It wasn't supposed to be like this in Denver.
When the Broncos traded a bevy of picks to the Seattle Seahawks (including two first-rounders) for quarterback Russell Wilson, it was supposed to put an end to a search for a true franchise quarterback that had been going on ever since Peyton Manning rode off into the sunset at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50. When the Broncos signed Wilson to a five-year, $245 million extension, it was supposed to be the beginning of beautiful relationship.
Wilson would rejuvenate his career. The Broncos would become a contender again. All was right in the world.
Not one single thing has gone right since. And the Wilson trade may go down with the Herschel Walker trade as one of the all-time NFL debacles.
Twelve weeks into the 2022 season, Wilson has thrown eight touchdown passes. The Broncos are 25th in total offense and dead last in the NFL in scoring.
The Baltimore Ravens made a splash trade this year, too—at the trade deadline they acquired All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith from the Bears. That trade actually has paid dividends—the Ravens haven't been great defensively, but they rank inside the top-15 in both total defense and scoring defense and have quietly amassed the sixth-most fantasy points among defenses. Even in a shaky performance on the road in Jacksonville last week, the Ravens tallied four sacks and a takeaway on the way to a decent stat line.
The Broncos have surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to defenses—almost 9.5 per game in the scoring I use for this column. Last week, that level of output would have slotted the Ravens (who host Wilson and the Broncos Sunday) seventh among defenses—and that's much closer to the floor than the ceiling.
Denver has most assuredly become a team to target defensively. And the Ravens are a top-five fantasy defense in this critical week of the fantasy season.
Dallas Cowboys (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
The Cowboys had a relatively quiet outing at home against the Giants on Thanksgiving, logging three sacks in a 28-20 win. But the Cowboys are still the league's No. 1 pass defense, No. 2 scoring defense and No. 7 overall defense. Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and the Cowboys lead the NFL in sacks (45) by a sizable margin, Dallas is tied for the fifth-most takeaways (16) in the league, and no defense in the NFC has more fantasy points. Now they face a Colts offense that ranks 30th in scoring and has allowed more fantasy points to defenses than any team in the AFC.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. New Orleans Saints)
Things haven't gone according to plan for the fighting Tom Bradys in 2022—on either side of the ball. The Buccaneers are ninth in total defense, sixth against the pass and seventh in points allowed, but Tampa's usually stellar run defense has been surprisingly porous. However, the Buccaneers are a respectable eighth in fantasy points per game among defenses, and on Monday night they host a reeling Saints team that has been held to 10 or fewer points in two of their last three games. For the season, the Colts have given up the fourth-most fantasy points per game to defenses.
Buffalo Bills (at New England Patriots)
The Bills have actually struggled a bit defensively of late, largely due to injuries in the secondary—the Bills remain a top-five scoring defense and seventh against the run, but the pass defense has taken a hit. However, the Bills are still leading the AFC with 20 takeaways, and Buffalo ranks fifth among all defenses in fantasy points for the season. The Patriots gave the Vikings all they could handle last week, but their reliance on the run plays into Buffalo's defensive strength, and the Pats are a surprisingly favorable fantasy matchup for defenses—seventh in points per game allowed.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Tennessee Titans)
The Eagles defense didn't look especially imposing during Sunday night's shootout with the Green Bay Packers, but Philly has been impressive defensively in 2022. The Eagles are second in the league in both total defense and pass defense. Philadelphia ranks inside the top-10 in points allowed. The Eagles lead the league in takeaways with 23 and third in sacks with 36. Add it all up and you have the fourth-highest scoring defense in fantasy football. The Titans aren't a great fantasy matchup, but they aren't a bad one, either—especially if the Eagles can do what the Bengals did last week and contain Derrick Henry.
