2015 fantasy football profiles and projections (DEF 17-32)

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Bye Week.............8

"Chip Kelly" and "defense" rarely find themselves together. But the Eagles D/ST surprised everyone (we had them 22nd in the 2014 pre-season rankings) by leading the league with 177 fantasy points. Much of that success was opportunistic, as the Iggles racked up 49 sacks and nearly doubled up the next closest defense with 11 scores. Buyer beware: Since 2010, only 15 D/ST units have scored at least seven TDs. Of those 15, only one matched its total the following season, and just three managed to tally seven. Factor in Philly's furious offensive pace, porous passing defense and overhaul on offense, and the 2014 season starts to feel like a flash in the pan for this unit. Save for a Devin Hester-like season from a 32-year-old Darren Sproles, expect a reversion to the middle of the pack.

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Bye Week.............5

No defense made bigger strides in 2014 than Mike Zimmer's Vikings. The men in purple went from dead last in scoring defense in 2013 to 11th, and from 31st to 14th in total defense. All of that led to a jump from bottom-five in fantasy to middle of the pack. Minnesota's front office made three big gambles before the 2014 season -- the contract extension to defensive end Everson Griffen, signing run-stopper Linval Joseph and drafting Anthony Barr. All three moves should continue to pay huge dividends as Zimmer continues to change the team's defensive identity, including spending the team's first two 2015 draft picks on defense -- cornerback Trae Waynes and linebacker Eric Kendricks. Both figure to make an impact from Day 1.

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Bye Week.............7

No team made a bigger splash in free agency last summer than Denver, bringing in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward to shore up its defense. And it paid off as each signee made the Pro Bowl. But the formula for the Broncos' success on D didn't feature the types of plays that piled up the fantasy points. They were one of three teams to finish top 10 in total, rushing and passing defense in 2014 but were without a sack three times and without a takeaway three times throughout the season. Von Miller continues to do his part on the stat sheet, totaling 14 sacks of his own (fourth-most in franchise history). The pieces are there, so expect this unit to take a big leap in the fantasy standings in 2015.

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Bye Week.............7

When you look back on the Bengals 2014 season, it's fairly easy to see why the club was a disappointment in fantasy circles. Cincinnati finished 12th in the NFL in team defense, which belied a unit that was 20th in both passing and rushing yards allowed. Were it not for a ball-hawking secondary that finished tied for third in the NFL with 20 interceptions, the Bengals might not have ended the season among the top 25 fantasy defenses. The team added free agent (and one-time Bengal) Michael Johnson to the roster to help beef up a pass rush that posted a league-low 20 sacks last season. If Cincinnati can do a better job getting to the quarterback, its D/ST could rise above its station in 2015.

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Bye Week.............6

The Cowboys were a better defense than many predicted they would be in 2014. But considering many expected Dallas to be among the league's absolute worst defenses, the bar wasn't set very high. The 'Boys started strong, scoring nine-plus points in three of the first four weeks. Much of that was owed to the resurgent play of free agent signee Rolando McClain. With McClain signed for another campaign added to the return of playmaking linebacker Sean Lee, the opportunity is there for the Cowboys to be a top-15 fantasy unit this season.

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Bye Week.............11

The Killer B's (Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant) turned Pittsburgh into an offensive juggernaut in 2014 that masked an aged and injury-plagued defense. And that unit is only getting older. Five of the Steelers' 11 starters on defense were 27 or older, and that doesn't include 36-year-old free agent Brett Keisel. That number jumped to seven by the end of the year, and it showed. Despite an infusion of young talent in Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt, Pittsburgh struggled to drum up big plays on defense with any consistency. They managed to force multiple turnovers just twice in the final seven weeks of the season, yet racked up 12 sacks and allowed just 17.5 points per game over the final four contests. Jones and Shazier combined to suit up for just 16 games while Mike Mitchell was the only starting member of the secondary to stay healthy the entire year. But the biggest issue will be replacing coordinator Dick LeBeau after 11 seasons masterminding some of the most feared defensive units in the league.

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Bye Week.............8

There was reason for optimism surrounding the Jaguars at the start of the 2014 season. Much of that optimism dealt with Blake Bortles and a crop of young receivers, but there were some positives on the defensive side as well. Last season, the Jags were tied for sixth with 45 sacks and tied for second with 14 fumble recoveries. The biggest issue was with a secondary that did a fair job of slowing opposing passing games, but didn't force many turnovers. Jacksonville was tied for last in the NFL with a paltry six interceptions last season. Under the tutelage of head coach Gus Bradley, the Jaguars have the potential to be a much improved defense in 2015, if only the defensive backfield can start to carry its own weight.

