Fantasy Advice

What to Look for in Your Fantasy Defense

By October 23, 2014No Comments

In our most second to last podcast, Matt Rodgers and I talked about the pitfalls that can come with drafting a defense early, and what you can look for in order to choose the correct defense from week to week. This inspired me to go a bit deeper into my process and discuss what I look for in potential defensive streamers, as well as what tools you can use to help in your search for the perfect defensive matchup.

There’s a lot of luck and randomness that goes into defensive scoring and that’s very important to remember. Some plays that look great on paper are just not going to work out.

That doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision, it just means that football flipped the script on us (as it tends to do), and the most logical outcome based on what we knew before the game did not hold up.

Does that mean that you should start choosing defenses at random the first time one of your plays doesn’t work? Of course not. Trust the process, and you’ll be right more often than not.

Using Betting Lines to Your Advantage


Sportsbooks are in business for one purpose and that’s to make money. If they set inaccurate lines, it directly affects their profitability. So these organizations have a huge incentive to set lines based on accurate, reliable projections.

This makes betting lines incredibly useful tools for every fantasy football player, both for projecting team defenses and projecting the individual performance of offensive players. For now, we’ll focus on defenses.

The first thing I look for when analyzing potential streamers is projected point total. This may not pop right off the screen when you first take a look at a betting line, but it’s relatively simple to calculate.

Let’s use one of this week's upcoming games, Minnesota at Tampa Bay, as an example. The Bucs are -3, which means they're a 3-point favorite, and the over/under is 42.

To find projected point totals for each team, we divide the over/under by 2 (42/2=21) and divide the spread by 2 (3/2=1.5). The Bucs are the favorite, so by adding these two numbers, we get their projected point total of 22.5. For the Jets, we subtract the second number from the first and end with their projected point total of 19.5.

Obviously, neither team is going to score half a point, but the idea is that we have a rough estimate of each team’s point total. Any time you see a projected point total less than 20, that should be an immediate indicator that there’s a potential streamer afoot.

Taking a Look At Sacks & Turnovers

Giving up a small amount of points is great, but fantasy defenses really make their hay off sacks and turnovers. This is more difficult to predict early in the season, but at this point, we can use this year’s turnover and sack numbers as a solid indication of future performance.

So when we identify a defense to target based on the betting lines, a good next step is to see whether they’re forcing turnovers and whether their opponent is giving the ball away. Again, we’ll look at the Tampa Bay game.

So far this year, the the Buccaneers have forced 10 turnovers, while the Vikings have accumulated 12 giveaways. And while Tampa Bay only has 9 sacks on the year, Minnesota has given up an astounding 28 sacks so far. Tampa Bay should have no trouble generating pressure this week, which will lead to turnovers and fantasy points.

How Do The Teams Match Up?


Here’s where we get out of the realm of pure stats and into more subjective thinking. Once we’ve gone through the first two steps, which are completely numbers-based, it’s always smart to think about how the teams should match up and how we expect the game to play out.

Based on the relatively even spread, I would think this should be a pretty back-and-forth game. With their receiving corp healthy, I would expect Tampa Bay to try to stretch the field early and take advantage of Minnesota's mediocre pass defense. If this happens, Minnesota may have to abandon the run game earlier than they would like to, which could lead to turnovers in the pass game.

On the other hand, Tampa Bay's rush defense is bad, and Jerick McKinnon is good. If the Vikings can dominate the clock early, the advantage swings in their favor. It's a bit of a toss-up, but streaming defenses can force you to make some tough decisions. In a deep league, this seems like a matchup that I'd be comfortable using.

More Practice

I'll take a look at another defense I like this week, the Kansas City Chiefs, and explain how they check most of the boxes that I've just presented.

The Chiefs are a 6.5-point favorite over St. Louis, and the over/under is 44. That means the Rams are projected for 18.75 points. Check #1.

Here's where things get a little hairy. The Chiefs have only forced 4 turnovers on the year, and St. Louis has only given the ball away 9 times. That being said, Kansas City has the second-best pass rush in the league according to Pro Football Focus. They've sacked the quarterback 17 times, and the Rams have given up 16 sacks on the year. With that kind of pass rush, the meager turnover numbers are bound to increase as the season goes on.

I see this game being an incredibly low-scoring matchup that revolves around the running game and time of possession. Both the Chiefs and the Rams are teams that play their best when they run the ball effectively, and both have the means to do so in this game. If the Chiefs keep the score low, get a couple sacks, and force a turnover, that turns into a decent fantasy day for you. Remember, streaming isn't about 20-point games. It's about getting starter-quality production, and that's what the Chiefs should give you here.

What About Special Teams?

Special teams touchdowns are one of the most difficult things to predict in football. Because of this, I don’t even take them into account when I’m trying to choose a D/ST. Sure, if I’m down to a coin flip between two teams and one of them has a stud kick returner(say De'Anthony Thomas on the Chiefs), that’ll sway my decision. However, you should always make your decisions based on defensive matchup before considering special teams implications

Don’t believe that betting lines are accurate? Think turnovers are completely random? Trying to start the Washington defense against Dallas this week? Let me know! As always, I’d love to talk fantasy football.

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Nick Walsh