By Chinmay Kulkarni
Football guys always preach that defense wins championships. While defensive success has translated to Superbowl winning results over the past decade, having a dominant defensive unit can translate to fantasy football playoff success or failure for the rest of us non-players. As we near the end of the fantasy regular season, teams will attempt to navigate a gauntlet schedule and chain together three to four wins in a row to win their respective league championships. With respect to roster building for the playoffs, it’s generally necessary to have a consistent D/ST that presents favorable matchups for their respective teams. Some of the best D/ST units in the league may not be the best for the fantasy playoffs on the lone statistic of matchups. Therefore, here are 5 D/ST units that will be reliable towards the end of the season.
1. Dallas Cowboys – @WFT, @NYG, WFT
The combination of Micah Parsons and Trevon Diggs has been pivotal for the success of this unit, creating tough matchups while throwing the ball, and averaging the third-worst QBR for respective quarterbacks. The unit ranks 5th in QB hits, has the most interceptions of any defensive unit, and has scored 6 touchdowns on the entire season. However, it’s important to step back from the clear stat-dominant performance of the Cowboys D/ST, having played a relatively easy schedule thus far and project one of the easiest remaining schedules going down the stretch against Washington, the Giants, and Washington. This D/ST should continue its dominance as they look to improve their playoff standing against the general incompetence of the NFC East, and as such should be started with confidence each week in fantasy.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – @ATL, BUF, NO
The Tampa defense started the season getting completely exposed, as injuries in the secondary were being exploited by better quarterbacks like Dak Prescott and Matt Stafford. As of late, the schedule for the Bucs has been easier, creating better defensive matchups and allowing them to improve. Atlanta, Buffalo, New Orleans, Carolina, and the Jets are some of the upcoming matchups, and as such project to win 4/5 of those games. Start this unit with confidence, as competition from an NFC south heavy schedule should not faze them.
3. Arizona Cardinals – @CHI, LAR, @DET
The Cardinals are another top-5 fantasy defensive units that make a name for themselves with lockdown passing coverage, boasting 3rd best in the category, and ranking in the top 10 in sacks. However, don’t think that the Cardinals are slouches in run defense – they’ve held opponents to the 3rd fewest rushing TDs on the season. Arizona is already head and shoulders over the rest of the NFC West, with injuries piling up for the 49ers, fraudulent play from the Rams, and the Seahawks offense playing uninspiring football. The next games for the Cardinals should allow them to increase their lead on the NFC west, with only the Rams posing a threat. The Bears and the Lions rank as teams allowing some of the most points for fantasy D/ST units, and therefore should be locks in fantasy lineups in the late regular season and playoffs.
4. Miami Dolphins – NYG, BYE, NYJ, @NO
The Dolphins are not a sexy D/ST starting option. They stand as one of the worst passing defenses in the league and middle of the pack against the run. However, what the Dolphins have done over the past 4 weeks is the equivalent of catching lightning in a bottle. Sacking the Panthers 5 times, Lamar Jackson 4 times, and Houston 5 times – the Dolphins pride themselves at rushing the quarterback and causing havoc. As likely the best streaming D/ST and worthy of a roster spot, the Dolphins can be comfortably started against Daniel Jones and the Giants, and the quarterback carousel approach that the Jets and the Saints have resorted to.
5. New England Patriots – @BUF, BYE, @IND, BUF
The Patriots stand as the premier D/ST in fantasy. With several multi-interception games on the season, several fumble recoveries, and rank second best in points allowed, the Patriots are almost in plug-and-chug status with respect to their position. Where there’s room for speculation is attributed to their remaining schedule, playing the Bills twice, and the superhot Colts down the stretch. As Buffalo looks to reclaim their lead in the AFC East, and the Colts will look to make their final playoff push, these matchups present a large possibility for losing fantasy points on defense. However, this unit still deserves a mention as the best D/ST in fantasy football. Starting this unit is risky, but there are worse units to play.