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Getting Defensive: Week 4

Nick Bosa

Nick Bosa

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’re three weeks into the 2022 season, it’s time to take some stock of where things stand. See how the leaderboard looks. Who we expected to do well. Who we did not. Which defenses have met expectations? Who has exceeded them? And who has fallen flat? Get a feel for how much difference there is between what we thought we knew and what we now know.

With team defenses, the gap is usually rather robust.

The top-scoring fantasy defenses feature some of the usual suspects. The top three defenses in terms of average draft position this summer were the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. It’s still early, so there are no disappointments there. Tampa is the high-scorer three weeks in, with Buffalo not far behind. The 49ers are a respectable sixth in fantasy points.

However, there have also been some big-time surprises. Buoyed in part by some favorable early-season matchups, the Philadelphia Eagles are fourth in fantasy points. The Jacksonville Jaguars, who may be the most surprising team in all of the NFL, have ridden two blowout wins to third-place among fantasy defenses. And the 0-2-1 Houston Texans have made enough big plays to crack the top-10.

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It hasn’t all been sunshine and puppies though. The Los Angeles Rams, who were fifth in ADP, barely rank inside the top 15 in fantasy points. The New Orleans Saints, who were sixth, barely rank inside the top 25.

It’s still early, and a lot can change, but all this shakeup goes to show just how unpredictable team defenses can be early in the season.

Not that it stops me from trying.

Although the Texans and Jaguars having more fantasy points than the Rams might be a portent of the Apocalypse. Just saying.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Dallas Cowboys (vs. Washington Commanders)

The Cowboys haven’t quite been able to duplicate last year’s gonzo fantasy numbers, although that’s not all that surprising after the team led the NFL in takeaways in 2021. However, after getting to Daniel Jones five times in Week 3, Dallas leads the league with 13 sacks and ranks inside the top-10 defenses in fantasy points. Now, Dallas gets to take on a reeling Washington Commanders team that just surrendered nine sacks and turned the ball over once while allowing just 240 yards of offense in a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

The Philadelphia Eagles are playing as well as any team in the NFL right now, and while Jalen Hurts and the offense tend to hog the headlines the team’s defense has done its part as well. Through three games, the Eagles rank fifth in total defense, seventh in scoring defense, second in the league with 12 sacks and tied for fourth in the league in takeaways. The Jaguars offense has been rolling the past two weeks, but we’re still talking about a young team that allowed the most fantasy points to defenses last year traveling to a hostile environment in Week 4. The Eagles have earned every-week start status.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Los Angeles Rams)

The 49ers playing well defensively isn’t exactly news, and the team is once again executing at a high level on that side of the ball—the Niners lead the NFC in total defense. And run defense. And pass defense. Only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have allowed fewer points per game than Nick Bosa and the 49ers. The Niners have a relatively modest eight sacks in four takeaways, but what appears at first glance to be a sketchy matchup with the Rams really isn’t—the Los Angeles offense has struggled and is surrendering the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses three weeks into the season.

Green Bay Packers (vs. New England Patriots)

After getting drilled by the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1, the Packers have rebounded with back-to-back wins, including a big one this past week in Tampa over the Buccaneers. Green Bay’s defense quietly ranks sixth in the league in yards allowed per game, but a relative dearth of big plays has led to mediocre fantasy production. However, a spike week should be in the offing this week against the Patriots. The New England offense wasn’t exactly rolling with Mac Jones under center, and now he’s out with a high ankle sprain and Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback.

Denver Broncos (at Las Vegas Raiders)

The Broncos may be a hot mess offensively, but the team has been playing excellent defense. Three games in, the Broncos are third in total defense and pass defense, sixth against the run and lead the AFC in scoring defense, allowing just 12.3 points per game. They have also been fantasy relevant, sitting seventh in points at this early juncture of the season. This week the Broncos travel to face the NFL’s lone remaining winless team in the rival Raiders, and while the Vegas offense hasn’t been bad it has been relatively kind to opposing defenses—10th in fantasy points allowed.

