If you're here in Week 1, and you are already on the verge of considering which defense to stream, congratulations. You did not reach for a D/ST early in your draft, and haven't entangled yourself with an unnecessary weekly commitment to one of fantasy football's most volatile positions. Fantasy football is a week-to-week proposition, not a season-long one, and the defense is the most matchup-dependent play around.
Even the mythical Seahawks defense scored outside the top 10 fantasy defenses in six weeks last season. People frequently burn a pick outside of the double-digit rounds on Seattle's D/ST, and even they are not a take-it-to-the-bank high-end start every week.
Playing the matchups and streaming is the way to go; taking a low cost/investment approach to the position. Of course, this requires a little more work, as you'll need to scour the waiver wire each week for a starting D/ST and assessing which matchups are the most beneficial. Luckily, we are here to help you with that last part.
Some qualifications when searching for a streaming defense:
» Good matchups. Of course, this is where we look first. You'll want a defense playing a poor offense, particularly one with a lackluster quarterback.
»*Home teams.* The margin for error is smaller for defenses playing on the road than it is for those in the comforts of their own stadium. That's not to say that a road team cannot be a useful streamer if the matchup is juicy enough, but you're safer to side with a home team, if all other factors are near equal.
»*Favorites.* This one is the biggest deciding factor. Last year, Denny Carter ran the numbers and found that teams favored to win on a weekly basis achieved Top 12 status 63.6 percent of the time in 2013. Logically, it checks out. When a team is winning, they have a better chance to create havoc for the opposing offense. Defenders can key off on the other teams now-necessary pass-heavy approach, creating sacks and turnovers. Predicting favorites is difficult, unless you can see the future, but you can go with a general idea.
»*Good defenses.* Ironically, this is the last part we look at. Inherently most of the week-in, week-out starting defenses are already owned by the other teams in your leagues. However, even if a somewhat superior defense is playing on the road, or against a league-average offense, we'll fade them for a lesser squad playing a poor offense at home. Of course, we'll still always break ties in favor of the better unit, but defensive production is historically volatile. Don't balk at using a poor defense as your fantasy streamer.
With that in mind, let's look at some of the best defenses to stream in Week 1. We'll go highest to lowest in terms of NFL.com ownership percentage.
Miami Dolphins D/ST (61.5 percent owned) at Washington
Odds are, the Dolphins are already on someone's roster in your league. However, 38.5 percent of NFL.com leagues let them fall to the waiver wire at the conclusion of their draft.
Even though, based on last year's tape, Kirk Cousins provides a slight upgrade over Robert Griffin III, he's not the picture of safety himself. Over the last two years, Cousins averages 18.9 fantasy points against pass defenses ranked in the bottom half, but that number more than cuts in half (falling to 9.3) when he faces a top-16 pass defense. You can almost bank on him sending a throw Miami's way in this one, which makes them a safe D/ST play, despite their visiting status.
Miami added the most valuable free agent defender when they signed Ndamukong Suh this offseason. He'll cause major havoc in the middle of the defensive line. It didn't take long to identify pass blocking as an issue for Washington. Removing Griffin will certainly take away some of the propensity for giving up sacks, but their offensive line is still a weakness. Miami is certainly the favorite in this game, and should get ahead early. The game script is favorable, and the matchup is right. If this game were in Miami, and they were not so highly owned, the Dolphins D/ST would be the clear streamer of the week. Nevertheless, they're one of the few road defenses I'd be comfortable streaming in Week 1.
Carolina Panthers D/ST (25.4 percent owned) at Jacksonville Jaguars
Another road team with an ideal matchup. The Jaguars scored the fewest amount of points in the NFL last season, and Blake Bortles threw 17 interceptions to 11 touchdowns. While the additions of Jeremy Parnell to the line and T.J. Yeldon to the backfield, combined with the healthy return of Allen Robinson should boost this unit, it's a questionable proposition at best. Carolina plays an aggressive brand of defense, and could certainly make Bortles pay with a turnover.
A word of caution, should you choose to stream this defense in Week 1: the Panthers are not the healthiest group right now. Ron Rivera indicated the team will "not rush" interior anchor, Star Lotulelei, back from a preseason foot injury. Their pass rush and run defense takes a major hit if he is not in the lineup Week 1. Both starting corners spent time in the the concussion protocol lately, although Charles Tillman is cleared to play. Given that they're playing on the road, I'm inclined to go in a different direction with my Week 1 streamer, but Carolina could certainly return value for those who use them.
New York Jets D/ST (18.7 percent owned) hosting Cleveland Browns
Talk about a slam dunk streamer; the Jets have everything you're looking for in a streamer. They improved their personnel this offseason by adding Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Leonard Williams to an already talented group. The Jets play at home, and are favorites to beat Cleveland. Even though their offense has questions marks, there's little reason to believe New York cannot handle Cleveland on their turf.
