“Even when you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there,” said the famous actor and performer Will Rogers (1879-1935). Mr. Rogers alludes to an important fact that many fantasy players seem to ignore: having the right players is only half the battle. In head-to-head leagues, simply having superior talents doesn’t equate to a fantasy win 100% of the time. Playing matchups is a vital component of fantasy success. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a defense will help you get the most out of your players and your lineup in general via intelligent start/sit decisions.
In this article series, I’ll attempt to make this dilemma more easily addressable for fantasy players through a systematic ranking of the defenses based on a variety of measures. The rankings will be based on the two basic categories of football: passing and rushing. Furthermore, the data is based on the stats that defenses allow (e.g., the Bills passing data is based on the stats generated by Tom Brady in their Week 1 matchup). The green and red coloring signifies favorable and unfavorable fantasy situations respectively (i.e., cells shaded green for yards-per-game show the defenses that allowed the most passing yards in Week 1). The overall ranking is a culmination of the category subsets. That is, each team is ranked in each subcategory (e.g., YPG, attempts, completion percentage, etc), those rankings are then totaled for each team and then those final totals are sorted to differentiate each team (this can be seen here).
Considering we only have a week’s worth of data to work with, the data seen here is, admittedly, largely due to matchups and not necessarily a clear indication of the relative strength of a defense. As such, the majority of the value in the following tables is through the data and not necessarily the overall rank. (Evident by the fact that the Titans are ranked as the sixth easiest team to pass against despite their strong defensive unit. Their rank is more a result of Roethlisberger’s talent than the lack thereof of the Titans defense.) The overall rankings will gain value as the season wears on and the matchups trend towards equilibrium on a league wide basis.
Notable Week 2 Matchups
Matt Schaub vs. Titans Defense: Coming into the season, Matt Schaub was pegged as a rock solid QB1 with the only real question mark being his durability. Yet in Week 1 Schaub (along with the rest of the Texans offense) was dominated by Rex Ryan and a stifling New York Jets defense. Schaub was constantly under pressure and Darrell Revis had Andre Johnson blanketed all day.
He’ll attempt to redeem himself against a Tennessee defense that showed vulnerability to the Steelers’ offense in Week 1. Though the Texans lack the offensive line of the Steelers (particularly in the passing game), they have just as talented a receiving corps. This game gives both Schaub and the Titans’ secondary a chance at redemption.
If you have a decent QB2 with a favorable matchup, I would use him as opposed sending Schaub out there once again. Give Schaub a chance to prove that Week 1 is an outlier and not the start of a trend.
Drew Brees vs. Eagles Defense Brees tore apart the Lions in Week 1 to the tune of 358 yards and 6 TDs. A duplication of those numbers against the far superior defense of the Eagles seems unlikely. This is an interesting matchup for a variety of reasons. While the Eagles defense was dominant against the Panthers, the Saints are an entirely different offense. The Panthers strength is in their running game, while the Saints are one of the greatest passing offenses in recent memory.
This will be a great matchup, but I like Brees’ chances here. The Eagles defense suffered a massive loss this offseason with the passing of one of the greatest defensive minds of all-time in Jim Johnson. Brees will push this defense to the limits, and without a great like Johnson to guide their adjustments (of which will be necessary), they’ll be extremely hard-pressed for a Week 1 repeat.
Notable Week 2 Matchups
Ronnie Brown vs. Colts Defense: Brown was fairly effective in the limited attempts that he received in Week 1, but his totals simply weren’t high enough to make much of a fantasy impact. However, the Dolphins passing game was inept in Week 1 against the Falcons — Pennington was constantly under pressure and the Miami receivers simply couldn’t get open.
A more run-focused offensive attack against the Colts seems likely and should allow Brown to get back on track. Brown remains a good bet for solid production as a RB2 and should remain in starting lineups.
Michael Turner vs. Panthers Defense: Turner wasn’t as bad as the box score suggests in Week 1. Miami was able to control the middle and the Falcons stubbornly ran straight at them at a continuous basis. Turner did well when he was given room.
Since the Panthers were abused in the running game by a variety of Eagles in Week 1, Turner’s chances at success in this matchup are likely. Also, despite his low yardage, Turner still received a healthy dose of attempts and seemed to benefit from the increased use of Norwood in the passing game.
Use him with confidence.
To reiterate a previous point, when using these rankings, you must keep in mind that the Week 1 matchups are a large component of these rankings rather than a direct indication of the relative strength of each defense. This data will gain value as the season progresses. This column should be best utilized as an introduction to this series and as a general component of your preparation for Week 2.
Jake Sheets is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Jake in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of jake_twothousandfive.
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