Defense can be one of the trickiest positions to manage in fantasy football. Even if you make it a point to draft one of the league’s stronger units, they can still be brought down by tough early-season matchups. Then, once they hit their bye week, do you waste a roster spot on a second defense?
These questions and more lead a lot of fantasy managers to stream defenses week-to-week, basing decisions almost entirely on favorable matchups. This still isn’t easy. In Week 1, the top two defenses (PIT and MIA) and three of the top six were all rostered in 30% of leagues or less on Yahoo! But Week 2 is on the horizon, bringing with it new matchups and new streamable D/ST options. Here are the top ones we’re eyeing.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (45% ROSTERED)
Week 2: @ Dallas, 4:25PM EST
Week 1 was not pretty for the Bengals — Joe Burrow had 5 turnovers, and they needed a last-second TD from Ja’Marr Chase to squeak past the lowly Steelers. Things got even worse when the supposed game-winning PAT was blocked and they subsequently lost in OT to start the year 0-1. Cincy’s defense put up a respectable performance, however, holding Pittsburgh to just 267 total yards of offense and a 4-for-15 mark on 3rd down. The Steelers obviously don’t have a ton of firepower on offense, but as we learned on Sunday Night in Arlington, neither does Cincy’s Week 2 opponent.
The Cowboys looked all out of sorts in Week 1, and that was before Dak Prescott left late with a hand injury that we’ve since learned will keep him out for several weeks. Dallas looked solid on their opening drive, as Dak hit a mix of receivers and they peppered in some solid runs to come away with a field goal. But the rest of the game was a struggle, as Tampa blanketed Ceedee Lamb, who finished with 2 catches on 11 targets for 29 yards, and put tons of pressure on Prescott on every dropback.
Cincy now goes to Jerryworld on Sunday afternoon, fresh off an emotional loss to a divisional opponent, facing a Cowboys offense that has a ton of question marks even when you get past Cooper Rush starting at QB. They’re owned in almost half of leagues, but if they’re available in your league this week, scoop up the Bengals D for sure.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (26%)
Week 2: vs. NYJ, 1PM EST
We already told you to target Cleveland’s D in your drafts due to their early-season schedule, but if you didn’t listen, there’s still time. The Browns D put up just 6 fantasy points in Week 1, staving off a late-game surge by the Panthers and winning 26-24 on an absolute nuke of a game-winning field goal. They let up 24 points but did record 4 sacks and an INT, so much of the production you need from a fantasy D/ST was there. And you know the talent is there with Myles Garrett (who had 2 of the 4 sacks) and Jadeveon Clowney up front and Denzel Ward at CB. Now all you need is a good matchup. Enter: the Jets.
With Zach Wilson still nursing a knee injury, Joe Flacco got the start for NY last week and it wasn’t great. The Jets didn’t make their way into the end zone until the final minute of the game, after an INT set the offense up with a short field and Flacco threw a garbage-time TD to Tyler Conklin. This looks like an offense that’s going to struggle to string drives together, especially with Flacco at the helm, and Cleveland won’t make that any easier for them.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (30%)
Week 2: vs. New England, 1PM EST
The Steelers were the top fantasy D/ST of Week 1, making Joe Burrow’s life hell to the tune of 4 INTs and 5 total turnovers. Minkah Fitzpatrick in particular played absolutely out of his mind, with a game-high 14 total tackles (10 solo) to go along with an early pick 6 and a clutch blocked PAT. They also had 7 sacks as a team, 3 from Alex Highsmith alone. It will be tough to replicate their 26-point outburst in Week 2 — especially considering TJ Watt‘s likely season-ending pectoral injury — but they’ll have a chance to put up some points again when they face a lackluster Patriots offense in Pittsburgh on Sunday.
New England struggled in Miami (as they often do) in Week 1, mustering up 271 yards of total offense and just 7 points. The Dolphins have a strong secondary and a solid defense overall, but New England’s offensive struggles seemed more due to their own inadequacies than anything their opponent did. We heard all preseason about the Patriots’ new offense and how long it was taking some players to get it down, and Week 1 showed they still have a long way to go.
Watt is obviously the straw that stirs the drink in Pittsburgh’s defense, and his loss will be felt heavily upfront. But others stepped up in his place last Sunday, and if the Steelers secondary comes to play again, they’ll pick up the slack easily and have Mac Jones seeing ghosts all afternoon.
OTHERS TO CONSIDER IN DEEPER LEAGUES:
Minnesota Vikings (15% owned): Minnesota held Aaron Rodgers and company to seven points at home and now travel to Philly in primetime. The Eagles put up 38 in Week 1, but the Vikings could hold them in check a little more on Monday Night Football.
Chicago Bears (3% owned): Looked solid against SF in Week 1, albeit in a monsoon. Primetime matchups in Green Bay rarely work out well for the Bears, but again, Rodgers and the Packers looked that bad in Week 1.
Detroit Lions (1% owned): Desperation play after a goose egg last week, but could be a more favorable matchup with an up-and-down Carson Wentz coming to town.