You could select a premier defense like the Jacksonville Jaguars or Minnesota Vikings early in your fantasy football draft — those units are the first two defensive teams off the board this year — or you could initiate a short-term relationship with a defense and just wait until the final round, with every intention of dropping them right after Week 1 ends, at which time you’ll pick up a different defense.
By streaming defenses in this way, you can focus on the offensive weakness of the opponent rather than a selection’s own strengths. And you don’t need to worry about spending an early pick on a defense.
The thing is, we don’t know with much certainty which defenses are going to be the best. The Jaguars were ranked No. 11 heading into 2017 fantasy drafts before finishing the season as the highest-scoring defense. The second-highest scoring defense, the Baltimore Ravens, ranked 13th during the preseason, one spot ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the third-highest fantasy football scoring defense of 2017. The highest defense drafted last season, the Denver Broncos, finished 13th. You also had as good of a chance selecting a Top 10 defense from drafted units as you among those that went undrafted.
|2017||Defenses in sample||Average fantasy points||# in Top 10||% in Top 10|
The key to streaming is rostering defenses facing teams that aren’t expected to win many games, which means you can expect those offenses to throw the ball more often to catch up, making them one-dimensional, making them sack and turnover prone. For example, over the past three seasons, a team that trailed between 4 and 10 points passed the ball two-thirds of the time, with higher interception, sack and fumble rates than those situations in which the score was within a field goal or where the team was leading by four points or more.
|Scoring margin||Pass rate||Interception rate||Sack rate||Fumble rate|
|-24 to -18||74%||2.1%||5.7%||2.9%|
|-17 to -11||70%||2.0%||5.0%||2.2%|
|-10 to -4||62%||1.8%||4.1%||2.2%|
|-3 to 3||56%||1.2%||3.3%||2.1%|
|4 to 10||51%||1.0%||3.3%||1.9%|
|11 to 17||45%||0.9%||2.7%||1.6%|
|18 to 24||40%||0.6%||2.2%||1.8%|
After removing the 13 defenses that should be gone on draft day and analyzing strength of schedule data from Sharp Sports, the ideal streaming defense strategy targets as often as possible three offenses that are expected to sputter in 2018: Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos.
Quarterback Case Keenum parlayed his remarkable 2017 season with the Minnesota Vikings into a two-year, $36 million contract with the Broncos this offseason, but it remains to be seen if that was a fluke or a hint of things to come. Before last year, Keenum never started more than nine games in a season and never finished with a passer rating higher than 87.7 (2015). The league average passer rating is 86.9.
Denver’s rushing game is also in flux — rookie Royce Freeman and veteran Devontae Booker take over for C.J. Anderson and will be part of a running back by committee situation — after averaging the sixth-most yards per carry (4.7) last season.
The Bears will start Mitchell Trubisky under center in 2018. Trubisky finished his 2017 campaign as the second-worst quarterback in the league, per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, a performance that was estimated to be good enough to win 29 percent of his starts, roughly equal to a 5-11 record.
Cleveland has won one game in the past two years, last season joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams in NFL history to not win a single contest in a 16-game season. According to my estimates, the Browns are projected to win between three and four games in 2018, with a 27 percent chance they win two games or fewer.
With that in mind, here is a season-long plan to make the most out of this strategy:
Week 1: Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos
Week 2: Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos
Week 3: New York Jets at Cleveland Browns
Week 4: Oakland Raiders vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 5: New York Jets vs. Denver Broncos
Week 6: Miami Dolphins vs. Chicago Bears
Week 7: Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 8: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos
Week 9: Buffalo Bills vs. Chicago Bears
Week 10: Atlanta Falcons at Cleveland Browns
Week 11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants
Week 12: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns
Week 13: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Denver Broncos
Week 14: New York Jets at Buffalo Bills
Week 15: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Week 16: Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
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