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Six weeks into the 2021 season, we're learning exactly how little we know about team defenses during fantasy draft season.
Despite giving up a monster game to Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry in Week 6, the Buffalo Bills are the No. 1 defense in most scoring systems six weeks in thanks to massive stat lines in Weeks 2, 4 and 5. Buffalo's ADP over the summer? Seventh among defenses according to Fantasy Pros.
The No. 2 defense is an even bigger surprise. After blasting the Cleveland Browns in a game that included five sacks and three takeaways, the Arizona Cardinals and fantasy football's No.2 defense at this point in the season.
Their ADP was D/ST17. In other words, somewhere between "afterthought" and "waiver wire."
The No. 3 fantasy defense is less a team defense than one guy singlehandedly propelling an entire unit to fantasy relevance. That's what's happening with cornerback Trevon Diggs, who picked off his 72nd (approximately) pass of the season last week against the New England Patriots and returned it for a touchdown.
The Cowboys' ADP was 20th among defenses—one spot behind the Chicago Bears, who are fifth in fantasy points at the position after six weeks.
Now, this doesn't mean that highly-drafted units like the Los Angeles Rams (who are sixth after pasting the hapless Giants Sunday) won't live up to their draft slots in 2021. Many will.
But after a month and a half we're getting another lesson in why so many fantasy analysts (including this one) advise waiting until late in drafts and/or streaming defenses.
Because you just never know who is going to blow up in a given year.
Los Angeles Rams (vs. Detroit Lions)
That the Rams rank as highly as they do after six weeks speaks to just how good the Los Angeles defense really is—this is a team that that has already played the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks—even if that last one comes with a broken finger asterisk. We saw what Aaron Donald, Jalen Ramsey and Co. can do in a plus matchup last week in New York—four sacks, four takeaways and 11 points allowed. Now the Rams host a winless Lions team coached by a man who may or may not be considering biting his own quarterback's kneecaps off. Detroit does strange things to a man.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Chicago Bears)
The Buccaneers are nowhere near as good defensively as we expected the team to be in 2021—largely because the entire secondary is hurt. Tampa is allowing over 280 yards a game through the air—and it doesn't matter even a little bit this week. Sunday the Bucs host a Chicago Bears team led by a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields who is both struggling throwing the ball and getting sacked a lot. The Bears are dead last in the NFL in total offense, last in the NFC in scoring offense and have allowed a league-high 22 sacks. Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul are licking their chops ahead of this one, and Devin White's odds of an "A" gap sack in this game are approximately 347 percent.
Arizona Cardinals (vs. Houston Texans)
Some of these matchups in Week 7 are borderline unfair. After holding the Browns to just 14 points in Week 6, there isn't a team in the NFC allowing fewer points a game than the 18.2 the Redbirds are giving up. Arizona is fifth in the NFL in sacks with 17 and second in the NFC with 13 takeaways. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are about to play a Houston Texans team that has scored nine or fewer points in three of six games, including just three last week against the Colts. The Texans have also allowed the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing defenses—and that number actually feels low. This game will get out of hand, and desperate teams trailing in blowouts make mistakes.
New England Patriots (vs. New York Jets)
The Patriots are coming off a rough outing defensively against Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, but it's not exactly strange for Dallas to put defenses through the wringer. This week's opponent is of slightly lower quality—the Jets may have finally won a game, but the team is still last in the AFC in total offense, dead last in the league in scoring offense (averaging less than 14 points a contest) and leads the NFL in fantasy points allowed to defenses, When these teams met in Week 2 in New York, the Jets scored six points and Zach Wilson threw four picks with four sacks allowed. The rematch may go better, but that's only because there's really nowhere to go from there but up.
Carolina Panthers (at New York Giants)
Some of the shine has admittedly come off the Panthers, who have dropped three straight after a 3-0 start and just got lit up at home by Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota Vikings. But all of the shine came off Daniel Jones last week—the Giants quarterback threw three interceptions against the Los Angeles Rams, lost a fumble and posted a passer rating of less than 45. That's not good, if you were wondering. Jones was sacked four times last week behind New York's woeful offensive line, and for all the things the Panthers aren’t doing defensively one thing they are doing is getting after opposing quarterbacks.
New Orleans Saints (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
The New Orleans Saints aren't getting a lot of run as a playoff contender in the NFC, but one of the reasons the Saints come out of their bye at 3-2 is a defense that has allowed just 18.2 points per game, which is tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the lowest mark in the NFC. New Orleans has been just as quietly solid for fantasy managers, ranking ninth overall and fourth in fantasy points per game after six games. The Seattle Seahawks played fairly well in Pittsburgh last week, but we're still talking about a limited offense led by Geno Smith. If the Saints were dropped due to their bye, they are the top streaming pickup of the week.
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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Green Bay Packers (vs. Washington Football Team)
Remember when some people thought that Washington might be a good team in 2021? Pepperidge Farm remembers. The funk that has turned the Washington defense into a pile of poo (it's a technical term) appears to have infected the offense—last week Washington mustered just 13 points and 276 yards at home against Kansas City's non-existent defense. Washington also turned the ball over twice, and that absolutely pootrid (get it?) defense continually puts Taylor Heinicke in catch-up mode. It's a poopetual motion machine of misery (OK, I'll stop now.)
Denver Broncos (at Cleveland Browns)
The Denver Broncos have gone from the penthouse to the outhouse. Over the first three weeks of the season, the Broncos rode a soft schedule to a fourth-place ranking in fantasy points. However, in Week 4 the schedule stiffened up, and the bandwagon careened into a ditch—after getting scorched by the Las Vegas Raiders in Denver Sunday the Broncos are the fourth-worst defense in fantasy over the last three weeks. So why would fantasy managers want any part of them? Easy—on Thursday they play a Cleveland Browns team that is down Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, both starting tackles, their most dependable wide receiver. Oh, and Baker Mayfield dislocated his left shoulder last week against Arizona.
Las Vegas Raiders (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
The Raiders aren't a great defensive football team—Vegas is a middle-of-the pack team in terms of both yardage and sacks allowed, although after teeing off on Denver last week the Raiders rank inside the top 10 with 16 sacks on the season. But this is a streaming recommendation, so it has more to do with the Raiders opponent than the Silver and Black themselves. The Eagles looked absolutely atrocious for most of last week's loss to Tampa on offense—the Eagles ran one play in Tampa territory in the first half and didn't top 100 yards of offense until the fourth quarter. This is a sneaky-good Week 7 play for teams with bye-week issues.
Cleveland Browns (vs. Denver Browns)
This is not a play for the faint of heart—the Browns have been torched to the tune of 79 points over the past two weeks despite ranking second in the NFL In yards allowed per game. But those 79 points were delivered courtesy of Justin Herbert and Kyler Murray, and Denver's Teddy Bridgewater is…not those guys. Bridgewater was a mess against the Raiders in Week 6, throwing three picks. The cause of those interceptions (at least in part) was a Vegas pass rush that harassed him constantly, and Myles Garrett and the Browns have the most sacks (18) in the AFC.
Atlanta Falcons (at Miami Dolphins)
This is one of those calls that gets me side-eyed (I can see it. Feel it too. It's uncalled for). But the Miami Dolphins just lost to the Jacksonville freaking Jaguars, and judging from his facial expression at the end of that game Brian Flores is one more loss away from spontaneously combusting. The Dolphins are 30th in total offense, 29th in scoring offense and have surrendered the second-most fantasy points to opposing fantasy defenses this season. The Falcons have had two weeks to get ready for this game, and coming off the bye Atlanta will be available on just about every waiver wire. This week's desperation play du jour for managers in deep leagues.