Miami Dolphins (at Cincinnati Bengals)

Raise your hand if you had Miami picked as the last unbeaten team in the AFC. Now put your hand down—no one likes a liar. Tua Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill may get most of the credit for Miami’s start, but the team’s defense deserves some credit as well. Miami has given up yardage—the second-most in the league. But taking on arguably the best offense in the NFL last week, the Dolphins logged four sacks and a takeaway while holding the Bills under 20 points. The Bengals have plenty of offensive talent, but they also have a line that has given up a league-high 15 sacks, leading to the Bengals allowing the third-most fantasy points in the league to defenses.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. New York Jets)

To be clear, the Steelers are not the defensive football team they once were—the pass-rush has largely dried up since T.J. Watt got hurt, the secondary is average on a good day and Pittsburgh once again can’t stop the run. Pittsburgh’s fifth-place ranking among fantasy defenses is inflated by a massive stat line in Week 1 that included seven sacks, five takeaways and a defensive touchdown. But none of that really matters in Week 4 what does matter is that the Steelers are playing a woeful New York Jets team that has been held out of the end zone twice in three games. If Zach Wilson is back under center for New York this week, that might actually be even better.

STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Minnesota Vikings (at New Orleans Saints)

To be clear, the Minnesota Vikings are not a great defensive football team. No team in the NFC has allowed more yards per game this year, but for all those yards allowed the Vikings are actually a top-10 scoring defense. However, this call isn’t about what the Vikings can do necessarily. It’s about what the New Orleans Saints can do for them. Three games into the 2022 season, only two teams in the NFC have allowed more sacks than the Saints. No team in the entire NFL has turned the ball over more. And only one team has allowed more fantasy points to defenses.

Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Houston Texans)

After Week 3’s debacle against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chargers rank 25th in fantasy points among defenses. The team will also be without the services of star edge-rusher Joey Bosa, who suffered a groin injury in the blowout loss. The Bolts also lost to the Texans in relatively lopsided fashion last year, and Houston hasn’t been an especially good fantasy matchup for defenses in 2022. But the Texans are 29th in the league in total offense and 26th in scoring offense after losing to the Chicago Bears last week. If the Chargers can’t get it done here even without Bosa, they are never going to.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Tennessee Titans)

The Indianapolis Colts aren’t an easy team to get a bead on defensively. Two weeks ago, they looked absolutely atrocious in a shutout loss to the Jaguars. But then the Colts rebounded with a solid performance against the Kansas City Chiefs that included a pair of takeaways and a sack of Patrick Mahomes. The Titans finally showed some signs of life offensively last week against the Raiders, but Tennessee still ranks 26th in the league in total offense and 22nd in scoring offense while giving up the eighth-most fantasy points to defenses.

Chicago Bears (at New York Giants)

That Sunday’s meeting between the Bears and Giants features a pair of 2-1 teams speaks to just how weird the first few weeks of the 2022 season have been in many respects. But after watching Daniel Jones run for his life for most of Monday night’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys, it’s clear that both of these teams are also prime targets for fantasy managers who stream defenses. The Giants have now allowed 13 sacks in three games and rank in the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to defenses in spite of facing just one team (Dallas) that ranks inside the top 15 defensively. This is going to be an ugly game—that’s pretty for both defenses.

New York Giants (vs. Chicago Bears)

If you have watched much of the Chicago Bears this season, then you know that Chicago is doing everything in their power to set offensive football back 75 years. The Bears are dead last in the NFL in total offense, averaging just 265 yards per game. Chicago is averaging (and this stat is not made up) 78.3 passing yards per game. The Bears just cannot move the football with any kind of consistency against even a passable NFL defense, and after leading the league in sacks allowed in 2021 the Bears are back up to giving up the sixth-most sacks in the league this season.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Buffalo Bills (vs. Baltimore Ravens)

That the Bills are an excellent NFL defense is undeniable—the Bills are first in the NFL in total defense, first in the AFC against the pass, second against the run and fourth in scoring defenses. But Buffalo is also all kinds of banged up in the secondary, the big plays dried up last week against the Dolphins and this week the Bills face the unenviable task of trying to stop Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. Both the Bills and the Ravens have been top-10 fantasy options this season, but starting either in this shootout waiting to happen is a risky bet.