Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ NE. Mac Jones and the Patriots had been pretty good at limiting fantasy points to D/STs through two games, but all hell broke loose against the Saints. New Orleans racked up three INTs, two sacks, a blocked kick, and a defensive TD in Week 3. That obviously won’t happen every week, but good defenses can exploit the Pats rookie QB and low-wattage offense, and Tampa certainly qualifies as a good defense despite a surprising lack of sacks (3).
Buffalo Bills vs. HOU. Davis Mills didn’t look ready for prime time last Thursday night, getting sacked four times and leading the Texans to just nine offensive points. Buffalo has seven sacks, six takeaways, and 21 total points allowed in the past two games, so this one could get really ugly in upstate New York.
New Orleans Saints vs. NYG. Daniel Jones is no stranger to turnovers, so despite his INT-free start to 2021, we just know the takeaway monster will rear its ugly head soon. New Orleans has six INTs and six sacks and has twice allowed fewer than 14 offensive points in a game this year. Given New York’s glut of WR injuries, there might be nowhere for Jones to go with the ball, which is a recipe for disaster — especially in what figures to be an emotion return to the Superdome for New Orleans.
Indianapolis Colts @ MIA. Jacoby Brissett and the Dolphins offense fared well in Las Vegas last week, allowing just two sacks no takeaways (not counting a safety). Indianapolis is a much stronger defense than Las Vegas, though, as shown by its five sacks and six takeaways this year despite facing three offensive powerhouses (Seahawks, Rams, Titans). This should be a good get-right game for the Colts.
Miami Dolphins vs. IND. Miami has posted five sacks and five takeaways through three games, and it should be able to keep the score low against Indianapolis, who’s yet to score more than 18 offensive points in a game this year. Carson Wentz fared better than expected despite two sprained ankles last week, but that was against Tennessee’s pedestrian defense. The Dolphins will turn up the pressure and force him into some mistakes.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. JAX. You might be surprised to see the Bengals ranked this high, but that’s probably because you haven’t been paying attention. With 10 sacks, four takeaways, and an average of just 16 offensive points allowed per game, the Bengals have been a high-floor D/ST so far this year. Yes, they’ve taken advantage of a couple favorable matchups, but the Jaguars present a similar outlook. Jacksonville has allowed multiple takeaways every game this year while averaging fewer than 16 offensive points per game. Given the short turnaround for this Thursday road game, Jacksonville could be even less prepared and sloppier than usual.
Chicago Bears vs. DET. Chicago is back to being a big-play, all-or-nothing defense. It didn’t have a takeaway in Weeks 1 or 3, but it had four, including a pick-six in Week 2. About the only thing that’s been even semi-consistent for the Bears is their pass rush, which has racked up five sacks in each of the past two games. The Lions haven’t been terrible on offense, turning it over just three times and allowing six sacks on the year, but they have difficulty scoring (17 points each of the past two game) and we know Jared Goff can make crucial mistakes at any point in the game. Expect the Bears to “boom” this week at home.
Green Bay Packers vs. PIT. The Packers have gotten on track the past two weeks, totaling five sacks and two takeaways against the Lions and 49ers. Pittsburgh is slowly falling off track in that same span, scoring just 27 points, allowing six sacks, and turning it over three times. Given the injuries to the Steelers’ WR group and Ben Roethlisberger’s poor decision-making, the Packers are in position to rack up a solid amount of points at home.
New York Giants @ NO. The big-play talented on the Giants’ defense hasn’t produced many fantasy points this year despite some decent matchups, but we started to see more signs of life last week when New York produced three sacks, a takeaway, and 17 offensive points allowed. The Saints have allowed seven sacks the past two weeks, and we know Jameis Winston is prone to bad mistakes. He looks legitimately more stable now than he was with the Bucs, but bad decisions are in his blood. The Giants have a decent floor, but their high ceiling is why they’re a top-10 play this week.
Tennessee Titans @ NYJ. Tennessee is not a good defense, but the Jets have scored 20 total offensive points, allowed 15 sacks, and turned it over seven times this year. We’ll be shocked If the Titans don’t have a D/ST1-worthy game this week.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Panthers. The Cowboys have been a surprise performer so far, posting two INTs in all three games this year (plus another two fumble recoveries). Perhaps even more noteworthy is that they’ve allowed just 32 offensive points over the past two games (Chargers, Eagles). The Panthers have been efficient this year, but Sam Darnold has always been turnover-prone, and playing without Christian McCaffrey (hamstring) is sure to slow them down. Dallas is a high-risk, high-reward streamer.
