Fantasy Football: Defenses With Favorable Opening Schedules
Last year, I wrote an article encouraging you to forego drafting a DEF/ST if possible. Predicting DEF/ST performance is too inconsistent and the point disparity between the top 12 teams is typically so small that you are better off drafting a lottery ticket WR or RB that you can use for trade bait before the season starts. Last season, for example, it seemed that the Jaguars dominated the weekly rankings but they only beat 5th place by 2 points per game and 5 different weeks they didn’t even finish in the top 12, including every week of the fantasy playoffs. Stream. Your. Defense. Streaming is all about signing and playing teams with the best weekly matchups and that starts with favorable schedules, which happens to be the topic of this article so let’s jump in.
Let me start with my tail between my legs. Two of the best opening schedules belong to…the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Rams, both of which you will certainly have to draft in a round that literally makes me cringe (8th and 9th respectively) if you want them on your roster. Putting it bluntly, I would not draft them, but if they fall to you, they will both set you up nicely for the opening week and beyond. Honestly, if you planned on taking a defense in the single digit rounds, you don’t need my convincing anyway. So let’s talk about teams that are far more affordable.
Pittsburgh Steelers (ADP: 14th Round, Average Ownership: 50%)
Opening Schedule: @ Cleveland, vs Kansas City, @ Tampa Bay, vs Baltimore
Two years in a row, Pittsburgh leads the way on my favorite opening schedule. They finished last year as the #11 DEF/ST and led the league in sacks. They face Cleveland in Week 1, who was just held to a single field goal in the dress rehearsal game. While I think the Browns are improved, they need some time to work things out so Week 1 might be a rough week for them. Kansas City comes to town in Week 2 and I think we could see some turnovers out of a wet behind the ears Patrick Mahomes. Tampa Bay will still be without Jameis Winston in Week 3 and I have very little faith in anyone on that Baltimore offense in Week 4. All in all, the Steelers have 2 at home, where they dominate, and 2 on the road that isn’t very scary. They should get you through the first quarter season without much complaint.
New Orleans Saints (ADP: 13th Round, Average Ownership: 75%)
Opening Schedule: vs Tampa Bay, vs Cleveland
The Saints were a very pleasant surprise last year and should be able to start this season on a high note. They finished last year as a top 10 DEF/ST and were among the league leaders in sacks. They get Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 1 at home. Fitzpatrick is turnover prone and hasn’t really played with the 1st team all that much in the preseason. Cleveland should be much improved but if they struggle against Pittsburgh in Week 1, they are in for another rough one when visiting the Saints in Week 2. Two homes games against suspect offenses to start the year is a recipe for success for DEF/ST.
Baltimore Ravens (ADP: 12th Round, Average Ownership: 91%)
Opening Schedule: vs Buffalo, @ Cincinnati
The Ravens’ defense was great in 2017 and finished as the #2 fantasy DEF/ST. They are being drafted higher and owned in more leagues than most other teams on this list so you’ll need some luck to land them. They start against an offense that is my odds-on favorite to be the worst in the league in 2018. Outside of LeSean McCoy, there is nothing to be worried about in the matchup against Buffalo. In Week 2, they travel to Cincinnati. You’ll have to pay attention to how the Bengals play in Week 1 before you start the Ravens in Week 2. The Bengals have a ton of firepower but were one of the worst offenses in the league in 2017. If Dalton comes out throwing picks again, fire the Ravens up in Week 2.
Tennessee Titans (ADP: 15th Round, Average Ownership: 37%)
Opening Schedule: @ Miami, vs Houston, @ Jacksonville, vs Philadelphia, @Buffalo, vs Baltimore
The Titans might be my second favorite defense to start the season, behind Pittsburgh. I think Mike Vrabel is going to have these guys playing great and they start the season against one of my least favorite offenses, in Miami. They follow that up with Deshaun Watson and Blake Bortles, both of which have TD:INT ratios that make DEF/ST smile. Philadelphia was just shut out by Cleveland in the 3rd preseason game, I hate Buffalo’s offense and Baltimore isn’t scaring anyone. The Titans are going to play an uptempo, ball control offense, and I don’t think they are going to give up many points. If Vrabel can get these guys after the QB, they will see more sacks and turnovers and may very well be a top 5 fantasy defense in the season’s first half.
Los Angeles Chargers (ADP: 11th Round, Average Ownership: 90%)
Opening Schedule: vs Kansas City, @ Buffalo
I’m not going to lie to you, Week 1 could be a disaster. The Chiefs have a ton of weapons on offense and look like they could be solid in 2018. But, Mahomes is unproven and this will be his first game with the world on his shoulders and it’s on the road against a division rival…the stakes are high. That set of circumstances leads me to believe that there may be plenty of turnovers to go around in Week 1 for the Chargers. In Week 2, they travel to Buffalo, and well, we all know I don’t care for them to say the least.
For various reasons, I don’t like these teams as much as those mentioned above but they could make for excellent streaming options, if only for one week.
Denver Broncos (ADP: 12th Round, Average Ownership: 87%)
Opening Schedule: vs Seattle, vs Oakland, @ Baltimore, vs Kansas City, @ New York Jets
If you can wait one week, the Broncos have a great schedule for 2-5. I will never advocate rostering 2 defenses but if they are on the waiver wire after Week 1, Denver will set you up nicely for the next 4 games.
Seattle Seahawks (ADP: Free, Average Ownership: 22%)
Opening Schedule: @ Denver, @ Chicago, vs Dallas, @ Arizona
I love Seattle’s opening schedule. I just don’t know if I love their defense. The Legion of Boom is no more and they are a very unproven commodity. Honestly, Denver’s offense isn’t a real juggernaut, so they may be worth a Week 1 gamble to see if Pete Carroll can make magic happen.
Detroit Lions (ADP: Free, Average Ownership: 27%)
Opening Schedule: vs New York Jets
WEEK 1 STREAM OF THE WEEK! The Lions are free in fantasy football right now and get a bad NY Jets team that could be starting a rookie QB. Let the season of streaming begin with the Lions in Week 1.