Getting Defensive: Week 8

Gary Davenport

Fantasy football fanatics may have a problem where the first team defense to come off draft boards is concerned. Actually, there may be a couple of problems in Chicago.

The first is the Bears run defense. After allowing a league-low 80 yards per game on the ground last year, the Bears have now been gouged on the ground in two straight games. Back in Week 5, it was rookie tailback Josh Jacobs and the Oakland Raiders. Sunday at Soldier Field, it was Latavius Murray of the New Orleans Saints, who piled up 119 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns in a 36-25 Saints win.

That's right. The Bears gave up 36 points. At home.

The second problem isn't a problem with the Bears Defense at all. It's the Chicago offense. For most of Sunday's loss, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and the Chicago offense was pathetic. The team had 17 rushing yards total for the game and didn't score an offensive touchdown until garbage time.

Chicago's offensive struggles and turnovers are putting the defense in an untenable position. NO defense—even one as good as Chicago's—can spend an entire game on the field or continually defend short fields.

It took a Cordarrelle Patterson kick return for a touchdown to salvage even a so-so fantasy effort from the Bears Defense in Week 7—and even then, Chicago finished outside the top-12 in most fantasy scoring systems.

The scheduling gods threw fantasy owners a bone in Week 8 at least—the Bears play host to a reeling Los Angeles Chargers team that ranks inside the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to team defenses this year.

But the days of Chicago being a no-brainer matchup-proof must-start, for now at least, may be over.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Miami Dolphins)

It's been a miserable season for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019, due largely to the season-ending injury suffered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. But the play of the defense has been a bright spot—the Steelers rank ninth in the NFL in scoring defense, are tied for second in the league with 15 takeaways and rank inside the top five with 20 sacks on the season. As good as all those numbers are, the best part of rolling them out in Week 8 is the fantasy matchup. Next Monday night the Steelers will play host to a winless Miami Dolphins team that has been a goldmine for opposing defenses this season. They're easily the best fantasy play of Week 8 defensively.

New England Patriots (vs. Cleveland Browns)

This article was written prior to New England's Monday night affair with the new and improved New York Jets. But there's quite literally nothing that could happen in that game that would change how I feel about rolling fantasy football's No. 1 team defense so far this season out against the Cleveland Browns next Sunday at Gillette Stadium. Only the New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals have turned the ball over more times than Cleveland has in 2019—and the Browns have played one fewer game. The Browns have also surrendered 16 sacks and rank well inside the top 10 teams in the league in fantasy points given up to team defenses in 2019.

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Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. New York Jets)

To be clear, the 2019 Jaguars Defense isn't the high-end unit we've seen in years past—the Jag are 19th in total defense and 16th in scoring defense. There have just been too many personnel losses of note, whether it was weak-side linebacker Telvin Smith deciding to take the season off or the trade that sent Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey to Los Angeles last week. But in Week 8 at least we may get a blast from Jacksonville's past defensively. The Jets may be better offensively with Sam Darnold under center than they were with Luke Falk, but entering Week 7 the Jets still led the NFL in both sacks allowed and fantasy points given up to team defenses.

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Washington Redskins)

There isn't a hotter team in the NFL right now than the Minnesota Vikings, and there's little reason to think that hot streak won't keep rolling on Thursday night against the hapless Redskins. Through seven games this season, the Redskins are 29th in total offense (267.6 yards per game), 30th in scoring offense (12.9 points per game), Last in the NFC in passing (182.9 yards per game) and 24th in rushing. Washington has also surrendered 18 sacks on the season and checks in fifth in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses. In their last game, Washington was shut out and managed less than 200 total yards and 100 passing yards. They are…ungood.

