Fantasy Defense Rankings Week 1: Who to start, sit at D/ST in fantasy football

Fantasy Defense Rankings Week 1: Who to start, sit at D/ST in fantasy football

Is it too early to start streaming defenses? Well, if you read our preseason D/ST tiers and draft strategy article, then you already know our answer is a resounding, “no.” We always advocate playing matchups when it comes to start ’em-sit ’em decisions at this position. Of course, it’s tough to play matchups in the opening week because we don’t really know how good or bad offenses and defenses are. Truthfully, we probably won’t have a great idea until the end of the month, and even then, the sample size is small. Still, that didn’t stop us from putting together our Week 1 fantasy defense rankings, which, yes, are influenced by matchups.

They’re not all about matchups, though. The Buccaneers and Steelers, two of our top-three preseason D/STs, are still right on the start-sit bubble despite games against potentially high-scoring opponents Dallas and Buffalo, respectively. The Ravens, our preseason No. 1, are down to No. 8 against a solid Raiders offense, while preseason top-10 defenses Buffalo (vs. Steelers), Washington (vs. Chargers), and Indianapolis (vs. Seattle) are well outside the starters tier because of tough matchups.

WEEK 1 FANTASY: Sleepers | Busts | Start ’em, Sit ’em

Of course, if you drafted them and they’re your only D/ST (likely), you’ll probably feel like you have to play them. That’s fine. They’re at least very talented. They could get a pick-six, return TD, or rack up a couple takeaways and a few sacks. Defense can be a bit random, as much as we like to think we can predict it. But other decent D/STs, like the Packers (vs. Saints), Broncos (@ Giants), and Chargers (@ Washington), are possibly sitting on your waiver wire and take on notoriously turnover-prone quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee these defenses will produce, but….Russell Wilson or Jameis Winston? Josh Allen or Ryan Fitzpatrick? Justin Herbert or Daniel Jones? Which QBs would you rather have your D/STs going against?

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight end | Kicker

A few other popular sleeper defenses that you might have drafted late are definitely off limits in Week 1. The Saints (vs. Green Bay), Cardinals (@ Titans), and Browns (@ Chiefs) are major risks. You’re better off taking a risk with the Jets (@ Panthers), Panthers (vs. Jets), or Eagles (@ Falcons).

Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver | Tight endKicker

Week 1 is tough. You don’t want to cut a sleeper RB or WR so you can stream a defense this early, but we’ve all lost matchups because of a 10-point difference in our D/ST vs. our opponents’. Defense isn’t like running back or wide receiver where a supremely talented player can produce decent stats with a short TD and a bunch of touches, which isn’t uncommon for the best of the best. Defense requires more to really pay off, and you wouldn’t go into a week starting a flex in a terrible matchup if you had a similar option with a much better matchup.

WEEK 1 DFS LINEUPS: DraftKings | Yahoo | FanDuel

The waiver wire is full of other worthwhile options at defense, so at least consider it. If streaming isn’t your thing, more power to you. Start your drafted D/ST and hope for the best. It’s the beginning of a new season, so you have to embrace the “anything is possible” mentality. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. We’ll do our best to help you out as much as possible.

MORE WEEK 1 DFS: Best stacks | Best values | Lineup Builder

Note: We’ll be updating these D/ST rankings as needed throughout the week. so check back for the latest movement and analysis.

Fantasy Defense Rankings Week 1: Who to start, sit at D/ST in fantasy football

Individual analysis will be added early next week and updated throughout the week to reflect any changes to the rankings.

