Week 7 was relatively successful with six correctly predicted top-10 defenses and the Los Angeles Rams still to play on Monday night. Washington was a close class as they made my top-12, but I never thought the Cowboys offense would fall off the cliff as steeply as it did on Sunday, and both Arizona and Jacksonville ended up in the top-10 despite giving up lots of points to two solid offenses, which was not something I predicted.
However, the fantasy success of the Arizona and Jacksonville defenses brings me to another important point. I keep hearing and reading discussions of fantasy defenses where people cite yardage allowed totals and third-down conversion rates as evidence for strong defensive plays, and I felt like we need to address why those stats are not crucial in deciding on which fantasy football defense to play.
Yes, a strong third-down conversation rate means you keep the opposing offense off the field, and yardage allowed can mean a defense will limit scoring opportunities, but those are misleading stats unless we look at them as part of a larger picture. Offenses don’t need to gain lots of yards or convert on third downs to score points. Also, defenses can give up lots of yards and give up third-down conversions and still get fantasy points from sacks and interceptions. Often, defenses that sell out on blitzes can both get sacks and get burned on third downs. You’ll take those poor conversion rates if you’re also getting sacks.
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Picking The Right Defenses
When choosing a defense, you want to be looking for defenses that get consistent pressure and takeaways. Sacks and turnovers are more valuable for fantasy defense than preventing yardage and even, to a certain extent, preventing points. Again, as evidenced by Jacksonville and Arizona from Sunday. If a defense allows a stingy yards per play number, that’s great and I’ll cite some of those numbers below – but they better also be able to get into the backfield or force turnovers, or else it won’t really matter in the long run. That’s why the Chiefs Defense was so good last year, despite getting into a ton of shootouts. Teams against them were forced to play up-tempo and throw a lot, which led to sack opportunities and turnovers despite giving up lots of points.
Essentially, we need to move away from points against as being the most important factor in choosing a fantasy defense. NFL offenses have scored 5,295 points or 25.5 points per game so far this season, which is the most through the first seven weeks of any season in the Super Bowl era. With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can’t continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we’re used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.
Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.
Week 8 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings
These rankings are from before the Monday Night Football game and will be adjusted if needed on Tuesday.
Below are my Week 8 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 8 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 8. I’ve broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 8 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league’s waiver wire for a Week 8 pickup or add.
Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) – Since every league’s DST scoring is different, projections don’t always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means “do not start,” then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week’s rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.
Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.
Tier 1 Defenses
The Chiefs were the number one scoring defense last week and now get to face a Jets team that gained FOUR TOTAL YARDS in the second half against the Bills on Sunday. There really isn’t that much more than needs to be said about this. The Jets are 29th in sacks allowed and dead last in both total yards and drives ending in a score. The Chiefs are an opportunistic defense with a top-5 pressure rate and the second-most interceptions in the league. This game is going to get ugly in a hurry.
So the team with the number one pass rush win rate in the league is going up against a team that is 25th in sacks allowed? That’s a recipe for fantasy success. The Bucs are second in the league in sacks, third in total pressures, and fourth in the league in blitz rate, which means they will be a tough task for a mediocre Giants offensive line, in particular, over-matched starting left tackle Andrew Thomas. On the season, the Giants are a gift to fantasy defenses this year with every opponent finishing with at least eight fantasy points. In addition to their offensive line issues, 18.6% of Giants drives end in a turnover, good for 30th in the league, and only 34.3% of their drives end in a score, which is 29th in the league. The Bucs should score a ton of points, which will put the Giants in catch-up mode and allow for ample opportunities to rack up sacks and turnovers.
Man, this Dallas offense is a mess. Losing Dak Prescott was huge, but the injuries across the offensive line may have actually been the bigger factor. Ezekiel Elliott has no holes to run through, and Andy Dalton has no time to throw. Washington just thoroughly demolished them on Sunday, allowing only 142 yards of total offense, while sacking Dalton six times. I expect more of the same from an Eagles defense that is third in the league in sacks, fifth in quarterback knockdowns, and seventh in pass rush win rate. They may have some issues in the secondary, but I’m not sure Dalton will have enough time to really exploit them, and this Dallas defense can’t stop anybody right now, which could lead to more pressure opportunities for Philadelphia and a checked-out Dallas team that seemed unmotivated in the second half against Washington. If Dalton winds up missing this game, we may have to bump the Eagles up even higher.