Washington Commanders (at New York Giants)
Take a guess what the highest-scoring fantasy defense in league is over the past month? You really shouldn't have to given how this article is formatted, but hey—go for it. It has happened quietly, but the Commanders are eighth in the NFL in total defense, 10th against the pass, eighth against the run and 10th in scoring defense. That top-10 ranking against the run in particularly interesting. The script has been written on how to beat the Giants—shut Saquon Barkley down and make Daniel Jones beat you. The Commanders defense is 2022 is essentially what we thought they would be in 2021—and they have done it without edge-rusher Chase Young.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Cleveland Browns (at Houston Texans)
The dominant storyline surrounding Sunday's matchup between the Browns and Texans has little to do with defense—it's all about Deshaun Watson's first game with the Browns coming against his old team. But while the Browns haven't been an especially good defensive team (at least not consistently), they are easily the No. 1 streaming play of Week 13. The reason is all about Houston's floundering offense—the Texans are dead last in the league in total offense, 31st in points per game and third in fantasy points per game surrendered to defenses. Myles Garrett sacked Kyle Allen twice while you were reading this.
Seattle Seahawks (at Los Angeles Rams)
After watching the Seahawks get absolutely savaged last week by the Las Vegas Raiders to the tune of 576 yards of offense and 40 points last week, it is understandably difficult to get excited about the Seahawks defense—any progress the unit had made evaporated in the course of an afternoon. But Sunday the Seahawks face a Rams team that ranks 31st in rushing, 31st in total offense and 29th in scoring. With Bryce Perkins at quarterback and Cooper Kupp out the passing game has collapsed. And no team in the NFL has allowed more fantasy points per game to defenses.
Green Bay Packers (at Chicago Bears)
Like many of this week's streaming calls, when last we saw the Packers defensively it wasn't a pretty sight—Green Bay allowed 40 points and 500 yards of offense against the Philadelphia Eagles, including a staggering 363 yards on the ground. But fantasy managers need to leave the past in the past and live in the now. Sunday the Packers face a Bears team that will definitely be down its No. 1 receiver and may be without quarterback Justin Fields as well. The Bears have been kind to defenses in 2022, allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to the position.
New York Giants (vs. Washington Commanders)
Sunday's meeting between the Commanders and Giants is one of the more interesting matchups of the week—two seven-win teams trying to avoid falling too far behind the Cowboys and Eagles in the NFC East. It also has the makings of a low-scoring affair—the Commanders have been winning, but they haven't exactly been lighting up the scoreboard while doing it. As a matter of fact, the Commanders have been a plus matchup for opposing defenses much of the season—Washington has allowed the ninth-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2022.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
It wouldn't be an edition of Getting Defensive without presenting at least one streaming play for folks in deeper leagues. A defense sure to be available in the majority of fantasy leagues. The Falcons haven't been terrible defensively in 2022, but they also haven't been good—Atlanta's 17 sacks for the season are tied for the second-fewest in the league. This isn't really about the Falcons, though—the Pittsburgh offense was already struggling before running back Najee Harris got hurt, and now there will be that much more pressure on Kenny Pickett to lead a unit allowing the sixth-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2022.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS!
San Francisco 49ers (vs. Miami Dolphins)
The 49ers defense has rightly earned leeway from fantasy managers—San Francisco is first in total defense, first in run defense, first in scoring defense, tied for sixth in the league in sacks and third among defenses in fantasy points. However, if the 49ers do have a weakness defensively, it's the vertical passing game—an area where the Dolphins have been shredding opponents this year. The Dolphins are 22nd in fantasy points per game allowed to defenses this season, so if you do start the Niners, odds are the scoring output won't be as robust as we've come to expect.
New England Patriots (vs. Buffalo Bills)
Much like the 49ers, the Patriots are a defense most fantasy managers start regardless of matchup—New England is fourth in total defense, sixth in scoring defense, leads the AFC with 37 sacks, ranks fourth in takeaways and paces all fantasy defenses in points. But unless Mother Nature does fantasy managers a solid and the weather is nasty, this could be a rough game for New England's defense—in the Patriots' last two meetings with Josh Allen and the Bills Buffalo has dropped 80 points on them. The Bills have also given up the ninth-fewest fantasy points per game to defenses in 2022