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Getting Defensive: Week 2

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants

Sep 10, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) is sacked by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons (11) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

It was hardly a state secret entering the 2023 season that the Dallas Cowboys possessed one of the better defenses in the NFL. But just in case anyone didn’t know that, Micah Parsons and Co. hammered the message home last Sunday night.

And I do mean hammered.

The Cowboys absolutely destroyed the Giants in Week 1 - a 40-0 shellacking in which the Cowboys defense dominated New York from start to finish. Dallas tallied seven sacks, forced three turnovers, returned an interception for a score and brought an interception back for another touchdown. Star edge-rusher Micah Parsons told reporters that he and his teammates were sending a message to the rest of the NFL.

“I saw this before anybody,” Parsons said. “I said I can’t wait to get to New York. I knew it was coming. With ‘execution meets preparation,’ there is no one that can beat it. We’ve already felt this. We’ve been to war before. We knew the standard. I think we’re making a statement which I’ve been trying to make: We’re the best defense in the National Football League.”

Not only were the Cowboys the highest-scoring team defense of Week 1, but they were also a top-five scoring player overall. With Dallas set to play host to a Jets team that will be led by Zach Wilson and not Aaron Rodgers, a second straight huge week is a distinct possibility.

Last year, the Jets allowed the eighth-most fantasy points per game to defenses.

THE NO-BRAINERS

San Francisco 49ers (at Los Angeles Rams)

The Cowboys weren’t the only NFC team that dropped a piano on its opponent last week - the 49ers blasted the Steelers 30-7 in Pittsburgh in a game where San Francisco allowed just 239 total yards of offense, sacked Kenny Pickett five times and forced a pair of turnovers. To their credit, the Rams looked much better last week than the unit that allowed the most sacks in the NFC and the fourth-most fantasy points to team defenses in 2022. But the 49ers are a stacked defense from front to back, and with a game under his belt edge-rusher Nick Bosa should be close to 100 percent.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

The Eagles actually didn’t look like their usually impressive selves defensively for much of last week’s win over the Patriots, although a Darius Slay pick-six and a few sacks still locked Philly in as a top-five fantasy defense for the week. The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of offensive firepower, but they scored just 17 points in last week’s loss to Tampa and they were pasted by the Eagles when these teams met last year. In that game, the Eagles allowed just seven points, sacked Kirk Cousins twice and picked him off three times.

New York Jets (at Dallas Cowboys)

Rookie punt returner Xavier Gipson may have been the hero of Monday’s upset of the Buffalo Bills , but it was the Jets defense that kept New York in that game once Aaron Rodgers went down. In addition to that special teams score, the Jets forced four Josh Allen turnovers and sacked Allen a whopping five times. The Dallas offense didn’t have to do much last week against the Giants and the weather played a factor, but the Cowboys posted less than 300 yards of offense in that game, and it’s worth bearing in mind that Dak Prescott threw 15 interceptions in just 12 games last season.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Las Vegas Raiders)

It may take the Bills a day or two to shake off Monday’s stunning overtime loss to the rival Jets, but the Bills should be equal parts ready and angry for Sunday’s home opener against the Raiders. The Raiders were able to eke out a win last week in Denver, but Vegas is hardly an offensive juggernaut - 261 total yards and 17 points. Now they are traveling east to play in a 1 PM game against a Bills team that was second in the NFL in both total defense and scoring defense a year ago. By the second half of this one, the Bills will be pinning their ears back and going full-bore at Jimmy Garoppolo .

Baltimore Ravens (at Cincinnati Bengals)

Most weeks, taking on the Bengals might land a defense in the “Caveat Emptor” section of Getting Defensive. But this isn’t any week. Last week’s 24-3 loss to Cleveland may have been the worst performance of Joe Burrow’s entire tenure with the Bengals - Burrow threw for just 82 yards, and the Bengals managed just six first downs the entire game. It’s admittedly unlikely that the Bengals would struggle offensively that badly two games in a row, but the Baltimore defense impressed last week against an over-matched Texans team.

