We could open Getting Defensive in this biggest week for many fantasy managers by talking about another huge stat line from the Dallas Cowboys defense. And another pick-six from Cowboys cornerback DaRon Bland. But that’s becoming so repetitive that I’ll be accused of plagiarizing myself – if you can do that.
So we’ll talk about something else, and someone else.
Pittsburgh Steelers edge rusher TJ Watt is pretty good at football.
Last week against the Cincinnati Bengals, Watt collected five solo tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble – a performance that gave the 2021 Defensive Player of the Year the league lead at 13.5. The Steelers also posted their third double-digit fantasy point effort in the past five weeks to advance to the top five among team defenses for the season. Pittsburgh’s 32 sacks aren’t a particularly high number, but the Steelers have quietly risen to fifth in defensive rating and their 20 takeaways are tied for third in the NFL.
On Sunday, the Steelers welcome an Arizona Cardinals team that returns quarterback Kyler Murray. For this season the Redbirds have the ninth most fantasy points per game on defense, and while the matchup wasn’t as favorable with Murray under center, the Steelers should still be a quality start for fantasy managers.
Just not as good a start as the other team we’ll lead the No-Doubters with.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Seattle Seahawks)
After another big defensive effort, punctuated by Bland’s record-breaking fifth interception return for a touchdown, the Cowboys are fantasy football’s best defense by a significant margin. Dallas ranks third in total defense, leads the NFC against the pass, fourth in points allowed, fifth in sacks and (of course) first in the league in defensive touchdowns. This week, the Cowboys will look to extend their home winning streak to 14 games against a Seattle Seahawks team that has struggled offensively as of late. Look for the Cowboys to take another turn against an outmatched opponent.
Cleveland Browns (at Los Angeles Rams)
The Browns struggled this past week against the Denver Broncos, largely because the team lost star edge rusher Myles Garrett to a shoulder injury. However, it appears the team dodged a bullet as an MRI on Garrett’s shoulder showed no structural damage and he was labeled day-to-day. If Garrett misses the game it would change the dynamic here quite a bit, but the Browns lead the league in multiple statistical categories, including allowing the fewest total yards and passing yards per game in the league. The Browns also rank fourth among all defenses in fantasy points for the season.
Kansas City Chiefs (at Green Bay Packers)
When people talk about the Kansas City Chiefs, the conversation always starts with quarterback Patrick Mahomes and tight end Travis Kelce. However, an argument can be made that the Chiefs are actually better defensively than offensively this season. The Chiefs quietly rank fourth in the league in total defense, one of five NFL teams allowing fewer than 180 passing yards per game; only the 49ers and Ravens have given up fewer points per game. The Chiefs rank fourth in the league with 37 sacks and Kansas City has put up the seventh-most fantasy points among defenses in 2023.
Miami Dolphins (vs. Washington Commanders)
In the long run, the loss of edge rusher Jaelan Phillips to a season-ending Achilles injury is a huge blow to a Miami defense that finally got healthy with the return of defensive back Jalen Ramsey. But this week against Washington’s non-existent offensive line, the team should do well when Bradley Chubb and Andrew Van Ginkel get off the edge. This season, only the New York Giants have surrendered more sacks than the 55 the Commanders have allowed, and only the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings have turned the ball over more than the 22 giveaways Washington has collected.
Jacksonville Jaguars (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
If you’ve watched much of Jake Browning’s first start with the Cincinnati Bengals, then you know that the team has become a matchup for opposing defenses. While the Steelers loaded the box to stop Joe Mixon, the Bengals ran all 25 yards in 11 carries. Browning was sacked four times and the Bengals posted just 222 yards of total offense. The Jaguars are excellent at taking the ball away this season (third in the NFL with 20), and edge rusher Josh Allen is among the NFL leaders in sacks. This is a game that could get ugly pretty quickly for the Bengals.
