Getting Defensive: Week 8




 

Halfway through the 2020 NFL season, at least one thing has become painfully evident - and it's something that matters quite a bit while settling on a fantasy defense.

Both NFL teams in New York City suck with extra suckiness.

Sorry, Giants and Jets fans. But y'all know I'm not exaggerating even a little.

With the Giants' Thursday night choke-job in Philadelphia in Week 7 and the Jets' loss at home to the Buffalo Bills, the two teams are a combined 1-13. It's not hard to see why their records are terrible - all you have to do is examine their offensive production.

If you can even call it that.

The Jets are dead last in the NFL in total offense and scoring, averaging 264.3 yards per game and 12.1 points per contest. The Giants are last in the NFC in both categories, checking in at 282.4 yards and 17.4 points per game.

That's right, there's an NFL team in 2020 that can't average even two touchdowns a game.

Last week against the Eagles, the Giants actually had (for them) a good game - 325 yards of offense and 21 points. But the Giants also turned the ball over three times and allowed three sacks of Daniel Jones. At Met Life Stadium, the Jets were all kinds of Jets-y. After getting a 10-point lead, the Jets went into hibernation - by game's end the team had just 190 total yards. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold threw two picks and was sacked half a dozen times.

For the second straight season, the Jets lead the NFL in fantasy points allowed to defenses. Among NFC teams, only the Dallas Cowboys are surrendering more fantasy points to the position.

In news that should surprise exactly zero people, the opponents of those two teams are the two best defensive fantasy plays in Week 8.

And in Week 9. And Week 10. And all the weeks ever.

Again, sorry New York fans.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. New York Jets)

So, the Chiefs had themselves a game defensively in last week's blowout win over the Denver Broncos. Playing on a snowy field at Mile High, the Chiefs allowed 411 yards of offense. But there were big plays galore. The Chiefs dropped Drew Lock three times, forced four Denver turnovers and scored a pair of non-offensive touchdowns - one on a Daniel Sorensen pick-six and another on a 102-yard kickoff return. Those two scores made the Chiefs easily Week 7's No. 1 fantasy defense in most scoring systems, and this week the Chiefs draw the gangrenous Gang Green offense in the friendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at New York Giants)

Most of the publicity in Tampa surrounds Tom Brady and the Buccaneers Offense. Or the arrival of wide receiver Antonio Brown. But the Buccaneers have quietly assembled one of the best defenses in the league. Seven weeks into the season, the Buccaneers lead the NFC in total defense (291.3 yards per game), ranks eighth in scoring defense, is pacing the NFL in run defense for the second year in a row (66 yards per game), leads the conference in sacks with 25 and has piled up the third-most takeaways (12) in the NFL. Now they get to face the Giants? Oh lord.

Los Angeles Rams (at Miami Dolphins)

There are a few reasons to like the Los Angeles Rams Defense quite a bit in Week 7. The first is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL in Aaron Donald and his propensity for getting to opposing quarterbacks. Another is the sterling defensive effort the Rams turned in while throttling the 5-1 Chicago Bears at SoFi Stadium. Then there's the matter of this week's matchup with a Miami Dolphins team that will be trotting out a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start in rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa may have a bright future, but facing No. 99 right out of the gate is almost unfair.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Dallas Cowboys)

The Eagles are the worst first-place team in recent memory - a 2-4-1 mess with an offense that has been decimated by injuries. The defense, however, has been quietly solid for fantasy managers - the Eagles rank inside the NFL's top five in sacks and since Week 3 the Philly defense has checked in well inside the top-10 in most fantasy scoring systems. Sunday night the Eagles host a Dallas Cowboys team with an injury-ravaged offensive line that may have to trot out rookie Ben DiNucci at quarterback. Last week in Washington, Dallas allowed six sacks and scored all of three points.

Buffalo Bills (vs. New England Patriots)

Here's something I didn't expect to be typing in 2020, even with Tom Brady no longer in New England - the Patriots are a matchup to attack for defenses in fantasy football. Cam Newton has been horrible the past two games, barely throwing for 250 yards while throwing five interceptions. It's not all Newton's fault, either - New England's poo-poo platter of pass-catchers can't get open, and Julian Edelman has vanished from the offense. The Bills aren't a great defensive team by any stretch, but with the way the Pats are floundering Buffalo doesn't have to be.

Indianapolis Colts (at Detroit Lions)

The Indianapolis Colts come out of their bye week at 4-2, and that has a lot more to do with Justin Houston, DeForest Buckner, and the defense than Philip Rivers, T.Y. Hilton and the offense. The Colts enter Week 8 trailing only the Pittsburgh Steelers in total defense, leading the AFC in pass defense, ranked third in the league in run defense and fourth in scoring defense. The Colts have also amassed 13 sacks, 10 takeaways and rank inside the top-five among defenses in fantasy points. Those are numbers that earn a squad every-week starter status on that side of the ball.

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Los Angeles Chargers (at Denver)

The Chargers aren't a great defensive football team - the Bolts rank in the bottom half of the league in total defense, have managed just 13 sacks for the season and just allowed 29 points to a bad Jacksonville Jaguars team. But this recommendation has quite a bit more to do with who the Chargers are playing than how the Chargers are playing. Due in part to injuries that have hit the skill-position talent especially hard, Drew Lock and the Denver offense aren't playing well at all. The Chargers probably won't get the two touchdowns the Chiefs did in Week 7, but it's still a solid matchup play.

New Orleans Saints (at Chicago Bears)

Frankly, the Saints have been something of a disappointment so far this season defensively, especially on the back end. But that spotty play in the secondary might not matter this week against a Chicago offense that sputtered again in last Monday night's loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Chicago's defense has gotten the team to 5-2 this year, but the offense ranks in the bottom-five of the NFL in total offense and just outside the bottom five in scoring offense. Against the Rams, Chicago also turned it over a couple of times and let Nick Foles get pretty beat up.

Chicago Bears (vs. New Orleans Saints)

The Bears are the poster cubs for the disconnect that sometimes happens between a great NFL defense and a great fantasy defense. Even after a relatively down effort in a Week 7 loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Bears still rank well inside the top-10 in both total defense and scoring defense. But Eddie Jackson's fumble return for a score against the Rams in Week 7 was more exception than rule - the big plays (and fantasy points) haven't been there consistently so far this season. However, Drew Brees has been known to scuffle outside, which at the very least gets them on the matchup radar.

Green Bay Packers (vs. Minnesota Vikings)

At the outset of the season, when these teams first met in the Twin Cities, this game looked like it would have serious postseason implications. Seven weeks into the season, it does-but only in terms of the Green Packers staying ahead of the Chicago Bears in the NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings are a one-win dumpster fire that has already starting trading away veteran talent. When these teams met in Week 1, the Packers won in shootout fashion, but in that game the Packers forced a turnover, sacked Kirk Cousins twice and notched a safety. This isn't a great play, but Green Bay is going to be available on more waiver wires than not.

Tennessee Titans (at Cincinnati Bengals)

There's something of a running theme with this week's matchup plays-so-so defenses with good matchups. The Titans aren't a bad defensive team per se, but it's also a stretch to call them a good one, too. However, there is one area where the Titans have shined this season, and that's in taking the ball away - the Titans have 12 on the season. That's a good sign heading into this matchup with a Bengals team that has allowed the third-most fantasy points to defenses in 2020, largely because of problems protecting Joe Burrow and turnovers.

Cleveland Browns (vs. Las Vegas Raiders)

In terms of yards and points allowed, the Browns are stinky poo defensively in 2020 - Cleveland ranks 21st in total defense and 29th in scoring defense. But from a fantasy perspective, the Browns have been solid - Cleveland ranks just outside the top-five in fantasy points even after last week's high-scoring affair in Cincinnati. The reason for this disparity is that while Cleveland is porous, they are also highly opportunistic, pacing the NFL with 14 takeaways and chipping in 18 sacks. That gives the team a puncher's chance at a decent fantasy score even in weeks where the yards and points pile up.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Pittsburgh Steelers (at Baltimore Ravens)

Everything that makes the Steelers a risky fantasy play in Week 8 can also be said about their opponents in this massive AFC North showdown. Both teams sport excellent defenses from both NFL and fantasy perspectives. Both teams have been mostly solid for fantasy managers in 2020. But both have also shown they aren't matchup-proof, whether it was the Steelers last week in Nashville or the Ravens against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. You're likely starting both teams, and this could be a hard-fought defensive struggle. But it could also be a 38-35 shootout. At least it should be a great game either way.

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