Last season, the Dallas Cowboys were the No. 1 defense in fantasy football. Led by a pair of rookies in edge-rusher Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs, the Cowboys were just a middle-of-the-pack team in terms of sacks (41—13th most in the league), but Dallas paced the NFL in takeaways with 33 and defensive touchdowns with six. Those latter two stats can be very high-variance from season to season, however, so the Cowboys were greeted with a measure of skepticism when draft season rolled around. Their average draft position at Fantasy Pros this year was D/ST8.
At the halfway point of the 2022 season, that appears to have been about seven spots too low.
It hasn’t been a runaway or anything, but after a Week 7 effort against the Detroit Lions that included five sacks, five takeaways and just six points allowed, the Cowboys are back on top of the team defense rankings—at least in terms of total points. Dallas hasn’t gotten the defensive scores this year, logging just one in seven games. But no team in the league has more sacks than the 29 the Cowboys have tallied, and only three teams have amassed more takeaways.
There have been defenses drafted ahead of the Cowboys who have also played well—the Buffalo Bills lead the league in fantasy points per game, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have spent a big part of the season’s first half in the top five. But teams like Dallas and the New England Patriots (fourth in fantasy points per game, 12th in ADP) are just the latest examples of a lesson savvy fantasy managers learned long ago.
For the most part, patience is a virtue when it comes to drafting defense in fantasy leagues.
Dallas Cowboys (at Chicago Bears)
What? You figured I was gonna spend an entire intro talking up Parsons and the Cowboys and not lead things off with them? The Cowboys aren’t just a great play because of what they’ve done. It’s also a matter of who they are playing. Yes, the Bears just dropped 33 points on the New England Patriots. But even after that effort, the Bears are still 30th in total offense and scoring offense. Only three NFL teams have surrendered more sacks than the 23 that the Bears have allowed. And the Bears are 11th in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Cowboys may have gotten the lede this week, but there isn’t a better fantasy play in Week 8 than the Philadelphia Eagles, The Eagles are fourth in total defense, fifth against the run, fourth in scoring defense and fifth at the position in fantasy points per game. On the other hand, the Steelers are a hot mess on offense. Pittsburgh is 29th in yards per game, 31st in points per game, third in giveaways with 12 and third in fantasy points per game surrendered to defenses. The Eagles are going to get up big, pin their ears back and let Kenny Pickett have it—with both barrels.
San Francisco 49ers (at Los Angeles Rams)
The San Francisco defense would just as soon forget that Week 7 ever happened. After spending most of the season at or near the top of the league in any number of statistical categories, the Niners gave up over 500 yards and 44 points to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. However, this week the Niners do not play the Chiefs. They play a Rams team that ranks at or near the top of the league in sacks allowed, giveaways and fantasy points per game given up to defenses. When these teams met in Week 4, the Niners sacked Matthew Stafford seven times and forced two turnovers—one of which was returned for a touchdown.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Green Bay Packers)
Remember when the Green Bay offense was the sort of unit that would make fantasy managers think twice about starting a defense against them? Those were good times. They also feel like ancient history—the Packers are 20th in total offense and 23rd in scoring offense, and Green Bay has allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to opposing defenses this season. The Bills lead the league in total defense. And run defense. And scoring defense. If the Bills can hold the Chiefs to 24 points on the road, how many points is Green Bay’s bumbling offense going to score in Buffalo in prime time? It’s a rhetorical question—the answer is not many.
New England Patriots (at New York Jets)
Monday’s clunker against the Bears knocked some of the shine off this play, but much like the Patriots themselves fantasy managers need to have a short memory here. Even after Monday’s meltdown, the Pats are still only allowing about 21 points per game, and New England remains tied for second in the NFL in takeaways and fourth among all team defenses in fantasy points. The 5-2 Jets are one of the NFL’s biggest surprises, but New York is still a bottom-10 passing attack and a team that just lost its best offensive weapon (running back Breece Hall) to a season-ending injury.
