Fantasy Football: beware of the NFC North defenses

By: Jacob Goode

Team Defenses are usually drafted in the last round of redraft leagues if at all. Many leagues wait until waivers begin, before adding a defense, but every team will have to make their choice before week 1. Each year there seems to be one defensive unit that averages close to 20 points, but it’s usually difficult to predict which team that will be. Beyond the top defense, there are about 4 or 5 others who aren’t likely to hit waivers all season. The rest will often be dropped to waivers early or at least during the team’s bye week. There are several things to consider when choosing a defense, but one of the most important things is their strength of schedule. In this article we’ll look at the defenses in two divisions, to avoid based on their strength of schedule.

AFC North 

In 2020, the AFC North was the only division with 3 teams in the playoffs & their defensive units were no small part of that success. Taking a closer look at recent roster changes, this division may be the most offensively diverse in the league. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens were already tough to prepare for & now they’ve upgraded with several new receiving options. The combination of Nick Chubb & Kareem Hunt has more than opened up the Browns passing game, which includes big names at Receiver & Tight End as well. The Steelers already have a very talented WR room, which is difficult to predict for even fantasy purposes & likely more so for opposing Defensive Coordinators. The addition of Najee Harris & Pat Freiermuth in the draft will add more options for a team that likely still needs to get the ball off quickly. 

Though the Bengals finished 2020 with only 4 wins, they shouldn’t be overlooked as an offensive threat with the return of Joe Burrows & Joe Mixon, as well as Rookie WR Ja’marr Chase. 

On top of playing each of these teams twice, every defense in the AFC North will have to face the NFC North & AFC West. This unfortunately includes the Packers, Chiefs, Vikings & Chargers. These common opponents will mean that every AFC North team will have an unfavorable matchup in at least 10 of their 17 games. If anything, the Ravens may be worth picking up for the first 4 weeks, as they will face the Raiders, Lions & Broncos during that stretch, however they should likely be dropped or traded afterwards. While 3 of these AFC North defenses should be very good, these matchups put them into the category of letting someone else deal with them in 2021 redraft leagues. 

NFC North:

One thing that has been fairly consistent during the Aaron Rodgers era is that Half of the offenses in the NFC North are especially concerning for defenses & the other half just isn’t. This year it appears Green Bay & Minnesota should once again be on the right side of the division. As for Detroit, there are always an abundance of unanswered questions involved with a rebuild. This rebuild comes with a new Head Coach, Quarterback, several new running backs & receivers, as well as a promising rookie left tackle. While the Lions’ have youth on their side, this isn’t likely to be a top 20 offensive unit in 2021.

The Bears drafted their Quarterback of the future in Justin Fields, though he isn’t expected to start early & not much else has changed for this offense. 

Outside of the division, each team in the NFC North will face the whole of the AFC North & the NFC West. As noted above, the AFC North includes 4 tough offensive opponents. A pairing with the NFC West means the NFC North will have to face Russell Wilson & Kyler Murray, as well as the offenses of Sean McVay & Kyle Shanahan. These division pairings almost guarantee 8 tough matchups for the NFC North Defenses. Add 2 more tough division games for the Vikings & Packers defenses (making at least 10 of 17), or 4 more for the Lions & Bears defenses(12 of 17). The shared opponents alone on this difficult schedule are more than I want to maneuver as a fantasy manager. 

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