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Fantasy football rankings, Week 10: Defense/special teams

You want your defense to score a lot, sure, but you also want it to be consistent. It's a two-part deal.

Grant Halverson

Okay, straight-up confession - this week's defense/special teams were bleedin' impossible, y'all. Not even lying, this was the most difficult week in the history of ever to rank the defenses, which makes it all the more wonderful that I've been stuck at work 12 hours a day the last couple days. Sleep is overrated.

It's true, though. For the most part, this week, the good defenses played good offenses, the bad defenses played bad offenses, and the middlings played middlings. I made my little weekly table, I filled in the easy ones - Seattle and Tennessee at the top, Jacksonville and San Diego at the bottom - then I stopped and looked at the screen for a while.

In an optimistic effort to discern some new information, I decided to revisit my consistency ratings from my Week 5 D/ST column (as a refresher, I plot a defense's fantasy scoring on a scatter plot and find a line of best fit, the slope of which dictates that unit's consistency).

The calculations always take me a few minutes, as I am spotty-at-best with Excel, and so end up doing a lot of the work longhand, just to guard against my own computer dumbness. With no plan in mind other than updating the consistency ratings, and the fact that it was verging on midnight for a brain that was on four hours' sleep, I realized pretty quickly that I needed to find some relevance to these numbers, and not just have more numbers to look at on a spreadsheet.

One thing that has bothered me ever since I started my consistency ratings idea is the integration of that idea with high-scoring­ defenses. Like, it's great if you can say that the Jacksonville Jaguars' defense is very consistent, but if it consistently score two points, woo-freaking-hoo, you know? I needed to combine consistency with productivity.

I needed a graph! More specifically, I needed the following graph:


The x-axis there is the average score of each defensive unit so far this season; the y-axis is the various units' m score, their consistency rating. Obviously, the further to the right a dot is, the better that defense scores. Meanwhile, the lower on the graph a dot is, the more consistent that defense is. Ideally, you'd like to own a team that has a dot in the far bottom right, scoring 20-some points a week, every week, with no variation. That'd be peachy. That'd also be impossible.

But there is information to glean from the graph. I've highlighted three defenses - Jacksonville's, which as we discussed earlier is awful, consistently, reliably awful; Kansas City's, which is the best-scoring unit; and Seattle's, which isn't quite as dominant as Kansas City's, but is way more consistent.

You knew those things, though. No, for me, the real information comes in the middle of the graph. Check out the two black dots in red circles. The lower left dot is the New Orleans defense, which is averaging 7.9 fantasy points a game with a 1.9 m score. The upper right dot is the Cincinnati unit - 9.2 points a game, 2.9 m score. We all know the Bengals' defense will be knocked a few notches with the loss of Geno Atkins, but even before that, you'd have been better off with the consistency that is the Saints unit over the occasionally more dominant Bengals.

The Bengals scored 25 fantasy points in Week 8. If you had them in fantasy that week, you were ecstatic. Of course, that 25-point outing came a week after they tallied negative-1 in Week 7. You don't want a defense that is actively hurting you. The Saints defense hasn't scored higher than 13 in any week, but has hit that number three different times. Consistency. Consistency is valuable, and underrated.

Now, a look at some individual units this week. Remember, this week was bleedin' impossible, but here it is:

Carolina Panthers (No. 3) - This is the best example of my difficult-week maxim. The Panthers are a great defense, and have averaged more than 14 fantasy points a game over their four-game winning streak. On the other hand, they're facing the 49ers, who have allowed barely a single point per game to opposing defenses. It's a classic unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object situation. On the other hand, the Panthers stop the run like a boss; the closest thing they have to a weakness is the pass. The 49ers, meanwhile, are a run-first offense that is last in the NFL in passing yards. San Francisco is a good team, but the matchup lies in Carolina's favor.

Arizona Cardinals (No. 4) - The Cardinals' defense have three double-digit fantasy outings in their last five games, only failing to get to ten against San Francisco and Seattle. They get a Houston team that limited the Indianapolis defense to negative-4 fantasy points Sunday night. I'm a believer in Case Keenum, but he's not Peyton Manning or anything. He had a huge game Sunday, but he'll have his lesser games as well, and with Arizona the best defense he'll face until December, this might be the time.

Indianapolis Colts (No. 6) - On my elementary-school basketball team, we had one decent player, a kid who ended up playing (albeit sparingly) for the Kentucky Wildcats. The rest of us were mediocre at best, and I only went that nice about it because I was one of them and didn't want to describe myself as "crappy." Anyway, opposing teams went all out to stop our star, and the rest of us were often open to succeed or fail as best we could unimpeded. Those of us that were particularly bad (which was all of us) would fail. That's what the Colts have this week against the Rams; Zac Stacy is the star, but everyone knows it. The Colts are going to do whatever they can to shut him down, and the rest of the Rams' offense is terrible.

Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 27) - This entry is an excuse to mention Chris Johnson, which is a heck of a stretch for me, but I needed a place to put this point. After an early-season stretch that had the former superstar running back facing a group of ridiculously tough defenses, and struggling as a result, Johnson got a reprieve coming out of the bye week last week against the St. Louis Rams, and his production exploded. The rest of the way, he gets Jacksonville and Indianapolis twice each, plus games against Denver, Arizona, and Houston. Not much is scary in there, and if you've stuck with CJ?K this far, you're about to be rewarded.

Here are the overall rankings for Week 10:

Rank Team Opponent
1 Seattle Seahawks at Atlanta
2 Tennessee Titans Jacksonville
3 Carolina Panthers at San Francisco
4 Arizona Cardinals Houston
5 San Francisco 49ers Carolina
6 Indianapolis Colts St. Louis
7 Miami Dolphins at Tampa Bay
8 Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore
9 Oakland Raiders at NY Giants
10 Baltimore Ravens Cincinnati
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Miami
12 Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans
13 Chicago Bears Detroit
14 Denver Broncos at San Diego
15 St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis
16 New Orleans Saints Dallas
17 Buffalo Bills at Pittsburgh
18 Washington Redskins at Minnesota
19 Houston Texans at Arizona
20 Green Bay Packers Philadelphia
21 Detroit Lions at Chicago
22 Pittsburgh Steelers Buffalo
23 Atlanta Falcons Seattle
24 Minnesota Vikings Washington
25 Philadelphia Eagles at Green Bay
26 New York Giants Oakland
27 Jacksonville Jaguars at Tennessee
28 San Diego Chargers Denver

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