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Team Defense Draft and Streaming Targets

By Matt Schauf 9:09am EDT 9/3/16

OK, your fantasy football draft has reached the late rounds. Which defense should you pick?

If you’re reading this article, then we probably don’t need to tell you that you shouldn’t be the person reaching for Seattle or Denver in Round 10. Even if those 2 particular defenses wind up as the top 2 in fantasy, none is going to deliver you starter value every week.

Just 2 defenses finished more than 10 of 16 weeks in fantasy-starter territory in 2015: Kansas City (12) and Pittsburgh (11). Only 7 others delivered more than 8 fantasy-starter weeks: Arizona, Denver, Indianapolis, Carolina, Minnesota, St. Louis and Oakland. Of those 9 total defenses that finished more than half of their weeks among the top 12, just 4 ranked among the top 12 in MyFantasyLeague.com ADP last August.

And those Seahawks who were going a round and a half ahead of all other defenses last summer and remain #2 in ADP this year? They finished just 7 of 16 weeks among the top 12.

No defense is likely to land you in starter territory every week. But perhaps you still prefer to start your team with a trustworthy D.

If that’s the case, then take a look at the schedule for our top-ranked team D:

Week 1 vs. New England
Week 2 vs. Tampa Bay
Week 3 at Buffalo
Week 4 vs. Los Angeles
Week 5 at San Francisco
Week 6 vs. N.Y. Jets
Week 7 vs. Seattle
Week 8 at Carolina
BYE
Week 10 vs. San Francisco
Week 11 at Minnesota
Week 12 at Atlanta
Week 13 vs. Washington
Week 14 at Miami
Week 15 vs. New Orleans
Week 16 at Seattle
Week 17 at Los Angeles

Even the Cardinals almost certainly won’t land you in starter territory every week, and there will probably be weeks where they disappoint despite a good setup. But at the moment, the only 2 games that frighten me are Week 8 at the Panthers and Week 16 at the Seahawks.


Wading into the Stream

Of course, you don’t need to reach or Arizona’s D to make your fantasy season.

Streaming defenses has become more popular in fantasy each year, and it makes loads of sense based on the info from earlier in this article. But the more owners there are trying to stream in a given league, the tougher it becomes to snag streamable Ds.

You might find articles out there that already recommend streaming options for the entire season. I don’t see how that will help you. A lot will change throughout the year. According to Graham Barfield of Fantasy Guru, even Vegas needs at least a few weeks to sharpen its prediction accuracy.

But we can look now at what you should be looking for in a streaming D.


What Makes a Streaming Target

First of all, sacks and turnovers are more important than projected scoring. Think about it: In the points-allowed category, common fantasy scoring doesn’t start rewarding more than 1 fantasy point unless your D/ST has held the opponent under 14. (FanDuel, DraftKings and Yahoo! default scoring all use that setup.)

Well, the worst scoring offense in the league last year – San Francisco – averaged 14.9 points per contest. The best scoring defense in the league – Seattle – allowed 17.3 points per game. So, on average, the points-allowed category is giving you nothing.

That doesn’t make the category irrelevant, though. Multiple studies have found that you want to target favorites, according to the Vegas lines, with home favorites the ultimate. Aaron Butler of Rotoviz found that in 2014, top 12 defenses were favored 58% of the time, home teams 56% of the time, both 41% of the time and either 72% of the time.

So, basically, the defense that you pick should at least be either favored or playing at home.

More specifically, Chris Raybon of 4for4 found that you got a boost in 2015 by picking a D whose opponent had a Vegas implied point total of 24 or less. There’s an even bigger boost if that opponent is projected for less than 18 points.

This isn’t because of any bonus you can expect in the points-allowed category. The trailing opponent will likely throw the ball more, which produces more opportunities for the sacks and INTs that will drive your team D’s upside.

We’ll figure out who the top weekly targets are as we get into the season and have more to go on – especially Vegas lines for each week. But we can get a jumpstart now for at least the early weeks.


Early Options

Beyond the Arizona schedule from before, consider drafting Houston’s D/ST for its favorable early slate:

Week 1 vs. Chicago
Week 2 vs. Kansas City
Week 3 at New England
Week 4 vs. Tennessee
Week 5 at Minnesota
Week 6 vs. Indianapolis
Week 7 at Denver
Week 8 vs. Detroit

The Texans figure to enter weeks 1 and 2 as a home favorite. They could very well do so in Week 4 as well. We’ll see about weeks 6 and 8 as they draw closer, but Indy and Detroit stand as potentially usable matchups. Even the early road trips will – as of right now – find Houston facing Jimmy Garoppolo, Shaun Hill and Trevor Siemian.

Of course, if you do draft the Texans and they treat you well over the season’s 1st half, don’t let that keep you from playing the matchups the rest of the way. Many fantasy owners who feasted on the Broncos’ turnover-heavy defensive start last season found themselves disappointed in Denver’s 2nd-half contributions.

Now let’s take a look beyond the defenses that are commonly being drafted as starting units.

Washington will be interesting for its early schedule. We wouldn’t target this D in Week 1 – despite a home date – with potentially explosive Pittsburgh coming to town. But a Week 2 home matchup with Dallas might prove attractive, as could home dates with Cleveland in Week 4 and Philadelphia in Week 6. Keep an eye on this crew.

Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh
Week 2 vs. Dallas
Week 3 at N.Y. Giants
Week 4 vs. Cleveland
Week 5 at Baltimore
Week 6 vs. Philadelphia

Now, we do have Vegas lines for the Week 1 games. So here are some defenses going outside the top 12 in ADP that might be available and attractive for your fantasy lineups.

Week 1
Eagles (-6) vs. Cleveland
Colts (-4) vs. Detroit
Ravens (-3) vs. Buffalo
Tennessee vs. Minnesota

The Eagles, Colts and Ravens each open the season as home favorites. The Philly-Cleveland game carries the 4th lowest over/under in the league, which leaves the Browns’ implied point projection at 18.5. Even if you don’t care to bet on the Philly defense for the season, this is a good reason to draft the Eagles.

As of this writing, the Titans remain a 1-point underdog at home. But they’ll face a Vikings offense not far from losing QB Teddy Bridgewater. Plus, the game carries Vegas’ lowest total point projection. So there’s upside here.

Week 2
Chicago vs. Philly
Detroit vs. Tennessee
N.Y. Giants vs. New Orleans
Oakland vs. Atlanta

Week 3
Cincinnati vs. Denver
Dallas vs. Chicago
Jacksonville vs. Baltimore
Miami vs. Cleveland
N.Y. Giants vs. Washington
Tampa Bay vs. Los Angeles

We don’t have lines for weeks 2 and 3 yet, but here are some outside-the-top-12 defenses who figure to enter those weeks as home favorites. I bolded the Giants as the only team to appear in the list for more than 1 of these 1st 3 weeks. You could draft the Giants and start them at Dallas in Week 1 as well, though we’re all guessing at this point whether facing Dak Prescott in his 1st NFL start is a positive matchup or not.

I included the Bengals despite their current #8 position in ADP because I wouldn’t be surprised if they get dumped in some leagues after opening the season with tough matchups at the Jets and at the Steelers.

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