We had some surprise defenses crack the top-10 in Week 6 with the Atlanta Falcons picking off Kirk Cousins seemingly at will and the Tampa Bay Bucs easily handling Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Even with that, we were able to get six of the top-10 defensive units, but the Indianapolis Colts may be showing some cracks in the armor, and Washington offensive ineptitude surprisingly flipped the script and allowed the Giants to finish as the only top-10 unit in that matchup.
I've been mentioning this for weeks, but it bears repeating that scoring and yards are at an all-time high this year. 4,621 points or 25.4 points per game so far this season and are gaining 363.3 yards per game, which are both the most through the first five weeks of any season in the Super Bowl era. With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can't continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we're used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.
Remember that picking the right defense is not about identifying who will allow the fewest points, but who will cause the most turnovers or tally the most sacks since that has a higher correlation to weekly fantasy DST leaders. That means that, as much these rankings are about the talent on the defensive side of the ball, it is equally about taking advantage of the lack of talent on the offensive side. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.
Week 7 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings
Below are my Week 7 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 7 of the NFL and fantasy football season. Our weekly tiered defense rankings are a guide to making waiver wire pickups to improve your lineups, and to decide which defenses to start, sit, target, avoid or stream for Week 7. I've broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 7 defenses have good matchups and are not widely-owned, representing fantasy scoring opportunities if they are available on your league's waiver wire for a Week 7 pickup or add.
Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating, which Bill Dubiel started last year, is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of a straight point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. I take a lot of factors into account: opponent injuries, home-field advantage, weather (which will be updated during the week), etc. We still have only one game of in-season data to work with, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.
Typically the top three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues and Tier 5 being desperation plays or good defenses in horrendous matchups.
Tier 1 Defenses
|Rank||Tier||DST||Week 7 Opponent||Confidence Rating|
|1||1||Buffalo Bills Defense||@ NYJ||13.9|
|2||1||Philadelphia Eagles Defense||vs. NYG||13.5|
|3||1||Kansas City Chiefs Defense||@ DEN||12.3|
|4||1||Los Angeles Rams Defense||vs. CHI||11.8|
Perhaps I'm about to be overly hard on the Bills as a life-long Bills fan, but their defense is concerning me right now. Yes, the Jets are a terrible offense. They rank 31st in passing yards, 26th in sacks allowed, 31st in drives ending in a score, and 15th in rushing and now are without Le'Veon Bell. But, as the Chiefs showed on Monday night, the Bills can be run on, even though Frank Gore and the Jets offensive line are not Clyde Edwards-Helaire and the Chiefs unit. This is clearly not the same Bills defense that we've seen over the last couple of years. In addition to being gashed by the run, they are dead last in pressure rate. If you are not creating pressure, then you don't give yourself much chance to add fantasy points through sacks and turnovers. With Sam Darnold coming back, the Jets should become a little better on offense, though not much. I know you simply want to play defenses going up against the Jets, and the Bills have enough talented defensive players that you have to imagine they can take advantage of this matchup, but I could just as easily see the Eagles as the #1 DST this week due to their ability to create pressure.
The Eagles have started to get healthier on defense and are currently fourth in the NFL with 21 sacks. The Giants are 25th in the NFL with 17 sacks allowed, so I expect a healthy Eagles defensive front to get in Daniel Jones' face throughout the game which is good news since the Giants are already third-worst in the NFL with 18.4% of drives ending in a turnover. Even without the pressure, the Giants simply aren't a good offense right now. They're 27th passing yards, 28th in rushing yards, and 25th in drives ending in a score. If the Eagles are without Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz, who both left hurt on Sunday, the already sputtering offense will be even more short-handed which could lead to some short fields for the Giants. However, that's not enough to scare me off using this Eagles unit against one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
The Chiefs defense came to play Monday night against a solid Bills offense. The Chiefs send blitzes at one of the highest rates, and although they didn't sack Josh Allen, they were in his face all night long. Kansas City is 7th in the league in pressure rate, tops in quarterback knockdown rate at 1o.6%, and 9th in quarterback hurries. That will be useful against a Denver offensive line that is 22nd in sacks allowed and 5th-worst in the league with 16.7% of drives ending in a turnover. Obviously, having Drew Lock, Melvin Gordon, and Phillip Lindsay back will help the Broncos offense overall, but they don't have the firepower to keep up with the Chiefs and their defense is too banged up to keep the Chiefs from scoring. That will mean the Broncos will be forced to pass in the second half, which will lead to more blitzes, sacks, and turnovers for the Chiefs defense.
The Rams had been riding high on defense before falling short against the 49ers on Sunday night. However, maybe you're noticing a trend, but the Bears offense is simply not as good as the 49ers with all their pieces back. The Bears are 15th in sacks allowed, 18th in passing yards, 25th in rushing yards, and 27th in drives ending in points. While their sack numbers aren't egregious, the Rams defense is 5th in the league in sacks and 5th in drives ending in points against. With Jalen Ramsey likely shadowing Allen Robinson, I don't expect the Bears to be able to move the ball much in this game, which will allow more chances for Aaron Donald and company to get to a super immobile Nick Foles.
