Many years ago, when the league was young and 400-touch running backs roamed the grid, a Great Schism split our defensive fantasy football forefathers into two camps: those venturing into uncharted territory with Individual Defensive Players (IDPs). ventured, and those who were relatively comfortable with Defensive/Special Teams (D/ST) units in their deployment requirements.
During those long and brutal epochs, wars were waged—especially when social media allowed the two disparate civilizations to swear at each other from a safe distance—and lines were drawn in the sand. They were either D/ST or IDP and the two were never meant to meet. Due to the development of my fantasy line, I mostly ended up in the IDP camp (@TheIDPGuy on twitter; follow and like), and for years I have lamented the stagnation of D/ST practice.
As I got older, however, I’ve come to believe that the IDP vanguard still has a lot to learn about the old ways. Even those who have kept the D/ST flame alive occasionally need a reminder on how to deal with 11 fearsome defenders merged into one, and what to watch out for in such a collaborative force. While it may seem heretical, I’m honored to be the next in a line of ambassadors attempting to showcase the advancement of individualized defensive knowledge as we analyze group-based defensive options for fantasy football.
For you, that means that each week we’ll look at identifying three streaming D/ST options that have compelling advantages, interesting matchups, or a statistical trend that pulls them into the starting conversation for this list of games. These units are less than 40% each in Yahoo! Leagues so you have a chance to grab them and start them yourself. All betting lines referenced are from FanDuel Sportsbook.
Well, after an introduction 65 million years ago in writing (and reading I’m sure), which D/STs should you be streaming in week 1?
against the New York Giants
Spread: TEN -5.5
Roster Percentage: 38%
We’re starting hot with a unit whose top pass rusher (Edge defender Harold Landry) was down with a season-ending injury just last week. I’m not more convinced than the next guy that Bud Dupree, Denico Autry and Olasunkanmi Adeniyi will be world champions for the Tennessee Titans and their D/ST. Even so, Tennessee didn’t have many steps to take to beef up their defense.
They spent a second-round pick on rookie cornerback Roger McCreary, recovered last year’s first-rounder Caleb Farley from injury, cut bait with some fading veterans and should still be better than average even without Landry’s dominant edge presence after last place his year 10th best in Defensive Rush Net Expected Points (NEP) and 5th best in Defensive Pass NEP. Let this serve as a good reminder that the quality of players on a defense is not always the be-all and end-all of their imagination ability.
The reason you’re streaming the Titans in Week 1 is because of their opponents: the New York Giants.
The G-Men weren’t the most steadfast opponent for fantasy defense last year, allowing an average of 9.8 fantasy points per game — the fifth-highest in the league. This is in part due to quarterback Daniel Jones and his hobbies of absorbing sacks (eighth highest sack rate among 49 quarterbacks attempting 300 or more passes from 2019-2021) and forking over the ball (seventh highest turnover rate).
New Giants head coach Brian Daboll is credited with overhauling athletic but chaotic quarterback Josh Allen, so there’s a chance he may have been magic with Jones this offseason as well. I’m still willing to take the risk here, given Jones’ history and New Jersey’s lack of offensive playmakers and protection.
Additionally, this game is expected to be a muddy, rainy drudgery, but one with the Titans in the lead given a 43.5 total (level with the fourth-lowest of the week) and the Titans a shade under a touchdown favorite at home are . Our model predicts the Tennessee D/ST as the 4th best option in position in week 1 averaging 8.3 fantasy points and capping at 14.5.
against the Pittsburgh Steelers
Scatter: CIN -6.5
Roster Percentage: 36%
It’s really hard to understand how the reigning AFC champion’s defense is still so prevalent to kick off the 2022 NFL season.
Sure, the Cincinnati Bengals burst onto the scene last season thanks to a young and exciting offense, but a roster led by safes Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell and first-round rookie Daxton Hill alongside the vicious pass rush of Trey Hendrickson and Sam Hubbard should demand some attention in the realm of fantasy. They were in the top half of the league in both sacks and interceptions in 2021 and should build on that success going forward.
Even better for the Queen City striped cats, they can take on their hated rivals Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. You can’t just extrapolate the fantasy Pittsburgh had last year because of the retirement of decrepit Ben Roethlisberger, but he was replaced by a combination of Mitchell Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and the seemingly unfinished first-round thinker NY Pickett; something must give. Star receiver Diontae Johnson is also primed for this contest, which should help Cincy’s constant cornerback problems, and Trubisky (who is being credited as a Week 1 starter) is little threat to a defensive unit’s fantasy hopes.
This contest was also expected to finish on a fairly low score, taking the sixth-lowest predicted total of the week (44.5). The fact that the Bengals are home favorites with 6.5 points in what is likely to be bad weather does not detract from their prospects either. Our model projects the Cincinnati D/ST as the seventh best option of the week, averaging 7.7 fantasy points and capping at 13.8.
against Cleveland Browns
Scatter: CAR -2.5
Roster Percentage: 3%
Their less-occupied Game of the Week comes in the form of a #RevengeGame when the Carolina Panthers host their new quarterback’s old team – the Cleveland Browns.
First of all, in my decision of whether to include Cleveland or Carolina, I like something like the narrative of the spurned Baker Mayfield and his Panthers taking on the Browns as tiebreakers; On the more analytical side, there’s also good reason to expect success for the NFC South’s cat team.
Though the Panthers weren’t heralded as a top-flight defense this season, they quietly ended 2021 with the seventh-highest pressure rate (sacks, hits, and haste per drop back). With potentially a little more turnover luck thanks to the return of health in cornerbacks CJ Henderson and Jaycee Horn, as well as the addition of safety man Xavier Woods, the Carolina big cats could make some D/ST waves.
Temporary Browns quarterback Jacoby Brissett is also fairly familiar with the turf of his day, having had an above-average sack rate among quarterbacks for the past three seasons to attempt 300 passes or more. Cleveland is a team that should ride its rushed offense, which is unfortunate for them; Last season, Carolina placed 16th in the Defensive Rushing NEP, a far superior stage for her defense.
This game has the lowest predicted total on the board at 41.5. You’d wish Carolina was more than a field-goal favorite at home, but considering how available they are, the potential advantages of the matchup and the fact that there should be poor weather conditions also keeping the score low could, this is about as good a deeper punt game as you could ask for.
Our Carolina D/ST model project for 7.3 fantasy points and a cap of 13.4; They are the 9th best defense/special teams unit of week 1.