In many respects, the top of the team defense rankings is as we expected. The San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were all drafted as top-five fantasy options. Four weeks into the season, they have all been just that—they rank first, third and fourth, respectively.
The second-ranked fantasy defense after a month is the Philadelphia Eagles. That's a bit more surprising after Philly finished 2021 outside the top 20 in fantasy points. But the Eagles added talent at all three levels of the defense, whether it was Haason Reddick on the edge, rookie Nakobe Dean at linebacker or cornerback James Bradberry and safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in the secondary. The signs were there that the Eagles would be improved this season.
But the fifth-ranked Jacksonville Jaguars? That's a stunner—especially after the Jags finished 2021 dead last in fantasy points among defenses.
From a yardage standpoint, the Jaguars have just been average—14th in yards allowed. But while Jacksonville may have bent, they haven't broken—the team ranks fourth in the league in points allowed. The Jaguars have also been opportunistic—the team is tied for second in the league with nine takeaways and scored a touchdown last week against the Eagles.
It's hard telling whether the Jaguars can maintain this pace for an entire season. Or even for another month. But at the very least the Jags have become a defense to roll out when the matchup is right. And with the NFL's lone remaining winless team (the Houston Texans) coming to town in Week 5, this week certainly appears to qualify.
Buffalo Bills (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Bills have suffered multiple injuries in the secondary, but it has hardly slowed the defense down. Four games into the season, the Bills lead the league in total defense and passing defense, Rank third against the run, second in scoring defense, fifth in sacks with 13 and tied for second with nine takeaways. Add all that up and you get a whole bunch of fantasy points. Take into consideration the fact that Sunday the Bills host a Steelers team allowing the sixth-most fantasy points to defenses led by a rookie quarterback making his first NFL start, and you have the makings of a bonanza.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Atlanta Falcons)
When last we saw the Buccaneers, they were getting embarrassed by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to the tune of 41 points and 417 yards. But even after that shellacking, the Buccaneers are still eighth in total defense, sixth in scoring defense, fourth in sacks and part of the pack of teams tied for second in the NFL in takeaways. This week, the Buccaneers face a Falcons team that completed all of seven passes in last week's win over the Cleveland Browns. The Falcons struggle to throw the ball and the Buccaneers are nigh impossible to run on. They're also angry after being Mahomes-ed and playing at home.
San Francisco 49ers (at Carolina Panthers)
Among NFC teams, no one is playing better defense than the 49ers right now. San Francisco just dominated the defending Super Bowl champions, sacking Matthew Stafford seven times, holding the Rams out of the end zone and forcing two takeaways—including a pick-six that sealed the game. San Francisco has yet to allow 20 points in a game, they are tied with the Bills for the league lead in total defense and in Week 5 the Niners travel to face a Panthers team that ranks dead last in the league in total offense. Carolina will be lucky to hit double digits—and the boo birds will be out again for Baker Mayfield.
Philadelphia Eagles (at Arizona Cardinals)
The Eagles are the NFL's lone remaining undefeated team, and a significant amount of the credit belongs to the team's vastly improved defense. The Eagles are third in total defense, seventh against the pass, ninth against the run, 10th in scoring defense and first in the NFL in both takeaways (10) and sacks (16). The Cardinals haven't been an especially good fantasy matchup for defenses to date this season, but the Eagles have seemingly thrived week in and week out regardless of who they are playing. The Eagles have earned every-week starter status in fantasy leagues. So make with the starting.
Denver Broncos (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
After playing excellent defense over most of the first three weeks of the season, the Broncos backslid last week in Las Vegas—the Raiders ran all over the Denver defense to the tune of 212 rushing yards on the way to scoring 32 points. Normally, that would be a problem heading into a matchup with Jonathan Taylor, but Taylor is nursing a sore ankle. The Colts are also nursing a sore offense—after four games the Colts are dead last in the NFL in scoring at 14.3 points per game and have surrendered the third-most fantasy points to defenses this season.
Dallas Cowboys (at Los Angeles Rams)
The Cowboys aren't quite piling up the fantasy points like they did last season—four weeks in, Dallas ranks seventh in fantasy points. But that doesn't mean they aren't playing stout defense—the Cowboys are fifth in total defense, third in scoring defense, Dallas has yet to allow 20 points in a game and the Cowboys are tied with the 49ers for second in the NFL with 15 sacks. Given that the Los Angeles Rams just allowed seven sacks to said 49ers, Matthew Stafford had best wear his scrambling shoes Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
Los Angeles Rams (at Dallas Cowboys)
The Los Angeles Rams are smarting a bit after a listless performance against the San Francisco 49ers that was short on highlights—the Rams did not record either a sack or a takeaway in the 24-9 loss. For the season, the Rams have disappointed in a big way, ranking just inside the top-25 in fantasy points. Cooper Rush has also played well in Dak Prescott's stead in Dallas. This is admittedly more a gut call than one based on numbers, but with the game in L.A. and the Rams leery of falling farther behind San Francisco, this feels like a "get right" game for Aaron Donald and company.
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Green Bay Packers (vs. New York Giants)
The Packers narrowly escaped with a win over the fighting Bailey Zappes in Week 4 (tell me that name doesn't sound more like a trapeze artist than a quarterback), but the defense was OK for fantasy managers, notching four sacks and a takeaway. This week's trip to London portends a cheesier (in a good, cheddar-y way) stat line—the Giants are all kinds of beat up under center and have struggled to protect whatever quarterback the G-Men have rolled out, allowing 14 sacks in four games. At least you don't have to worry about the entire defense being scratched. Thanks fer nothin', Kamara.
Miami Dolphins (at New York Jets)
It has been something of up-and-down season so far for the Miami Dolphins defense, and Week 4 was the latter—despite a favorable matchup with a Cincinnati Bengals team that has struggled to protect Joe Burrow, the Dolphins managed just one sack in a 27-15 loss. However, things are set up well for Miami's defense to bounce back on the road Sunday against the Jets. Gang Green got the win last week in Pittsburgh, but the victory was of the ugly variety, with Zach Wilson throwing a pair of picks. Last year, the Wilson-led Jets allowed the seventh-most fantasy points to opposing defenses.
Tennessee Titans (at Washington Commanders)
The Titans have not been a good defensive football team most of this season—after four games Tennessee ranks 26th in total defense and scoring defense, allowing 25.3 points per game. However, Tennessee's nine sacks and six takeaways are at least respectable, and in any event, this is less about the Titans than who they are playing. After playing fairly well earlier in the season, the Washington offense has been mostly offensive the past couple of weeks, including being held to under 300 total yards and 10 points in a lopsided loss to Dallas in Week 4. The Commanders are also giving up the fourth-most fantasy points to team defenses this season.
Minnesota Vikings (at Chicago Bears)
Welcome to our weekly installment of "start whatever fantasy defense is playing the Bears because Dear God their offense sucks." For the season, the Bears are 31st in total offense, averaging less than 275 yards per game. The Bears are dead last in the league in passing by a mile, averaging (and I kid you not) 97.5 yards per game. No team in the NFC is averaging fewer points per game than the 16.0 put up by the ongoing funeral for Justin Fields' career. And the Bears have allowed the second-most sacks in the league and the eighth-most fantasy points to defenses.
Baltimore Ravens (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Frankly, this is a play that could go one of two ways. The Bengals have arguably the best wide receiver trio in the NFL, and the Ravens rank dead last in pass defense after four games. In theory, Joe Burrow could carve up this secondary like a rotisserie chicken. However, the Bengals also have allowed the most sacks in the NFC and have given up the seventh-most fantasy points to defenses in 2022. So even in a possible shootout, Baltimore could be a solid matchup play.
Seattle Seahawks (at New Orleans Saints)
At first glance, this might seem a risky play—the Seahawks are allowing more yards and points per game than every team in the league not named the Detroit Lions. But the Seahawks have made just enough big plays this season to remain on the fringes of fantasy relevance, ranking 15th in fantasy points. This play is all about the matchup anyway—the New Orleans Saints lead the NFL with 11 giveaways, have allowed 13 sacks and are surrendering the second-most fantasy points to team defenses this season. If you are all about living the stream, then odds are Seattle is available in your fantasy league.