Tier 2 Defenses
|Rank||Tier||DST||Week 7 Opponent||Confidence Rating|
|5||2||Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense||vs. LV||10.9|
|6||2||San Francisco 49ers Defense||@ NE||10.6|
|7||2||New York Giants Defense||@ PHI||10.3|
|8||2||Pittsburgh Steelers Defense||@ TEN||9.8|
Tampa Bay thoroughly dominated Green Bay on Sunday, so it's not too much to expect a similar outing against a lesser-talented Las Vegas team. It's clear that losing Vita Vea didn't inhibit the Bucs' ability to stop the run. They're tops in the NFL with only 3.0 yards allowed per carry, which should help them against a Raiders' offense that relies heavily on Josh Jacobs. The Bucs are 3rd-best in pressure rate at 28.3% and second-best sack total, which means that, despite the Raiders not allowing many sacks this season, the Bucs should still be able to generate pressure on Derek Carr and the offense. That's good news considering Las Vegas is 9th-worst in the league in drives ending in turnovers. I expect Tampa Bay to score nearly at will against this Las Vegas defense, and even if the Raiders do put up points, they will also likely cough up a few turnovers. Tampa Bay is just playing too well to bet against right now.
The 49ers came to play on Sunday against the Rams, starting to look a little more like the playoff contenders they've been in recent years. Despite their rash of injuries, they are still fifth in the league in pressure rate, third in quarterback knockdowns and fourth in quarterback hurries. As we saw on Sunday against the Broncos, this is not the same Patriots offense, even with Cam Newton back. They are 17th in sacks allowed, 30th in passing yards, 7th-worst in drives ending in points, and worst in the league in drives ending in an offensive turnover at 19.2%. The Patriots are unlikely to put up lots of points against this 49ers defense, which raises their defensive floor and it wouldn't surprise me if San Francisco can also notch a few sacks and force some turnovers.
I honestly can't believe I have the Giants this high, but here we are. They just finished as a top-10 unit against Washington and now will face an Eagles offense that will be without Miles Sanders and Zach Ertz and possibly still without Alshon Jeffrey and DeSean Jackson. This is also an Eagles offense that is dead last in sacks allowed, 26th in yards per play, and 27th in drives ending in a turnover. Also, this Giants defense hasn't been as bad as many think. James Bradbury has been great in shadow coverage against opponents' top receivers, and the team is 9th in pressure rate, 10th in sacks, and 10th in quarterback knockdowns. With the Eagles not even entirely sure who will be starting for them at right guard on Thursday, I expect the Giants to be able to get into Carson Wentz's face throughout what should be an ugly game with lots of turnovers.
The Steelers absolutely dismantled the Browns on Sunday. Now they will get a much stiffer test in the Tennessee Titans. I think the Steelers are the best defense in the NFL, but the Titans are no joke on offense, so it moves Pittsburgh down a little bit in our weekly ranks. The Titans offense is second in the league in drives that end in a score, fourth in the league in yards per play, and best in the league in sacks allowed. However, there is only so far down that I can drop a Steelers defense that is the best pressure defense in the NFL by a large margin. Their 38.9% pressure rate is well above the second-best rate of 29.2%. The Steelers blitz the most in the league (46.3%), have the most quarterback hurries, and are 2nd-best in yards per rushing attempt at 3.3 yards. Add to that the fact that the Titans just lost starting left tackle Taylor Lewan to a torn ACL, and I think the Steelers will be able to get some pressure on Ryan Tannehill in this game.
Tier 3 Defenses
|Rank||Tier||DST||Week 6 Opponent||Confidence Rating|
|9||3||Los Angeles Chargers Defense||vs. JAX||9.3|
|10||3||Cleveland Browns Defense||@ CIN||8.9|
|11||3||New England Patriots Defense||vs. SF||8.6|
|12||3||New Orleans Saints Defense||vs. CAR||8.3|
|13||3||Chicago Bears Defense||@ LAR||7.7|
|14||3||Washington Football Team Defense||vs. DAL||7.5|
|15||3||Green Bay Packers Defense||@ HOU||6.9|
The Chargers are fresh off the bye and have two weeks to prepare for a Jaguars offense that has been struggling with consistency of late. While Jacksonville is 6th in passing yards, Minshew has also thrown 11 interceptions, the offensive line has given up the 18th most sacks, and the Jaguars have the 7th-most drives ending in a turnover. The Chargers may only have eight sacks on the season, but they are 11th in pressure rate and 3rd in quarterback hurries. The Chargers are getting healthier on defense with Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones back both at practice. If either one of them, or both, is able to return on Sunday, it would be a big boost to a pass rush that could wreak havoc on an over-matched Jaguars offensive line.
