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Getting Defensive: Week 2

Cameron Heyward

Cameron Heyward

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

It’s an annual rite of passage in fantasy football leagues. Every single year, after the first week of the season, we realize that the gap between what we thought we knew and what we actually know is a lot wider than we had anticipated.

It’s no different with team defenses.

Now, not everything is a surprise. We thought that the Buffalo Bills and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would field two of the best defenses in the NFL. Sure enough, both defenses shined in Week 1 despite less than ideal matchups, with the Buccaneers allowing just 244 yards of total offense and three points in Dallas while the Bills picked off Matthew Stafford three times in a blowout win over the Rams in Los Angeles.

However, there were some happenings that were most assuredly not expected—like Joe Burrow‘s five turnovers (including a pick-six) and seven sacks allowed in Cincinnati. Or the Minnesota Vikings holding Aaron Rodgers without a touchdown pass and finishing sixth in fantasy points for the week.

It’s a balancing act. There are takeaways from Week 1 that need to be considered, whether it’s Cincinnati’s (still) woeful offensive line, Dak Prescott‘s injury in Dallas, or the general offensive ineptitude in Pittsburgh in San Francisco.

All those impact matchups. And in many respects, team defense calls are as much about matchups as the defenses themselves.

But it’s also important not to overreact too much to one week of games. Given how little starters play in the preseason nowadays, some rust in the early going is to be expected. Some of what we saw may be more fluke than trend.

However, as we kick off the Week 2 edition of Getting Defensive, the first unit up isn’t fluky even a little bit.

They are just terrifying.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Buffalo Bills (vs. Tennessee Titans)

There was undoubtedly no rust on the defensive side of the ball for the Buffalo Bills in the Thursday night opener. Buffalo was dominant defensively against the defending Super Bowl champions, shutting the Rams out in the second half, holding the Rams under 250 yards of offense, forcing three turnovers, and sacking Matthew Stafford seven times. Meanwhile, in Week 1, the Titans looked choppy and listless in a home loss to the New York Giants, converting just 3-of-11 third downs and averaging 3.6 yards per carry. In Buffalo in primetime on Monday night, this has the makings of a game where the Bills will again be playing from ahead and pinning their eras back.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Seattle Seahawks)

Not many folks expected the 49ers to lose in Chicago in Week 1. Or for the 49ers to give up 19 second-half points to Chicago. Even fewer people expected Geno Smith to play like he did against Denver or for the Seahawks to give the Broncos all they could handle. But this is one of those instances where you have to shake off some of the aberrant happenings of Week 1. The 49ers remain a good defensive football team that allowed just 204 yards of offense against the Bears. The Seahawks are not a good team. And weirdness or no, this remains an easy “yes” matchup.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at New Orleans Saints)

The Buccaneers offense may have struggled a bit last week in Dallas, but the Tampa defense was in mid-season form against the Cowboys—the Buccaneers didn’t allow a point after Dallas’ first drive of the game, and Tampa surrendered just 244 yards of offense, the Bucs sacked Dak Prescott four times and notched a takeaway on the way to a fifth-place finish in fantasy points among defenses. This isn’t a risk-free call (the last time these teams met in New Orleans, the Saints won a 36-29 shootout), but after losing all four regular-season games to the Saints since Tom Brady arrived, the Buccaneers should be up for this one. You drafted Tampa as an every-week starter. Week 2 is too early to be getting gun-shy.

Denver Broncos (vs. Houston Texans)

The Broncos are among a number of team defenses that drew multiple favorable matchups to open the 2022 season. Their stat line in Week 1 against Seattle was OK but not much more than that—17 points allowed, 253 yards allowed, two sacks, and one takeaway. However, not only do the Broncos return to the friendly confines of Mile High this week, but they do so in another solid matchup (on paper at least) with the Texans. Denver has to be seething after being upset by a Seahawks team that just isn’t very good. Look for them to take those frustrations out on Houston in Week 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. New England Patriots)

The Steelers were the highest-scoring fantasy defense of Week 1, but that win came at a cost—reigning Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt suffered a pectoral muscle injury late in the overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Watt won’t be on the field Sunday against the Patriots, but he may not need to be. The Patriots have been miserable offensively without Josh McDaniels, tallying just seven points and 271 yards of offense against the Dolphins with three turnovers. This has the makings of a low-scoring affair, and even without Watt, the Steelers should be good for three or four sacks. They just about always are.

