There are a few reasons why some fantasy managers are reluctant to invest significant draft capital in a defense. One of the main ones is that there are far more moving pieces that can affect a defense's value from year-to-year (or even week-to-week) than at the other positions. Personnel can change. Injuries can strike. The offense can regress and leave the defense in a more difficult position.
We saw it happen last year with the Chicago Bears. All it took was a couple injuries and a dip in big play production to turn the Bears from the fantasy juggernaut they were in 2018 to waiver wire fodder in 2019.
Now it's happening to the San Francisco 49ers.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for the 49ers in 2020. Both sides of the ball have been decimated by injuries, including the loss of edge-rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford and cornerback Richard Sherman. The offense is a dumpster fire. On Sunday at Levi's Stadium, the last-place 49ers were drilled 43-17 by the Miami Dolphins.
San Francisco's only two wins of the 2020 season have come against the New York Giants and New York Jets—two teams who are a combined 0-10. The schedule over the next seven games is a horror show—the Rams in Santa Clara, at New England, at Seattle, Green Bay, at New Orleans, at Los Angeles and home against Buffalo.
If you burned a pick on the San Francisco defense, it's just that—burned. To a crisp. You have two choices at this point—start streaming off the waiver wire or prepare to be disappointed on a weekly basis.
Baltimore Ravens (at Philadelphia Eagles)
The Ravens absolutely made the most of a favorable matchup at home in Week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals—three points allowed, seven sacks and three takeaways, including a scoop-and-score. The favorable matchups continue for the Ravens in Week 6—the Eagles showed some signs of life offensively in last week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, but we're still talking about a banged-up Eagles Offense that is tied for the NFL lead with 11 turnovers so far this year. Assuming the Ravens get staked to another lead, it should be another week of the Baltimore pass rush teeing off.
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cleveland Browns)
There are certain constants in life. And right up there with death and taxes is the Pittsburgh Steelers making big plays on the defensive side of the ball. In 2019, T.J. Watt and the Pittsburgh defense led the NFL in both sacks and takeaways. Through five games in 2020, the Steelers are tied with the Los Angeles Rams for the league lead in sacks with 20 and tied for the fifth-most takeaways with seven. Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland offense haven't been as error-prone as in 2019, but Mayfield did throw a pair of interceptions in last week's win over the Indianapolis Colts.
Los Angeles Rams (at San Francisco 49ers)
Watching Alex Smith take the field last week for the first time in two years was heartwarming—so much so that Aaron Donald kept hugging the Washington quarterback. Well, hugging him and then slamming him to the ground. Donald had four of the Rams eight sacks last week in a dominant defensive effort that saw Washington fail to accrue 110 total yards—for the entire game. As pathetic as the San Francisco offense looked last week, they'll still probably manage to exceed that benchmark. But these two NFC West teams are barreling in opposite directions right now.
Indianapolis Colts (vs, Cincinnati Bengals)
Heading into Week 5, the Colts led the NFL in a number of statistical categories, including total defense and scoring defense—the Colts were giving up less than 240 yards and just 14 points per game. Now, both of those marks were bested by Cleveland last week in a win by the Browns, but the Colts are still playing excellent defense this season. The Bengals, on the other hand, have had issues on offense—the Bengals are tied for the fourth-most giveaways in the league and no quarterback has been sacked more times (22) than rookie Joe Burrow.
New England Patriots (vs. Denver Broncos)
Of this week's no-doubters, this one gives me the most pause. There is quite a bit of uncertainty swirling around this game, including the playing status of Broncos quarterback Drew Lock and Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore and the unexpected layoff after this game was pushed back from Week 5 to Week 6. However, from a matchup perspective this isn't a difficult game to like—despite a litany of personnel losses the Patriots are a top-five fantasy defense in terms of points per game, while the Broncos allowed the second-most fantasy points to defenses over the first four weeks of 2020.
Editor’s Note: Unlock the brand new League Sync! Keep track of all your Yahoo! teams in one place and use our Trade Analyzer, Free Agent Finder, Lineup Adviser and custom projections to make all the right roster decisions! Get all of our Season Tools, League Sync AND DFS Tools for as low as $7.99/month!
STREAMERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE!
Miami Dolphins (vs. New York Jets)
What the great googly moogly got into the Miami Dolphins last week? The Dolphins didn't just go into Santa Clara and beat the defending NFC champions. They went into the House that Jeans Built and opened a can on San Francisco. That included an impressive defensive effort that featured five sacks and three takeaways. Now, on the heels of Miami's best outing of the season, the team gets to play host to Joe Flacco's corpse and the Fighting Adam Gases. In news that should surprise exactly no one, the Jets lead the NFL in fantasy points allowed to defenses. Because they are bad. Really, really, really bad.
Washington Football Team (at New York Giants)
Washington would most assuredly like to forget about last week's clunker against the Los Angeles Rams. But despite the team's record and their issues under center, the defense has been something of a bright spot for the team. Led by Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner Chase Young, the WFT sits tied for fifth in the league in 15 sacks. Conversely, the Giants have been disaster on offense over the last month. Since Week 1, Daniel Jones has as many touchdown passes in the NFL as you do, and the Giants have surrendered the fifth-most sacks, second-most turnovers, and third-most fantasy points to defenses.
New York Giants (vs. Washington Football Team)
Fun fact—the New York Giants are eighth in the NFL in total defense after five weeks. While you try to reconcile that with the fact that the Giants are also 0-5, we'll get to the real reason why Big Blue is a matchup play in Week 6. The Washington Offense is (again) the worst in the game. Dwayne Haskins has been benched. After two years on the sidelines (and almost losing his leg) Alex Smith can be forgiven for being rusty. And Kyle Allen (the team's presumptive Week 6 starter, because whatever) stinks. The Giants don't even have to be a good defense to stop what passes for an offense in D.C.
Carolina Panthers (vs. Chicago Bears)
Something weird is happening in Charlotte. The Carolina Panthers are—not terrible. They might even be good. And the defense has been playing its part during the team's three-game winning streak. Last week against the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers gave up just 16 points, sacked Matt Ryan twice and forced a game-swinging turnover late. Over the past three weeks, the Panthers have quietly served as a low-end weekly starter defensively. The Bears haven't made a tom of mistakes offensively in 2020, but they also aren't scaring anyone on that side of the ball. The Panthers are a serviceable streamer in Week 6.
Arizona Cardinals (at Dallas Cowboys)
This streaming recommendation is at the bottom of the list for a reason. The Cardinals haven't played especially well defensively in recent weeks, the team lost edge-rusher extraordinaire Chandler Jones to a season-ending biceps injury and the Dallas Cowboys came into Week 5 leading the league in total defense. But with Dak Prescott done for the year after fracturing his ankle (sigh), the Cowboys now have to hand the offense over to a much less mobile quarterback in Andy Dalton who will be playing behind an offensive line with legitimate injury problems of its own.
CAVEAT EMPTOR, FOLKS
Chicago Bears (at Carolina Panthers)
Frankly, from a fantasy perspective the relevance of the Chicago defense lies mainly with the inability of many fantasy managers to live in the now. The Bears weren't a top-15 fantasy defense in 2019. Through five games in 2020, they aren't a top-15 defense this year, either. There's no shortage of good players on that side of the ball in Chicago, but since Vic Fangio left to become head coach in Denver the "splash" plays that fantasy managers count on for production just haven't been there. Now the Bears face a Panthers team on the road that has been playing well the past three weeks. You can do better in Week 6.