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Week 1 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2020 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

We're back and it feels so good. Below are RotoBaller's Week 1 defense tiers and rankings, or which defenses to stream, start and target off the waiver wire for Week 1 of the NFL and fantasy football season. In case you missed it, this is our eighth year now writing this weekly column.

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 1. Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker.

Below we have broken out our defense rankings into tiers with analysis on each matchup. Some of these Week 1 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 1 pickup or add. Good luck in Week 1 RotoBallers!

 

Week 1 Defenses To Start & Stream: Tiers & Rankings

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.

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating 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 here--opponent injuries, home field advantage, weather, etc. We don't have any in-season data to work with in Week 1 obviously, so this week's rankings weigh schedule and personnel heavier than they will down the line.

 

Tier 1 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
1 1 Buffalo Bills Defense vs. NYJ 12.75
2 1 Pittsburgh Steelers Defense @ NYG 12
3 1 Baltimore Ravens Defense vs. CLE 11.7
4 1 Philadelphia Eagles Defense @ WAS 11.1

The Bills will be truly excellent all year as a DST option, but this week is as juicy as it gets. I'll spare you the Adam Gase humor here, but by all accounts Le'Veon Bell is not going to be treated as a clear RB1. Jamison Crowder is the top wideout, and after him and Chris Herndon it's dicey to say the least. The Bills might not have Bills Mafia in the stadium, but this is one game they shouldn't need them for.

The Baltimore Ravens boast maybe the most balanced defensive unit in football, and even the talented Browns offense isn't going to be enough to overcome that this week. Odell Beckham, Jr. will have to contend with one of the best one-two punches at cornerback in Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, and new addition Calais Campbell is one of the best run-stoppers in football--so good luck, Nick Chubb. Matthew Judon leads the most blitz-heavy defense in football, and I don't see how Baker Mayfield is able to overcome all of this and have a productive day. The Ravens are going to be a slam-dunk most weeks, to be honest.

 

Tier 2 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
5 2 San Francisco 49ers Defense vs. ARI 10.65
6 2 New England Patriots Defense vs. MIA 10
7 2 Los Angeles Chargers Defense @ CIN 9.6
8 2 Denver Broncos Defense vs. TEN 9.4

The 49ers are going to be in Tier 1 most weeks given how easy their schedule is this year (4th-easiest based on opponent 2019 win percentage), but I'm wary about the Cardinals. The offense is loaded for Kyler Murray, as he'll have almost everyone return and has a new WR1 in DeAndre Hopkins. Kenyan Drake is suffering from a lower body injury (LOL a "precautionary" walking boot), but if he's out I don't think the Cardinals are in any worse shape with the explosive Chase Edmonds. If Kyler is on, the 49ers' upside is limited. However, with Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa and rookie Javon Kinlaw coming after him, life isn't going to be easy.

The Titans offense got extremely scary in the back half of 2019. The change of scenery turned Ryan Tannehill into a legitimate threat, A.J. Brown's ceiling is immeasurable, and Derrick Henry is one of the best runners in football--if you watched any of the games last year, you can see how they'd give defenses fits. The loss of Chris Harris, Jr. certainly hurts the Broncos secondary, but the arrival of A.J. Bouye should soften the blow. Bradley Chubb, Von Miller and Jurell Casey should keep the pass rush as fierce as last year, but the big question is if they can penetrate the Titans offensive line, which PFF ranked eighth in the NFL after last season.

 

Tier 3 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
9 3 Chicago Bears Defense @ DET 8.9
10 3 Indianapolis Colts Defense @ JAC 8.55
11 3 New Orleans Saints Defense vs. TB 8.5
12 3 Minnesota Vikings Defense vs. GB 7.7
13 3 Kansas City Chiefs Defense vs. HOU 7.4
14 3 Tennessee Titans Defense @ DEN 6.85
15 3 Dallas Cowboys Defense @ LAR 6.4

With a 100% healthy Matthew Stafford, I think the Lions offense is actually pretty dangerous. The offensive line was tough to penetrate last year, and whether or not DeAndre Swift is healthy for Week 1 I expect Kenny Golladay to get plenty of love. The Bears still wind up in my top 10 because Khalil Mack is still one of the most singularly impactful players in football, and this year he won't be alone. The return of Akiem Hicks helps significantly with both the pass rush and run defense, and the Bears still both an experienced corps of linebackers. Doubtful the Bears return top-five value this week without a touchdown, but you won't be disappointed right away if you drafted them.

