This is a list of the top Defense targets for NFL games based on potential production and price. The teams are split into three tiers based on likelihood of success. Remember that these rankings take potential production and price into account, so some teams may be higher up on the list despite having a lower projected score if the price point is favorable. Here are some options to consider:

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Cream of the Crop

New York Jets vs. Cleveland Browns ($2900) – This is probably going to be the highest owned defense on the day. The Jets made some moves in the offseason to help sure up their biggest weakness. Bringing back Cromartie and Revis turns that secondary, which was horrible last year, into one of their strengths. The Browns have a very weak offense this season. Isiah Crowell is the running back and they are going to be rolling out Josh McCown at QB. Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon are both gone, leaving very little talent left. The most probable scenario is the Jets, as the home favorites, going up early and forcing the Browns to throw the ball. If the Jets can make Cleveland one dimensional, they should be able to bring some pressure and either force some turnovers or get some sacks. That is how teams wind up with big fantasy scores and it looks like a probable scenario here.

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Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Louis Rams ($3400) – The Seahawks still have one of the best defenses in the league, led by their stud secondary. The front seven does not get enough credit though as they can get after the quarterback. The Rams are minus their top two running backs with both Todd Gurley and Tre Mason likely out. That leaves Bennie Cunningham to handle the running duties and that did not work out real well last season. If he is unable to get it going and Seattle, as the favorite, gets a touchdown or two early, they will force the Rams into being a one dimensional passing team. That would be a disaster for St. Louis as their offensive line is very weak. Nick Foles is a decent QB, but no one is going to play a good game when the other team is just pining their ears back and coming to get you play after play. Especially if your line can not slow them up. Add in the coverage ability of that secondary and you can envision the sacks and hurries leading to turnovers and fantasy points.

Miami Dolphins vs. Washington Redskins ($3000) – That Miami Defense was able to create a lot of turnovers last year despite the fact they did not generate a ton of pressure. The went out and addressed that in the offseason by getting Ndamukong Suh to clog up the middle and draw a lot of attention. They already had good edge rushers with guys like Cameron Wake and Oliver Vernon, so this will only help those guys have an easy time getting to the quarterback. If you take the effect Suh can have on the pass rush against a team that will likely be trailing and needing to throw with a QB who threw a pick about every 20 attempts last season and add it all together, you get a nice recipe for a big upside game from your defense.

Carolina Panthers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars ($3100) – The Jaguars are a very turnover prone team and it starts with the high interception rate of quarterback Blake Bortles. The Panthers are favored here and will likely be leading late, which will force Bortles and the Jags into passing situations where the Panthers can bring some pressure. It’s a place the Jags know well from last season and it did not work to their advantage. 13/16 opponents score double digit fantasy points against the Jags last season and 15/16 times they gave up at least 8 points to opposing defenses. With a track record that strong, Carolina makes for a solid play with the game script favoring a bad situation for the Jags offense.

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Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears ($3000) – Despite the high total in this game, the Packers defense makes for a really solid play. Fantasy scores have more to do with events like sacks, turnovers, and touchdowns then they do with overall final scores. Just because a team gives up points on the scoreboard, it does not mean they are a bad play in fantasy. High scoring games tend to feature a lot more passing and passing downs are more fruitful for fantasy defenses as that is when we see the most sacks, interceptions and fumbles occur. All of those events are positive scoring events for a fantasy defense. The Packers were 12th in the league for sacks and 8th in interceptions on their way to the 8th most fantasy points of any defense last season. They know well the benefits of getting a lead and forcing a team to be one dimensional. Most experts agree the game flow here sets up for the Packers to jump out big early, so they will have a whole second half of chasing Jay Cutler who was tied for the most picks thrown by a quarterback last season. The chances for a good game are high from this group and they should be a top scoring option even though they are slated to give up a few more real life points.

Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens ($2800) – Denver did not generate a ton of fantasy points on the defensive side of the ball last season, but I just really like this matchup for them. The Ravens are going to try and run the ball early and often, which is fine, but probably will not be enough. They have Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken starting at WR on the outside. If they get down, I really like the Denver defense to make some plays in the secondary. They are cheap and the concern is that Baltimore will get a lead and just run the ball and not allow any chances for the defense to score fantasy points, but I’m confident that Manning can put some points up and force them into passing situations in the second half. That should lead to some fantasy upside.

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Philadelphia Eagles vs. Atlanta Falcons ($2700) – I really do not care if that pace means the Eagles give up a ton of points, because it forces teams to abandon the run to try and  keep up with them. That means this Eagles team has a chance for increased sacks and turnovers. They also have a good special teams unit, which is why despite allowing a lot of points, they were the top scoring defensive team in fantasy football last season. I don’t care how many points they allow the Falcons to score, I care about how many fantasy points they score for me. The increased pace leads to more sacks and more mistakes, especially when they are ahead. They made people a lot of money last year, and they looked even better this preseason.

Middle of the Pack

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Oakland Raiders ($3200) – This has the game script to play out pretty well for their defense here. They are favored and on the road so they should be forcing Oakland to throw and play from behind. Carr had four multi-interception games last year and they all came in that situation with Oakland trailing, so there is a history of this. Cincy did not generate a ton of pressure as evidence by only 20 sacks, but they did have 20 interceptions. An interception prone quarterback throwing against a ball hawking secondary is a recipe for a pick 6. They are not cheap, but the difference in salary for some of the top options isn’t worth not using them.

Detroit Lions vs. San Diego Chargers ($2800) – The Lions defense was dominant last season and while they are more then just Ndamukong Suh, he was a big part of it. His loss will now make them have to prove just how much more they are. The Chargers are favored here, so they may see a lot of running late. San Diego still throws the ball a lot though, so they will have a chance to make some fantasy point scoring plays. Phillip Rivers was tied with Jay Cutler at 18 for most picks thrown by a QB last season, so it’s not crazy to expect some sacks and at least one pick out of this game.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills ($2900) – The Colts should be leading in this one, which will make Buffalo have to throw the ball late. The Bills figure to run a pretty conservative offense that features a lot of runs in order to limit the amount of pressure they put on Tyrod Taylor at QB. Between Taylor tucking and running and the heavy dose of the run game in early downs, I don not see the Colts having many chances to score fantasy points until the fourth quarter here. They also should not give up a ton of points though, so if they can make a few plays late and keep the score down, the combination of those two could yield a nice return.

Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos ($2700) – Baltimore is very good against the run, but horrendous against wide receivers in terms of fantasy points allowed. That leads me to believe the Broncos are going to attack them on the outside. This is both good and bad for the Ravens. You can’t really expect to sack Manning often as he releases it so fast, but as his arm strength is weakened, he does let a ball or two get away from him sometimes. If he gives up a pick 6, you can still get good value out of this Ravens team even if he also lights up the scoreboard on them.

Buffalo Bills vs. Indianapolis Colts ($2900) – The Bills have one of the best defenses in the league and adding an aggressive defensive mind like Rex Ryan will only help that squad. The problem for them is game flow though. If Indy is leading, they will not have a lot of chances for sacks and turnovers late in the game which could affect their upside. Indy is still going to sling it around all game, so they will get a chance for a couple sacks, but Luck is pretty smart and gets rid of the ball without taking too many chances, so he is not the most turnover prone guy. They should score a few points here, but I do not think this is the spot to expect a large performance with multiple turnovers and sacks.

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Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints ($2800) – This feels a little cheap for a defense that was a top 10 fantasy performer last season. They are favored and at home, both things that benefit a defense in fantasy. They face Drew Brees who is a great QB, but threw 17 picks last season to tie him for third most in the league. With guys like Graham and Stills out of town, this is probably the least talented supporting cast he has had in years. Arizona should be leading this game and forcing Brees to be one dimensional late. With their ability to reach the QB with pressure, some sacks and a pick seem like a solid bet. Plus they have a great return game that can get you a TD as well on a punt or kickoff.