New York Jets (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
The Jets defense needs a hug. I really mean it. A big bear hug. Maybe a pat on the back too. For the second straight season, the Jets have played well defensively, including ranking sixth in the league against the pass. But the New York offense’s inability to move the ball at all has put the defense in untenable positions far too often, and it has shown in recent weeks. Still, the Jets have managed to hang around the back of the top-12 in fantasy points, and this week Gang Green takes on a struggling Falcons offense that ranks just outside the top-10 in fantasy points per game this season has been handed over to the defense. .
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Detroit Lions (at New Orleans Saints)
After a hot start to the season, Detroit’s defense is looking more like the unit that finished last in the NFL last year. But the Lions still rank 10th in the NFL in total defense and fifth against the run. That last number could be especially important against the Saints on Sunday. New Orleans could seemingly beat Chris Olave, Michael Thomas and Rashid Shaheed in Week 13, and for a team that has already struggled offensively at times this season, not having its top three wide receivers could put a lot of pressure on the running backs back Alvin Kamara, and plays right into the hands of what the Lions are doing well defensively.
Atlanta Falcons (at New York Jets)
It’s gone largely unnoticed because no one cares about the NFC South (okay, maybe that was a little mean), but the Falcons have played some decent defense in 2023. The Falcons boast a top-10 pass defense in 2023, and while Atlanta hasn’t made many big plays, they have been able to contain many opponents. Of course, everyone is keeping the Jets in check this season – New York is last in the AFC in total offense, 30th in the league in scoring offense, leads the AFC in fantasy points per play allowed to defense and has now deciding to roll out Tim Boyle at quarterback is somehow a good idea.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Carolina Panthers)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are reeling — after a 3-1 start to the season, the Bucs have just one win since their Week 5 bye — in part because of a pass defense that has struggled. The good news is that may not matter this week, as only the Jets and Giants have had less success throwing the ball this season than the Panthers, who have also surrendered the fourth-most sacks (43) in the league . The Buccaneers have amassed a respectable 31 sacks this season and allowed less than 96 yards per game on the ground. Carolina also ranks fourth this season in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses.
Los Angeles Rams (vs. Cleveland Browns)
This Rams defense isn’t the same group that won a Super Bowl; Aaron Donald is still a force in the middle of the defensive line, but veterans like Leonard Floyd and Jalen Ramsey are gone. However, young players like edge rushers Michael Hoecht and Byron Young and linebacker Ernest Jones have held their own, and this week’s opponent (the injury-plagued Browns) doesn’t have the personnel to exploit the Rams’ young secondary. The Browns are also among the league leaders in giveaways, and Cleveland has given up the seventh-most fantasy points per game to defense this season.
Indianapolis Colts (at Tennessee Titans)
There may not be a more under-the-radar team this season than the Indianapolis Colts, and that includes the defense. The Colts have Kwity Paye and DeForest Buckner up front. Zaire Franklin at linebacker. Julian Blackmon safe. Combined, the Colts defense doesn’t rank at the top of the league in any category, but thanks to 36 sacks (sixth in the league) and 18 takeaways, the Colts rank 10th in fantasy points among defenses ahead of a matchup with a Titans team rolling out a starting quarterback and giving up the 10th most fantasy points per game to defenses.
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San Francisco 49ers (at Philadelphia Eagles)
The 49ers may boast the best defense in the NFL; the line is even fuller with the addition of Chase Young. Fred Warner is arguably the best off-ball linebacker in the game. The Niners rank fifth in the league in total defense, 12th against the pass, second in the league against the run, first in the league in points allowed, first in the NFC in takeaways and sixth among team defenses in fantasy points . However, the Eagles have allowed the sixth-fewest fantasy points per game to defense, and DeVonta Smith and AJ Brown could be a problem for the weak link in San Francisco’s defense.
Gary Davenport is a two-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association Football Writer of the Year, follow him on Twitter at @IDPSharks