In this week's FantasyInsiderOnline.com Fantasy Football Report, it's all about defense. Now, think back to your fantasy draft... probably the two most disregarded slots on your roster were the kicker spot and a DEF/ST. Of course there were those fantasy owners who took Chicago DEF/ST with a fourth round pick... leaving all other participants with jaws wide open. On the other hand, you and I are like the next guy... stock up on your running backs and receivers first, and let the kickers and defenses sort themselves out in the final rounds.
Neverthless, maybe that guy who took Chicago's DEF/ST early wasn't as off the wall as you thought. Let's go back to the 2005 season... imagine if you would have had Chicago's DEF/ST, or even Carolina's. On average, these two units gave you about 12.5 fantasy points each week. That's almost like having a third RB or WR on your fantasy roster. Top running backs drafted in the early rounds this year (and most likely starting on your squad) such as Julius Jones (8.5 fantasy points per game in '05) and Cadillac Williams (9.25 points per game in'05) were eclipsed in total points by the top DEF/ST in fantasy football last year. Yet, on average, both of these guys were gone by pick #33 in most fantasy drafts this year, where as the Chicago DEF/ST was still around at pick #50.
Obviously, giving up four fantasy points here and there shouldn't make or break your season, but we have to remember that fantasy football is all about maximizing your points at each and every position. That DEF/ST spot on your roster isn't there to just take up space... quality points can be earned at this position week in and week out. So, it's a good idea to take a closer look at what team you've got sitting in this slot on your team.
Since this is a fantasy position commonly disregarded as a "waste" slot, you may have a huge opportunity to upgrade via a trade or waiver pick-up. Here, we take a look at three basic factors to zero in on when going after a great fantasy DEF/ST.
1 - Points Allowed
Many fantasy leagues have a point system where the less points let up, the more fantasy points for your DEF/ST. This scoring can be especially huge in leagues that give points (usually 10) for shutouts. Through four weeks in 2006, the Chiefs, Ravens and Bears have all notched a shutout a piece, all against teams with struggling offenses. So, take a look at the schedule focus on teams that play the likes of Tampa Bay, San Francisco or Miami twice this year.
Another key here is how the specific defense does in the red zone. Obviously, holding an opponent to a field goal helps you out more than letting up a touchdown. Looking solely at opponents' TD averages in the red zone, the Broncos, Falcons, Ravens, Chiefs and Bears have allowed a touchdown no greater than 20% of the time defending the red zone this year. That's just ridiculous and there's still a group of "second tier" defenses that are in the more than respectable 30-40% range (such as the Eagles and Patriots).
2 - Touchdowns
Defensive scores come from playmaking DB's. Teams such as the Falcons and the Bengals have a group of ball-hawking defensive backs. However, what leads to these interception opportunities? Shoot-outs, of course. We're talking about high-scoring affairs when a team's offense puts up big points. In turn, this causes their opponent to play catch-up and start airing the ball out. For example, the Cincinnati Bengals have a high-powered offense (putting up 24.5 points per game so far in 2006). To keep up, opposing teams are forced to throw the ball themselves, leading to chances for Deltha O'Neal & Co. to make big plays. That's one of the reasons why the Bengals secondary is second in the league with 7 picks this year.
Let's not forget, however, that so much focus is put on the defense that we sometimes forget that the special teams are grouped into this category. Here, look for teams with a great return man someone along the lines of Dante Hall (KC), Maurice Jones-Drew (JAX) or Reggie Bush (NO). It's only a matter of time before one of these guys breaks a kickoff return for a TD.
3 - Sacks
It's a fact that sacks are easier to come by in the NFL than interceptions. Common fantasy formats may give you two points for an interception and only one for a sack. Looking at the 2005 season and using the aforementioned scoring system, only six teams gave you 40 or more fantasy points when it came to interceptions alone last year, where as 12 helped you with 40 or more fantasy points for sacks. The lesson learned here: high sack totals are more plentiful, so there is a better chance a team might still be out there on waivers that you can snag to boost your DEF/ST point total.
So, what do all the numbers and stats mean? There is more to picking a fantasy DEF/ST than going with your favorite team or a defensive unit that you think is "nasty". Obviously, squads like Chicago and Baltimore are more than likely off the board right now in your fantasy league. However, there's a bunch of team defenses that may have flown under the radar on draft day that still could be picked up off the waiver wire, such as San Diego, Denver and New Orleans. You may want to even consider trading an extra running back or wide receiver that has some value (but is sitting on your fantasy bench) to upgrade at DEF/ST.
Remember, there should never be a wasted slot in your fantasy starting lineup. Every point counts. And if you don't consider that, you'll be kicking yourself when you lose by two points next week because you threw in your favorite team's defense instead of focusing on an upgrade.
PATRIOTS FANTASY REPORT
Keeping with this week's theme of fantasy DEF/ST, the key in Week 5 for New England Patriots Fantasy Football is defense, defense, DEFENSE! Now, before you know where you're going, you've got to know where you've been so, let's take a look at the numbers. In Bill Belichick's seven-year tenure as Patriots head coach, his defense has allowed an average of 17.5 points per game against the Miami Dolphins. Yet, this is a totally revamped Dolphin squad, which is definitely not living up to people's expectations. Thru four games in 2006, the Dolphins have averaged a mere 12.75 points per game. Daunte Culpepper has turned out to be a big bust in Miami thus far, with a 2:3 TD/INT ratio and a 77.0 QB rating. Let's not forget the fact that he has been sacked 21 times already yes, that's 21 times! To put it in perspective, Houston Texans QB David Carr was sacked an astonishing 76 times in his rookie year. If the current pace is kept up in Miami, Culpepper would shatter that record by being sacked 84 times! Needless to say, the combination of a weak offensive line and Culpepper's propensity to hold on to the ball too long allows opposing defenses to have a field day.
Obviously, with the play of Daunte Culpepper, his corps of receivers has been struggling as well. WR's Chris Chambers (45.3 yards per game and 2 TD's) and Marty Booker (44 yards per game and no TD's) have been almost non-existent in 2006. The same can be said for TE Randy McMichael (28.3 yards per game and no TD's), who is performing significantly below last year's numbers.
The ground game in Miami has been nothing to talk about either. RB Ronnie Brown was slotted to have his breakout year in 2006; however, 59.8 yards rushing per game is not getting it done. So, take all of these factors (lackluster QB, weak offensive line, unproductive running game), put them together, and you have the dismal Miami Dolphins offense of 2006.
Now that we've seen what the Patriots are going up against in Week 5, we have to look at how they have performed as a defensive unit thru the first four weeks. The Patriots rank in the Top 10 in points allowed per game (16.0) and sacks (11.0). The math is simple take a team struggling to both put points on the scoreboard, as well as protect their quarterback, and square them up against a defense ranking among the league's best in holding teams out of the end zone and keeping quarterbacks scrambling it's a recipe for disaster. Also, sprinkle in the detail that the Patriots' defense has held opponents to under 100 yards rushing per game (91.5).
Currently, however, the New England DEF/ST is not even ranked in the Top 15 Fantasy Football defenses. Couple that with the fact that this unit was only draft in 70% of Fantasy Football Leagues (according to Yahoo.com), and there's a good chance that you might be able to pick them up off of waivers.
Patriots Insider has partnered with a number of guest sports writers and independent websites to provide insightful, expert advice for readers interested in fantasy football. This week's Patriots fantasy report is brought to you by Matt Hinzpeter at FantasyInsiderOnline.com. If you have any questions for Matty, you can reach him, or any of the other FIO experts, at TheTeam@FantasyInsiderOnline.com.
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