Rank Player
1 Los Angeles Rams vs. CHI. Aaron Donald and co. will have a little something for Andy Dalton in his first start for the Bears. Dalton was probably better than most remember last year (4-5 as a starter, plus a win in relief when Dak Prescott got hurt), but he threw at least one INT in seven of nine starts and took 23 sacks. The Bears will hope they can protect Dalton better, but against last season’s No. 2 sack team (53), it might not matter. 
2 Miami Dolphins @ NE. A Brian Flores defense against a rookie QB in his first NFL start? Yes, that’s a must-start. The Dolphins ranked tied for fourth in fantasy points last year thanks to a solid 41 sacks and league-leading 18 INTs. They’ll make life miserable for Mac Jones, whose already-mediocre receivers will be blanketed by tight coverage all over the field. The Pats will obviously go with a run-heavy approach, but Jones will still be forced into some mistakes. 
3 New England Patriots vs. MIA. A Bill Belichick defense against a second-year QB? That’s even more of an must-start. Tua Tagovailoa should be better now that he has a season under his belt and is much closer to 100 percent, but he’s still a question mark going into sophomore campaign. To be fair, he didn’t make a ton of backbreaking mistakes last year (just three games with an INT, one total lost fumble in nine starts), but the Pats defense is absolutely loaded even without CB Stephon Gilmore (quad), so expect a high floor thanks to a low amount of points allowed, a few sacks, and a turnover or two.
4 San Francisco 49ers @ DET. For as much as Jared Goff struggles, he’s not necessarily fantasy-friendly for D/STs. Of course, that was on the Rams — a more high-powered offense than Detroit is running out there this year. The Lions really have just two weapons — RB D’Andre Swift and TE T.J. Hockenson — and the former is dealing with a limiting groin injury. Even with a decent offensive line, it’s likely Goff and the Lions will be forced into some mistakes by a revitalized 49ers defense, led by Nick Bosa and Fred Warner. If nothing else, San Francisco should keep the score low and notch a few sacks.
5 Green Bay Packers vs. NO. The last time we saw Jameis Winston starting, he threw 30 INTs for the Bucs in 2019. That was in a far different offense, but we all know Winston is capable of unleashing some “what-was-that?” throws at any given moment. The Packers have enough playmakers to take advantage of any Winston mistakes, and going against a New Orleans team down Michael Thomas (ankle) on a neutral field (Jacksonville), we expect Green Bay to come through in this favorable matchup.
6 Seattle Seahawks @ IND. Carson Wentz has been a mistake-waiting-to-happen when he’s healthy, but after missing preseason because of a serious foot injury and COVID issues, he’s even more of a liability. Throw in All-Pro offensive lineman Quenton Nelson also dealing with a foot injury and WR T.Y. Hilton out because of a neck issue, and you have a Colts offense in serious flux. A run-heavy approach is likely in order behind Indy’s stout offensive line, but Seattle still has studs on all three levels, especially the backend. Expect the Seahawks to pick up where they left off last season when they had 46 sacks and a solid 22 takeaways.
7 Minnesota Vikings @ CIN. Joe Burrow has barely played since tearing an ACL last November. Some rust is expected, and behind Cincinnati’s still-leaky offensive line (48 sacks allowed), that’s a problem. Minnesota will feature an improved pass rush with the return of Danielle Hunter and more playmaking ability with the addition of Patrick Peterson. Even if Cincinnati puts up a fair amount of points, Minnesota still has more upside for a good fantasy day.
8 Baltimore Ravens @ LV. The Raiders allowed just 5.6 fantasy points per game (FPPG) to defenses last year and return most of the same players, so ranking the Ravens here is more about their talent than anything. Vegas is solid in all phases, but Baltimore always seems to find a way, as shown last year by its league-leading 12 fumble recoveries and four D/ST touchdowns. You can call that luck and say it will even out this year, but when a talented group of playmakers seems to “luck” out every year, eventually we have to give credit where it’s due. Consider the Ravens a boom-or-bust play.
9 Denver Broncos @ NYG. Daniel Jones lost six fumbles and threw 10 INTs in 14 starts last year. He also took 45 sacks. New York has improved skill players, but there are still plenty of fantasy points to be had for a defense with fierce pass-rushers and a revamped, playmaking secondary. You can make a strong case for the Broncos to be even higher on this list given their high ceiling.
