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.
Some hapless offenses brought big fantasy point totals to several D/STs, but they were mostly the big names. The Cardinals, Seahawks, Bills and Broncos all found their way into the top-five of fantasy defense scorers in Week 3. However, the Vikings were suggested as a play in last week's column, and they were the final team in that top-five group. The Colts just missed the mark, and not many saw them coming as a big scorer on the road against a safe Titans offense.
This just relays the point that D/ST scoring is one of the most widely-variant in fantasy football, and a nightmare to try and predict with 100 percent weekly accuracy. However, we march onward with several Week 4 suggestions.
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 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 4. We'll go highest to lowest in terms of NFL.com ownership percentage.
At surface level, the Colts don't exactly inspire a ton of confidence as a defensive unit. However, they're coming off a big Week 4 performance. Indianapolis racked up three sacks, two interceptions and a touchdown going up against a careful Marcus Mariota and the Titans. Despite all their best wishes, the Colts must accept they must be a high-variance pass-heavy attack that gets in a number of back and forth contests. That's good news for fantasy owners looking for a streaming defense, if they wake up and smell the coffee. The inexperienced, and/or bad, quarterbacks in their division will get forced into mistakes trying to keep pace with them.
One of these instances will take place on Sunday when the Jaguars travel to Indianapolis. The Jaguars strung together one half of strong offense against the Dolphins in Week 2, but have otherwise struggled to move the ball. The offensive line continues allowing pressure to rattle Blake Bortles, who owns a 54.8 completion percentage. The Jaguars have a work horse running back in T.J. Yeldon, but he's averaging 3.3 yards per carry. Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are both rounding into form as the top receivers on the outside, but Vontae Davis poses an intimidating threat as a coverage player.
I don't normally advocate for streaming against Alex Smith, because he's typically the league's most careful passer, but his Week 2 debacle tested that theory. The Broncos rattled his cage, sending waves of pressure at an offensive line that has a revolving door at right tackle, and inexperience at center and right guard. This offense should generally still be an efficient unit, but offensive line issues will cause more turnovers and disruption in Kansas City's flow than we're used to.
The Bengals got into a shootout with the Ravens on Sunday, but their D/ST posted double digit fantasy points in two consecutive weeks to open the season. Geno Atkins' return to dominant form is a major revelatory force in Cincinnati's stop unit. The All-Pro defensive tackle should be able to knife through the struggling Chiefs offensive line, and force Alex Smith into mistakes.
The Dallas Cowboys top ranked run defense through the first two weeks was proved to be a mirage in Week 3. They ceded 193 total yards and three rushing touchdowns to Devonta Freeman in Sunday's loss to the Falcons. With the offense unable to hold a massive time of possession advantage over the opposition, the defense sputtered. However, there is some merit to streaming them in Week 4.
Luke McCown ran an efficient, dink and dunk offense against the Panthers on Sunday. We expected Carolina to put up a deathblow-level fight; we were wrong. Nevertheless, we'll put stock in the idea that the other shoe has to drop for McCown at some point. The Cowboys defensive unit may recover some of their lost dignity against an offense that currently features no difference making players at the Julio Jones level. Even if Drew Brees plays, the Saints offense has looked disorganized and flying south of expectations. There's a few better options than the Cowboys D/ST, especially since they're a road team, but you may be able to effectively stream them in Week 4.
The Falcons let us down as a streaming defense this past week, as they allowed Joseph Randle get off to a hot start. Randle took his first three carries for 85 yards and a score. However, the defense tightened up and his next 11 carries went for a combined two yards. Public perception won't agree after this game, but the Atlanta defense is improving.
Their best performance of the season came in Week 1 against the Eagles in their home stadium. Atlanta goes back to the Georgia Dome to welcome Ryan Mallett and the Houston Texans. A lot of this comes back to whether Arian Foster plays, because we've seen the Alfred Blue 30-plus carries story before, and know the sequel isn't very good. However, if Foster rests again, we like the idea of streaming an aggressive defense going against an offense that's having Mallett average 48.5 pass attempts per start.
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 might be at least one option here I might like better than a few listed above.
The Saints haven't paid big dividends as a streaming unit, and let down those expecting a big Week 2 performance against Jameis Winston. However, this talent deficient unit has averaged seven fantasy points as a D/ST the last two weeks. In a desperation moment, they can provide you some relief. We're especially encouraged that two big reinforcements could be on their way back to this team. Jairus Byrd and Keenan Lewis took part in last Wednesday's practice, and both would provide a big boost for a one of the league's most anemic secondaries through three weeks.
The Dallas offense didn't do much when the Falcons clamped down on the running game in the second half of the Week 3 faceoff. The effects of having Brandon Weeden at quarterback reared their ugly head not too long into this game. With the Saints hosting the Cowboys, we like their chances to force Weeden into a few errors.
The quality of the Raiders defense isn't really the primary appeal here, regardless. We're excited about the matchup they draw for Week 4. The Chicago Bears offense with Jimmy Clausen at the helm in Seattle was one of the more hapless performances we've seen in quite some time. The Bears were shut out of the score board, averaged 3.2 yards per play and only totaled 146 net yards of offense. Even if the Raiders lack talent, we'll take our chances against this passing game. The Raiders are available in almost all formats, and I'll personally snag them for a few of the leagues I stream in.
This is the biggest desperation leap of the week. The Charges D/ST has a combined 11 fantasy points on the season. They've had two poor performances in a row on the road to efficient offenses in Cincinnati and Minnesota. The Browns do not qualify as such. Against the Raiders in Week 3, they totaled 39 net yards rushing, and mostly moved the ball through the air. Josh McCown still makes plenty of mistakes, taking five sacks and throwing a game-sealing interception to Charles Woodson.
The Chargers aren't the best playmaking defense. They're tied for 10th in interceptions with three, but only have one recorded sack on the season. Again, this is only a play if you're truly desperate. But they're available in nearly every league, and could pay off with McCown and the Browns traveling out west to their stadium.