The strategy of streaming defenses in fantasy gains popularity with each passing year, and for good reason. Fantasy defenses are among the most volatile producers in the game, which makes investing anything other than a final-round pick in one a rather foolish endeavor in fantasy drafts. Both the Dolphins and Bills were drafted as top-10 fantasy defenses in 2015 across multiple sites, and they finished 25th and 20th, respectively. This is a small sample, but it helps give credence to the idea that taking a low-cost, low-risk approach to the position is a better way to construct your weekly lineup. This is where streaming comes into play. For those new to the practice, it involves adding and dropping a defense each week to roster one with an advantageous matchup to exploit. Rather than plugging and playing an "elite" defense you drafted early, you mine similar production from less-inspiring squads in favorable situations.
Last year, Matt Harmon and Matt Franciscovich tag-teamed this column, but I'll be taking it over full-time in 2016. Following in their lead, I'll use the streaming D/ST qualifications they used in the past: good matchups, home teams, favorites, and obviously good defenses.
Week 1 features a number of interesting matchups for those looking to stream a defense, so let's get to it.
Philadelphia Eagles D/ST (18.3 percent owned) vs. Cleveland Browns
After a surprising DEF1 finish in 2014, the Eagles landed just outside the top-12 defenses in 2015, finishing as the DEF13 one point behind the Washington Redskins. The Eagles boast a lot of talent through all three levels of their defense, from Fletcher Cox to Malcolm Jenkins, but the biggest boon for their fantasy outlook in 2016 could be the arrival of Jim Schwartz as their new defensive coordinator. Schwartz led some strong fantasy defenses in his time in Detroit, and in his last stop as a coordinator (Buffalo, 2014) his defense led the league in sacks (54) and was the DEF3 in fantasy.
For Week 1, the defense gets the benefit of playing at home against a Cleveland offense in the midst of a rebuild. Robert Griffin III will be kicking off his redemption attempt, but will have to do so without Josh Gordon. The Cleveland line also lost vital interior presence Alex Mack, which could allow Fletcher Cox to feast and create constant havoc. The Cleveland offense figures to be better this year, but Week 1 could be the time to jump on them with a streaming defense while they work out the kinks.
Cleveland Browns D/ST (0.6 percent owned) at Philadelphia Eagles
While the Browns defense is in more flux than the offense and will be playing on the road, they'll be lining up opposite Carson Wentz in his first NFL start. Wentz was the No. 2 overall draft pick back in May but only played 38 snaps in the preseason due to cracked ribs (that are now fully healed). There will almost certainly be growing pains, as Wentz is making the jump from the FCS to the NFL with minimal reps against an actual professional defense. Wentz is a physically gifted passer, but he'll need time to acclimate to the speed of the NFL and the mental aspects of the game. Even on the road, Cleveland's defense could feast if they are able to take advantage of any mistakes by Wentz.
New York Jets D/ST (13.8 percent owned) vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Todd Bowles' defense in New York got off to a great start, finishing among the top 12 in sacks, interceptions and fumble recoveries, but a lack of touchdowns (zero) kept them from being an elite fantasy stop unit. Looking ahead to Week 1, they have a tough, but potentially fruitful matchup on deck when the Bengals come to town.
Andy Dalton isn't as turnover prone as he once was, nor is he any worse on the road than at home, but with Tyler Eifert still on the shelf recovering from offseason ankle surgery, his only true target is A.J. Green. If the Jets use Darrelle Revis to hold Green successfully in check, that could set up a long afternoon for Dalton. While the Jets will be without Sheldon Richardson (one-game suspension) Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams will give the Bengals linemen all they can handle. This could be a low-scoring affair, which could flow nicely into a bountiful fantasy afternoon for the Jets' defense. Of course, if Revis can't keep Green in check, then all bets are off.
Buffalo Bills D/ST (6.9 percent owned) at Baltimore Ravens
The Bills defense lost a lot of shine in fantasy this year after falling apart under Rex Ryan in 2015, and having a rapture hit the front seven. Marcell Dareus is suspended for the first four games, Reggie Ragland is on IR, Shaq Lawson is on the PUP, and Kyle Williams is fighting his way back from a serious knee injury. However, there are a few reasons to like Buffalo's defense this week on the road against Baltimore.
Joe Flacco is also returning from a major knee injury, and could be shaking off a bit of rust. That's good news for a ball-hawking Buffalo secondary that tied for the sixth-most interceptions in the NFL last season (17). Flacco's interception rate increases from two percent at home to three percent on the road, so the Bills defensive backs will likely see some opportunities to make plays. Also working in favor of the Bills' defense from a fantasy perspective is the look of the offense. Tyrod Taylor, Sammy Watkins and LeSean McCoy could race out to an early lead against a leaky Baltimore defense. That would turn the game plan for Flacco even more pass-heavy, playing into the Bills' defensive strength. This isn't the greatest matchup, but it's easy to see a scenario where the Bills defense emerges with a solid fantasy outing on the road.
Desperation/contrarian DFS plays
San Francisco 49ers D/ST (2.2 percent owned) vs. Los Angeles Rams: Playing at home against a Rams offense that ranked 29th in points scored and 32nd in total yards in 2015 is a juicy fantasy matchup. The Rams didn't make any major changes on offense either, though they'll have Todd Gurley from the outset. The 49ers defense has taken some hits to the talent department in recent years, but they have the opportunity for a big game at home against a shaky offense.