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Getting Defensive

Getting Defensive: Week 15

by Gary Davenport
Updated On: December 15, 2020, 9:44 am ET

This late in the season, we have a fairly good feel for which teams are doing what in the NFL. But there's still room for a surprise or two—like the four-game winning streak peeled off by the Washington Football Team to take over first place in the NFC East.

The fourth win of that streak came this past weekend in Arizona against the San Francisco 49ers—and it was all about Chase Young, Montez Sweat and the Washington Defense.

Washington had just 193 yards of offense in the game and didn't score an offensive touchdown. But thanks to a big game from Young and a pair of defensive scores, Washington emerged victorious.

One of those defensive touchdowns came courtesy of a scoop-and-score fumble return from Young, who added six tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and a pair of passes defended. But as Young told ESPN's John Keim, Washington won't be savoring this dominant defensive performance for long.

"We're not done yet," Young said. "I like to think, 'What would Kobe [Bryant] do?' He wouldn't be smiling. He'd put his head down and keep working until he achieved what he wanted to achieve. ... That's the vibe of the team right now. We're not satisfied."

Fantasy managers who rolled out the WFT (please give the team a nickname already—I keep wanting to type WTF) in Week 14 were treated to a top-three fantasy stat line that included four sacks, three takeaways and two touchdowns. And when Washington faces the Carolina Panthers at home in Week 16, the team will again be an excellent fantasy start.

Unfortunately, Week 15 brings a visit from Russell Wilson, DK Metcalf and a Seattle Seahawks team that just dropped a 40-burger on the New York Jets.

That leaves Washington as a risky fantasy bet at best in Week 15. But for a few of the other big names among fantasy defenses, the matchups are a fair bit meatier.

 

THE NO-DOUBTERS

Los Angeles Rams (vs. New York Jets)

The only fantasy defense that outscored Washington in most scoring systems last week was the Rams, who pounded the New England Patriots on Thursday night—six sacks, a takeaway, just three points allowed and a defensive score. This week Aaron Donald and that Rams Defense faces a New York Jets team that hit a new in last week's 40-3 loss to the Seahawks. For the season, the Jets are the only team in the NFL averaging less than 300 yards of total offense and fewer than 18 points per game. Now they face the league's No. 1 total defense and the NFC's top scoring defense.

Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cincinnati Bengals)

There are plenty of folks asking what's "wrong" with the 11-2 Steelers after back-to-back losses, and the defense has taken a small step backward the past couple of weeks—largely because of injuries to players like Robert Spillane and Bud Dupree. But Pittsburgh still leads the NFL in sacks, takeaways, and fantasy points. Week 15 presents the Steelers with a golden (so-to-speak) opportunity for a fat stat line—last week against the Cowboys the hapless Bengals scored just seven points, turned it over three times and allowed two sacks in a blowout loss.

Miami Dolphins (vs. New England Patriots)

Yes, the Dolphins got lit up by Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs last week, because everyone gets lit up by the Chiefs. But even in defeat the opportunistic Dolphins were at it—Mahomes threw more interceptions last week than in the 12 games that preceded it combined. This week the Dolphins are at the other end of the offensive spectrum—the Patriots had all kinds of trouble moving the ball through the air against the Rams in Week 14 and have struggled with turnovers at times this season. The last vestiges of the Patriots dynasty may die this weekend in South Florida.

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

For the season, the Ravens Defense still ranks inside the top five in many scoring systems. But that defense has also been in something of a funk of late—in part due to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the team so hard. The Ravens last big fantasy stat line came against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9, but Week 15 looks like a prime spot for the Ravens to rebound. Not only are the Ravens as healthy as they have been defensively in some time, but Sunday a desperate Baltimore team hosts a floundering Jaguars squad that has dropped 12 straight games and allowed the 10th-most fantasy points to defenses in 2020.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Houston Texans)

The defense of the Indianapolis Colts continues to be one of the bigger stories in the NFL that no one is really talking about, and while that defense has backslid slightly it still ranks inside the top 10 in any number of statistical categories. In last week's win over the Raiders, the Colts didn't get a sack, but they did accrue three takeaways—one of which was brought back for a touchdown. The Colts and Texans have also squared off recently—in the long-ago days of Week 13 the Colts sacked Deshaun Watson five times (including once for a safety) and took the ball away once.

Buffalo Bills (at Denver Broncos)

Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense has received most of the credit for the team's success this season, but the Bills Defense deserves its share for last week's big win over the Pittsburgh Steelers—Buffalo allowed just 15 points to one of the league's more potent passing games and picked Ben Roethlisberger off twice, taking one back for a touchdown. Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock is coming off one of the better starts of his professional career last week in Carolina, but the Broncos have surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points per game to defenses in 2020—largely due to a propensity for turnovers.