The Bills defense came to play against the Jets, and perhaps after this Sunday, we can stop treating the Patriots like the New England teams of old. How they were even favored over the 49ers is beyond me, and I loved the 49ers Defense in that matchup. So now it’s the Bills turn to have some fun. Even with Cam Newton at the helm, this is an offense that is 26th in total yards, 27th in drives ending in a score, and 31st in drives ending in a turnover. The Bills have the second-best pass rush win rate in the league and were able to sack Sam Darnold five times on Sunday. With Matt Milano back, this is an entirely different defense and one that should be able to force Cam to beat them with his arm, something the 49ers did en route to three interceptions on Sunday. Yes, the Bills’ secondary is still banged up and they have some issues stopping the run, but I don’t think the Patriots offense has the firepower to exploit that consistently enough.
Tier 2 Defenses
We have yet to see what the Rams do on Monday night, so there isn’t a lot to say here. Tua Tagovailoa may have a great NFL career, but going up against Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey, and this defense is a tough task for a rookie in his first start. We’re also not sure how healthy DeVante Parker is coming off the bye, which could be a real hit to Tua’s options on the offensive end. I expect the Rams and their elite defensive line to be in his face all day, which will lead to some typical rookie mistakes and more points for the Rams DST.
The Titans weren’t able to sack Ben Roethlisberger on Sunday, but that’s to be expected since the Steelers have given up only eight sacks through six games. The Bengals have given up 28 through seven, the worst mark in the league. While the Titans don’t pressure exceptionally well as a team, they have talented players on their defensive line who can take advantage of their individual matchups, and this secondary can capitalize on mistakes, as evidence by the three interceptions of Big Ben this week. Yes, Joe Burrow is an exciting rookie who can sling it, but there’s a chance the Bengals are without Joe Mixon again on Sunday, and Gio Bernard just lacks anywhere near the same explosiveness in the run game. It will make Cincinnati more one-dimensional, which will lead to more opportunities for sacks and turnovers in a game I expect the Titans to handle relatively easily.
The Patriots may have allowed 33 points and 467 yards on Sunday against San Francisco, but this Bills offense was unable to score a touchdown against the Jets, so there are some real issues happening here. After the early explosive weeks, teams have started playing zone against Buffalo, forcing them to throw underneath and drive the length of the field; they haven’t been able to, settling for far too many field goals. With injuries across the offensive line, the run game is a mess, and Josh Allen clearly misses John Brown. He has begun to fall back into forcing too many passes which could be bad news against a Patriots team that is first in the league in defensive drives that end in a turnover. The mental component of losing to this New England franchise time and time against for over a decade also can’t be overstated. I expect Bill Belichick to have a clear plan of attack here, forcing this game to be a low-scoring and sloppy affair, which should keep both defenses in play.
This is not a great matchup for Pittsburgh, but I can’t move them down much farther. They held a good Titans offense to 292 yards of total offense and sacked Ryan Tannehill twice, which keeps them one sack ahead of Tampa Bay for the top mark in the league, despite playing one fewer game. The Steelers are first in the league in pass rush win rate, first in quarterback hurries, and first in pressure rate. This Ravens offense has dynamic playmakers, but they are also 20th in total sacks allowed and only 12th in drives ending in a score, so it’s not as elite as it has been. The Steelers will bring tons of pressure and hassle Lamar Jackson all afternoon, which means Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins will need to step up in place of Mark Ingram to prevent the offense from being too one-dimensional. As with most games in this rivalry, I expect this to be an “old-school” defensive affair that leads to a low-scoring game with some solid DST floor.
Tier 3 Defenses
Despite allowing 29 points to the Jaguars, I’m optimistic about the Chargers’ defense going forward. Sunday was the first game they had both Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones back for, and I expect those two to be even more impactful next week after a full week of practices under their belt. That’s good news against a Broncos offense that is 23rd in sacks allowed and 30th in overall yards gained. Denver is also 28th in the league in offensive drives ending in a turnover, which could add some extra juice to the Chargers defense if Justin Herbert keeps playing the way he has been and gets his team to an early lead.
