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It seems like only yesterday that we were drafting fantasy teams and preparing for the season to come. And yet here we are in Week 11—which means that the push for the fantasy postseason is underway.
For some fortunate souls, that's no big deal—at 8-2 or 7-3, barring a total collapse a trip to fantasy's second season is on the horizon. Conversely, for some unlucky schlubs it's all over but the crying—with seven or more losses already this year there's not much more to do than hit the beverage cabinet and lament how things went so totally wrong.
However, for a lot of fantasy managers, these last few games of the regular season are a postseason unto themselves. Peel off a few wins, and you get to play on. But take many (or any more losses, and that's it. Lights out. Sad face time,
That makes every lineup decision all the more important. Even the team defenses that are so often relegated to irrelevance in fantasy leagues can mean the difference between a win and a loss.
Given that increased pressure, it would be great if defenses could give us a few weeks of relative predictability. But it would also be nice to have a winning Powerball ticket, and both seem to be about equally unlikely. In Week 10 we had a top-five defense for the season (the Arizona Cardinals) barely crack the top 25. The No. 21 defense over the first nine weeks (the Miami Dolphins) bucked a bad matchup with Baltimore to post a big score and out-point every defense in the AFC.
It was the wackiest week to date this season. But all we can do is shake off the crazy, hunker down and hope that order is restored to the universe in Week 11.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at New York Giants)
The Buccaneers were another participant in the Week 10 mayhem in the NFL, losing a stunner to Washington Football Team. However, the defense managed to salvage an OK stat line for fantasy managers by sacking Taylor Heinicke five times and logging a takeaway. It's that Tampa pass rush that makes the Buccaneers especially attractive this week—the Giants have allowed 20 sacks for the season, but that says more about Daniel Jones' mobility than New York's front five. The G-Men are 10th in fantasy points allowed to defenses this season, and Tampa is no doubt unhappy about last week's misstep.
New England Patriots (at Atlanta Falcons)
If you watched any of last week's NFL action, then I could probably just stop typing now where this matchup is concerned. On one hand, we have a New England Patriots defense that trails only the Bills in fantasy points after jackstomping the Cleveland Browns 45-7 last week. On the other hand, we have a floundering Atlanta offense that scored all of three points last week against the Dallas Cowboys while allowing a pair of sacks and turning it over three times—one of which was returned for a score. Atlanta has surrendered the seventh-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2021.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
To be fair, the Indianapolis Colts aren't as friendly to opposing defenses as the New York Jets team that the Bills feasted on in Week 10, but Buffalo sits at the very top of the defense rankings for the season and has earned every-week starter status. Buffalo is first in the NFL in both total defense (274.1 YPG) and scoring defense (15.0 PPG), second against the pass and third against the run. After notching five takeaways last week (including four interceptions), the Bills also lead the league in takeaways with 24. If you have 'em, you're starting them—even in a bottom-10 fantasy matchup.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Washington Football Team)|
The Panthers posted one of the more surprising efforts of Week 10, shellacking the Cardinals in Arizona. In that game, Carolina allowed just 10 points, got to Cardinals quarterback Colt McCoy four times and notched a pair of takeaways. Carolina has had quite a bit of success making opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable in 2021—the team is tied for second in the NFL in sacks with 27. As was already mentioned, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were able to get to Taylor Heinicke five times last week, and Washington's odds of consecutive solid offensive efforts aren't great.
San Francisco 49ers (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
The 49ers aren't an easy team to get a bead on—in Week 9, they looked awful on both sides of the ball in a blowout loss to Arizona. In Week 10, it was San Francisco's turn to do the blowing out—the Niners popped the Rams right in the mouth in a game where San Francisco safety Jimmie Ward took a Matthew Stafford interception to the house for a score. Jacksonville's 15 giveaways on the season ranks sixth in the NFL, and through 10 weeks the Fighting Trevor Lawrences have allowed more fantasy points per game to defenses than any team not named the New York Jets.
Tennessee Titans (vs. Houston Texans)
Despite the loss of running back Derrick Henry to a season-ending foot injury, the Tennessee Titans have kept right on winning—and the Titans defense has played a big part in that success. In fact, since Week 7, only the New England Patriots have amassed more fantasy points among defenses than the Titans. Now, we get a red-hot defense taking on a Texans team that is, um, not. Houston is last in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense, fourth in giveaways and sixth in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses. There's no reason to think the Titans won't keep rolling in Week 11.
Baltimore Ravens (at Chicago Bears)
Right now, fantasy managers who started the Ravens in Week 10 are reading this entry with the same look on their face that you get when you realize the chip dip you just ate is just a tad past the expiration date. But last week's poor showing against the Miami Dolphins is in the past. The future brings a matchup with a Chicago Bears team led by a rookie quarterback in Justin Fields that leads the NFL in sacks allowed and ranks first in the NFC in fantasy points per game surrendered to defenses. Give the Ravens a chance to redeem themselves. You won't be disappointed.
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Cleveland Browns (vs. Detroit Lions)
OK, so when last we saw the Cleveland Browns, it was—ungood. But fantasy managers have to know when to put a clunker in the past, and that's exactly what needs to happen after the Browns got wrecked 45-7 by the Patriots last week. Sunday in Cleveland, a Browns team no doubt seething about that shellacking faces a winless Detroit Lions team that ranks 28th in total offense, 30th in scoring offense and fifth in fantasy points per game surrendered to opposing defenses this season. If this isn't a "get right" spot, then Cleveland isn't getting right.
Miami Dolphins (at New York Jets)
This is not a call for the faint of heart—the Miami defense has been most terrible this season. The Dolphins are 29th in total defense and 24th in scoring defense. But we also just saw these Dolphins hold Lamar Jackson and the Ravens to just 10 points, and in Week 11 the Dolphins face the gift that keeps on giving to fantasy defenses. The Jets are 27th in the NFL in scoring offense. New York leads the league in giveaways. The Jets have allowed 25 sacks. And no team in the league has surrendered more fantasy points per game to team defenses.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. New Orleans Saints)
At 4-6, the Eagles aren't an especially good team, and they have been just so-so defensively in many categories. But in two of Philly's last three games the defense has stepped up in a big way, including a Week 10 effort against Denver that included 13 points allowed, a Darius Slay fumble return for a score and a sack of Teddy Bridgewater. Over that three-week span, the Eagles sit inside the top five in fantasy points, and Sunday the Eagles host a New Orleans Saints team with Trevor Siemian at quarterback that could be without the services of star running back Alvin Kamara.
Washington Football Team (at Carolina Panthers)
Remember when the Washington Football Team was going to field maybe the best defense in the entire NFL? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Of course, things haven't worked out like the WFT had hoped, and with Chase Young's season over thanks to a torn ACL now Washington is down both of their starting defensive ends. However, the Carolina Panthers haven't exactly been an offensive dynamo, and it appears that Cam Newton will be making the start for the Panthers in Week 11. Carolina has also given up the eighth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses this season.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Dallas Cowboys (at Kansas City Chiefs)
This is a legitimately tricky call. The Dallas defense has been highly productive for fantasy managers this year, largely due to Trevon Diggs and his league-leading eight interceptions. The Chiefs have also had issues with turnovers this season—Kansas City's 20 ranks second behind only the Jets. However, even with all those giveaways, the Chiefs are only 15th in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses this season, and last week against the Raiders the Chiefs appeared to turn a corner in a 41-14 rout. It's possible that Dallas could have a solid fantasy outing here. But a flop is equally possible.