Streaming defenses is a popular fantasy football strategy throughout the season, but there are additional considerations in the playoffs.
Many owners have FAAB or a high waiver priority to burn, and it no longer feels like “wasting” to spend that on a D/ST when time is short, stakes are higher, and that’s the only unclaimed starting spot. The benefit of adding a great D/ST for a playoff matchup is compounded if you also keep your opponent from using that team against you. With fewer teams in contention, the odds are increased that your opponent is looking at that same prime matchup D/ST on the waiver wire.
With those things in mind, one thing you can do to get a leg up on the competition is cut an extra bench player that you’ll never start so you can carry an extra D/ST. Even if you don’t intend to use the team, it can be beneficial to add a unit with a great matchup as a “block” if your projected playoff opponent needs a streamer. Let’s look at a few less heralded D/ST units that have plus matchups in the fantasy football playoffs.
With so few weeks left to play, you can essentially script out your starts for the remaining weeks. First, let’s take a look at the playoff schedules of every D/ST unit using The Streaming D App. It’s a big chart, but it’ll save you the step of going into the app and isolating those weeks:
If you’ve been rolling with a specific defense, check out their upcoming schedule and see if there is a matchup you might not feel comfortable playing them in. It might be beneficial to also check out your opponents’ situations, as I mentioned above. For the most part, the app can help you identify a team to add for that week. To help with some more difficult situations, I’m going to first discuss what to look for in a streaming D matchup, and then discuss some specific under-the-radar options for each playoff week.
What to Look For in a Matchup
It’s no secret that quarterback play is a big determinant of offensive success. Late in the season, a good place to start when examining D/ST matchups is to target teams who have made changes at QB. Specifically, turnover and sack rates are good indicators of the types of QBs to target, whether a backup or starter.
Back in July, Fantasy Douche looked at some three-defense combos for MFL10s, and used touchdown/interception differential as his matchup guide. This is another good way to examine offenses to exploit for D/ST matchups.
Lastly, in my gambling lines articles I’ve looked at subdividing points scored for each team based on different phases of the game. From the data in this week’s article we can see which teams concede the highest percentage of points via return touchdowns. There is some randomness to this aspect of things so it needs to be weighted less than offenses with high turnover and sack rates, but it’s one more consideration worth noting.
With all that in mind, and without knowing who is available in your league,1 here are three lightly owned D/ST units to consider for each week of the fantasy football playoffs.
Playoff D/ST Targets
Note: This is a mostly chronological list. I’ve provided some quick weekly ranks below the breakdowns.
DETROIT LIONS (AT RAMS – WEEK 14, HOME VS. 49ERS – WEEK 16)
The Rams offense is in disarray, having failed to score more than 13 points for three straight weeks. They’ve generated just four touchdowns while turning the ball over nine times in that stretch. The Rams have also given up four return touchdowns on the season, two off the league lead.
While the Rams are among the least sacked teams in the league, the Lions are tied for third in the NFL in sacks. They’ve been particularly good lately with three or more sacks in five of their last six games. One reason for this could be the emergence of Darius Slay as a lockdown corner. Slay has shadowed opposing teams’ top outside receiver for the last month-plus, and he’s proven capable of completely taking them out of the game, as he did to Amari Cooper and James Jones (twice).2
Detroit’s defense looks like one on the rise, while the Rams are certainly an exploitable offensive unit. The Lions also face the 49ers at home in Week 16 — whom I’ll discuss as an offense to target below — but suffice to say it’s another good matchup for this emerging defense.
CLEVELAND BROWNS (HOME VS. 49ERS – WEEK 14)
Cleveland gets a home matchup with the Blaine Gabbert-led 49ers in Week 14. While they have struggled to generate sacks of late, the Browns have created multiple turnovers in three of their last four contests. They’ve also generated 13 turnovers in five home contests to date.
As a team, the 49ers have allowed the seventh most sacks in the NFL, bolstered by Colin Kaepernick‘s league-leading 10.3 percent sack rate. While Gabbert’s sack rate (4.0 percent) is significantly lower than Kaepernick’s, his career number still sits north of eight percent. He’s also thrown interceptions at a high rate this season (3.2 percent of passes; Kaepernick was at 2.0 percent), and in his career (3.1 percent).
The Browns will be playing their third straight home game after a Week 11 bye, while the 49ers will be playing their second straight road game, both two time zones away.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (AT BROWNS – WEEK 14)
On the flip-side of that matchup, I’m a little more wary of using the 49ers, considering their travel schedule and lack of positive trends in turnover or sack rates. They’ve been one of the worst D/ST units in the league this season, but I am mentioning them here because Cleveland is potentially the single best matchup for D/ST streamers right now, and their Week 15 and 16 games are against defenses that are surely owned in your league (the Seahawks and Chiefs).
