Three weeks into the 2023 fantasy football season, some things have gone exactly as we expected - the San Francisco 49ers are a really good defensive football team. There have been some curveballs, such as the Dallas Cowboys’ surprising faceplant last week in Arizona. And there have been a few things that just about nobody saw coming.
Like the Cleveland Browns leading the NFL in both total defense (163.7 yards per game) and points per game (10.7) after three weeks.
Mind you, some improvement was expected. The Browns spent a ton of money in the offseason on the defensive line, and the team hired an accomplished, experienced coordinator in Jim Schwartz , But even so, edge-rusher Myles Garrett and the Cleveland defense have exceeded any realistic expectations.
In two of Cleveland’s three games, the Browns have held opponents to a lone field goal. Fourteen of the 26 points the Browns “allowed” to the Pittsburgh Steelers came on a pair of defensive touchdowns. Big plays have been a little lacking (at least until Garrett’s 3.5 sack outburst last week against the Tennessee Titans, but the Browns are a respectable ninth in fantasy points after three games.
Until the big plays come with more frequency, the Browns aren’t really an every-week starter. And this week’s matchup with the Baltimore Ravens isn’t great. But the Ravens are 12th in fantasy points allowed to defenses this season, so fantasy managers looking for a streaming play could probably do worse.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Washington Commanders)
The Eagles put together a dominant defensive performance Monday night against Tampa, Harassing Baker Mayfield all game and holding the Buccaneers under 200 yards of offense in a game where Tampa’s only touchdown came in garbage time. Now the Eagles will play host to a Commanders team that imploded at home last week to the tune of nine sacks allowed and four interceptions. After that game, no team in the NFL is allowing more fantasy points to defenses than the Commanders. This has all the makings of a “Fly, Eagles Fly” situation.
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Arizona Cardinals)
Believe it or not, the Browns have actually outpointed the 49ers through three games, in no small part because of a surprisingly close game against the Los Angeles Rams. The Arizona Cardinals showed last week that they are a better offensive team than most gave them credit for. But edge-rusher Nick Bosa appears to be just about 100 percent after missing most of the offseason and the 49ers are third in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. With this game being played in Santa Clara, the Redbirds are due to come back to Earth.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. New England Patriots)
Yes, fantasy managers who started the Cowboys last week were left equal parts depressed and surprised - not only did Dallas allow 28 points in a game they trailed from start to finish, but the big plays that had been so plentiful the first two weeks of the season evaporated - Dallas managed just two sacks and didn’t log a takeaway. The New England Patriots have struggled to move the ball consistently and have been kind to opposing fantasy defenses, allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to the position. Look for the Cowboys to “get right” Sunday at AT&T Stadium .
Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland Browns)
Since the Ravens’ dominant Week 1 performance against the Houston Texans, the Ravens defense has backslid a bit, and the whole team came up short at home last week against the Indianapolis Colts. But while Deshaun Watson had his best game as a Brown last week against the Titans, the Browns remain an erratic offensive unit that lost its best offensive player to a season-ending knee injury that ranks inside the top five in terms of fantasy points surrendered to team defenses. I’ll believe the Browns are past those offensive struggles when they start stringing multiple good efforts together.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Houston Texans)
When you have arguably the best pair of edge-rushers in the NFL in T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and a ball-hawking safety like Minkah Fitzpatrick prowling the back end, that sets the stage for a fantasy-relevant defense. Sure enough, three weeks into the season, the Steelers rank third among defenses in fantasy points - and that’s after getting pasted at home by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1. The Houston Texans logged their first victory last week and are an improved team relative to last year, but Watt and Highsmith are going to be a problem for a banged-up offensive line.
New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Three weeks into the 2023 season, the Saints defense has been both solid and consistent for fantasy managers - three double-digit scoring efforts on the way to a sixth-place ranking in points among defenses. Even in defeat last week, the Saints managed to salvage a solid stat line with a pick-six. The Buccaneers haven’t been an especially good fantasy matchup so far this year, but last week against the Eagles the Bucs struggled to move the ball. Frankly both teams in this NFC South showdown could, setting the stage for a few solid defensive outings.
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at New Orleans Saints)
The Buccaneers defense would no doubt as soon as forget about the 472 yards of offense they allowed last week against the Philadelphia Eagles . Taking on a struggling Saints offense could be just what the doctor ordered. The Saints enter Week 4 20th in total offense and 26th in scoring offense, and that was with Derek Carr under center. Now, with Carr banged up, a Saints team allowing the 11th-most fantasy points to team defenses this year may have to turn to Jameis Winston at quarterback. That sets the Buccaneers up for a rebound performance in Week 4.
Cincinnati Bengals (at Tennessee Titans)
The Bengals are coming off their best defensive performance of the season - Cincinnati intercepted Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford twice and sacked him nine times in a badly-needed Monday night win. Now the Bengals hit the road to take on a Tennessee Titans offense that has failed to find the end zone twice in three games. The Titans are 29th in total offense, 30th in scoring offense and have surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points to defenses this season. Tennessee is just a bad offensive football team - especially if they can’t get Derrick Henry going on the ground.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Los Angeles Rams)
The Colts aren’t exactly lighting it up on either side of the ball, but the defense has quietly posted the seventh-most fantasy points in the league three games in. In last week’s Ravens upset, it was four sacks of Lamar Jackson and a pair of fumble recoveries. The week before that, it was six sacks of Houston’s C.J. Stroud , which happens to be the same number the Rams gave up last week against the Cincinnati Bengals . Only the Steelers have more sacks this season, and so long as that continues, the Colts are going to be fantasy-relevant.
Kansas City Chiefs (at New York Jets)
When this Sunday night affair was originally scheduled, it was supposed to be a marquee matchup between two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks. Now, it’s a beatdown waiting to happen between Patrick Mahomes and Zach “Wormburner” Wilson. In news that will surprise no one who has actually seen Wilson play quarterback, the Jets are dead last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense and rank inside the top-10 in fantasy points surrendered to defenses. This is a game that could be out of hand by halftime, at which point Kansas City’s pass rush can just pin its ears back.
Seattle Seahawks (at New York Giants)
The Seahawks aren’t exactly known for playing stout defense in 2023 - this is a team that just allowed a big passing day to Andy Dalton of all people. But the Giants offense is in complete disarray - New York currently ranks 28th in total offense, dead last in the NFC in scoring and third in fantasy points allowed to opposing team defenses. The reality is that even before Saquon Barkley went down with an ankle injury the Giants were having all kinds of problems moving the ball, and now that all the pressure is on Daniel Jones , the young quarterback has regressed significantly.
Denver Broncos (at Chicago Bears)
Yep. That’s right - the same Denver Broncos defense that just allowed the most points in a game since 1966 and the second-most yards in a game in the history of the National Football League. The Broncos aren’t facing Miami’s buzzsaw of an offense this week though. This week it’s a quarterback who failed to throw for 100 yards last week. An offense that ranks 29th in yards per game and 27th in points per game. And a Bears team that has given up the second-most fantasy points to defenses this season. The Bears have a tendency to make every opposing defense look good.
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Buffalo Bills (vs. Miami Dolphins)
The Bills are coming off one of the better defensive efforts of the entire season from a fantasy perspective - nine sacks, four interceptions and a defensive score in last week’s immolation of the Washington Commanders. The problem is that Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins are coming off one of the best offensive performances in the history of the National Football League - 70 points and over 700 yards of offense against the Denver Broncos . They won’t have that kind of success against the Bills, but when Miami gets rolling offensively they are next to impossible to stop.