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Fantasy football rankings, Week 14: Defense/special teams

There were very few middle-of-the-road performances among defenses a week ago, with most falling in the "really good" or "really bad" divisions. What can we learn?

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Week 13 was an excellent lesson in making me look dumb. Just a week ago in this space, I talked about how the scoring possibilities out of the defense/special teams fantasy position have a much smaller range than any other position, making the selection of a fantasy defense less crucial.

Which of course meant that Week 13 had the widest range of fantasy scores we've seen in some time.

Most weeks, there are eight or nine teams with 10-plus fantasy points, and four to six teams in the negative. That means half to two-thirds of all defenses put up single-digit fantasy points most weeks -- unremarkable numbers that will neither make nor break a week, but just be there as a filler.

In Week 13, though, nineteen fantasy defenses scored either 10 or more or fewer than 0. Eleven units scored 10 or more -- ranging from Detroit with 10 points up to St. Louis with 29 -- and eight finished in the negative. That meant that, more than just about any other week this season, the defense you chose mattered a great deal.

So let's look at where the good performances came from and see what we can learn from. The bad performances were mostly situations you might expect, and ones you wouldn't have considered for fantasy, so I'm focusing on the top end:

  • St. Louis won the week, with a huge 29 fantasy points against Oakland. The Rams have had seven straight positive scores, averaging 14 a game over their last five. Their fallow stretch of performances came when their schedule was as brutal as any team's; they close against Washington, Arizona, the Giants and Seattle, making for a much nicer stretch. Meanwhile, the Raiders have been as score-on-able as any offense in the league. RESPONSIBLE PARTY: Both
  • The next-best score of the week was Minnesota, with 25. It's been up-and-down for the Vikings' defense; the unit scored 19 in Week 1, then six total in Weeks 2-5, then a good stretch, then a bad, then Sunday. On the flip side, Carolina has given up 17.8 points per game to defenses in the last five. RESPONSIBLE PARTY: More Carolina than Minnesota
  • Jacksonville put up 22 fantasy points. The Jags' defense has actually improved markedly; the unit had negative-5 fantasy points after four weeks, but has averaged 8.6 a game since then, including back-to-back games in double figures. The Giants' offense, meanwhile, has had some rough games, and Eli Manning is hard to trust, but this was their worst outing of the season. RESPONSIBLE PARTY: Jacksonville, somehow
  • The Bills put up 17 against the Browns. The Bills' defense has been elite all season, with14.7 points a game in their last six, but this was still on the surprising side. That's because, while the Browns might not have a super-elite offense, they don't give up many fantasy points; defenses had scored only 3.36 against Cleveland entering Sunday. Brian Hoyer's collapse helped, but this seems like a Bills-inspired meltdown. RESPONSIBLE PARTY: Buffalo
  • Remember when we were worried about the Seattle defense? They put up 17 on Thanksgiving, their second straight in double figures and fourth in six; the Seahawks have averaged 11.5 a game in the last six weeks. Meanwhile, defenses have put up 10.7 on the 49ers in their last six, as Colin Kaepernick and the rest of that offense went belly-up. RESPONSIBLE PARTY: More San Francisco than Seattle

There's a lot of subjectivity there, and you might quibble with some of it. I do think -- and I've said this -- that with defenses more than any other fantasy contributor, you have to take the opponent into account, and oftentimes a defense's performance has more to do with who they play than who they are.

On to the Week 14 rankings:

Defense/special teams rankings, Week 14

(DK: Daniel Kelley; DC: Dan Ciarrocchi; JD: John Daigle; SK: Scott Kaliska)

Rank Consensus Opponent DK DC JD SK
1 Houston Texans @JAC 3 2 2 1
2 San Francisco 49ers @OAK 1 4 1 4
3 Detroit Lions TB 4 1 5 2
4 St. Louis Rams @WAS 2 5 3 5
5 Minnesota Vikings NYJ 8 3 10 3
6 Green Bay Packers ATL 12 7 6 6
7 Arizona Cardinals KC 11 9 4 9
8 Seattle Seahawks @PHI 6 11 7 10
9 Miami Dolphins BAL 5 17 8 8
10 Denver Broncos BUF 19 8 9 7
11 Kansas City Chiefs @ARI 17 10 12 12
12 Philadelphia Eagles SEA 7 14 18 14
13 Indianapolis Colts @CLE 13 12 16 13
14 New York Giants @TEN 24 6 11 17
15 Cincinnati Bengals PIT 18 15 13 15
16 Baltimore Ravens @MIA 9 16 22 16
17 Tennessee Titans NYG 15 25 14 19
18 New England Patriots @SD 22 18 17 18
19 New Orleans Saints CAR -- 13 -- 11
20 Jacksonville Jaguars HOU 10 23 -- 22
21 Tampa Bay Buccaneers @DET 14 -- 15 --
22 Pittsburgh Steelers @CIN 19 20 23 20
23 New York Jets @MIN -- 22 19 23
24 Dallas Cowboys @CHI -- 21 24 21
25 Washington STL -- 19 -- 24
-- Chicago Bears DAL 25 24 20 --
-- Cleveland Browns IND 20 -- -- 25
-- Buffalo Bills @DEN 21 -- 25 --
-- Oakland Raiders SF -- -- 21 --
-- San Diego Chargers NE 23 -- -- --


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