Chicago Bears (at Minnesota Vikings)

Of the "name" defenses, the Bears are easily the riskiest play of Week 15, largely because the team hasn't consistently produced big plays this season. But that certainly wasn't the case in last week's throttling of the Houston Texans—the Bears sacked Deshaun Watson seven times, took the ball away twice and notched a safety. We do have a recent meeting between these teams to use as a measuring stick of sorts—back in Week 10 the Bears had just one sack of Kirk Cousins but did notch two takeaways. One of those turnovers was also returned for a touchdown.

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STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!

Cleveland Browns (at New York Giants)

The Browns have been both a mediocre defensive team and a relatively valuable fantasy asset most of the 2020 season. Cleveland gives up plenty of yardage and points, but they also get to opposing quarterbacks and are tied for the fourth-most takeaways in the NFL. This call has as much to do with the team Cleveland is playing as the Browns themselves anyway. The Giants Offense was absolutely atrocious in last week's loss to the Arizona Cardinals—159 total yards of offense, seven points, three turnovers and eight sacks allowed. The Giants were a top-10 fantasy matchup for defenses before that turkey. After? Top-five in some formats.

Seattle Seahawks (at Washington Football Team)

Over the first half of the 2020 season, the Seattle Seahawks were not just a bad defensive football team. They were a historically bad defensive team on pace to allow the most yards ever. But since the arrival of edge-rusher Carlos Dunlap, the Seahawks have played much better defensively. Washington got the win last week against the 49ers, but they did so in a game where the offense didn't find the end zone and the team didn't throw for 100 yards. If Washington has to throw to play catch-up, this game could get ugly in a hurry.

San Francisco 49ers (at Dallas Cowboys)

That the 49ers have gone from the first defense drafted in many fantasy leagues to a team available on many waiver wires pretty much sums up the 2020 season for the defending NFC champions. But it's not like things have gone much better for a Dallas Cowboys team that ranks inside the top five in fantasy points per game allowed to team defenses. Yes, the Cowboys lit up the hapless Cincinnati Bengals last week, but while the Niners aren't a good team and they have been devastated by injuries Robert Saleh's defense has actually played pretty well of late.

Dallas Cowboys (vs. San Francisco 49ers)

The Dallas Cowboys are not a good defensive football team—the Cowboys have allowed more points per game than any other team in the league. But Dallas is also coming off their best defensive effort in a blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals. The San Francisco 49ers, on the other hand, are coming off a mistake-filled disaster against the Washington Football Team that saw two turnovers be returned for touchdowns. Since Week 8, the Niners have allowed the fourth-most fantasy points to team defenses. If you rolled with Dallas in Week 14, think about giving them a second shot.

Tennessee Titans (vs. Detroit Lions)

I try to make it a point every week here at Getting Defensive to offer up a "Hail Mary" play, and while using such a play in Week 15 straddles the line between bold and stupid I try to be consistent. Last week against the Jaguars, the Titans had one of their best defensive efforts of the season, allowing just 10 points. The problem is that the Titans also did next to nothing in the big play column. However, if you're well and truly desperate, the Titans could be about to welcome in a bad Lions team starting journeyman statue Chase Daniel at quarterback. So, there's that. Am I a salesman or what?

 

CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (at Atlanta Falcons)

By all rights, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers should probably be a "no-doubter" in Week 15—The Bucs are a top-10 fantasy defense in terms of points scored this season taking on a Falcons team that ranks inside the top-10 in fantasy points allowed to defenses. But Tampa's scoring for the season is skewed by a couple of huge stat lines that came early in the season, while of late they have been a so-so fantasy option at best most week. Call it a hunch borne of two teams that know one another well. But I have a sinking feeling this game could wind up a shootout. And for defenses, shootouts are bad.

New Orleans Saints (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)

For much of this season, the Saints have fielded one of the best defenses in the NFL—entering Week 14 the team ranked sixth in fantasy points at the position. Normally, even a down performance in which the Saints surrendered two 1100-yard rushers wouldn't be enough to get ne to reverse course on a defense that has been so consistently solid. But the Saints are coming off that down outing ahead of a visit from the Fighting Andy Reids. The Chiefs turned the ball over four times last week against Miami, but they also scored 33 points. The odds of the latter happening again on Sunday are exponentially higher than the former happening again. Steer clear if you can.

Gary Davenport

Gary Davenport is a Senior Staff Writer at Fantasy Sharks, an NFL and Fantasy Football Analyst at Bleacher Report and a contributing author and Associate Editor at Football Diehards. A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Gary was the winner of the 2017 and 2019 FSWA awards for Football Writer of the Year. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPSharks.