Heading into Week 13, the Cleveland Browns were not exactly a fantasy-relevant defense. In fact, after 12 games Myles Garrett and Co. were dead last among defenses in both fantasy points and fantasy points per game. However, with the Browns travelling face the Houston Texans and their languishing offense, the Browns made an appearance in this very column last week as a streaming option.
Fantasy managers who rolled the dice with the Browns were rewarded—and then some. The proverbial jackpot was hit. The Browns did something last week against the Texans that the team has never done before—score three non-offensive touchdowns. First, Donovan Peoples-Jones scored Cleveland’s first punt return touchdown since 2015. Then cornerback Denzel Ward scooped up a fumble and returned that for a touchdown. And finally young linebacker Tony Fields reeled in a batted pass and returned that for a touchdown.
Add the points from four Cleveland takeaways, and you have the biggest single-game defensive output of the season in many fantasy scoring systems. The Browns outscored every running back in the NFL in many PPR formats. It was the kind of gonzo number that wins weeks. And this time of the year, it may have propelled some fantasy managers right into the playoffs.
Still, as great as that one week was, chasing it’s a bad idea. This week the Browns are on the road against a Cincinnati team that has allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points per game to defenses in 2022. Odds are good the Browns will fade back into fantasy obscurity in Week 14.
But they can’t take that one beautiful week away from us.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Houston Texans)
The Browns weren’t the only fantasy defense that blew up in Week 13—the Cowboys logged three sacks, five takeaways and scored a touchdown in a blowout win over the Indianapolis Colts. The difference is that Dallas has been doing this all season long—the Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks, are tied for second in the league with 21 takeaways and lead all NFC defenses in fantasy points. Now the Cowboys face the same abysmal Houston offense that just made the Browns look like the ’85 Bears. The Texans have allowed more fantasy points per game to defenses than any other team playing in Week 14.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
The San Francisco 49ers are reeling after losing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo for the season, but last week the team was still able to handle its business against a good Dolphins team—because the 49ers defense stepped up once again. After 13 weeks, the Niners lead the league in total defense, run defense and scoring defense. San Francisco ranks eighth in the league in both sacks and takeaways, and only the Patriots and Cowboys have amassed more fantasy points. The Buccaneers haven’t exactly been an offensive juggernaut, either—Tampa is 27th in the league in scoring this season.
New England Patriots (at Arizona Cardinals)
As a team the Patriots are struggling a bit of late, but the defense (as it usually does) continues to play well. The Patriots are seventh in the NFL in total defense, ninth against the pass, seventh in scoring defense, seventh in takeaways and lead all AFC teams with 39 sacks. Most importantly, the Patriots are also the highest-scoring defense in fantasy football this year. The Cardinals aren’t a great fantasy matchup for defenses, but they aren’t terrible either—13th in points allowed. The Pats also have extra time to prepare for Arizona after playing on Thursday the past two weeks.
Baltimore Ravens (at Pittsburgh Steelers)
Like the 49ers, the Ravens endured an injury at quarterback last week. And like the 49ers, the Ravens were able to log a win largely because the defense came up big. That Ravens defense isn’t as stout as San Francisco’s, but the Ravens are quietly ninth in the league in scoring defense, sixth in the NFL in takeaways and a respectable sixth among defenses in fantasy points. The Pittsburgh Steelers have shown flashes of offensive improvement, but it’s still a team that ranks 26th in total offense, 28th in scoring and eighth in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (at New York Giants)
The likes of Jalen Hurts and A.J. Brown have rightly received plenty of credit for Philadelphia’s 11-1 start. But the defense has been nothing to sneeze at—the Eagles are second in total defense, first in pass defense, eighth in scoring defense, second in sacks with 42, first in takeaways with 23 and fourth at the position in fantasy points. The Giants ae one of this season’s surprise success stories, but an offensive juggernaut they aren’t. They also haven’t been a bad fantasy matchup for defenses—Big Blue is 11th in fantasy points per game given up to the position.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at San Francisco 49ers)
The Buccaneers are a first-place team. But they are a 6-6 first place team that has struggled moving the ball. The defense hasn’t been quite as good as in years past, but it’s still solid—eighth in yards allowed, fifth in points allowed and ninth in fantasy points among defenses. The 49ers played well with rookie Brock Purdy under center last week, but that doesn’t change the fact that Purdy was best-known for being last year’s “Mr. Irrelevant” at this time a week ago. The odds that Purdy is the next Tom Brady are exponentially more remote than the chance that he, um, is not.
Buffalo Bills (vs. New York Jets)
To be fair, the Bills have slipped a little defensively over the past few weeks. Over the first seven weeks of the 2022 campaign, the Bills had more fantasy points per game than any defense in the league. Since Week 8, however, as injuries have piled the Bills rank outside the top-12 in fantasy points. The Jets have also gotten a jolt offensively from the insertion of Mike White at quarterback. But this game is in Buffalo, In December. Against a Bills team no doubt looking for payback for that loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium a few weeks back. Here comes a Buffalo bounceback.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Kansas City Chiefs (at Denver Broncos)
It is legitimately mind-boggling how awful the Denver Broncos are offensively in 2022. The Russell Wilson trade has the makings of a boondoggle of such epic proportions that it makes the Herschel Walker trade look like an OK deal. The Broncos have surpassed 20 points twice. They have failed to score 14 points six times, including last week. Denver ranks 27th in total offense, dead last in scoring and have allowed the sixth-most fantasy points to defenses. The Broncos have become a matchup to target every week—regardless of who the opponent is.
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Right now, fantasy managers who picked up the Seahawks ahead of last week’s meeting with the Los Angeles Rams are likely grumbling a little under their breath—Seattle logged four sacks and two interceptions last week, but the rams surprisingly scored 23 points. However, on paper the Seahawks draw another favorable play in Week 14—the Panthers rank 30th in total offense, 25th in scoring and 10th in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses. Sam Darnold may be a better option for the Panthers at quarterback than Baker Mayfield, but that’s not saying a whole lot.
Las Vegas Raiders (at Los Angeles Rams)
Over the first nine games of the 2022 season, the Raiders were a two-win mess of a football team. But over the last three weeks, the Raiders have come alive—and that includes the defense. Maxx Crosby is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but last week fellow edge-rusher Chandler Jones came up big as well, logging three sacks against the Chargers. The Raiders have been a top-12 fantasy defense over that three-week swing, but the story here is more who they are playing—the Rams are last in the NFC in total offense, lead the NFC in sacks allowed with 42 and have given up the most fantasy points in the NFC to opposing defenses.
Arizona Cardinals (vs. New England Patriots)
The Cardinals have been neither excellent nor awful defensively this season—the team ranks at or near the middle of the league in several statistical categories, including fantasy points. However, there is one category where the Cardinals have excelled this season—the Redbirds lead the NFL with five defensive touchdowns. That isn’t a category that it’s wise for fantasy managers to hang their hats on, but the Patriots have actually been a surprisingly favorable fantasy matchup for defense, surrendering the ninth-most fantasy points per game to the position.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Denver Broncos (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
While the Broncos offense has been embarrassing itself this season, the defense has been trying its level best to keep Denver in games. The Broncos are third in the league in total defense, third against the pass, second in points per game allowed and 11th in fantasy points per game. But this week is just a bridge too far. An expectation too great. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs lead the NFL in both yards per game and points per game, and no team in the AFC has surrendered fewer fantasy points per game to defenses this season.
New York Jets (at Buffalo Bills)
Just like their MetLife Stadium roommates, the Jets have been a pleasant surprise this year, and for much of the season the defense carried the team. New York is fourth in total defense, sixth in scoring defense, sixth in sacks and seventh in fantasy points. The Jets also played the Bills as well defensively as any team this season has, holding the Bills to just 17 points in a three-point Jets win back in Week 9. But shutting the Bills down twice is that much harder than doing it once, and the Bills are 29th in the league this season in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses.