We are 77 games into a 256-game season, which means that basically 30 percent of the games have been played. In that time, there have been six kickoff/punt return touchdowns. That's a pace of just under 20 touchdowns on the season. Last year, there were 30 such scores. The lowest NFL total in the last 11 seasons is 21; the average since 2001 has been just over 30.
Sometimes, rules changes take some time to really see an impact. Looking at the return touchdown numbers from 2008 to 2012 (29-29-36-29-31), you wouldn't be able to pinpoint when the kickoff line was moved. And it's possible that this has just been a slow start to the season. But 30 percent of a season is a decent sample, and the touchdowns just aren't coming.
Special teams have always been an added variable in playing a fantasy defense. The Bears have always had a good defense, but the presence of Devin Hester in the return game took them from "good" to "potentially great." While that variable still exists -- three teams have kickoff returns of 80 or more yards -- the slower scoring rate means that, when picking a fantasy defense/special teams unit, we can maybe look more at the "defense" half of that, and less at the "special teams."
Or I'm wrong, and there will be like seven return touchdowns this week. It's possible. But it is interesting to look at.
With that, here's a deeper look at a few of these units this week, with my ranking of them within the league in (parentheses) next to the team name.
Seattle Seahawks (No. 1) - The Seahawks have played five games this year - two home, three road. Their two home games featured 21 points by the D/ST in the San Francisco beatdown, and 12 D/ST points against Jacksonville, which would have been much higher if they hadn't kicked back and relaxed in the second half. The Seattle defense is top-tier on the road, yeah, but it is otherworldly at home. This week, they're at home, facing the Ryan Fitzpatrick-led Titans. Enjoy.
Cincinnati Bengals (No. 5) - The Bengals held Tom Brady without a touchdown, and now they get to face Thaddeus Lewis. I mean, merry frickin' Christmas, Cincinnati. The Bengals don't do any single thing well: they're No. 11 in overall yards allowed, No. 12 in pass yards, No. 11 in rush yards, No. 21 in sacks, and No. 9 in interceptions. The only thing they excel at is forcing fumbles. But they do everything well, and again...Thaddeus Lewis.
Dallas Cowboys (No. 12) - As I've said before, I make my rankings without consulting any other lists, but I do go back and compare what I've decided with what others have. If nothing else, I feel I am obligated to explain any massive discrepancies. And this was the biggest discrepancy I've had these six weeks. I rank the Cowboys' defense No. 12 this week, but the ESPN experts have them at No. 25, with no individual ranker slotting them above No. 20. I went back over the stats, the numbers. I had to have missed something. But if it's there, I haven't found it. Take out last week's point-a-palooza against the Broncos (and it's not like you can compare facing the Denver offense with anything else in football), and Dallas has been above-average. A unit that ranked fifth in the NFL a week ago now ranks No. 16 and that is entirely Peyton Manning's fault. Meanwhile, they are facing a Washington defense that has had double-digit defense points scored against it twice in four games. Sorry, ESPN guys, but you're nuts. Dallas is a nice waiver-wire add this week.
Tennessee Titans (No. 16) - The following is a line graph of the Titans' defense scoring since their bye week (Week 11) last season:
That graph features what I'm sure has to be the biggest single week-to-week change in fantasy football history: The Titans scored -9 in Week 16 (vs. Green Bay) last season, then followed that up by hanging a 36 on Jacksonville in Week 17. That's a 45-point swing, and that shouldn't be possible. Beyond that, though, the point is that the Titans' D/ST is as unpredictable as it could possibly be. Even this season, the team has gone 15-6-9-22-5. In Seattle, you can use the Titans' unit, and I doubt they'll actively hurt you, but I definitely don't see any reason to ever expect a big score. Too unpredictable.
Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 32) - There are two teams on a bye this week. So having them at 32 is my way of saying that I am essentially guaranteeing a negative score out of the Jaguars' D/ST this week. I mean, this isn't a huge insight, I know. But in five weeks, the best a defensive unit has fared against Denver in fantasy is minus-4. Jacksonville has had a positive score twice (six in Week 1, five in Week 2), but is averaging 1.4 points per week. I can envision a scenario where Washington (vs. Dallas), San Diego (vs. Indianapolis), or even the Giants (vs. Chicago) have a worthwhile fantasy day. Things happen. But there is no way Jacksonville has a positive point total. Start no one before you start the Jaguars.
Here are the overall rankings for Week 6:
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||Oakland|
|4||Chicago Bears||NY Giants|
|5||Cincinnati Bengals||at Buffalo|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Arizona|
|8||Arizona Cardinals||at San Francisco|
|9||Indianapolis Colts||at San Diego|
|10||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Philadelphia|
|11||Houston Texans||St. Louis|
|13||New England Patriots||New Orleans|
|14||New Orleans Saints||at New England|
|15||New York Jets||Pittsburgh|
|16||Tennessee Titans||at Seattle|
|17||Baltimore Ravens||Green Bay|
|18||Carolina Panthers||at Minnesota|
|19||Oakland Raiders||at Kansas City|
|20||Philadelphia Eagles||at Tampa Bay|
|21||Detroit Lions||at Cleveland|
|22||Pittsburgh Steelers||at NY Jets|
|23||Green Bay Packers||at Baltimore|
|26||St. Louis Rams||at Houston|
|27||Washington Redskins||at Dallas|
|28||San Diego Chargers||Indianapolis|
|29||New York Giants||at Chicago|
|31||no, seriously, literally anyone|
|32||Jacksonville Jaguars||at Denver|