Kansas City Chiefs vs. Houston Texans ($3000) – The Chiefs should see a lead and force the Texans into a lot of late passing situations. While they only managed 6 interceptions last year, they were fifth in the league with 46 sacks. I think this could be a three or four sack game for this defense, depending on how quickly and how big a lead they can jump out to. KC is not really cheap and they did not get those defense touchdowns we all love very often last season. They are still facing a weak offense with Brian Hoyer at the helm and Alfred Blue as the starting running back, so it should be a good spot for them.

Minnesota Vikinings vs. San Francisco 49ers ($2800) – This defense should have a lead and their ears pinned back to go after the quarterback early in the third quarter. They actually had 41 sacks and 13 interceptions last season, so those are good numbers. Kaepernick did not attempt a ton of passes, so the 10 interceptions is not a huge number, but he did lose five fumbles which tied him for third in the league too. His offensive line had some defections as well and offensive line cohesion is best built by being thrown in the fire over the years, so that will take time. They are in a good spot to make some plays and have done so in the past, so this is a pretty good team to look at.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Tennessee Titans ($2800) – Tampa did not have a great defense last year but with McCoy healthy they should be much improved. They also are likely to be ahead and forcing the rookie QB from Tennessee to make plays at the end of the game under pressure. That is the situation we look for from our defenses against inexperienced signal callers, so this may be an opportunity for them to have a large upside game.

Rest of the Field

Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants ($2800) – I do not see either defense doing much to stop either offense here. I think the Cowboys will be ahead so they will have more chances to make plays, but this game has shootout written all over it. I expect the Giants to be throwing, so Dallas gets a higher ranking, but I do not consider them a safe play by any stretch. It’s one thing to force a team into throwing situations, but you still have to stop them and make plays. I’m not sure Dallas can do either.

Houston Texans vs. Kansas City Chiefs ($3000) – Houston did not allow a lot of points to fantasy running backs or quarterbacks last season, but they got lit up by fantasy wide receivers. None of that really matters though as this is not a game that sets up well for them. Kansas City is favored, will featured a lot of Jamal Charles runs, and should be leading late. If that is the case, they are not leaving a lot of opportunities for that Texans defense to make any scoring plays for fantasy. I think at best we see a lot of short drops and quick passes to a guy like Maclin that are more like long handoffs.

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San Diego vs. Detroit Lions ($2800) – The Chargers had one of the lowest fantasy scoring defenses in the league last season. They are favored here and should see the Lions throwing late, but that might not be a good thing. Tate, Stafford, and Calvin Johnson are all healthy and that’s a lot of talent running a two minute drill. I do not see this is a situation where the defense is going to overmatch the offense if they put them in a tough spot. Sure the fact they might be ahead will lead to more opportunities, but can they exploit them is the question?

St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks ($2800) – The Rams have a really good defense that is in a really bad spot for fantasy here. The Seahawks are a run first offense and run heavy teams do not yield fantasy scores to a defense. The Seahawks, namely Russell Wilson, have very few turnovers as well. That will limit the ability for this defense to score points via sacks, fumbles, interceptions, and TDs scored off those turnovers. They may actually keep the Seahawks score low, but if that is the only thing that will score them points, it will not add up to a big day for the defense.

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Carolina Panthers ($2700) – Jacksonville was the fifth lowest scoring defense last season for fantasy and a lot of it had to do with them playing from behind late. They are slated to be the underdog here as well, so it’s looking like a trend that may continue. Cam Newton does turn it over some, but if Jacksonville can not get a lead, they will be seeing a heavy dose of the run game and not score many fantasy points.