Los Angeles Rams (vs. Cincinnati Bengals (London))

The Rams had lost three straight heading into last week's tilt with the Atlanta Falcons, but the Falcons were kind enough to offer themselves up as the sacrificial lamb in a 37-10 beatdown that got the defending NFC champions back on track. Now the team gets what may be an even better matchup against a winless Bengals team that looked awful in a home loss to Jacksonville in Week 7. The Bengals turned it over four times against the Jaguars—including a pick-six by defensive end Yannick Ngakoue. It was an effort that landed the Jaguars among the top-five fantasy defenses in some scoring systems for Week 8, and the Bengals are inside the top-10 in fantasy points given up to defenses this year.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)

The 5-1 Buffalo Bills are one of the NFL's more surprising teams in 2019, and the defense deserves much of the credit for that hot start. The Philadelphia Eagles, on the other hand, are barreling in the opposite direction coming off a 37-10 loss to the Cowboys where the Eagles allowed three sacks and turned the ball over four times. It's possible that the Iggles will have speedster DeSean Jackson back for this game, which would be a huge shot in the arm for the Philly offense. But with the Bills playing at home and the Eagles in full-on flounder mode, that possible return isn't enough to dissuade me from rolling out the Bills as usual in Week 8.

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Tennessee Titans (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

The Tennessee Titans might just be the least inspiring 3-4 team in the NFL. But while it's gone largely unnoticed by most casual fans, the Tennessee defense has been solid. Through seven games the Titans have yet to allow more than 20 points in a contest, and the Titans are fifth in scoring defense—the second consecutive season the team's ranked inside the NFL's top five in that regard. Sunday the Titans will play host to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that is once again prone to shooting themselves in the foot—the Bucs have turned the ball over more times than all but three teams in the NFL and lead the NFC in fantasy points surrendered to team defenses in 2019.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Denver Broncos)

The Colts pulled out one of the biggest wins of Week 7—a seven-point thriller against the Houston Texans that left the Colts in possession of first place in the AFC South. The Colts also put up a strong effort defensively in the win, finishing inside the top 10 at the position in fantasy points thanks to three sacks, a pair of interceptions and a safety. That came against one of the better and more talent-laden offenses in the NFL. In Week 8 the Colts get the polar opposite—a Denver Broncos team that looked like hot garbage offensively a week ago in a 30-6 home loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. As streaming matchups go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better one.

Seattle Seahawks (at Atlanta Falcons)

The Atlanta Falcons are a dumpster fire in 2019, but for most of the season the team had at least been able to move the football—quarterback Matt Ryan threw for over 300 yards in each of Atlanta's first six games. But not only did that come to a screeching halt last week against the Los Angeles Rams but Ryan went down with an ankle injury and was seen in a walking boot after the game. The former MVP hasn't yet been ruled out for Week 8, but the general consensus is that he's going to be sidelined at least one game. That puts the king of pick-sixes (Matt Schaub) under center for Sunday's visit from a Seahawks team seething after getting drubbed at home last week by the Baltimore Ravens.

Green Bay Packers (at Kansas City Chiefs)

Just one week ago, this call would have gotten at the very least an eye-roll. At most it would have gotten me an intervention. But a lot can change in seven days in the NFL. With Patrick Mahomes on the shelf for at least the next three weeks with a dislocated kneecap, the league's most dangerous offense suddenly looks a lot different. Yes, veteran journeyman Matt Moore played relatively well against the Denver Broncos. But with all due respect—he's Matt Moore. And the 6-1 Packers aren't the 2-5 Broncos—Green Bay should be able to move the ball against Kansas City's defense, which in turn is going to face Moore to attempt to match scores with Aaron Rodgers.

Detroit Lions (vs. New York Giants)

This recommendation may earn me a little side-eye—when last we saw the Detroit Lions, they were giving up 42 points and over 500 yards of total offense in a loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But this call has less to do with the Lions themselves than it does the team they face Sunday at Ford Field. After leading the New York Giants to wins in his first two games, rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has come crashing back to earth—the sixth overall pick in the 2019 draft has turned the ball over seven times in the past three weeks, and the G-Men now lead the NFL with 18 total giveaways for the season. The Giants are also a top-five fantasy matchup for team defenses.

LOOKING AHEAD

New York Jets (at Miami Dolphins): It's the game that no one wants to win! The notion of using either of these team defenses may give some fantasy owners the willies, but the reality from a matchup perspective is that both teams in this contest are on the streaming radar in Week 9.

Dallas Cowboys (at New York Giants): After stomping a mudhole in the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys get a week to rest up before another primetime tilt with Danny Dimes and the Big Apple Turnovers on November 4.

Buffalo Bills (vs. Washington Redskins): If nothing else, having matchups with the Dolphins and Redskins sandwiched around this week's tilt with the Eagles should encourage wise fantasy owners to roll the dice with the Bills against the Eagles in Week 8.