Los Angeles Rams (vs. Atlanta Falcons)

Fantasy managers who drafted the Rams had to know that Week 1 would be an uphill climb, and even though the Rams got blown out, the team still managed four takeaways and a couple of sacks to salvage at least a mediocre fantasy showing. The Atlanta Falcons performed better than most expected against the Saints in Week 1 before falling on a last-second field goal, but the Falcons gave up four sacks in the game and the Rams will have the benefit of at least one week’s tape of Marcus Mariota running the offense. An angry Rams team should get back on track here, and the Falcons don’t have the passing-game weapons to hurt them over the top the way Josh Allen and the Bills did.

New England Patriots (at Pittsburgh Steelers)

Week 1 didn’t go at all according to plan for the New England Patriots. But their lopsided loss to the Miami Dolphins can’t be blamed on the defense—New England allowed just a single offensive touchdown, sacked Tua Tagovailoa three times, and allowed a respectable 307 yards of offense. Things should go better in Week 2—the Steelers managed just 267 yards of offense against the Bengals in Week 1, and that was with Najee Harris on the field. With Harris likely to miss this game with a foot injury, the Steelers can bracket Diontae Johnson, load the box and attack Pittsburgh’s suspect offensive line. It’s a good “get-right” spot.

Indianapolis Colts (at Jacksonville Jaguars)

At some point, someone should really tell the Colts that Week 1 means the regular season has started. For what feels like the 13th season in a row, the Colts were all kinds of flat in Week 1 against the Texans, needing a late scramble to notch a tie in Houston. Now the Colts travel to Jacksonville for a rematch of their disastrous Week 18 loss to the Jaguars in 2021—a loss that knocked the team out of the postseason. No team in the league surrendered more fantasy points to defenses last year than the Jaguars, so if Indy can’t capitalize on this excellent matchup in a revenge game, fantasy managers will have to ask why the Colts are even on their roster.

STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Cleveland Browns (vs. New York Jets)

The Browns were in this same space a week ago, and the results were—average. Cleveland sacked Baker Mayfield four times in a two-point win, but Cleveland had just one takeaway and finished the week outside the top-12 in fantasy points. Still, if you were willing to start the Browns against the Panthers you have to be willing to do so against the Jets. Last week against the Ravens, the Jets scored just nine points, turned it over twice, and gave up three sacks. In 2021, Gang Green surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing defenses. Keep riding the hot matchup streak.

Cincinnati Bengals (at Dallas Cowboys)

Cincinnati’s Week 1 defensive effort was mostly forgettable—the Bengals didn’t allow 270 yards of total offense, but they also didn’t record a takeaway and logged just a single sack in an overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Now the Bengals will travel to Dallas to face a Cowboys team reeling after Dak Prescott suffered a hand injury that will sideline him for 6-8 weeks. That leaves Cooper Rush to lead an offense that had all kinds of trouble moving the ball last week against Tampa—largely because of an offensive line that was getting pushed around at the point of attack. Dallas will be a matchup to target as long as Prescott is on the shelf.

Green Bay Packers (vs. Chicago Bears)

Week 1 was about 13 kinds of ugly for Green Bay—the Packers gave up almost 400 yards of offense and 23 points, didn’t notch a takeaway and managed just a single sack in a lopsided loss to the rival Vikings. Green Bay should be able to rebound defensively Sunday at Lambeau. The Bears beat the 49ers in a downpour last week, but they did so with just 204 yards of total offense. Last year the Bears were a top-five fantasy matchup for opposing defenses, and with the Packers seething and playing at home against Justin Fields and a Bears offense that is still anemic are going to be exposed.

New York Giants (vs. Carolina Panthers)

Frankly, just about everything that’s about to be said about the Giants also goes for the team they are playing at Met Life Stadium Sunday—New York gets top billing by virtue of scoring more fantasy points in Week 1 and playing at home. Both the Panthers and the Giants were great matchups for opposing fantasy defenses last year—second and third in fantasy points given up to the position respectively. Both teams face quarterbacks who have been known to make mistakes with the football. And both teams are at least serviceable matchup plays for fantasy managers in deeper leagues.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

The good news for the Eagles defense was supposed to be three quality fantasy matchups over the first four weeks of the season, beginning with last week’s trip to Detroit. But the Lions nearly spoiled the fun—it took a James Bradberry pick-six to bail the team out in a game where they logged just a single sack and gave up 35 points. Now the Eagles play host to a Minnesota Vikings team that was an offensive buzzsaw most of last week’s win over the Packers. The Eagles get the Commanders and Jaguars in Weeks 3 and 4, but if you hold and wait for those favorable matchups, you’re probably going to have to eat a down week in the interim.