I still expect both the Saints defensive and offensive units to finish in the top 10. The pass rush will be anchored by Cameron Jordan, Marcus Davenport and a hopefully healthy Sheldon Rankins, who missed huge chunks of last season due to injury. The secondary is similarly star-studded, with Marshon Lattimore, Janoris Jenkins and Marcus Williams leading the way there. The question for Week 1 is what we get from the Buccaneers. Is this offense all of a sudden lethal with Tom Brady under center? He should be a menace over the middle of the field with Chris Godwin and a theoretically healthy Rob Gronkowski in the mix, and you can never ever sleep on Mike Evans (if Brady can get it to him). This is one of the games I'm least sure about, and I'll be watching this one extremely closely.

The Cowboys suffered some major losses in free agency, but it's possible that they recovered so well they're in a better position. Losing Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins up front stings, but replacing them with upside veterans like Dontari Poe and Everson Griffen ensures that this pass rush will lose none of its edge. The return of Aldon Smith, who has been out of the NFL since 2017 for a bevy of legal troubles, could be a game-changing factor if he shows any of the elite talent that he displayed in San Francisco. In the secondary, it all comes down to whether or not Trevon Diggs can step in as a suitable replacement for Byron Jones. Diggs came into the draft as one of the best coverage DBs in the entire draft, and if he can use his size to break up passes the Cowboys will be in great shape. The middling pressure rate has a very good chance of increasing this year, and if that's the case then Jared Goff is in trouble right from the jump.

 

Tier 4 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
16 4 Detroit Lions Defense vs. CHI 6.3
17 4 Seattle Seahawks Defense @ ATL 5.9
18 4 Green Bay Packers Defense @ MIN 5.25
19 4 Los Angeles Rams Defense vs. DAL 4.7
20 4 Las Vegas Raiders Defense @ CAR 4.45
21 4 Washington Football Team Defense vs. PHI 4.35
22 4 Carolina Panthers Defense vs. LV 3.9

The Rams have a brutal Week 1 matchup against Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense, but they're still running out one of the more star-studded defenses in the league. The obvious names here are Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, who are the definition of game-breakers. After that, they'll look to sophomore safety Taylor Rapp and veteran Michael Brockers up front--and to some degree Greg Gaines and rookie Terrell Lewis in the pass rush. The tough part here is the sheer star power they're going up against. Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, CeeDee Lamb...that's a ton to try to counteract.

The Washington defense is littered with former first-round picks, but easily the most exciting player here is defensive end Chase Young, who they drafted with the second overall pick this year. Young is widely regarded as one of the more transcendent talents in recent memory, and he'll step in to make an immediate impact in the pass rush. Washington actually ranked third in the NFL in pressure rate last year, and with Young now wreaking havoc this could be a truly elite unit in 2020. The question marks lie in the secondary. Quinton Dunbar was far and away their best player in 2019, but was traded for a middling pick to Seattle. Filling the void will be Kendall Fuller, who is returning to his original team after a disappointing season in Kansas City, and former Bills/Eagles standout Ronald Darby, whose play fell off a cliff in 2019.

The Eagles have talent all over the offense, particularly at tight end with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert, and dynamic sophomore Miles Sanders. We'll see the Washington Football Team higher in the ranks this season, but I'm tempering expectations for Week 1.

 

Tier 5 Defenses

Rank Tier DST Week 1 Opponent Confidence Rating
23 5 Cleveland Browns Defense @ BAL 3.2
24 5 Atlanta Falcons Defense vs. SEA 3
25 5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Defense @ NO 2.9
26 5 New York Jets Defense @ BUF 2.6
27 5 Cincinnati Bengals Defense vs. LAC 2.45
28 5 Jacksonville Jaguars Defense vs. IND 1.8
29 5 Miami Dolphins Defense @ NE 1.15
30 5 Arizona Cardinals Defense @ SF 0.6
31 5 Houston Texans Defense @ KC 0.55
32 5 New York Giants Defense vs. PIT 0.3


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