Week 1 Streaming Defense: It is the opening week and you don’t have a starting defense, or maybe your draft pick has a terrible matchup? No problem, there are plenty of options available to help you win the most important week, this week. Below are several different options based on matchups, personnel, and upside. Depending on what you need and what you are willing to risk, these three defenses will help you fill that roster spot and potentially win Week 1.
High Upside: Dallas Cowboys
Although only owned in 11% of ESPN leagues, the Cowboys have all the makings of this year’s Lions. Last year, Detroit went from being barely a top-20 defense to almost cracking the top five. Scoring double digit fantasy points in over half of their games, Detroit was one of the best sleepers in fantasy last year. It would not be surprising for Dallas to follow suit and end the year as a top ten defense, possibly an every week starter.
The Cowboys made some major changes that could potentially vault their underrated squad from last year (five total games in double digit points) to a fantasy gold mine. Do not pay attention to their losses from preseason (even though their first team defense did phenomenal), the Cowboys are primed to have a great year.
During the off-season, Dallas made some adjustments to their linebacker core, which has struggled due to injuries. They drafted Leighton Vander Esch, a promising linebacker who some have compared to Urlacher. Jaylon Smith has been getting lots of praise over the offseason, and Sean Lee is moving to weak side backer, which could potentially limit his risk of injury. With all three healthy, they’ll be a tough matchup for opposing running backs. Another area that will see improvement is the DB position. Dallas has acquired Kris Richard from Seattle, whom worked with the defensive backs (Legion of Boom) that helped Seattle produce top five defenses on a yearly bases. With the changes made and an offensive strategy that controls the clock and plays smart, a potential top five fantasy defense could emerge.
Now, this might not happen, but this week is a great time to test their abilities. Playing the Carolina Panthers used to be more intimidating, but with little offensive weapons, their game plan will be more predictable and easy to stop. They have made it clear that they are going to feature Christian McCaffrey and try to feed him the ball 25-30 times. That won’t happen. He might be talented, but he is too small and that much attention could lead to overuse and injury. Because of this, Cam Newton will have more pressure to make plays, which is what Dallas wants.
Although he is a great player, Newton has not played well his first game of the season over the past four years. During that time, he has averaged less than 200 passing yards, less than two touchdowns, at least one turnover, and multiple sacks. His stats generally pick up as the season gets going, but statistically he is very friendly to defenses during the first game. But even if he has a good game, the Cowboys will have plenty of opportunities to put pressure on Newton due to the issues on the offensive line and the predictability of their game plan, which will lead to sacks and potential turnovers.
Overall, if you are streaming this week, Dallas would be a safe option with potential long-term upside. Not only could they potentially have a great week, but they could have a great year and become your number one defense. If not, they will not score less than 5 points so the damage should be minimal.
Prediction: PA: 10-20, Total Yards: 200-250, Sacks: 3, Fumbles: 1, Interceptions: 1, Fantasy Points: 10-15
Safe Pick: Detroit Lions
Last year, they were a hot community that paid off dividends for those who picked them up early. A team that produced the 3rd most defensive touchdowns in the NFL, they frequently produced double digit fantasy points. That does not seem to be the case this year.
Although they bring back several of the key player that made their defense successful, their coaching staff has been changed up resulting in a new defensive scheme. Matt Patricia was acquired from the New England Patriots to become the next head coach for the Lions. A defensive coordinator for the Patriots, Patricia has a mind for defense and has worked under one of the best coaches in NFL history. Will this result is success for the Detroit’s Lions? Some do not believe so.
Lack of success in the preseason has raised questions about the future of the Lions, especially this season. They came off of a successful season last year and many believed Patricia was the final piece to push them past the post season lulls and into contention for NFC title. My money is not on this year, but if they can learn to adapt to Patricia’s new defensive scheme, and Stafford stays healthy, it could be in the cards sooner rather than later. Additionally, I’m betting Patricia learned how to get his team to peak at the right time from his old boss, a skill very few coaches possess (Belichick being one of the best).
Speaking of the defense, I do believe this year will be a step back from last year’s production. The main reason is more to do with the new defensive coordinator than Patricia’s new scheme. Paul Pasqualoni, the new defensive coordinator, has not held that position since 2009. It might take him a few games (or years) to get things figured out. During the preseason, the Lions defense struggled and some believe it had to do with Pasqualoni’s coaching. Whether it be that or just understanding a new scheme, this squad will see some digression from the last year.
Fortunately, their first game of the season is against the New York Jets. This team has been very friendly for fantasy defenses over the past few years and have a couple questionable receivers. Both Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson, their top two receivers, could miss the first game. Match that with the potential start of a rookie quarterback and there will be a lot of opportunities for the Lions defense to make some big plays.
What makes this match up even more appealing is the Jets’ lack of a run game. If they had a strong offensive line and a great running back, the game plan would be to keep the ball out of the rookie’s hands and just run the ball. This would force the defense to load the box, opening up the option for easier throws. But this will not be the case. Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell are not a bad combination, but not something that should impact the Lion’s defense. This will lead to the Jets struggling on offense and Detroit is going to run up the score at some point, forcing the rookie quarterback to make plays. The explosive squad of the Lions will take advantage of this and create turnovers.
This play is very smart. It might not give you a lot of points, but is a safe pick with potential high upside.
Prediction: PA: 10-20, Total Yards: 150-200, Sacks: 4, Fumbles: 1, Interceptions: 2, TD: 1 Fantasy Points: 10-15
Beware: Pittsburgh Steelers
Over the past several years, this would have been the number one streaming option for the first week for one simple reason: Cleveland Browns. Any decent defense could put up massive points against the Browns on any given day. Although not always guaranteed, the likelihood of scoring double digit fantasy points was too tempting to pass up. Just one year ago, the very same defense put up 19 fantasy points against the Browns. So why not just hit the repeat button?
Over the offseason, the Browns have decided to load up their offense with weapons. They acquired Jarvis Laundry, Carlos Hyde, and Tyrod Taylor from other teams along with drafting Baker Mayfield. Combine those players will Duke Johnson Jr., David Nojku, and Josh Gordon, you could have one of the most explosive offensive units in the league. Of course a lot of things have to come together, including their offensive line, which has been struggling, but there is a chance the Browns become one of the top offenses in the AFC.
Because of this, taking the Steelers up against the unknown might not be worth the risk. The Steelers typically have a tough defense that generally puts up good stat lines, and by most accounts are usually a safe pick. But it might not be a good idea, at least for this week. That being said, there are still some variables that suggest the Steeler’s defense could produce another great opening week. The Browns are struggling to figure out their starting offensive line, Taylor has an injured left hand, and Gordon might not even be on the field for more than fifty percent of the game. And do not forget, the most important reason: It is the Cleveland Browns.
Overall it wouldn’t be surprising if the Steelers’ defense put up good numbers against the Browns but if Gordon plays and is healthy, the pickup could potentially backfire.
Prediction: PA: 20-30, Total Yards: 300-350, Sacks: 3, Fumbles: 0, Interceptions: 1, Fantasy Points: 5-10