Denver Broncos (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
The season is rapidly circling the drain in the Mile High City, and it’s a danged shame—because the Broncos miserable offense is spoiling a great performance by the Denver defense. Despite injuries at all three levels, the Broncos are second in the NFL in total defense, lead the AFC in pass defense and are third in the NFL in points allowed. For a team it appeared that the Jaguars were turning a corner this season, but in recent weeks the team has reverted to its losing ways—over the past month, the Jaguars have surrendered the sixth-most fantasy points per game to defenses.
Baltimore Ravens (at Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
That both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are featured as matchups to potentially target for opposing defenses in this piece tells you all you need to know about how upside-down the 2022 season has been. The cold, hard truth is that the Buccaneers are just not a good offensive team right now—Tampa has dropped four of five, the team hasn’t topped 21 points in a game this season and the Buccaneers are a jaw-dropping 26th in the league in scoring. Tampa hasn’t given up a ton of fantasy points to defenses this season, but even that dam started to give way last week against Carolina. If you have been starting Baltimore, there’s no real reason not to in Week 8.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Jacksonville Jaguars (at Denver Broncos)
This is the third straight week that the Jaguars have made an appearance in this column—and given how well, the first two calls didn’t go a third go-round either makes me stubborn or stupid. For the record, I can be both. In any event, this has less to do with the Jaguars than the Floundering Denver offense they will be facing Sunday in London. The Broncos have the dubious honor of being the lowest-scoring team in the entire NFL, and Denver has given up the eighth-most fantasy points per game to defenses this season. Add in the possibility of another Brett Rypien start, and the third time’s the charm with the Jags.
Washington Commanders (at Indianapolis Colts)
The Commanders aren’t an especially good defensive football team—the team ranks just inside the top 15 in yards allowed and just inside the top 20 in points allowed. They also rank smack in the middle of the league in terms of fantasy points. But Sunday the Commanders travel to face a Colts offense that has barely been able to score 16 points per game, has given up the second-most sacks in the league, sits third in the NFL in giveaways with 14 and who will be starting a quarterback in Sam Ehlinger whose next regular-season pass will be his first. What could go wrong?
New York Jets (vs. New England Patriots)
In what may be a sign of the impending Apocalypse, the New York Jets have won four games in a row, and a huge part of the credit for that success belongs to Quinnen Williams and the Jets defense. For the season, the Jets rank just outside the top 10 at the position. But over that four-game winning streak, the Jets have posted top-five fantasy numbers. The Patriots were a mess offensively against the Bears Monday night, turning it over three times. On top of that shoddy effort, the Pats also appear to have a full-bowl quarterback controversy on their hands.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Washington Commanders)
The Colts are another team whose quality play on defense has rather been wasted thanks to the team’s offensive futility. The Colts are quietly ninth in the league in total defense, allowing under 315 yards per game. The Colts are seventh against the pass, 13th in points allowed and 10th in the league with 17 sacks. The Colts are also 10th in the league among defenses in fantasy points, and while the Commanders showed some signs of life offensively last week under Taylor Heinicke the team still checks in inside the top five in fantasy points allowed to defenses this season.
Tennessee Titans (at Houston Texans)
The Tennessee Titans aren’t an easy defense to get excited about. After seven weeks, the Titans are 26th in the NFL in total defense. However, while the Titans give up yardage, they have been more difficult to score on—Tennessee is averaging a respectable 21.3 points allowed per game, and a big chunk of those came in a Week 2 beatdown in Buffalo. The Houston Texans are many things—but an offensive powerhouse like Buffalo ain’t one of them. The Texans are 25th in the league in total offense, and 28th in scoring defense so far this season. If you need a deeper-league dart throw, the Titans fit the bill.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Baltimore Ravens)
Over the first month or so of the season, the Buccaneers defense was rolling—or at least it was still producing for fantasy managers despite Tampa’s offensive woes. But the latter is catching up to the former—over the past two games, the Buccaneers are a dismal 26th in the league among team defenses in fantasy points. Now Tampa has to try to stop their skid against one of the more difficult teams in the league to defend. For the season, the Baltimore Ravens are allowing the seventh-fewest fantasy points per game to the position.