Week 11 brings with it the fantasy stretch run. And in some ways, it's fitting that the biggest game of the week from both an NFL and fantasy perspective is the last one.
On Monday night, the 6-3 Los Angeles Rams travel to face the 7-3 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And while that game features any number of fantasy-relevant offensive players, it also has plenty to offer on the defensive side of the ball.
Monday's contest features two of the NFL's top three defenses—the Rams are second at 296.4 yards allowed per game, while Buccaneers sit one slot back. Both teams also rank inside the top-10 in scoring defense, with the Rams checking in at No. 2 there as well at just 18.7 points per game.
Only the Pittsburgh Steelers have more sacks than the 32 the Buccaneers have accrued so far this season—and only Tampa and Pittsburgh have more than the Rams. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald leads the NFC with nine sacks, while Tampa's Jason Pierre-Paul sits not far behind with 7.5.
The numbers just keep coming. Devin White and Lavonte David of the Buccaneers and Micah Kiser of the Rams all rank inside the topo 20 in tackles. Tampa's Carlton Davis and Jalen Ramsey of the Rams are playing as well as any cornerbacks in the NFL. John Johnson of the Rams and Antoine Winfield of the Buccaneers are two of the league's better young safeties.
These are two of the absolute best defenses in the NFL in 2020—and yet neither team is an especially good fantasy option in Week 11. This isn't to say that cutting the Buccaneers or Rams loose in favor of a waiver play is wise—the Rams showed against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 10 that they are capable of shaking off a bad matchup to post a decent stat line, sacking Russell Wilson six times and piling up three takeaways.
Both teams also rank in the top half of the league in fantasy points allowed to defenses.
But we just saw the Buccaneers drop 46 points and over 500 yards of offense on the Carolina Panthers, and the Rams are quite capable of racking up stats in their own right.
This isn't to say that one (or even both) of these defenses won't shine under the lights on Monday night.
But it's no sure bet.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
If there is a sure bet in Week 11, it's that the Pittsburgh Steelers will probably feast on defense Sunday in Jacksonville. After blasting the Cincinnati Bengals last week, the Steelers are right back where they were at the close of the 2019 campaign—leading the NFL in both sacks (36) and takeaways (17). Given all those tasty big plays, it's no surprise that the Steelers also lead in fantasy points among defenses in most scoring systems. Now the Steelers get a Jaguars team rolling out a sixth-round rookie in Jake Luton at quarterback. The Jaguars also rank inside the top-five in fantasy points allowed to defenses in 2020.
Miami Dolphins (at Denver Broncos)
There isn't a bigger surprise in the NFL this season than the Miami Dolphins, and a large part of the credit for that success lies with a Dolphins Defense that ranks fifth in both scoring defense and fantasy points among team defenses. The Dolphins have amassed a respectable 22 sacks, are among the league leaders in takeaways with 15 and have three non-offensive touchdowns this season. While the Dolphins are flying high, the Broncos are reeling after a blowout loss in Vegas in which Denver quarterback Drew Lock was picked off four times. The Dolphins as an every-week fantasy play. Why not?
New England Patriots (at Houston Texans)
The faces may change, but one thing remains constant in Beantown—the Patriots play good defense a lot more often than not. The Patriots have not been anywhere near the fantasy juggernaut in 2020 that they were last season, but as they showed against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 10 this remains one of the best-coached and schemed units in the NFL. The Patriots also juts played one of the most dangerous running quarterbacks in the league in Lamar Jackson, which should be great practice for facing Deshaun Watson. The Pats may not crack the top five in Week 11—but the top-10 is definitely doable.
Cleveland Browns (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
It's not that often that you see a team included as a no-brainer fantasy start on defense that ranks 20th in scoring defense. But the Browns aren't listed where they are because of points allowed. Or yardage allowed. The Browns have the NFL sack leader in Myles Garrett—ahead of a game with an Eagles team that has allowed an NFL-high 34 sacks. The Browns have also ranked toward the top of the league in takeaways most of the season, while only three NFL teams have turned it over in 2020 more than the Philadelphia Eagles. Philly tends to make mediocre defenses look good—and good defenses look great.
Minnesota Vikings (vs. Dallas Cowboys)
Well, if you picked up the Minnesota defense ahead of last week's trip to Chicago to face the Bears, they are most assuredly a hold in Week 11. Against the Bears the Vikings didn't allow an offensive touchdown, notched a pair of sacks, and forced three turnovers. Now the surging Vikings face a Dallas team that leads the NFC in turnovers with 20, ranks seventh in the league in sacks allowed with 26 and has surrendered the most fantasy points per game to defenses in the league this season. But hey, Andy Dalton will be back under center. So, no worries!
