Getting Defensive: Week 14

·8 min read



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Well, here we are.

In the vast majority of fantasy football leagues, Week 14 is the swan song for the regular season. After this week's games, some teams will move on to the postseason, while others will have to wait until 2022 to continue their pursuit for fantasy glory.

This week means little for some managers, whether it's those who have already locked up a playoff spot or those who are just playing out the string. Others still are in the playoffs but trying to sew up a first-round bye.

Taking that one-week breather can be nice.

For many managers though, the Week 14 edict is clear. Win and you're in. Lose and you aren't.

In other words, the playoffs have essentially already begun.

At most positions, I have long been a proponent of dancing with who brought you. Of riding the players who got you to the postseason instead of getting cute with matchup plays. But it can be trickier with defenses, Team defense is easily the most matchup-reliant position in fantasy football, and there are several streamers (or borderline streamers) with tantalizing opponents in Week 14.

This isn't to say that you should absolutely dump the defense you have been riding all season long for one of the flavors of the week. I'm not going to presume to make that sort of call for you in such a big week. But I will say that the argument can be made that it's not the worst idea ever if you're considering it.

The only person who has to live with the calls you make is you. So, if there's a matchup play that turns your gears, go for it.

And if you're the type of fantasy manager who streams defenses, Christmas came early.

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Dallas Cowboys (at Washington Football Team)
The Dallas Cowboys have been piling up big plays defensively all season long, and last week's win over the Saints was no exception—Dallas sacked Taysom Hill twice and picked him off four times, returning one for a touchdown. Dallas is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (19) and defensive touchdowns (four), and only the New England Patriots have more fantasy points among defenses. Sunday's explosion was Dallas' second 20-plus point outing in the last month, and the Cowboys have been one of the more matchup-proof team defenses of 2021. Oh, and Micah Parsons is really good at football.

Green Bay Packers (at Chicago Bears)
The Packers have quietly put together a decent fantasy season—the team is seventh in total defense, fifth in scoring defense, ninth in fantasy points overall and eighth in fantasy points per game. Now the Packers prepare to face their long-time rivals in Chicago, and the Bears are having all kinds of trouble offensively. After Andy Dalton's four-pick meltdown last week the Bears are ninth in the league in giveaways, lead the NFL in sacks allowed and are surrendering the third-most fantasy points per game to defenses this season. Other than that, everything is great.

Denver Broncos (vs. Detroit Lions)
Over the first three weeks of the 2021 season, when the Broncos were facing a trio of tomato cans, the Broncos were fantasy football's No. 4 defense. Since then, when the Broncos had to start playing actual NFL teams, the Broncos have fallen off a bit, but the team still ranks inside the top-10. Now, Denver's eighth-ranked defense will take on the rolling juggernaut that is the Detroit Lions. The Lions may have just notched their first victory in 2021, but Detroit still ranks in the bottom five in both total offense and scoring offense and seventh in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses.

Carolina Panthers (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
Much like the Denver Broncos, the Carolina Panthers got fat on bottom feeders early in the season but then fell off as their competition stiffened. However, since Week 8 the Panthers have been a respectable 11th in fantasy points per game at the position, and Carolina's 32 sacks are tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. As is usually the case with the team defenses though, the most appealing thing about the Panthers is their Week 14 matchup—there isn't a team in the league that has given up more fantasy points per game to defenses this season than the Panthers.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs. Las Vegas Raiders)
Without question, there isn't a team in the league that has undergone more of a defensive transformation this season than the Kansas City Chiefs. Over the first couple of months of the season, the Chiefs looked awful defensively—and sat dead last in the AFC in fantasy points at the position. Since Week 8, it has been a complete 180—only two teams in the NFL have scored more fantasy points per game defensively since Week 8. The Raiders are only a middling matchup, but given how hot the Chiefs have been it's hard to make a case for passing on them—especially at home.

Arizona Cardinals (vs. Los Angeles Rams)
Every year there's a fantasy defense (or three) that surprises, and this year the Arizona Cardinals certainly qualify. Arizona comes out of their bye week fifth in total defense, fourth in scoring defense, seventh in the league in sacks with 32, sixth in the league with 23 takeaways and third in fantasy points. This week's matchup with the Los Angeles Rams certainly isn’t ideal, but the Redbirds posted a serviceable stat line against L.A. back in Week 4. Arizona also has a fantastic matchup with the lowly Lions looming on the other side of this NFC West tilt.

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Los Angeles Chargers (vs. New York Giants)
The Chargers are coming off arguably their best defensive effort of the season, a decisive win over the Cincinnati Bengals in which the Bolts sacked Joe Burrow half a dozen times, picked him off twice, recovered two fumbles (one of which was returned for a score) and logged the most fantasy points of any team in the NFL. As if that performance wasn't enough to make Los Angeles a priority waiver add, the Chargers face a Giants team surrendering the 11th-most fantasy points per game to team defenses that may be starting (and I kid you not) Jake Fromm at quarterback.

New Orleans Saints (at New York Jets)
It has been a rough month or so for the New Orleans Saints, and the team's five-game skid has taken a toll on the New Orleans defense. Over the first eight weeks of the season, the Saints were a respectable seventh in fantasy points among defenses. But over that losing streak, New Orleans has free-fallen to 30th—and landed on a lot of waiver wires as a result. Well, now is the time for those Saints to ride to the proverbial rescue—this week New Orleans travels to face a Jets team with the seventh-worst scoring offense that is eighth in sacks allowed and leads the NFL with 25 giveaways.

Tennessee Titans (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
The Titans aren't an especially good defensive football team—Tennessee is a middle-of-the-pack unit in yards allowed, a bottom-10 defense in points allowed and barely rank inside the top-20 in fantasy points among defenses. But Tennessee has managed to post 29 sacks and 14 takeaways for the season, and in Week 14 they come out of their bye week to face the gift that keeps on giving—the Jacksonville Jaguars. Only the Houston Texans have had more difficulty scoring points this season, and no squad in the AFC has been kinder to opposing defenses from a fantasy perspective.

Seattle Seahawks (at Houston Texans)
In terms of yards allowed, the Seahawks are not a good defensive football team—no team in the NFL is allowing more yards per game than the 396.2 Seattle is allowing. But Seattle is actually allowing the sixth-fewest points per game in the league—just 20.8 per contest. What really makes this an appealing play is the five-alarm dumpster fire that is the Houston offense. The Texans are dead last in the league in both total offense and scoring offense, Houston was just shut out by the Colts and the Texans are giving up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses this season.

Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland Browns)
The Ravens were just hit with some terrible news, and I don't mean the team's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Losing All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey to a season-ending torn pectoral muscle is an absolute killer for the team. But this week not having Humphrey may not matter—the Browns are 24th in passing offense. The Ravens haven't exactly been fantasy-relevant this season, but two weeks ago when these teams met Baltimore sacked Baker Mayfield three times, notched two takeaways and tied their best fantasy output of the season.

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Buffalo Bills)
Just about everything that is said about the Buccaneers can be flipped and applied to the Bills in this potential Super Bowl preview. The Buccaneers are fantastic against the run. The Bills have one of the best pass defenses in the NFL, although that defense took a hit when Tre'Davious White was lost for the season. Both teams are also ranked among the top-six fantasy defenses this season. But this is a game that has more than a little shootout potential, which means relying on big plays for fantasy points. Both the Bucs and Bills are feast/famine fantasy options in Week 14.

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