Consider the 49ers more of a desperation play, but the Browns have allowed the most sacks in the NFL this season, allowed two special teams touchdowns against the Ravens in Week 12 (they’ve allowed four return TDs overall on the season), and will be starting either Johnny Manziel or Austin Davis at quarterback. Manziel has actually looked somewhat serviceable at times, though watching him you will certainly get the impression he holds the ball a long time. He has taken 14 sacks this season, good for a 9.9 percent sack rate. Davis has limited time this season, but he took 29 sacks in 10 games with the Rams last season, good for a 9.3 percent sack rate.
Even a poor defense like the 49ers should be able to generate a few sacks against this team, and the turnover opportunities could easily come as well (given the relative inexperience of the two QBs). For those reasons, the 49ers in Week 14 shouldn’t be entirely written off.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (AT RAMS – WEEK 15, HOME VS. BEARS – WEEK 16)
The Buccaneers have been a tough nut to crack in 2015, and are not a preferred option simply because of their volatility. That said, you could certainly do worse in Weeks 15 and 16. They struggled last week against the Colts, but generated multiple turnovers in three of their four prior games. They have also recorded three sacks in three consecutive games.
I mentioned reasons to target the Rams above, but note that the Week 15 Bucs-Rams game is a Thursday night affair. The Bucs will be traveling on a short week, so this has the potential to be a sloppy game all around. Again, I’m not considering the Bucs a prime target for Week 15, but if your options are limited you could do worse than the defense playing against Case Keenum on a short week.
The Bears matchup is an even more difficult sell. Formerly a QB to target for D/ST streaming, in 2015 Jay Cutler has posted the second lowest sack rate and single lowest interception rate of his career. That said, he maintains a very high career interception rate, and the Bucs will be back home in Week 16 with extra preparation time after their Week 15 Thursday nighter.
ATLANTA FALCONS (AT JAGUARS – WEEK 15)
Most of the better D/ST matchups in Week 15 are claimed by highly owned units. The Falcons are a team I would consider, though this game with the Jaguars could turn into a high-scoring affair.
Some things to consider are that the Falcons have struggled to generate sacks this season. They will also be traveling to Jacksonville for their third straight road game, although none are particularly far away (Tampa, Carolina, and Jacksonville). On the plus side, they are fifth in the league in interceptions, and have generated six turnovers in their last three games.
The main reason to consider Atlanta, however, is Jacksonville has had a very difficult time protecting Blake Bortles. As a team, they have allowed the fifth most sacks in the NFL, and they have allowed two or more sacks in seven straight games. Over that seven game stretch they have allowed a total of 26 sacks, almost four per game.
Bortles has also had his issues protecting the ball with 13 interceptions in 11 games, plus another six fumbles.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (VS. FALCONS – WEEK 15)
Another matchup where both D/ST options make some sense. Matt Ryan has been very turnover-prone of late, throwing five interceptions in his last two games. The Jaguars defense has struggled to generated turnovers this season, but Ryan could provide some opportunities to capitalize.
One thing the Jags have been decent at is generating sacks, but unfortunately for them Atlanta has protected Ryan well this season. Still, as I mentioned above the Falcons will be playing their third straight road game. There is some potential here for Jacksonville to have a strong game.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (VS. CHARGERS – WEEK 16)
Oakland and San Diego play on Thursday in Week 16, and I like the home Raiders defense much better than the Chargers. Oakland’s D struggled the first two weeks of the season, not generating any sacks and producing only two turnovers. Since then, they’ve generated multiple turnovers in six of nine games and three or more sacks in five of nine. Over the last three weeks, they have posted 10 sacks.
Another note on the Raiders is they haven’t generated any return TDs or safeties all season. This could be taken as a negative sign, but there’s also an interesting spin when you consider that it helps explain why they are so low in fantasy scoring for the season.
The Chargers have been average protecting Philip Rivers overall, but have allowed two or more sacks in nine of 11 games. Rivers has also only thrown eight interceptions on the season, but he did throw two in the last meeting between these teams. The Chargers aren’t the D/ST target that they were early in the season, but the short-week road game could give the sneaky-decent Oakland D a chance to post a good total in Week 16.
If the above breakdowns don’t make clear who I favor in each week, here are my quick ranks among these options:
1. Detroit (at STL)
2. Cleveland (vs. SF)
3. San Francisco (at CLE)
1. Atlanta (at JAX)
2. Tampa Bay (at STL)
3. Jacksonville (vs. ATL)
1. Detroit (vs. SF)
2. Oakland (vs. SD)
3. Tampa Bay (vs. CHI)
These specific options are teams to consider if the higher owned D/STs with plus matchups are taken in your league. Consult the table above, the offensive matchup considerations I mentioned, and your league’s availability before settling on these options. If you have a specific question, drop it in the comments.