Defense may not be as important to winning Super Bowls anymore, but a decent defense can still help you win a Fantasy Super Bowl.
Most fantasy football leagues are won because of a team’s quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But team defenses in leagues where individual defensive players are not used are still very important to a champ’s success. An above-average amount of sacks and turnovers from a fantasy defense can even things out when your QB is Kevin Kolb and your TE is Martellus Bennett.
Over the years, there have been two defenses that were money in the bank for fantasy owners. If you drafted either of these defenses, you knew you did not have to worry about picking up another defense the rest of the season except for the bye week. But these renowned units might not be the sack and turnover machines and point preventers that they have been in the past.
Here are two defenses on the decline whose fantasy values will likely not be as high as they normally are in 2012.
Baltimore has had one of the best defenses to own in fantasy football for the last decade. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs have anchored the defense like no other threesome in the NFL, and 2011 was no exception. The Ravens ranked second in rushing defense, third in total defense, sacks and points allowed, fourth in passing defense and seventh in fumble recoveries.
But Father Time and basketball are tag-teaming against Baltimore heading into 2012. Suggs—the only consistent pass rusher on the Ravens roster—tore his Achilles tendon either playing pickup basketball, working out or during a friendly game of Twister. At this point, it is anyone’s guess how he tore it, and it will take Sherlock Holmes to figure out the truth.
So with Suggs missing all or most of the upcoming season, that should put a serious dent in Baltimore’s sack totals. Couple that with Lewis slowing down at age 37, and Reed slowing down due to numerous injuries (only three INTs in 2011), and the Ravens defense does not look as dominant on paper as it has in the past. Reed is not even a lock to play after not showing up to Baltimore’s mandatory minicamp this week.
And do not forget that Chuck Pagano—Baltimore’s defensive coordinator last season—has moved on to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and that solid defensive starters Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson have flown the free-agent coop.
Baltimore could still be a top-10 fantasy defense this season, but the Ravens probably have a better chance at being the 15th-best defense than a top-5 unit with everything conspiring against them.
Pittsburgh once again led the NFL in total defense, passing defense and points allowed last season, which goes along with the theory that the Steelers are the stifling defense most people believe they are.
But delve deeper into the numbers like you are Suze Orman, and you will find a different story about Pittsburgh’s defense. The Steelers were tied for 17th in the NFL in sacks with 35 and, in the shock of all shocks, were dead last in takeaways with just 15.
The Steelers only recovered four opponents’ fumbles, so they would obviously never make it as a rugby team. How can one of the top defenses in the sport only recover four fumbles? It’s like asking how someone as funny as Adam Sandler can make a movie like Jack and Jill.
Watching Tim Tebow—the polar opposite of a passing quarterback—torch the Steelers’ secondary during the opening round of the playoffs last season was a sign of impending doom. This is not the same staunch defensive unit it once was.
Pittsburgh has more age on defense than Kraft has on its cheeses. Stalwarts like James Harrison, Troy Polamulu, Casey Hampton and Ike Taylor are not suddenly going to be quicker now that they are in their 30s. The core of the defense can only get worse, not better, and Pittsburgh did not bolster the group through the draft. Instead, the Steelers opted to draft more offensive players than defensive, and focused on upgrading the line to protect quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Pittsburgh has too many veterans, too much talent and too smart of a coaching staff to have a below-average defense in 2012. But can the Steelers have an AVERAGE defense? Sure can, and their defense might be taken after Houston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and many other defenses in fantasy drafts come August.