As I mentioned above, the Browns got trampled on Sunday by the Steelers, but their defense had been playing good football up until that point. They will also face a much softer test this week. The Bengals are 31st in the NFL in sacks allowed, 24th in drives ending in points, and have an offensive line that has been below average in almost every blocking metric. The Browns defense is 6th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing only 3.6 yards per attempt, but they have been destroyed through the slot. That means the Bengals only hope is Joe Burrow to Tyler Boyd. If the Browns can build an early lead against a bad Bengals Defense and force passing downs, it will give more opportunity for sacks for a defense that is 2nd in the NFL in quarterback hurries and 2nd-best in the league in drives that end in an offensive turnover at 18.2%.
The Patriots defense certainly wasn't the reason they lost to the Broncos on Sunday. They are 4th in the league in pressure rate and best in the league in drives ending in a defensive turnover. That pressure will be a factor on Sunday considering the 49ers are 27th in the league in sacks allowed and may not have as strong of a running game with Raheem Mostert out to keep the Patriots from coming after Jimmy Garropolo. What keeps me from pushing the Patriots into the top-10 is the fact that their defensive faults have been overshadowed a bit by the talent-level of opponents and gamescript. They are 18th in the NFL in yards per play allowed, 13th in yards allowed per carry, 15th in drives ending in a score, and 27th in yards allowed per pass attempt. The 49ers offense is middle of the road in drives ending in turnover and has been much better at protecting the ball with Jimmy G and Deebo Samuel back in the lineup. I expect them to take better care of the ball and scheme ways to take advantage of a Patriots defense that is giving up a fair amount of yards per play and surviving by slowing down the pace of play.
The Saints will come off their bye week with two weeks to prepare for a Carolina offense that is 19th in sacks allowed and just scored 16 points against the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater has been solid for the Panthers, but he also has five interceptions to only six touchdowns on the season. With the Saints offense expected to get Michael Thomas back, they should exploit a vulnerable Panthers Defense and force Bridgewater to have to throw often to keep up. That will leave open opportunities for a defense that had the bye week to get healthy. What this comes down to for me is simply that the Saints have been a strong defensive unit for a couple of years now and have too many good players to keep giving up this many yards and touchdowns through the air. With Sean Payton and company coming out of the bye week, I expect them to begin to right the ship.
The Bears defense showed up to play against a solid Panthers offense on Sunday, but this still a defense that is underperforming its previous levels. They are 21st in pressure rate, 24th in quarterback hurry percentage, and 15th in drives ending in an offensive turnover. The best way to slow down the Rams offense is to get pressure on Jared Goff. However, the Bears pressure rate matched up against a Rams offense that is 4th in the league in sacks allowed doesn't give me confidence that Goff will be under a lot of pressure. That means he can manage an offense that is 10th in yards per play and 4th in expected points contributed by the offense.
What we saw from the Cowboys offense on Monday night made me even more confident in playing the Washington defense against them. The Cowboys may be 21st in sacks allowed, but their cobbled together offensive line gave up a ton of pressure against the Cardinals, and the task won't be any easier against a Washington team that is 8th in sacks, 13th in pressure rate, and 11th in quarterback hurry rate. The Cowboys offense is 31st in the NFL in offensive drives ending in a turnover and clearly doesn't have the firepower to score quickly with Andy Dalton under center. I don't expect Washington to handle them the way Arizona did, but a few turnovers and sacks seem likely.
The Bills' offense set the league on fire for the first four weeks, but we've seen the return of frazzled Josh Allen. The strong-armed quarterback has continued to score points and gain yardage with his legs, but he has also begun turning the ball over a bit more and the Bills are now 25th in the league drives ending in a turnover. The Jets get pressure at a below-average rate and their offense continues to put the defense in poor positions, but if Josh Allen is trending towards past issues with inaccuracy and holding onto the ball too long, it's likely going to lead to some questionable decisions, sacks, and maybe turnovers.
Tier 4 Defenses
|Rank||Tier||DST||Week 7 Opponent||Confidence Rating|
|16||4||Dallas Cowboys Defense||@ WAS||6.7|
|17||4||Tennessee Titans Defense||vs. PIT||6.3|
|18||4||New York Jets Defense||vs. BUF||5.9|
|19||4||Denver Broncos Defense||vs. KC||5.1|
|20||4||Cincinnati Bengals Defense||vs. CLE||4.9|
|21||4||Seattle Seahawks Defense||@ ARI||4.4|
|22||4||Atlanta Falcons Defense||vs. DET||3.9|
Tier 5 Defenses
|Rank||Tier||DST||Week 7 Opponent||Confidence Rating|
|23||5||Arizona Cardinals Defense||vs. SEA||3.4|
|24||5||Jacksonville Jaguars Defense||vs. LAC||2.9|
|25||5||Las Vegas Raiders Defense||vs. TB||2.3|
|26||5||Detroit Lions Defense||@ ATL||1.9|
|27||5||Houston Texans Defense||vs. GB||1.1|
|28||5||Carolina Panthers Defense||@ NO||0.9|
|29||5||Miami Dolphins Defense||BYE||0.0|
|30||5||Baltimore Ravens Defense||BYE||0.0|
|31||5||Indianapolis Colts Defense||BYE||0.0|
|32||5||Minnesota Vikings Defense||BYE||0.0|
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