San Francisco 49ers vs. Minnesota Vikings ($2800) – The 49ers have suffered a lot of turnover on a stellar defense through retirement, free agency, and arrests (Not a joke). They figure to be trailing in this one and getting a huge spoonful of a rested Adrian Peterson. If they can’t find a way to get a lead, they will not be able to do anything about it and also have very few chances to score fantasy points. If they play from ahead though I will be interested to see how some of these new additions do.

Atlanta Falcons vs. Philadelphia Eagles ($2700) – This Falcons defense was shredded by WRs on the outside and shredded by running backs inside the 20 last season. This Philly offense looks to be a juggernaut, so this is not likely to end well. Atlanta made some moves in the off season, but new players take time to gel and this offense will find those holes early and often. It’s not about the ton of points I think they will give up, I just do not see them having a lot of opportunities for big plays. Ok, maybe it also has something to do with the points.

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Cleveland Browns vs. New York Jets ($3100) – If Geno Smith was still the QB, I could see the Browns being higher on the list with his turnover problem. Fitzpatrick is a little more understanding of the role the Jets want him to play. The Jets are favored here and will likely be running quite a bit in this one. Cleveland’s defense is actually pretty solid in terms of fantasy, as they were about middle of the pack last season for points scored. The problem is the gamescript, as they will have few chances to make scoring plays if the Jets get a lead at home and just take the air out of the ball.

Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers ($2400) – Chicago allowed the most points to fantasy quarterbacks last year, so I fully expect Aaron Rodgers to be able to pick them apart. They were the second lowest scoring fantasy defense last year and I do not see that improving this season. They will likely be down big late and that will mean a ton of Eddie Lacy runs and no chances for them to get fantasy points. Price doesn’t matter as there is little upside here.

New Orleans Saints vs. Arizona Cardinals ($2700) – The Saints D was one of the worst fantasy performers last season. It does not look like this will be the game they turn it around either. Arizona is favored here, so they will likely be playing conservative and keeping it on the ground in the second half. The Saints will have few opportunities to create positive events and based on the low number of sacks, interceptions, and fumbles last season it probably will not happen.

Washington Redskins vs. Miami Dolphins ($2600) – The Skins were towards the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category last season.  Chief concern in all of that is they gave up the most fantasy points to quarterbacks of any team in the league. They do not generate a pass rush, so the sack numbers are low. Since they do not hurry QBs, they rarely force bad passes, so the interception number was low. Add in the fact that Miami should throw all over them while scoring some points, and the downside is huge with no upside to counter it.

Oakland Raiders vs. Cincinnati Bengals ($2300) – They were the worst scoring defense in fantasy by a good margin and they were a mile away from some of the top teams in terms of points. They will likely be trailing and seeing a large dose of the run since they allowed the third most fantasy points to running backs last year. They also were burned on the outside, so guys like AJ Green could have a big game too. There is almost no scenario where I see them being in a good spot to score points here and if they do have a big day it will almost definitely be because of some fluky fumble return or a touchdown on a kickoff.

Tennessee Titans vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($2800) – Tennesee had allowed the second most points to running backs last season and that is a problem. As an underdog they will likely see a heavy dose of the run against Tampa Bay. Tampa has a lot of talent on offense and if the running game works, they will lean on it heavily to help their young quarterback settle in as well. Titans will rarely be an option for a usable defense all season.

New York Giants v. Dallas Cowboys ($2500) – This is expected to be a high scoring game and one the Giants should be trailing in. This defense is hurting right now. JPP is gone, so they lost not only one of their best pass rushers, but also a guy who was great against the run. They also lost Beason, their linebacker and are very weak in the front seven now. If they can not generate pressure, Romo can pick them apart. They may also see a lot of the run game, so the opportunity is likely not there either for them to score many points. No opportunity and a lot of points allowed is the exact opposite of what we want in a fantasy defense.

Continue Reading the Rankings Series

NFL Quarterback Rankings: Week 1

NFL Running Back Rankings: Week 1

NFL Wide Receiver Rankings: Week 1

NFL Tight End Rankings: Week 1

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