Kansas City Chiefs (at Las Vegas Raiders)
When people talk about the Kansas City Chiefs, the conversation usually centers on Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and the offense. But Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu and the defense deserve some dap, too. As the Chiefs come out of the bye, the team ranks sixth in scoring defense (20.3 points per game) and 14th in total defense. The Chiefs have also had two weeks to get ready to face the only team that has handed Kansas City a loss this season. Sure, the Raiders rolled against Denver last week, but Las Vegas has been inconsistent offensively—and the Chiefs and the Broncos are on slightly differently levels.
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Washington Football Team (vs, Cincinnati Bengals)
Given that the Washington Football Team managed just one sack while allowing 30 points in a loss in Detroit last week, it might seem off to see their defense listed in this column in Week 11. But the Lions have long been a team that doesn't allow a ton of sacks, while Cincinnati Bengals are another story altogether. Through 10 weeks this season, no quarterback has been dropped more times than the 32 times Joe Burrow has been sacked this year. Look for the Washington Defense to rebound here—at least where getting after the quarterback is concerned.
Los Angeles Chargers (vs. New York Jets)
Frankly, the Chargers deserve No-Doubter status in Week 11. But given that the Chargers haven't allowed less than 29 points in a game since Week 3 and rank outside the top 20 fantasy defenses for the season, the odds that the Bolts are rostered are—not great. Well, dust off those powder blues, baby! It is time to get back in the game! Because Week 11 brings a salve to cure all that ails a fantasy defense in the form of the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets! Yes, the Jets actually looked competent offensively in a Week 9 loss to the New England Patriots. But what are the chances of that happening two games in a row?
Philadelphia Eagles (at Cleveland Browns)
More than a few fantasy managers are none too pleased with last week's three-sack performance in last week's 10-point loss to the New York Giants. However, the team rather deserves a second (last) chance this Sunday in Cleveland. Last week's faceplant aside, the Eagles are among the league leaders in sacks with 31. Philly has done a decent job of turning opponents over (although not nearly as "well" as giving the ball away and has a pair of return touchdowns on defense. This isn't a play that inspires a ton of fantasy confidence, but Week 11 is rather short on those.
Cincinnati Bengals (at Washington Football Team)
OK, you're going to notice something about many of the streaming options in Week 11. They are weird. Frightening, even. A veritable cornucopia of crappy defense. A who's who of whorrible. There literally isn't a defense in the AFC that has scored fewer fantasy points in 2020 than the Bengals, who we last saw getting the stripes blasted off their helmets by the Pittsburgh Steelers. This call is all about the matchup Sunday against the fighting Alex Smiths, who have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points to defenses this season.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Detroit Lions)
The Panthers have essentially had one fantasy-relevant defensive effort all season long—Carolina got to Justin Herbert twice and amassed four takeaways back in Week 3. Since then, it's been a lot of blah. The Lions aren't an especially great fantasy matchup for team defenses, either—Detroit ranks inside the top half of the league in fantasy points given up to the position this year—but just barely. But with Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford nursing a sore throwing hand, there's a real chance that Chase Daniel will be Detroit's quarterback in Charlotte on Sunday. That rather changes things.
Detroit Lions (at Carolina Panthers)
Care to guess who the only fantasy defense is who has fewer points than the Bengals this year? I kind of feel like you cheated. Peeked. Something. Anyway, this recommendation comes with a sizable caveat—if it looks like Panthers quarterback Teddy Bridgewater us good to go for this contest, then a lot of the shine comes off rolling out a Lions team that has just 21 sacks and takeaways combined. However, if Bridgewater can't go and P.J. Walker winds up starting Sunday, then the Panthers Offense is going to start looking attractively short-handed for folks with bye week issues on defense.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Green Bay Packers)
The Colts notched an impressive win last week against the Tennessee Titans, and the Colts are third among fantasy defenses 10 weeks in. But Indy's fantasy production has been buoyed largely by a pair of safeties and three defensive touchdowns—the Colts rank in the middle of the pack in both sacks and takeaways. In the right matchup, that's not a problem. Even in a so-so matchup the Colts are a decent start. But this is Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, and the odds of him giving up one of those fluke plays are all kinds of not good.
Baltimore Ravens (at Tennessee Titans)
Through 10 weeks, only the Pittsburgh Steelers have more fantasy points among team defenses in NFL.com default fantasy scoring than Baltimore—and that's after the Ravens were all but shut out of the stat sheet last week against the New England Patriots. But the loss of Calais Campbell has had a clear effect on the team's ability to pressure the quarterback, and Sunday the Ravens face a Tennessee Titans team that is dead last in fantasy points allowed to defenses. The Colts Defense was so-so last week against the Titans—and that was with a defensive score.