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Bye Week.............11

It's been a steady decline for the Giants defense over the past few seasons. After finishing 11th in 2012, Big Blue fell to 17th in 2013 and 22nd last season. The Giants weren't particularly good against the pass but they made up for it by being even worse against the run. A major defensive overhaul is likely to be in the works for New York this offseason. It began with the additions of Kenrick Ellis, George Selvie and J.T. Thomas along the front seven. However, the G-Men need to hope rookie Landon Collins can adequately replace Antrel Rolle and Walter Thurmond in the secondary. But considering how suspect the defensive backfield was last season, he might not have that hard of a time.

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Bye Week.............10

On paper, the Chargers had a fairly average defense in 2014. The Bolts finished 13th in the league in total defense, thanks in large part to being strong against opposing air attacks. However, that strength didn't necessarily translate to fantasy success. San Diego logged just seven interceptions and a mere 26 sacks -- both were the fourth-worst in the NFL. Keeping veteran cornerback Brandon Flowers in Southern California is a big boon to the secondary, but he'll need help if the Chargers are going to electrify fantasy enthusiasts. Getting some help along the front seven probably wouldn't hurt either.

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Bye Week.............7

The Monsters of the Midway were toothless in 2014. The Bears allowed 442 points last season -- only the Raiders gave up more. Losing Charles Tillman early in the season did nothing to help a secondary that was one of the worst in the league. It also didn't help that Chicago allowed Julius Peppers to leave for Green Bay, while opting for Jared Allen, who struggled for much of the season. While Antrel Rolle isn't quite the player he once was, the veteran offers some hope that the Bears secondary will be improved this season. However, there isn't enough optimism to consider this group on draft day.

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Bye Week.............6

As to be expected of a team that finished 2-14 last season, there wasn't much to like about the Buccaneers on defense. Tampa was fairly mediocre against quarterbacks last year, giving up an average of 16.50 fantasy points per week. That's not terrible considering their porous secondary and the number of pass attempts they faced. What was worse were the nearly 20 points per game the Bucs surrendered to fantasy running backs. Tampa has begun rebuilding its defense, although players like Sterling Moore, D.J. Swearinger and Chris Conte don't immediately inspire confidence. Don't expect the Buccaneers to be on anyone's fantasy radar this season.

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Bye Week.............11

Playing in the woebegone NFC South, it stands to reason that the Saints defense wasn't particularly good last season. But few would have picked them as the 30th-ranked fantasy unit at the start of the year. Yet, here we are. If there is a culprit for the Saints troubles, it could be with a front seven that logged just 34 sacks all season -- eighth-fewest in the league. But that doesn't absolve a secondary that allowed nearly 25 fantasy points per game to opposing wideouts. Adding Brandon Browner in free agency is a step in the right direction, but New Orleans will need to do more before we consider them roster-worthy.

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Bye Week.............10

Yet another NFC South team lands near the bottom of our rankings. The Falcons sacked the quarterback just 22 times last season; only the Bengals had fewer. That could be a big reason why Atlanta has used the offseason to overhaul its defense. The question is whether the likes of Adrian Clayborn, Justin Durant, O'Brien Schofield and first-round draft pick Vic Beasley can put added pressure on the quarterback this season. If not, 2015 might be a really ugly sequel to a putrid 2014 campaign.

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Bye Week.............6

There was much ballyhooing over Khalil Mack's rookie season and what his potential in the NFL could be. That's probably because it made it easier to ignore how awful the rest of Oakland's defense was in 2014. The Raiders allowed the most points in the league last season and were fantasy's most generous team against running backs, giving up an average of 23.58 points per week. Oakland has attempted to get younger on defense, most notably by adding former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. It's a step in the right direction, but they'll need to take several more to become fantasy relevant.

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Bye Week.............4

The Titans defense was completely terrible in 2014; it just wasn't good enough to be considered rosterable. Tennessee's defense against the pass was in the middle of the pack last year, but that might be because teams were having so much success running the football. There doesn't seem to be much reason for optimism on that front with the Titans doing little to address the front seven in free agency or the draft. Don't be surprised if this group is equally nondescript in 2015.

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