Fantasy & Reality: Defense wins championships

Ndamukong Suh has received more attention for his unintentional/intentional kicking habit than the Lions defense has received all season. But here we are in Week 15 and the Lions DST is as popular as The Elf on a Shelf.

Playing the lowly Cardinals will do that for you.

Just how bad has Arizona's offense become? They have produced 19 or fewer points in nine straight weeks and under 200 total yards in three of their last four games. Rookie Ryan Lindley (zero touchdowns, five interceptions, two fumbles in 120 pass attempts) will get the start behind an offensive line that's allowed a league-worst 51 sacks this season. That same offensive line hasn't helped open holes for the running backs in town; they've totaled six rushing scores. And here's the best part (or worst if you're a Cardinals fan): The last four DSTs to face the Cardinals -- Atlanta, St. Louis, N.Y. Jets and Seattle -- all matched or exceeded their single-game season-best Fantasy point totals. Seattle notched 45 points in Week 14 as part of a 58-0 blowout.

That's welcome news for the Lions, who are nothing special defensively. They have 30 sacks (tied for 15th in the NFL), 10 interceptions (tied for 19th), eight fumble recoveries (tied for 15th) and a grand total of zero defensive or special teams touchdowns. Their secondary is on fumes and their defensive line has underwhelmed for the most part. But because of the matchup, the Lions are a low-risk, high-reward Fantasy choice for owners to buy into this week. That makes them appealing and it certainly makes them a better choice than pretty much any DST that might have gotten your Fantasy team to this point in the season.

Like anything else in Fantasy, managing risk based on your own personal tastes is what determines who plays for you and who doesn't. There's risk no matter what DST you start of course but some are expected to reward you better than others. Knowing the risk-reward factor of all the prominent DSTs as well as those that might be available on waivers could help you decide on which one to start in your matchup this week.

Excusing the Bengals, who played Thursday, and the Lions, who were already discussed, here are the remaining DSTs you need to know about -- both the good and the bad.

Low-risk, high-reward

Packers (at the Bears): A huge key here is that the Packers will get pass rush beast Clay Matthews back for this one, and he was a terror against Chicago back in Week 2 (3.5 sacks). In general the Packers have racked up a slew of turnovers against Jay Cutler and haven't allowed the Bears to rack up a ton of points. Three of the Bears' last five opposing DSTs have scored 16-plus Fantasy points and the Packers should be in line to get near that total with Matthews adding pressure and the Bears' Swiss-cheese offensive line continuing to struggle.

Seahawks (vs. the Bills in Toronto): No one is benching a DST that went off for 45 Fantasy points last week and has double-digit Fantasy points in 10 of 13 games on the season. Buffalo's offense has an explosive element to it with C.J. Spiller in the backfield, but everything else about it is dicey. The Bills have scored under 20 points in four of their last six and have yielded 13 sacks over their last five games thanks to some offensive line injuries. Ryan Fitzpatrick is also on a three-game interception streak (with two touchdowns in his last four). This one's a no-brainer.

Low-risk, medium-reward

Texans (vs. the Colts): Everyone is expecting the Texans defense to step up after being humiliated by the Patriots on Monday. That makes sense for Houston but it's still going to be a tough, four-quarter battle to contain Andrew Luck . One thing the Colts do a lot of is pass and one thing the Texans have struggled with is defending the pass. They've allowed over 1,000 passing yards in their last three games! Luck's propensity to turn the ball over and get sacked gives Houston a cinch for some good stats, but Houston's D might not dominate the Colts like one might have thought several weeks ago.

Dolphins (vs. the Jaguars): Cecil Shorts return to the field helps the Jaguars enough to make the Dolphins defense less appealing, but there's still the matter of Jacksonville allowing double-digit Fantasy points to nine of the last 10 DSTs its played. That includes many games with Shorts, and to be fair many with Blaine Gabbert under center, but Chad Henne has also been known to turn the ball over a time or four. The Jags' ability to protect the quarterback has been a problem: They've allowed 13 sacks in the last two games, 19 sacks in the last five games and 40 sacks on the season. The Dolphins can scheme to get to the quarterback and that's just the beginning of the Jaguars' problems.

Rams (vs. the Vikings): The Rams have posted at least 17 Fantasy points in each of their last three games, which helps reduce their risk of delivering a let down performance. Minnesota owns one of the best rushers in the game in Adrian Peterson but also one of the worst passers in Christian Ponder . As such, the Vikings have scored 21 points or less in six of their last seven and have totaled under 275 yards in two of their last three. If St. Louis' run defense were a little bit better they might actually be the hot DST to pick up off waivers instead of the Lions. But as it stands the well-coached crew should deliver even with Peterson getting his numbers.