10 Los Angeles Chargers @ WFT. Everyone loves Fitzmagic — including opposing D/STs. For as much as Ryan Fitzpatrick can bring to the table, he just as quickly take it away with risky throws and careless pocket awareness (three multi-INT games in just seven starts last year). The Chargers feature a solid pass rush led by Joey Bosa and playmakings backend with Derwin James and Chris Harris. Fitzpatrick will make some mistakes, even if Washington is moving the ball with relative ease.
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. DAL. Like Baltimore, this is a “respect” ranking for Tampa. Its defense remains loaded, but Dallas could have one of the highest-scoring offenses in the league. There are reasons to be optimistic about the Bucs, though, mainly that guard Zack Martin (COVID) is out and tackle La’el Collins (neck) is likely out. Given the expected rustiness of Dak Prescott (ankle, shoulder), Tampa should be safe to start. (Update: Collins is playing.)
12 Pittsburgh Steelers @ BUF. Another “respect” ranking, it’s tough to place the Steelers much lower than this. They’re so talented at every level that it’s easy to imagine them coming up with three sacks, an INT and a fumble recovery while Buffalo also has a solid offensive day. For what it’s worth, when these teams met in December last year, Pittsburgh managed two takeaways, a sack, and 20 offensive points allowed. If you’re nervous, feel free to keep the Steelers on your bench — by no means are they a must-start — but you can also take a chance with them if you really don’t want to pick up a second defense.
13 Carolina Panthers vs. NYJ. The Panthers were underrated last year, finishing as the No. 16 fantasy defense. A lot of that was due to fumble recoveries (league-high 15) and D/ST touchdowns (3), which are generally considered “lucky” stats, but there’s still enough big-play talent on this unit to think they can give rookie Zach Wilson trouble in his first career start.
14 Washington Football Team vs. LAC. Washington certainly has the talent to put up a good fantasy day against anyone. We just don’t like the matchup here. The Chargers have an explosive offense, and Justin Herbert does a decent job avoiding sacks. Based simply on talent and fantasy floor, you can live with WFT in your lineup, but the ceiling feels relatively low. 
15 Philadelphia Eagles @ ATL. The Eagles have a solid pass rush (49 sacks last year), and Matt Ryan shown real signs of decline the past two years, getting sacked 89 times and throwing 25 INTs. Atlanta will score plenty of points, but Philadelphia can still have a good fantasy day. Consider them one of the ultimate boom-or-bust units on the slate — likely better suited for DFS tournaments but still in play in season-long leagues if you’re going for a high ceiling.
16 Buffalo Bills vs. PIT. The Bills have a solid all-around defense, but Pittsburgh’s offense simply doesn’t allow many fantasy points. Even last year, with Ben Roethlisberger looking particularly slow and weak-armed, he was sacked just 13 times and threw 10 INTs. Last year, when these teams met in December, Buffalo had one sack, two takeaways, and held the Steelers to 15 points — a decent fantasy day but nothing special. We expect Pittsburgh to be sharper this year, leaving the Bills with little margin for error. 
17 New York Jets @ CAR. The Jets know all too well how Sam Darnold can give away fantasy points, but we’re not sure if the talent is there for New York to really take advantage. Still, from a boom-or-bust standpoint, you can do worse than taking a chance on the Jets. 
18 Indianapolis Colts vs. SEA. We love the Colts long-term, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks are simply too strong of an offense to risk using Indy this week. Sacks are still an issue for the ‘Hawks (48 allowed last year), but pass-rush alone is not enough reason to use the Colts if there are other decent options available. 
19 Kansas City Chiefs vs. CLE. 
20 New York Giants vs. DEN
21 Atlanta Falcons vs. PHI
22 Chicago Bears @ LAR
23 Las Vegas Raiders vs BAL
24 New Orleans Saints vs. GB
25 Jacksonville Jaguars @ HOU
26 Houston Texans vs. JAX
27 Arizona Cardinals @ TEN
28 Tennessee Titans vs. ARI
29 Detroit Lions vs. SF
30 Cincinnati Bengals vs. MIN
31 Cleveland Browns @ KC
32 Dallas Cowboys @ TB

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.