Josh McCown threw interceptions at an alarming rate last season, sending one to the opposition on 4.3 percent of his passes. His wildly efficient 2013 season with Chicago is the clear anomaly of his career. There will not be a second act on an offense that features Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins as the current starting receivers. Couple the passing game struggles with Isaiah Crowell being the only healthy running back on the roster, and the Browns are in for a long offensive day.
Dallas Cowboys (11.8 percent owned) hosting New York Giants
The Cowboys were billed as a historically bad defense last season. Instead, they finished right around the middle of the pack, in terms of yards and points allowed. All they did this offseason was bolster the unit, adding Randy Gregory and Greg Hardy to the pass rush led by second-year man, Demarcus Lawrence. The team welcomes back Sean Lee from a season-long injury absence. Hardy won't be available for Week 1, but this defense has a chance to build on a promising 2014 campaign.
There's some risk to playing a D/ST in what projects to be a shootout. However, the Cowboys are the heavy favorite in the game, and play at home. The Giants offense took a big step forward when Odell Beckham hit the field, but Eli Manning is still known for his head-scratching gaffes. It's no sure thing, but the Cowboys could provide a good Week 1 return. At the very least, they're a consistent unit, finishing as a top 10 fantasy defense 11 times last year.
Minnesota Vikings D/ST (8.5 percent owned) at San Francisco 49ers
Of all the defensive ownership percentages, the Vikings' defense is the most shocking. Mike Zimmer routinely scrapes together good units, and this latest Minnesota incarnation has a ton of talent. The Vikings are especially young and athletic upfront, led by Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr. The team looks to run a slowed down offense built around Adrian Peterson and dominant rushing offense. Their game scripts will often lead to close contests, and that will lessen the odds they let up a ton of points.
Minnesota is the road team, so that takes some shine off their appeal. However, their matchup might be good enough to render that negligible. Every year we look to take advantage of the teams bordering on dumpster fire territory. This year, the 49ers are the prime contender. Just on their offensive line alone, the team lost two key young starters, and replaced them with Erik Pears and Jordan Devey. With Colin Kaepernick's propensity for taking sacks, and Minnesota's front, this could be bad news for the Bay Area team. The favorite in this contest, Minnesota could see a few turnovers go their way on Monday.
So, you're desperate?
It's okay, it happens to all of us in every walk of life. Maybe you play in a league with a few jokers who draft and roster a backup defense -- you should literally never do this in typical redraft leagues -- and your waiver options are limited. These few defenses are not recommended to the faint of heart. But if you're bold enough to dare, there's at least one option here I like better than a few listed above.
Jacksonville Jaguars (2.0 percent owned) hosting Carolina Panthers
The injury to Kelvin Benjamin was a devastating blow to the Carolina Panthers offense. He was their only dynamic outside and downfield receiving threat, and it forces them to try and win games in the 13-10 variety. What better way to start that off than in Jacksonville? There's little doubt this tilt sets up as a low-scoring affair.
Carolina's offense had a ton of variance even with their best receiver in the lineup. The Jaguars do play an aggressive brand of defensive football under Gus Bradley, and added some pieces in the offseason. Don't rule out that they force Cam Newton into a mistake or two.
Oakland Raiders (2.0 percent owned) hosting Cincinnati Bengals
You knew this was desperation time. The Raiders were the worst fantasy defense in the NFL last season, so playing them in Week 1 without any discernable reason for hope might just be certifiable. And to be fair, you probably are not this desperate in a redraft, but if you want to make a contrarian play in DFS, perhaps you take a stab here.
The Bengals are projected to trounce Oakland, but it's rare that a non-elite road team dominates in such a fashion. Andy Dalton is prone to turnovers coming in waves, and reminded us as much in his preseason game against the Buccaneers. The RaidersKhalil Mack dominated the preseason, and could be the type of game wrecker that turns a defense around single-handedly. It's a long shot, but it's not out of the question this goes awry for Cincinnati, and the Raiders D/ST has a surprisingly usable week.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1.5 percent owned) hosting Tennessee Titans
Much like the previous two teams, Tampa Bay was a bad defense in 2014 -- checking in as the 10th-worst in terms of fantasy points scored. They did not go out of their way to make massive improvements in the offseason, rather focusing on the offense, but there's still talent here with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. Those players have a strong chance to shine through in Week 1. In their game against the Titans, the Bucs are both the home team and the favorite.
In a near-lock to be a low-scoring game, the Bucs will also get to face off against a rookie quarterback. Marcus Mariota is a good candidate for a long and fruitful NFL career, but he could be overwhelmed in his first NFL action where a team game plans to stop him. Everything about this situation screams ideal streaming defense. I wouldn't talk anyone out of using them over a few of the D/STs listed outside of the desperation section.
In the latest episode of the NFL Fantasy LIVE podcast the gang previewed Thursday night's NFL season opener between the Patriots and Steelers and reacted to the rash of roster moves from over the weekend. They also answered some of your burning fantasy questions via the mailbag. Don't forget to subscribe and listen in HERE!
Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter **@MattHarmon_BYB**. He'd like to personally wave goodbye to his social life now that season is upon us.