With Week 1 in the books, we're firmly in overreaction season. With a plethora of new and current data to work with, we're naturally inclined to overemphasize what we just saw. However, if there is one thing we can say with confidence, steaming defenses is the way to go.
Of the top 12 defensive scorers from Sunday's action, eight of them were owned in less than 33 percent of NFL.com leagues prior to kickoff.
Fantasy football is a week to week proposition, not a season-long one, and the defense is the most matchup dependent play around. 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 assess 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 at home against a poor offense. 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.
The Panthers were the highest scoring fantasy defense of Week 1. A healthy total of five sacks and an interception return for a touchdown will do that for you. It helped that the Panthers faced the Jaguars, who lost their starting left tackle midway through the game, but Carolina also served to remind us they are a quality defensive unit. Even without Star Lotulelei and Luke Kuechly, who left with a concussion, other players emerged.
Carolina should be favored to win in a low-scoring battle with the visiting Houston Texans. As of Monday, Houston is still undecided as to who they'll start at quarterback in Week 2. Brian Hoyer provided plenty of disastrous moments in Week 1, and was pulled for Ryan Mallett. Bill O'Brien told us on Hard Knocks the starter had a short leash, and he could turn to Mallett for a stretch. Matching the uncertainty at quarterback is a muddy backfield that split touches three ways.
As a quality defense facing a lackluster offense at home, in a game they should win, the Panthers D/ST meets all four of the qualifications laid out for a streamer. They may be owned in your league, but if not, they're the top pickup of the week. If you play daily fantasy, they're a mid-range unit to consider dropping in several lineups.
How frisky are you feeling? Starting the defense playing Peyton Manning on a short week is playing with fire. However, the Broncos offense looked downright poor in squeaking out a six point victory over the visiting Ravens on Sunday. An inexperienced offensive line allowed Manning to get hit five times, and the 39-year old quarterback tossed a pick-six and generally looked nothing like the Hall of Famer we know him as. Despite being laden with talented skill position players, Denver's offense managed exactly zero touchdowns.
The Chiefs defense took down that aforementioned Texans offense in Week 1 with five sacks and two turnovers, finishing at the fringe of the top 12. Kansas City is at home, which has historically been a major boost on the Thursday night game slate, and should at worst be a push to beat Denver. They solidly meet two of the qualifications we look for in a streaming defense. There's probably some safer plays when searching for a Week 2 D/ST start. Yet, the Chiefs are an underrated NFL defense, and given the state of Denver's line and Manning's arm, should have chances for big plays. If you're out on Manning and the Broncos, you're playing the Chiefs defense in Week 2.
Mike Zimmer's aggressive defensive unit gets a fine matchup in Week 2 when the Lions come to town. Detroit's previous opponent, the San Diego Chargers, forced Matt Stafford into two interceptions and they are a far less talented group than Minnesota. It was a performance in line with Stafford's history as a slightly worse quarterback on the road than in the comforts of Detroit's dome.
With that being said, the Lions offense is certainly high-powered enough to make this a risky pick. Despite the interceptions, the Chargers still only scored five fantasy points in Week 1, and that was without Calvin Johnson involved much. We do expect that the Vikings have more sack artists and playmakers in the secondary than the Chargers, so they could create even more big plays on Stafford. At worst, they are a home team facing a mistake-prone passer.
The Browns had a solid outing against the Jets passing game, but got eatten up on the ground by Chris Ivory. They intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick, and generally put some heat on the offense, but didn't produce the howitzer type plays that lead to fantasy points. We can expect a better D/ST performance out of Cleveland in Week 2.
Despite his two touchdown performance of last week, Bishop Sankey is not Chris Ivory, and the Titans do not have the same pounding attitude of the Jets. While Marcus Mariota looked next in line of great young quarterbacks on Sunday, one game does not make a career. The Browns have better personnel on their defensive unit than the players Mariota squared off with in Tampa Bay. This game could easily be a reckoning for the rookie quarterback, after a four-touchdown effort in his debut.
Cleveland is a better defense than they showed on Sunday, and will remain a lesser owned unit. We expect them to have a rebound performance and return value against a rookie quarterback in a low scoring home game.
So you're desperate?
It's OK, it happens to all of us in every walk of life. Maybe you play in a league with a few jokers who 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.
This one will either be a big hit or a colossal whiff. The Saints have a great matchup against the Buccaneers. Jameis Winston's home debut was an outright disaster, leading to a double-digit point day from the opposing Titans D/ST, and his first road game figures to go down in similar fashion. Winston may prove a fine NFL quarterback down the line, but that dreadful offensive line and his risk-taking ways add up to make any defense facing him attractive for fantasy.
Unfortunately, the defense that gets the call this week is the Saints banged up group. Multiple members of their secondary are facing extended absences, and they just gave up 427 yards to the Arizona Cardinals. We got burned using a bad defense in a good matchup last week playing the Bucs D/ST, and be wary that a similar fate could befall you if you stream the Saints. But the double digit point potential and chance for multiple turnovers is enticing.
It's a bad week for road defenses to potentially stream, which is fine because they make us feel less comfortable than home teams. The only visiting team we like as a potential streamer is the same Tennessee Titans that victimized Jameis Winston in Week 1. There's not a ton to love about the Titans personnel, but they did enough to exploit a favorable matchup against a mistake-prone passer, even though they were on the road. Tennessee will see a quarterback of that ilk when they travel to Cleveland in Week 2, regardless of who starts for the Browns.
Johnny Manziel did well in moving the offense for Cleveland following Josh McCown's concussion, but he still turned the ball over three times. He's made some progress from his first season, but the Titans are still likely able to bait him into a gaffe or two. If Josh McCown gets the start, we well know that he has a propensity for tossing the ball to the opposition. The Titans were one of the highest scoring units last week, so recency bias indicates they'll be a hot commodity this week and you'll face competition for them. There are safer home options, but it's hard to envision a scenario where the Titans blow up in your face and sink your lineup, consider who they're facing.