At long last the NFL schedule dropped last Thursday, which is great for this article because to be honest the well has been running dry on how to differentiate D/ST discussions each week. But with the schedule coming out there is plenty to discuss and this week it will be early-season D/ST’s to stream. If you’re looking to hold a D/ST for a full season, you’re likely drafting one before Rounds 13 or 14. According to FantasyPros 2019 ADP results, the Bears, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings, Ravens, and Patriots were drafted before Round 14 of most 12-team leagues. Some of those D/ST’s held up over the course of the season, but even New England’s D/ST fell victim to a few tough matchups last year. It’s fairly risky to draft a defense and expect the same weekly contributions from them. Too much can happen in-season that changes the trajectory of your defense’s success. You can get by week-to-week streaming a D/ST and looking for six-to-eight fantasy points from them. We’ll have strategies for streaming D/ST’s coming out in due time but check out some defenses worth streaming at the beginning of the season.
Buffalo Bills – The Bills will require an earlier selection than you may be comfortable with. And if you’re uncomfortable with that, never fret. There are plenty of other options available. The Bills lost Shaq Lawson and Lorenzo Alexander , but they did add some solid pieces on the defense including Mario Addison , Josh Norman , and A.J. Epenesa. The Bills open the season against the Jets, Dolphins, Rams, and Raiders. Weeks 3 and 4 could be a little tricky, but at least for the Rams game the Bills will be home. But the Bills have a great schedule for the first two weeks. The Jets and Dolphins both ranked toward the bottom of the league in offense last season, and sure, they’ve both made some improvements, but these are still two offenses that could stumble out of the gate. And while we’re four months out from the start of the season, most sportsbooks have the Bills as five-or-six-point favorites with the Over/Under set at 40. The Bills D/ST is just a solid group. They will provide a decent floor with at least eight fantasy points in ten games last season and they yielded four or fewer points just three times in 2019.
Pittsburgh Steelers – Like Buffalo, Pittsburgh will be another D/ST you may have to jump on a little early. The Steelers draw the Giants and Broncos to kick off the 2020 season after they performed as the second-best D/ST in fantasy last year. They provided at least seven points in 13 games last season and hit double-digit fantasy points nine times. Both Denver and New York improved their teams in the offseason by acquiring younger talent, specifically the Broncos who have given Drew Lock some weapons. The acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick after Week 2 paid huge dividends for the Steelers defense as they finished the season as one of the more elite D/ST’s. They didn’t make too many splashes in free agency, but Alex Highsmith could make some noise on the defense in his rookie campaign. The Steelers will likely be owned throughout the season, but if you can get your hands on them for the first couple weeks then go for it and reap the rewards of a stable D/ST. From Weeks 10-16 they’ll play the Bengals, Jaguars, Ravens, Redskins, Bills, Bengals, and Colts so the potential for strong results is there going into the playoffs.
Los Angeles Chargers – The Chargers defense is going to be one of my favorites this year. And I believe there will be a point that you could possibly grab them off waivers after the first few weeks of the season. At worst, they could be on waivers midway through the year and if they are you’ll want to pounce. The Chargers open Week 1 on the road against Cincinnati, but then have to face the Chiefs, Panthers, Bucs, and Saints in Weeks 2-5. That’s a tough gauntlet they’ll have to run and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were dropped to waivers in several fantasy leagues. From Weeks 6-9 they’ll play the Jets, Dolphins, Jaguars, and Raiders with only the Miami game being on the road. They only don’t have a terrible late-season schedule either. Los Angeles boasts one of the best secondaries in the league with Casey Hayward , Derwin James , and Chris Harris Jr. coming over from Denver. Not to mention they also drafted Kenneth Murray in the first round of this year’s draft. So, while they have some tough matchups early on, they could be an absolute gem to find on waivers after the first few weeks.
