Sneaky Sleeper Defenses
It is finally here! Football has returned! After weeks of drafting, studying and preparing, we are finally ready for all that hard work to pay dividends.
By now, you probably have your rosters all set. Your starting quarterback, running backs, wide receivers and tight ends are in place and ready to roll. You most likely even have your kicker ready and are expecting multiple 50-yard field goals this season. The one position you may be waiting on is your D/ST. It has become increasingly popular to stream your starting unit over the course of the season. Of course, teams like the Raiders and Jets are an extremely popular opponent when looking for a one week defensive unit. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of those teams to choose from.
The Seahawks, 49ers and Bears are all obvious choices. If you own one of those units, you are playing them most every week. Just like there isn’t much benefit in me telling you to start Adrian Peterson every week, I am not going to tell you to start one of these units either. We are going to dig a little deeper here and try to find some of the hidden weekly gems.
Every week we’ll try to find the top 5 best D/ST plays that aren’t owned by the majority. The sneaky plays, if you will. We will always look for the best match-up and times when a team faces an offense in question. The juicy rookie QB making his first start? The offense that hasn’t scored a TD in 3 weeks and will be playing without its starting left tackle this week? The offensive unit that has internal turmoil and is highly due for a 3 point, 5 turnover game?
We will look for the hot defenses. The units that have surprised everyone and turned into 11 ball-hawks, all looking to take it to the house every chance they get. The defenses that haven’t played well for weeks, but just signed their next opponent’s former backup QB and are using him as scout team quarterback. We will dig a little deeper. D/ST is by no means a glory position in fantasy football. It isn’t going to win you a fantasy championship, but it can win you a week or two. Making a smart defensive pick-up can be the difference between going 6-7 and 8-5. Ultimately, a D/ST can be a huge asset. With all that said, let’s look at the top 5 sneaky defensive/special teams plays of Week 1.
#5) Kansas City at Jacksonville
The Chiefs were an awful team last year, in all phases. They finished with just 2 wins. The coach and GM were replaced and Alex Smith was brought in to turn the franchise around. However, Kansas City did have six pro bowlers and four on defense alone. There is a lot of talent here, plus Arrowhead is a huge home field advantage. After the last few disappointing seasons, the fan base is dying for something to cheer about. The excitement over Andy Reid, Alex Smith and the anticipation of a turn around year will have the Arrowhead faithful out in full force. In week 1, they get the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert in the opener. Expect a solid day for KC, with several turnovers and maybe a TD.
#4) St. Louis vs. Arizona
St. Louis was a solid D/ST last year, sneakily averaging 9.1 pts and tying for the league lead in sacks. They are a gambling, ball-hawking bunch who will get burned on occasion, but are just as likely to make a huge play. The passing game is their strength, with big time pass rushers Chris Long and Robert Quinn, harassing the QB every Sunday. The defensive backfield is what makes this unit special. Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins
both have the ability to take any pass back the other way for 6. They host an Arizona team that that gave up the most points per game to defenses last season. While they fixed their huge issues at QB with Carson Palmer taking over, their main strength is their passing game as well. Rashard Mendenhall won’t incite fear in the Rams front 4, allowing Finnegan and Jenkins to jump routes and make plays. I expect a couple INTS and possibly a pick-6 in this home opener.
#3) Cleveland vs. Miami
If you have noticed a trend, I like home teams. That’s one thing to look for in a sneaky D/ST. Not that it’s a must, but home field advantage can make a huge difference. The Browns are a perfect example. Their opening opponent, the Miami Dolphins, are a young up and coming team. They have an exciting young QB and RB,and added Mike Wallace as their big free agent acquisition. They have the makings of a solid offensive unit for years to come. However, they are still very quite untested. They are working in a new left tackle and as good as Ryan Tannehill looked at times last year, he is still just in his 2nd year. The Browns added Paul Kruger to pressure the passer and Joe Haden is one of the best young CBs in the game. Again, the hometown faithful are looking for a turn around year and you can bet they will be fired up at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Dolphins allowed the 10th most points to fantasy D/STs last season (8.6), so expect more of the same in week 1.
#2) Tampa Bay at New York Jets
The top 2 spots are pretty much interchangeable in week 1. Both have everything to do with their opponent. The Bucs get the NY Jets and likely signal caller Geno Smith, making his pro debut. We all have seen rookies in their debut, it usually doesn’t go well. The Jets are an absolute mess on offense. Their best play maker is Chris Ivory, a 3rd stringer for the Saints the last few years. Tampa is a solid unit, especially in the secondary where they added Darrelle Revis
and Dashon Goldson to pair with an already strong Mark Barron. Upfront they start the imposing Da’Quan Bowers, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David at MLB. These guys helped lead the unit to the best run D in the league at just 82.5 yds/game. Expect the Bucs to force Smith to throw early and often. They will make the rookie yearn for his glory days at West Virginia. I anticipate several INTs, maybe a fumble or two and possibly a defensive score in this one.
#1 ) Indianapolis vs. Oakland
This one is all about the match-up. The Colts are coming off a rejuvenating season behind the strong arm of Andrew Luck and expectations are high. The Indianapolis faithful will be out in full force to watch the Colts get their season started strong in week 1 against the lowly Raiders. Oakland may not name their starting QB until Sunday. Whether that’s Terrelle Pryor or Matt Flynn, they are in for a long day. Oakland already had a bad offense. That’s before they let go of proven QB Carson Palmer and lost starting left tackle and probably their best O-Lineman, Jared Veldheer. The Raiders do have a running back with a ton of potential in Darren McFadden, but he is always hurt or under performing. A switch back to the power running game may help DMC as the season goes on, but expect a long day in the opener. Pryor or Flynn will struggle mightily in the hostile environment and the former CFL beast that is Jerrell Freeman will have his way with the silver and black. Expect multiple turnovers in this one-sided affair.
Joshua has been playing fantasy sports for almost 15 years. He plays nearly every fantasy game he can get his hands on, but absolutely loves football. Joshua has really found a love for college fantasy football in the last few years. Huge fan of all teams Colorado. Broncos, Nuggets and Rockies! He currently owns a small HVAC business in Colorado Springs, where he lives with his wife and 3 daughters.