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2014 fantasy football rankings: Defense/special Teams

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The 2014 season features plenty of quality team defenses for your fantasy football squad. It is no surprise the Seattle Seahawks remain atop the rankings.

What are you even doing here?

Oh, I see. You signed up for a fantasy football league that's set in 2005 and you have "team defense" as a category. Good call, cowboy. That's something that totally makes sense, especially if you're still using the standard point-scoring system where a sack is worth two points and an interception is worth three, or thereabouts. Because that makes a lot of sense.

One of your offensive players scores a touchdown as an individual, it's worth six points. But your entire defense gets together and combines for maybe 12-18 interceptions for the whole season (and it's usually a game-changing play, by the way) and it's worth half of that. A sack, which could happen 30-40 times per season, isn't worth much less, apparently.

Basically, if you're still playing in a league with standard team defense, and standard point scoring for those accomplishments, you might as well be starting Daunte Culpepper at quarterback and Larry Johnson at running back. And if you are incorporating individual defensive players, I would still have to ask the same question you asked your mom 50 times in a row: "Why?"

There is no governing fantasy football body that says you have to incorporate defense at all. Fantasy football, like Arena Football, is an offensive sport. Utilizing and emphasizing offensive performances in fantasy football, and ignoring defenses other than when they stop those skill players, is perfectly acceptable. In fantasy football, you're not even playing against the person you're matched up with that week. You can't play defense. And if there's no defense in fantasy football, then why should there be any "defense" in fantasy football?

That being said, I'm tasked with telling you about defenses as you prepare for fantasy football! Which is fine, because I absolutely love talking about football and defenses. As a lifelong fan of the Seattle Seahawks, there couldn't be a better time for me to tell you about defenses. With teams loading up more and more on offense, specifically in the passing game, several teams focused (just as the Seahawks have been doing for four years) on defense this offseason. Specifically in the secondary.

Team defenses are often quite volatile year-to-year, which can make them difficult to predict even if you only have a finite number of 32 to choose from. Still, we will try to predict them anyway.

A survey of seven fantasy football writers at SB Nation had several things in common, and a few opinions that weren't so kosher. One thing that all seven writers did agree on: Seattle is the best defense for fantasy football, because it's the best defense in the NFL. Last season, the Seahawks allowed the fewest points and yards in the league while forcing the most turnovers and interceptions, finishing eighth in sacks. Though they lost about a half-dozen key players on that side of the ball, they retained the most important players.

Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were signed to long-term extensions, and Michael Bennett signed a new large contract to keep him off the free agent market after a breakout season. Along with safety Kam Chancellor and corner Byron Maxwell, the secondary will once again be the best in the NFL, but the pass rush with Bennett, Cliff Avril and free agent signee Kevin Williams could be getting only better. The key will be third-year LB/DE Bruce Irvin and whether he can take his game to that next level that fans and coaches have been waiting for since being selected in the first round.

After the top team, things start to get a little more murky.

Five of seven writers had the Carolina Panthers as the second-best defense, while two others went with the San Francisco 49ers. However, I was the only person who didn't think the 49ers defense was going to be that great, and it's not just because I'd be fine with sending them to live with all the lawyers at the bottom of the ocean. San Francisco has lost safety Donte Whitner to free agency, its second straight season losing a Pro Bowl safety, and linebacker NaVorro Bowman will be out for a significant portion of the season because of a shredded knee. Bowman was the best player on the defense last year.

When looking at defenses for fantasy purposes (let's not forget that Football Outsiders' advanced metric, DVOA, had the Niners ranked only 13th on defense), you want to see things like sacks and interceptions. Top pass rusher Aldon Smith is facing a possible suspension, and San Francisco's secondary is the weakest unit on its defense. Specifically, the cornerbacks.

The 49ers defense should still be very good, but I don't see it as "top five good" and maybe not top 10, either. Not right now.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have arguably the best defensive line in football (depending on the future of Greg Hardy) and the best middle linebacker in football, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. That feels a lot more safe to me. It should be enough to keep Carolina competitive in what could be the best or second-best division in football. In addition to what the Panthers have going on, the New Orleans Saints were much improved on defense under Rob Ryan last season, and may have made the biggest move of the offseason when they signed safety Jairus Byrd. The Saints are improving, but the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may be the most improved team in football.