Arizona Cardinals – This might be a bit of a surprise, but I don’t hate the Cardinals schedule to open the season. They open the season in San Francisco against the reigning NFC Champions. That sucks. The Cardinals D/ST allowed 58 points to the 49ers last season, but with the acquisitions of De’Vondre Campbell and Isaiah Simmons the Cardinals defense should be better in 2020. They still have Chandler Jones and Patrick Peterson ; two players among the best at their positions. Following Week 1 against the 49ers the Cardinals will play the Redskins and Lions with a Week 5 matchup against the Jets as well. The Cardinals have quite a few streamable matchups this season especially against the Dolphins in Week 9 and the Giants in Week 14 so keep an eye on them throughout the year, but this is could be a breakout D/ST. The offense should be better and possess the ball more to keep the defense off the field. Arizona was second-worst last season in terms of time of possession.
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts could actually be a frequently-streamed D/ST this season. The Colts were the 13th-best D/ST in fantasy last season. Their 7.1 points per game may not sound like much, but they had some solid performances last season and their schedule is pretty attractive especially early on. They kick off the 2020 season at Jacksonville, then they’re home against the Vikings and Jets, then they go on the road against Chicago and Cleveland, followed by a home game against the Bengals. Then they come back from their bye in Week 8 on the road in Detroit. The Jacksonville and Minnesota matchups may not jump off the page at you, but in general this is a friendly schedule to stream the Colts. For Week 1 against the Jags, the Colts are currently favored by a touchdown and the O/U is set at 46. That will easily change over the course of the next few months, but don’t forget the Colts traded for DeForest Buckner , signed Xavier Rhodes to a one-year deal, and Malik Hooker is on the last year of his rookie deal as the Colts didn’t pick up his fifth year option, so this is his contract year. Don’t sleep on Indy to start the season. If you’re using one of your last draft picks on a D/ST, this could be one to target.
Chicago Bears – I’d rather trust the Colts over the Bears, but I won’t deny the easy opening schedule for Chicago. They start the 2020 season against the Lions and the Giants, followed by the Falcons, Colts, Bucs, Panthers, Rams, and Saints. So, there’s a good chance you will only utilize the Bears for two weeks and then find another D/ST for the remaining schedule. I’m weary of the Bears because as noteworthy as the Khalil Mack trade has been, the Bears sucked after their bye week last year. From Weeks 7-16 last season they totaled 34 points in fantasy football. But they did make some great acquisitions. Aside from extending Danny Trevathan , they signed Robert Quinn to a five-year deal and they drafted Jaylon Johnson in the second round of this year’s draft to improve the secondary. The Bears are currently being drafted a little too high for my liking and I wouldn’t trust them for a full season, but they’re a solid team to target for the first two weeks.
Honorable Mentions – The Patriots will be popular for Week 1 and a lot of people will reach on drafting them based on last year’s success. An opening day matchup against the Dolphins is favorable, but they have the Seahawks and Chiefs in Weeks 2 and 4, and both of those games are on the road. So if you’re going to reach on drafting the Patriots (current ADP has them going 130th overall), but possibly sit them against the Seahawks and Chiefs, then what was the point of drafting them in the first place? Another team I like based on the schedule will be the Jaguars. But if you want to try and get the Jaguars off waivers for Weeks 3 and 4 that’s more ideal. The Jaguars open the season against the Colts, Titans, Dolphins, and Bengals. They also have a Week 6 home matchup against the Lions that could work out in their favor as well. They’ve lost some core pieces to their defense in recent memory and it’s still unclear if Yannick Ngakoue will play for the Jags as the front office has said they’d like him back in 2020. But the Jags grabbed C.J. Henderson and K’Lavon Chaisson with their two first round picks and also took DaVon Hamilton in the third round. So, they’re replenishing the defense with talent, but these are still rookies so approach the Jags with some trepidation. And lastly, I’m a little partial to Tennessee to stream early on. Assuming the Titans lean more on the ground game, as we saw them do last season, they should possess the ball enough to aid the defense. This D/ST finished 12th last year in fantasy and they added Vic Beasley in free agency as well as Kristian Fulton out of LSU in the NFL Draft. They start the season on the road in Denver and then at home against Jacksonville. Both games do have some concerns. Playing at a higher altitude in Week 1 isn’t ideal and the Broncos added some pieces on offense.