Baltimore Ravens @ DEN. The Ravens have been a major disappointment so far this year, even in a favorable matchup last week against Detroit. It’s tough to imagine a big turnaround against a very solid, relatively mistake-free Broncos team, but it’s important to remember Denver has faced a remarkably soft schedule so far (Giants, Jaguars, Jets). Sometimes, you just have to bet on talent when it isn’t facing a juggernaut offense. If Denver has a weakness, it’s the offensive line, which has allowed multiple sacks every game this year. Baltimore should be able to get pressure and limit the Broncos offensive attack.
Cleveland Browns @ MIN. It’s no surprise that Cleveland’s D/ST had a poor Week 1 against Kansas City, but it also disappointed in Week 2 against Houston. The Browns showed out against Chicago, though, sacking Justin Fields nine times and holding the Bears to six points. It’s tough to know what to expect this week against a Vikings offense that’s allowed just five sacks and one takeaway all year. Minnesota won’t play that cleanly all year, but clearly this can’t be qualified as a “favorable” matchup. Ultimately, we view the Browns as having a decent floor but not an overly high ceiling. Given some of the matchups from “better” D/STs below, that’s about all we can ask from a low-end starting unit.
Washington Football Team @ ATL. Washington has been as bad as any D/ST in fantasy this year, so it probably seems crazy we’re still giving it the benefit of the doubt. However, we know the pass rush is still strong (six sacks through the first two weeks), and a couple bad matchups (especially last week against Buffalo) have really hurt Washington’s output. We think it can get back on track, and a matchup this week against a mistake-prone Falcons team is as good of a time as any. Atlanta’s fantasy numbers against defenses are inflated by two pick-sixes thrown in Week 2, but they still allow a good amount of sacks (7) and can have trouble scoring (16 offensive points per game). Washington is due to break through eventually.
Los Angeles Rams vs. ARI. The Rams have posted three sacks in every game this year and had multiple takeaways in each of their first two games. They didn’t post many fantasy points against Tom Brady and the Bucs last week, but that was expected. Arizona is known for its high-flying offense, but it’s allowed five sacks, four takeaways, and two D/ST TDs through the first three games. You can’t count on the touchdowns, but the Cardinals will give up some sacks and turn it over once or twice. That’s enough for us to keep the Rams on the start-sit bubble. In fact, they might be a “safer” play than the Ravens, Browns, and Washington, so if they’re your starting unit, don’t feel the need to drop them and stream a similar D/ST. This will be a tough week for most, so just get through it and see where you’re at next week.
Denver Broncos vs. BAL. Denver has provided top-five production thanks to beating up on overmatched offenses (Giants, Jaguars, Jets), but now it faces a true test. The Ravens haven’t been quite as lights outs as in the past, allowing eight sacks and five takeaways, but we know how dangerous they can be. We still think Denver can get some sacks (it’s posted eight while Baltimore has allowed eight), so there’s still a decent floor here, but just like the Rams, the ceiling is much lower than usual.
Carolina Panthers @ DAL. Just like the Broncos, the Panthers have been a top-tier D/ST so far this year, and favorable matchups (Jets, Saints, Texans) are a big reason why. It’s tough to say how “legit” the Panthers really are, but we’ll certainly find out this week against Dallas, who yielded hardly any fantasy points to the Bucs and Chargers. Carolina has racked up 14 sacks while allowing just 30 total offensive points, so we think it can still have value, but once again, we’re dealing with a lower ceiling.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ GB. It’s not just Pittsburgh’s offense that’s struggling. Perhaps, in part, because of the poor offense, the Steelers’ D/ST hasn’t been producing at its normal level this year, totaling just five sacks and two takeaways while allowing 22 offensive points per game. After a terrible Week 1, Green Bay has scored 65 points, allowed four sacks, and failed to turn it over. With T.J. Watt (core) hurting, there’s little reason to think the Steelers will be worth starting this week. If anything, we have them ranked too high, but as we saw in Week 1 when they blocked a punt for a TD against Buffalo, the Steelers still have enough talent to scrounge out some points even in tough matchups.
New England Patriots vs. TB. The Pats have been producing this year, though their D/ST numbers are inflated by beating up on Zach Wilson in Week 2 (six points allowed, four sacks, four INTs). Even without that game, they’ve been solid (19.5 ppg, five sacks, takeaway), but a matchup with old friend Tom Brady doesn’t figure to go their way. They’ll get a couple sacks, but you can’t count on them for much more.