One thing that all seven writers did agree on: Seattle is the best defense for fantasy football, because it's the best defense in the NFL.

Out is Greg Schiano, possibly the worst coach in the league last season, and in comes two head coaches. Lovie Smith may have been the best coach without a job last year, but he takes over the Bucs and his new defensive coordinator is former Minnesota Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier. Though Tampa lost Darrelle Revis after just one season, it added a young Pro Bowl corner in Alterraun Verner. He is probably the better value of the two.

The Bucs also added Michael Johnson from the Cincinnati Bengals and Clinton McDonald from the Seahawks. If young players like Mark Barron and Johnthan Banks step up, they could compete against Seattle's back four as the top secondary in the league. Wrap all of that around All-Pro linebacker Lavonte David, who some would say was the real Defensive Player of the Year last season, and the Buccaneers could return to the playoffs before the Atlanta Falcons do.

A great sleeper pick could be the Houston Texans. They had a lot of injured players last season, but the most important addition is of course top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney. Playing alongside J.J. Watt, the best defensive player in football on most days, could get really ridiculous. As a team, the Texans had fewer interceptions last year (seven) than Sherman did by himself. Only two teams had fewer sacks. But if a few key players, like Brian Cushing, can stay healthy, they might surprise some people.

And anyone that gets two games against the Jaguars and Titans is a good bet to make a few big plays on defense.

Consensus Writer Rankings

Rank Consensus
1 Seattle Seahawks
2 Carolina Panthers
3 San Francisco 49ers
4 Cincinnati Bengals
5
6
7
8
9
10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
11 New Orleans Saints
12
13
14
15 Houston Texans
16

Individual Writer Rankings

Rank Daniel Kelley Dan Ciarrocchi Alex Welch John Daigle
1 Seattle Seahawks Seattle Seahawks Seattle Seahawks Seattle Seahawks
2 Carolina Panthers San Francisco 49ers Carolina Panthers Carolina Panthers
3 San Francisco 49ers Carolina Panthers San Francisco 49ers Buffalo Bills
4 Arizona Cardinals Cincinnati Bengals Kansas City Chiefs St. Louis Rams
5 Denver Broncos Denver Broncos Cincinnati Bengals New England Patriots
6 St. Louis Rams St. Louis Rams St. Louis Rams
7 Kansas City Chiefs Kansas City Chiefs Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8 Cincinnati Bengals New England Patriots New England Patriots
9 New England Patriots Arizona Cardinals New Orleans Saints
10 Buffalo Bills New Orleans Saints Cleveland Browns Kansas City Chiefs
11 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Houston Texans Arizona Cardinals Cincinnati Bengals
12 Houston Texans Cleveland Browns Denver Broncos San Francisco 49ers
13 Cleveland Browns Tampa Bay Buccaneers Baltimore Ravens Baltimore Ravens
14 Baltimore Ravens Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers
15 New Orleans Saints Baltimore Ravens Houston Texans New Orleans Saints
16 Pittsburgh Steelers New York Jets Houston Texans

Rank Kenneth Arthur Scott Kaliska Mike Gallagher
1 Seattle Seahawks Seattle Seahawks Seattle Seahawks
2 Carolina Panthers San Francisco 49ers Carolina Panthers
3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Carolina Panthers San Francisco 49ers
4 Arizona Cardinals St. Louis Rams Cincinnati Bengals
5 New Orleans Saints Cincinnati Bengals Kansas City Chiefs
6 Cincinnati Bengals Denver Broncos St. Louis Rams
7 Baltimore Ravens Arizona Cardinals Tampa Bay Buccaneers
8 Denver Broncos New England Patriots Denver Broncos
9 Pittsburgh Steelers Kansas City Chiefs Arizona Cardinals
10 Kansas City Chiefs Tampa Bay Buccaneers New England Patriots
11 Buffalo Bills Cleveland Browns New Orleans Saints
12 Houston Texans Baltimore Ravens Cleveland Browns
13 New York Jets Houston Texans Houston Texans
14 San Francisco 49ers New Orleans Saints Baltimore Ravens
15 Cleveland Browns Pittsburgh Steelers Pittsburgh Steelers
16 New York Giants Buffalo Bills Chicago Bears