Look, if you have the Seattle Seahawks' defense, you don't need these rankings. They'll be in the top five basically every week, and if you have them, you're using them.
Beyond them, though, there are wild cards. Are Kansas City and Tennessee's units for real? The Steelers are fourth from the bottom; can that possibly sustain all year? New England's defense/special teams has scored 6, 15, 9, and -1 in four games; how in the heck do you measure that going forward?
What fantasy players seek is consistency. In any position, really - that's why I'd generally prefer a Wes Welker to a Vincent Jackson - but that stays true through defense. It can be hard to find, though, as New England's unit proves. Only eight of the 32 D/STs in the NFL have had back-to-back double-digit scoring games at any point this season; only Seattle, with double digits all four weeks, has repeated that feat.
But there are two teams in every matchup, and it is on the opposite side of the ball that some consistency starts to appear. My earlier standard? Double-digit scoring in back-to-back games? As I said, only eight defenses have accomplished it, but twelve teams have had it done against them. Jacksonville (of course, Jacksonville) and the New York Giants have had it done against them every game; Minnesota and Pittsburgh have three times. In short, there is far more consistency among defenses' opponents than there is among defenses themselves.
Or at least, I feel like that's true. But I wanted to test this theory. The easiest way to do this (for me, at least, because I like numbers, so nyah nyah) is to toss it into a scatter plot on Excel (yes, Excel, because I like numbers, but am only approximately 21 percent smart enough to do it myself). That lovely little program will, in a scatter plot, find a "line of best fit" for those numbers, which is the straight line that most closely hits each dot on the graph. If you don't recall your old math class, that line is given by the equation y=mx+b, with m being the slope of the line. If m is 0, then it is a perfectly horizontal line (or, translated back to football, if m is 0, then that is a unit that scores the exact same every week).
The higher the m number, the less consistent a unit. A team that scores -20 in one week then 20 the next is nice to have once, but a disaster the other time. So the m of the Line of Best Fit can be considered a unit's consistency rating, and the lower the number, the more consistent the unit.
Yeah, so, chart. Below, you will find each team. The first column of data is the m value for that team's defense/special teams unit. The second column is the m value for the teams that have faced that team throughout the season. Remember, these numbers bear no correlation to the quality of a team's score, just to how consistent it has been.
|Team||Defense m score||Opposing defense m score|
Okay, first of all, I'm a big nerd, but I found all of this fascinating, and will continue tracking these numbers all season long. Maybe we learn something of significant value in Week 15. Or maybe we don't. But we don't know if we will without doing it, so here I go.
Secondly, it appears I was right. The most consistent defensive unit, Cleveland's, sits at a 1.9 m value, yet four teams - Buffalo, Denver, Kansas City, and Tampa Bay - have allowed opponents' m values there or lower. Overall, the average m value of the defenses is 4.91, while the average m value of opponents is 4.43. Within this range of data, a difference of nearly 0.5 is relatively large.
(Apropos of little, but man has Green Bay been unpredictable on both sides of the ball this season. Do you see those numbers? That is crazy high.)
It's hard to use this as actionable data over a whole season, as you can't very well own "Please god whoever plays against Jacksonville," but it does fall in line with the defense strategy I wrote about in the preseason - basically, that drafting a defense is foolhardy guesswork, and you're better off just starting whatever defense faces the worst offense each week.
Said even more succinctly, it seems that when picking your defense, you have to consider...offense. Crazy.
Anyway, let's look at some defenses this week.
Seattle Seahawks (No. 1) - The Seahawks play a Colts team that is No. 3 in the NFL in rushing yards, and that's having played half the season so far without new stud Trent Richardson. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have actually been only average against the run, sitting at 18th in rushing yards allowed. And that's the end of the "don't pick Seattle" information I could find, as the unit has no real weaknesses, and they are an obvious No. 1, even if Kansas City has actually outscored them in standard leagues so far.
San Francisco 49ers (No. 7) - A friend at work asked me the other day if he should start San Francisco's D this week against Houston, or Kansas City's against Tennessee. My immediate reaction, even though I'm on the record as being down on the 49ers' unit, was to say San Francisco. Kansas City is playing a Tennessee unit that has yet to allow a turnover this season, and did you see the interception Matt Schaub threw to lose the Texans their game on Sunday? I thought there was more turnover potential. Over the next day or so, I thought about it further. While Ryan Fitzpatrick is a perfectly fine backup to the injured Jake Locker, he's still Ryan Fitzpatrick, interception thrower. And, while I still think San Francisco is better than it has produced so far, Houston still has Arian Foster and Andre Johnson and their respective helpers. I hope I run into that guy at work again before the weekend so I can change my answer.
New Orleans Saints (No. 13) - When Rob Ryan took over the Saints' defensive coordinator, I chalked it up as Kiffin-esque nepotism, further proof of the "it's not what you know" aphorism that we all know so well. After all, Ryan has never seen great results in his previous D-coordinator stops:
|Team||Years||Pts. against average before Ryan||Yds against average before Ryan||PAA with Ryan||YAA with Ryan|
|New Orleans Saints||2012-13||31||32||5||6|
After years of "Ryan takes over a defense and it...really doesn't change much," this year has seen Ryan arrive in New Orleans and the Saints' defense skyrocketing. Now, the return of Sean Payton and the end of the Year Of Awfulness that was 2012 for New Orleans probably plays a big role in this, as well, but still, that is an insanely good jump for a unit that was unconscionably bad a year ago.
Dallas Cowboys (No. 24) - Just like you always start the Seattle Seahawks defense, you never start a defense that is playing against the Denver Broncos. I'm glad those two won't face each other in the regular season, as I would have no idea where I would rank Seattle then. Anyway, Dallas has been a strong defense this year, sitting at fifth in scoring in standard leagues. But until we see a team start to figure out how to combat the Denver firepower, there is literally no reason to use a defense against the Broncos. Just don't. You'll be sad.
Here are the overall rankings for Week 5:
|1||Seattle Seahawks||at Indianapolis|
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||at Tennessee|
|4||Tennessee Titans||Kansas City|
|5||Baltimore Ravens||at Miami|
|6||Chicago Bears||New Orleans|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||Houston|
|8||Houston Texans||at San Francisco|
|9||Buffalo Bills||at Cleveland|
|10||St. Louis Rams||Jacksonville|
|12||Denver Broncos||at Dallas|
|13||New Orleans Saints||at Chicago|
|14||New England Patriots||at Cincinnati|
|15||Cincinnati Bengals||New England|
|17||Carolina Panthers||at Arizona|
|18||Detroit Lions||at Green Bay|
|19||New York Jets||at Atlanta|
|21||Green Bay Packers||Detroit|
|22||Atlanta Falcons||NY Jets|
|23||San Diego Chargers||at Oakland|
|25||Oakland Raiders||San Diego|
|26||Jacksonville Jaguars||at St. Louis|
|27||Philadelphia Eagles||at NY Giants|
|28||New York Giants||Philadelphia|