New Orleans Saints (at Carolina Panthers)

Against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1, the veteran defense of the New Orleans Saints did what it has done more weeks than not for several years. The stat line wasn’t great - three interceptions, an equal number of sacks and 15 points allowed. But the Saints held the Titans out of the end zone, and the team finished the week eighth in fantasy points. That’s not an unreasonable expectation for Week 2 as well - facing rookie quarterback Bryce Young last week, the Atlanta Falcons notched two sacks, three takeaways and top-10 fantasy numbers.

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

New York Giants (at Arizona Cardinals)

Given what happened at MetLife Stadium last Sunday night, it’s not easy to have much confidence in any Giants players on either side of the ball. But the Giants aren’t without talent defensively, whether it’s Dexter Lawrence and Kayvon Thibodeaux up front, Bobby Okereke at linebacker or Xavier McKinney in the secondary. But the real story here is who the Giants are playing – the Arizona Cardinals’ only touchdown last week came on a fumble recovery in the end zone, and the team probably sports the worst offense in the entire NFL. Again - target Arizona all season long. God help them when they face the 49ers.

Colts (at Houston Texans)

Last week’s matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars was an up-and-down affair for the Colts defense - while Indy allowed 31 points and eventually lost the game, they also scored one of the wilder defensive touchdowns you’ll ever see and logged two sacks and a pair of takeaways. This call has more to do with the Colts’ opponent than the team itself anyway - the Houston Texans surrendered the second-most fantasy points to team defenses last season, and while C.J. Stroud wasn’t terrible in his first NFL start, it’s clear the youngster still has a lot to learn. This will be a matchup to target all season long.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Chicago Bears)

There’s been much made of the change at quarterback in Tampa, but most of the talent on defense that helped the Buccaneers win a Super Bowl a few years ago is still in town, whether it’s edge-rusher Shaquil Barrett , linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David or cornerback Carlton Davis. The Bears showed some signs of offensive improvement last week after allowing the fifth-most fantasy points to defenses in 2022, but the Packers notched four sacks, two takeaways and a defensive touchdown against the Bears on the way to a top-five fantasy finish.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cleveland Browns)

Admittedly, things did not go according to plan for the Steelers in Week 1 - the team was boat-raced at home by the 49ers in embarrassing fashion. But there was a bright spot amidst all the darkness - superstar edge-rusher was unstoppable in the game, logging three sacks. Confidence in a rebound is part of the reason for this call – but so is a lack of confidence in the legitimacy of the Browns offense . Deshaun Watson still hasn’t looked much like the top-five quarterback he was in 2020, and the Browns’ history of playing in the Steel City is long - and ugly.

Cleveland Browns (at Pittsburgh Steelers)

Of course, there’s a flip side to that coin - the Pittsburgh offense struggled mightily last week against the San Francisco 49ers , while the Browns completely stymied one of the league’s more potent offenses. Cleveland’s new-look defensive line was in the Cincinnati backfield all day, and the Browns have quietly assembled one of the better groups of secondary talent in the NFL. If the Browns’ linebackers can stay healthy, this group has the potential to be a top-10 defense.

Washington Commanders (at Denver Broncos)

The Commanders were a trendy pick among D/ST streamers over the summer because of an opening slate that included last week’s home date with the hapless Arizona Cardinals and this week’s trip to face a Broncos team that was last in the NFL in scoring and third in fantasy points per game given up to team defenses. Frankly, last week’s results against the Cardinals were a little disappointing. But after watching the Broncos once again struggle to move the ball consistently against a bad Raiders defense last week, Washington gets another chance.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)

It’s hard to ever count the Patriots defense completely out - last year’s top fantasy football defense managed a decent stat line last week in a rotten matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles , posting three sacks and a fumble recovery. The problem is that now the Pats have to face a Miami team that was an absolute buzzsaw last week against the Los Angeles Chargers , scoring 36 points and sailing past 500 yards of total offense. With a healthy Tua Tagovailoa , covering both Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill is just next to impossible - even for the Pats.

Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year. Follow him on Twitter, @IDPSharks.