Reading the Defense: Stars aligning at the right time

It's playoff time around the fantasy football universe. Hopefully your players have performed well enough to get you into the second season. But now is when it's really time to make hay. This is when you want your fantasy studs playing their best football. That applies for IDP owners as much as it does for owners in standard leagues.

Which should make it so much sweeter that some playmaking linebackers are starting to get things rolling again. Over the past two weeks, Karlos Dansby, Lavonte David, Paul Posluszny and A.J. Hawk are all in the top six among defensive fantasy scorers.

It's simple. You're going to start your studs at this time of the season. Just like you'd eschew the matchups when looking at guys like Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning, you should do the same when talking about top IDP scorers. Karlos Dansby isn't the top scoring defensive player in fantasy football by accident. If he plays for the Cardinals, he plays for you.

Part of what has made this group so outstanding has been their ability to contribute in myriad ways. Of that quartet, Posluszny is the only one who truly makes his hay as a volume tackler. Over the past weeks, Dansby has snagged a pair of sacks and a pick. David has two INTs and a forced fumble while Hawk has a QB takedown and a forced fumble.

Hopefully you've snagged one or more of these players off the waiver wire. If not, there's no time like the present. In order to be the best, you've got to start the best. Go get 'em.

Washington slowdown

While there have been plenty of big-name IDP players ratcheting up their games for the fantasy playoffs, there has been one notable exception -- Daryl Washington. After missing the first four games of the season due to a suspension, the Cardinals linebacker returned with a vengeance. He pulled a pair of sacks and an interception in his first game of the 2013 season.

Since then, he's logged the same number of sacks as you and I ... and just one more interception. In fact, it took until last week's game against Philadelphia for Washington to match his season-high eight tackles (once again logged during his Week 5 debut).

The rest of his schedule doesn't offer any immediate hope for a fantasy playoff rebound. Washington's next three contests are against the Rams, Titans and Seahawks, who all rank near the bottom of the NFL in surrendering fantasy points to opposing defenses.

Last season, Washington was one of fantasy's top scoring defensive players. The suspension was certainly going to prevent him from matching last season's point total, but he's struggled to maintain a similar pace from last season as well. Eventually, you are who you are and this season, Daryl Washington isn't the fantasy stud we'd hoped him to be. With so many other linebacker options playing well this year, it behooves fantasy owners to look elsewhere.

Four downs

» As expected, the Dallas Cowboys will have Sean Leeback on the field for the Monday night contest against the Chicago Bears. Lee has missed the past two games with an injured hamstring. His return is an extra shot in the arm for a Dallas defense that has held its own from a fantasy perspective over the past couple of weeks. Having Lee back in the lineup will also be a huge boost for IDP owners heading into their respective postseasons.

» Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson says he'll be ready for Sunday night's game against the New Orleans Saints after missing the past two with a sprained MCL. Johnson hasn't exactly been an IDP star this season, but as a pure pass rusher he's been one of the league's best. It should also be a boost to his bookend, Greg Hardy, who's quietly put together a nice fantasy campaign.

» Darrelle Revisworked out at practice for the Buccaneers Wednesday, in advance of this weekend's game against the Buffalo Bills. It's been a frustrating season health-wise for Revis. He hasn't been as dominating as we've seen in previous seasons, which is part of the reason Tampa Bay hasn't put him in nearly as many one-on-one situations. We'll see if Stevie Johnson has a ticket booked to Revis Island this week.

» Audie Cole has been named the Vikingsstarting middle linebacker in place of Erin Henderson, who is moving to the weak side. In his last two games, Cole has racked up 15 tackles and a combined 21.50 fantasy points. He's not likely to replace your normal linebacker pick, but in the right circumstance, Cole could be a quality spot start.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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