As we approach the halfway point of the NFL season, fantasy owners have a pretty good idea which defenses are good to start week to week and which aren't. This week will go a bit against the grain as there are some normally shaky defenses that deserve a start in Week 8.
The first thing sending owners to the waiver wire in search of a defense is the fact that there are six teams with a bye this week. Most notably, normally solid defenses like the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens will need to be replaced by owners depending on them.
Even if your defense doesn't have a bye but instead has a bad matchup against a good offense, there will be some options on the waiver wire to fill the void like the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.
Let's take a look at the best defenses to start this week as well as those that can be viewed as a solid starting option despite a normally negative outlook.
|Week 8 Defense/Special Teams Rankings|
Cleveland Browns (at Kansas City Chiefs)
The Browns defense gets the distinction of "shaky" thanks to allowing 30 points or more in its last two games. However, those two games were against solid offensive squads like the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, as both own a top-five passing attack, while the Packers have the sixth-best ground game in the league.
The Chiefs aren't as prolific considering they don't own a ranking in the top 10 for either the pass or run. In fact, Kansas City's air attack ranks No. 26, which should help the Browns cheat against the run and stop the Chiefs' No. 12-ranked rushing attack. Overall, the Chiefs are allowing the ninth-fewest points to opposing defenses in ESPN leagues, but no defense has been shut out by KC this season.
Overall, Cleveland's defense has played extremely well. With a No. 7 and No. 9 rank against the pass and run, respectively, there's no question the Browns can shut down most teams in the NFL, including a less-than-explosive offense in KC led by game manager Alex Smith. The only question that remains is, can the Browns force turnovers against an offense that takes care of the ball?
One thing that has harmed the Browns of late is the fact that their offense, led by quarterback Brandon Weeden, has done next to nothing to help give the defense a break. That's because the offense with Weeden under center doesn't sustain many long drives, and that can quickly tire out a defense, thus making it look bad no matter how good it may be.
Things are looking up this week as veteran Jason Campbell will be behind center for the Browns, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today Sports. That should help Cleveland hold on to the ball for longer stretches with a more experienced signal-caller behind center, and in turn the Browns defense will stay fresh and effective in this game.
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. New York Giants)
Philly is coming off a Week 7 loss, but in that loss the Eagles held the always dangerous Dallas Cowboys offense to just 17 points. Unlike the Cowboys, who are scoring the third-most points per game in the NFL (28.6), the Giants have not been as successful as the sixth-worst scoring offense (18).
The mistake-prone Giants are always a candidate to help opposing defenses score extra points in fantasy. The G-Men lead the planet in giveaways with 24, which is seven more than any other squad in the NFL.
Quarterback Eli Manning's 16 interceptions lead all quarterbacks, and the Giants' eight fumbles as a team ties them for second in the league. In their last meeting alone, Philly got a ton of pressure on Manning and forced him to throw three picks, and head coach Chip Kelly's squad also recovered a fumble while allowing just 21 points.
Sacks will also be a likely means of scoring points for the Eagles defense. The Giants have a horrid offensive line that has allowed 18 sacks this season, and that's another area the Eagles can exploit en route to an unusually successful day for their defense.
Overall, the Giants are allowing the most points per week against defenses in fantasy, so that's just another incentive to give the Eagles a look this week.
New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)
The Pats have lost some key players on defense this season, namely defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo, both to season-ending injuries. Still, the Pats have a favorable matchup against a struggling Dolphins team that has lost three in a row coming into Week 8, so don't give up on them just yet.
Forget the fact that the Patriots can't stop a nosebleed on the ground, as evidenced by their No. 31 ranking against the run. Miami's rushing attack likely won't exploit that problem as it ranks No. 25 in the NFL.
Instead, the Dolphins will have to lean against their passing attack, which ranks No. 16 in the league, while the Pats combat that with a No. 11-ranked air defense.
Sophomore signal-caller Ryan Tannehill has shown his dark side with seven picks this season, but a lot of that has to do with pressure. After all, Tannehill has been sacked a league-leading 26 times behind a bad pass-protecting offensive line, and while sacks will come for New England, the more important thing will be to get pressure in order to force Tannehill into mistakes.
Miami is allowing the 22nd-most points per week in fantasy to opposing defenses, and when you combine that with an angry New England squad that's coming off a loss to the New York Jets, you have a recipe for the Pats coming out ready to pummel the Dolphins on both sides of the ball.