Real football isn't all about the offensive players. Why should fantasy football be any different? Every week here in Reading the Defense, we're looking back at the fantasy week that was and offering help for the week that's to come.
Defensive line: So much of the talk this season has been about how the departure of Ndamukong Suh has affected the Lions defensive line. But we would be ignoring the monster season being posted by Ezekiel Ansah which might have hit its apex with Ansah's bonkers performance on Thanksgiving. The Lions' lineman posted 3.5 sacks with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. That got Ansah to 11.5 sacks -- second behind only J.J. Watt. Next week, he'll face an inconsistent Packers offense looking for more.
Linebacker: Anyone who has played IDP fantasy football in recent years understands the power of Paul Posluszny. While this season the veteran has been outshined by Telvin Smith, he did post an outstanding week in Week 12 against the Chargers with 11 total tackles. Of course, this isn't to suggest that Posluszny has been off his game ... after all he's the third-highest scoring linebacker in fantasy. But for one week, the king was once again the king.
Defensive back: For the second straight week, the Cardinals boasted the best defensive back in fantasy football. Last week it was Deone Bucannon, this week it was Tyrann Mathieu. While the Honey Badger didn't have any particularly eye-popping plays, he was all over the place in a hard-fought win over the 49ers. By the time it was all over, Mathieu has logged 11 total tackles -- no small task from the safety position. Mathieu continues to be a playmaker and should be in just about all IDP lineups.
What went wrong
» It's been a good week for Whitney Mercilus, but Week 12 was a pretty forgettable day. J.J. Watt was busy demoralizing the Saints offensive line so Mercilus wasn't able to get in on the fun. The fourth year player logged just one tackle in Houston's dominant win. His snaps have been reduced since Jadeveon Clowney has returned to Houston's lineup, but still such a low output wasn't what anyone expected.
» Maybe it wasn't a terrible game for Chandler Jones. After all, he forced a fumble and snagged an interception. But he also only posted just three fantasy points. That's less than what you've become accustomed to from the Patriots defender this season. Hopefully this week's game against an Eagles team in disarray will get him back to the bigger fantasy totals you're expecting.
Week 13 boomer
Brian Cushing, LB, Houston Texans: A rising tide lifts all boats and with the Texans defense surging, Cushing should see some benefit this week. It will help that Houston visits a run-heavy Buffalo Bills team that could also start an ailing Tyrod Taylor at quarterback. Look for the playmaking linebacker to be all over the field this week.
Week 13 buster
Charles Woodson, DB, Oakland Raiders: Woodson has had another fantastic season to pad his already-stacked Hall of Fame resume. But for fantasy enthusiasts, he's been dependent on interceptions for much of his production. That could be a tall order this week against the Chiefs. Kansas City doesn't turn the ball over very often and Alex Smith has thrown just three picks all year. Woodson will have to find other ways to make his mark this week.
Week 13 sleeper
Geno Atkins, DL, Cincinnati Bengals: It's hard to count on big production from a defensive tackle, but Atkins hasn't been your average defensive tackle this season. He enters Week 13 fifth in the NFL in sacks -- one-half sack behind teammate Carlos Dunlap -- and faces a Browns team that has allowed the most sacks in the league. One of Atkins' better games came against the same Cleveland squad back in Week 9.
First down: The Chiefs could have to experience life without Justin Houston for at least a week. The pass rusher left last week's win over Buffalo with a sprained PCL and is being called "week-to-week". While he's a big loss for Kansas City's defense, Houston's sack-dependent nature means that IDP owners should be able to find a short-term replacement for the linebacker.
Second down: Plenty of attention has been paid to the rash of injuries that has befallen the Patriots offense, but the defense also took a big hit in Week 12. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower reportedly suffered an MCL sprain in last week's loss to the Broncos. The injury isn't season-ending -- at least for Hightower -- but if he misses a couple of weeks it could signal the end of his fantasy campaign.
Third down: The Bills have placed defensive lineman Kyle Williams on season-ending injured reserve as he continues his recovery from a meniscus injury suffered in October. His loss hasn't had a direct impact for IDP managers, but it has weakened the Bills run defense and forced some changes in personnel recently.
Fourth down: The Panthers made a move to shore up their defense by signing veteran cornerbackCortland Finnegan. Finnegan last played for the Dolphins in 2014 and announced his retirement last spring. It's a signing made largely to add depth to the position with Charles Tillman dealing with an injury and isn't likely to make any real fantasy impact.