses in fantasy points after 11 weeks this season. However, there are reasons to trust the Panthers in a plus matchup with a Dolphins team allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to defenses this season. The Panthers lead the NFC in total defense, sit sixth in the league in scoring defense and rank third in the NFL with 30 sacks. Carolina is a safe bet for a top-five fantasy outing in Week 11.

Chicago Bears (at Detroit Lions)
Last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens was a microcosm for the mess that is the 2021 Chicago Bears. But lost in another loss was the fact the defense played a good game for the most part against a limited backup quarterback, holding the Ravens to under 300 yards of offense and a single touchdown while amassing six sacks and a takeaway, Meanwhile, the Detroit Lions were scoring one touchdown of their own with Tim “Really?” Boyle under center. The Lions are 30th in scoring offense and have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses. It’s time for a Thanksgiving feast.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Indianapolis Colts)
After a couple of less-than-stellar performances against New Orleans and Washington, the Buccaneers got back to business Monday night against the New York Giants, allowing just 215 total yards and notching three takeaways in a 30-10 win. The Buccaneers sit eighth in the NFL in total defense and are once again atop the league against the run, allowing just 78.4 yards per game on the ground. Jonathan Taylor will certainly test that defense, but if Tampa can keep him in check and force the Colts to the air, the Buccaneers are going to be in good shape.

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Baltimore Ravens (vs. Cleveland Browns)
The Baltimore Ravens are a first-place team with a long history of playing well defensively, but frankly that Baltimore defense has had its share of struggles this season—Baltimore sits 25th in the league in total defense, 18th in scoring defense and 26th in fantasy points among defenses. However, if ever there was a week to hearken back to the franchise’s glory days, this is it. The Cleveland Browns are terrible offensively right now—the Browns haven’t topped 17 points in a game since Week 5 and made the Lions defense fantasy-relevant in Week 11.

Philadelphia Eagles (at New York Giants)
Given that the Eagles are seventh in fantasy points among defenses for the season, it’s fair to question why the team doesn’t have “no-doubter” status ahead of a favorable matchup against a New York Giants team that sits ninth in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses this season. The reason is there have generally been two kinds of weeks for the Eagles this season. There are the good ones where the defense scores a touchdown and fantasy managers are happy. And bad weeks where the team gets lit up and fantasy managers are not. What there hasn’t been is much in-between.

Detroit Lions (vs. Chicago Bears)
That’s right—the Lions defense. The same Detroit defense that ranks 27th in total defense, 30th in scoring defense and 30th among all defenses in fantasy points. This is what the Week 12 streaming options look like for the most part—terrible defenses playing against terrible offenses. The Bears managed just 13 points in last week’s loss to Baltimore and sit dead last in the NFC in total offense and 29th in the league in scoring offense. The Bears have also allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to defenses and lead the league in sacks allowed. And they’re playing on a short week.

Miami Dolphins (vs. Carolina Panthers)
As a whole, it has been a disappointing season for the Miami Dolphins, and the defense has been no exception. But over the past few weeks, things have picked up. Since Week 9, the Dolphins sit second in total fantasy points among defenses, trailing only (wait for it) the New England Patriots. Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers got running back Christian McCaffrey back, but with Cam Newton under center, the passing game is barely passable. In 11 games so far this season, the Panthers have allowed double-digit fantasy points to a defense five times.

Houston Texans (vs. New York Jets)
What? Did you think I was kidding about the whole “terrible defenses playing possibly worse offenses” thing? Yes, the Texans are 30th in the NFL in total defense and 29th in the league in scoring defense. But after lighting up the Tennessee Titans for five takeaways in a shocking win in Nashville, the Texans have actually posted two straight big fantasy lines on defense. As a matter of fact, over the past three weeks the Patriots are the only defense averaging more fantasy points than Houston, who hosts a New York Jets team Sunday that leads the NFL in fantasy points given up to defenses.

New York Jets (at Houston Texans)
This is quite the possibly the most difficult recommendation I have ever made to imagine myself actually doing—the Jets sit dead last in fantasy points among defenses and haven’t posted double-digit points once this season. But while the Jets are at the bottom of the league in those categories, the Texans are dead last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense, and sit just outside the top-10 in fantasy points surrendered to defenses. This isn’t a play that’s going to win anyone a matchup, but if you’re desperate, there’s at least some cause for optimism here.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS!

Los Angeles Rams (at Green Bay Packers)
The Rams were one of the first fantasy defenses drafted in 2021, and for the first seven weeks of the season, the team did a decent job of living up to that price tag, checking in sixth among all defenses in fantasy points. However, since Week 7 it has been another story—the Rams are 25th in fantasy points per game among defenses over that span. The Rams will no doubt come out of the bye looking to put a halt to their two-game skid, but a matchup with a Packers team surrendering the fifth-fewest fantasy points per game to defenses is a rotten slump-buster.