Titans (vs. the Jets): The Titans don't offer much in terms of defensive talent but any opponent of the Jets is a friend to Fantasy owners. The Jets have totaled under 300 yards in three of four, have scored 19 points or less in five of six and have allowed 11 or more Fantasy points to opposing DSTs in six of seven games. That passes the sniff test for the Titans, who have posted 11 or more Fantasy points themselves in three of four.

Medium-risk, high-reward

Broncos (at the Ravens): Baltimore fired its offensive coordinator this week and is expected to combine a stronger dedication to the running game with a no-huddle approach to the pass attack. This doesn't mean Joe Flacco is suddenly going to turn into Peyton Manning just because his former quarterbacks coach is now his offensive coordinator, but it could result in a boost in production for the Ravens. They've scored under 21 points in three of their last four games -- twice against the Steelers and once against the Chargers -- so if the transition doesn't pay off against a good Denver defense it could mean a solid week for the Broncos.

Jets (at the Titans): Apple turnovers are tasty for your mouth but Locker turnovers are tasty for your Fantasy team. He has at least two interceptions in each of his last three games to go along with at least a sack while leading his offense to 23 points or less (under 20 points in two games). Locker's Titans are finding ways to put up total yardage so don't expect the Jets to completely stifle them, but with Antonio Cromartie likely to wage battle against Kenny Britt and Locker's inaccuracy to show its face, it could spell Fantasy success. The Jets' ability to grind the clock with their run game could further push Locker to pass. Chris Johnson run game has not been up to par either.

Medium-risk, medium-reward

49ers (at the Patriots): The Patriots have scored less than 28 points just three times all season. Tom Brady has been sacked four times in three games overall but has been sacked one time or less nine other times. His interceptions come rather sparingly -- four on the season -- and the Patriots offense has over 400 yards of offense in seven of 13 games without dipping below 320 yards of offense in any game this year. Even though the Niners haven't allowed 28-plus points to an opponent and have yielded over 300 total yards of offense to just four teams, the matchup at New England is difficult. Unlike their trip to New Orleans earlier this season, it's unlikely they'll get five turnovers from Brady and steamroll their way to a victory. So even if you start this talented unit, and even if they manage to contain Brady, the results might not be exciting.

Patriots (vs. the 49ers): New England's DST has come up big fairly often and they should have a chance to rattle Colin Kaepernick . The Niners have found ways to score without riding Kaepernick's arm as he hasn't thrown a touchdown in two weeks. He hasn't thrown an interception either. Those are streaks that could both come to an end this week, but the Patriots typically build a lead on their opponents and then defend the pass with relative ease. A similar situation could play out here but even so, it's worth noting that the Niners have held five of the last six opposing DSTs to single-digit Fantasy points.

Steelers (at the Cowboys): In the past it would be insane to sit the Steelers. But this is a team with a pass rush that has lost a step and a secondary that's been devastated by injuries. Last week, Danario Alexander played beyond our wildest expectations and helped upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Think they'll do any better against a Cowboys team with several receiving threats? Dez Bryant won't be at 100 percent but his presence on the field alone makes the task more daunting. Dallas has scored 21-plus points in four of its last five and won't slow down unless Bryant is out of the picture. This is a risky week for the Steelers without a ton of upside.

High-risk, high-reward

Bears (vs. the Packers): Aaron Rodgers might be throwing more like John Skelton than John Elway, but he still has a knack for torturing the Bears defense. Now, Chicago faces the Packers without leader Brian Urlacher nor cornerback Tim Jennings , who was on his way to a Pro Bowl until he got hurt a few weeks back. After starting the year with nine straight games with 11-plus Fantasy points, the DST has fallen to single digits in three of its last four. The kick-return game isn't what it once was and the defense, talkative as they've been, have a huge task ahead of them.

Raiders (vs. the Chiefs): Sure, the Raiders defense isn't effective but the Chiefs offense has been almost as ugly as the Cardinals. Save for their stoic Week 13 game vs. Carolina, the Chiefs have scored 16 points or less in every outing since Week 5 and have totaled under 300 total yards in six of their last eight games. Oakland's defense is more pathetic than Detroit's so there's some hesitation to call them a useful unit, but in a pinch they could come up with some good numbers. Only the Panthers have failed to score 11 or more Fantasy points against the Chiefs in 2012.

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Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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