The Ravens are the only team in the league that blitzes more than the Steelers, which means we could see a lot of bodies flying around the field on Sunday. They are also ninth in pass rush win rate, fourth in sacks, and first in quarterback knockdowns, so they could have some success in getting to a relatively immobile Big Ben, despite the Steelers’ offensive line performing so well thus far. We saw on Sunday what can happen when Roethlisberger is pressured, so I expect the Ravens to come up with a couple of takeaways, especially since they are 5th in the league in defensive drives ending in an offensive turnover. They are first in the league in drives ending in an offensive score, which is another reason why this game should be a low scoring and physical affair.
If the Sunday trade rumors are to be believed, this Saints offense may continue to be without Michael Thomas, which is a massive downgrade to the entire unit. Yes, Alvin Kamara and Drew Brees can still play, but relying on Tre’Quan Smith and Marquez Callaway in the passing game is not the same as tossing it up to Thomas. However, the Bears are 20th in pass rush win rate, 15th in sacks, and 14th in defensive drives ending in an offensive turnover, so despite all the talk about them being an elite defense, they are no longer one of the top fantasy units in the league; you need more consistent sacks and turnovers in order to achieve that mantle. The Saints have only allowed only eight sacks across six games, so I don’t expect the Bears to put up a hefty fantasy total, but they should keep the Saints from putting up too many points, which gives them a relatively safe floor.
This Chargers offense is exciting to watch with Herbert at the helm. However, they’re still middle of the pack in many fantasy-relevant stats. They’re 13th in total yards, 16th in yards per play, 14th in sacks allowed, 20th in offensive drives ending in a turnover, and 29th in offensive drives ending in a score. On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos may have lost NT Mike Purcell, but they got back A.J. Bouye, so the pass defense could improve while the run defense takes a step back. That’s not much of a concern given the Chargers are more successful through the air. The Broncos defense is currently 9th in drives ending in an offensive score, 9th in sacks, and have the type of defensive coordinator who will change looks and make life hard on a rookie signal-caller. I expect the Chargers to put up points, but remember that the Jaguars were able to score nine points and finish as a top-10 defense against this offense on Sunday. This Broncos defense is better, so don’t be surprised if they do the same thing.
The Lions have some explosive capability in their offense, enough so that I’m a little worried about how a banged-up Colts secondary is going to contain Kenny Golladay and company, even if the Lions are only 18th in net yards per pass attempt. On the other hand, the Lions are 19th in sacks allowed but are facing a Colts defensive line that is 15th in sacks, 21st in quarterback hurries, and 23rd in pass rush win rate. We all know that the Colts are a strong real-life unit, allowing the fewest yards per play of any team in the league, which gives them a high floor in fantasy, but I think their lack of pass rush and injuries in the secondary will keep them from putting up a strong ceiling day against a solid offensive team.
This game is a tricky one to figure out. On one hand, the Packers offense is playing exceptional football right now and should easily be able to put up points against a bad Vikings Defense, which will force Kirk Cousins and company to play catch-up behind an offensive line that is 18th in sacks allowed. On the other hand, Green Bay is 29th in pass rush win rate, 16th in sacks, and last in both quarterback hurries and defensive drives ending in a turnover, which limits their overall fantasy ceiling. In the end, I think the amount of passing the Vikings will have to do in this game will likely lead to a couple of Packers’ sacks and interceptions since Cousins is tied with Carson Wentz for the most interceptions thrown in the league. However, perhaps not enough to get Green Bay into the top-10 with the number of points the Vikings could score, especially if Dalvin Cook is back.
The Saints defense, like the Bears unit on the other sideline, hasn’t been performing at the same levels we’ve seen in the past. However, I don’t think the Bears offense will pose that much of a challenge next Sunday. They are 31st in total yards, 26th in offensive drives ending in a score, and 14th in offensive drives ending in a turnover, which makes them below average overall in generating points and holding onto the ball. Against the Saints defense of old, that could be a major problem. However, these Saints are 16th in pass rush win rate and 17th in sacks, so while they aren’t likely to put up a massive fantasy point total, they should have little problem keeping the Bears offense from putting up too many points.
Tier 4 Defenses
Tier 5 Defenses
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