It’s never too early to get a feel for what defenses you want to target come fantasy playoff time. But this comes with a caveat; way too much can, and will, change as the season progresses. Last week’s preview focused on early-season streamers at the D/ST position and even as we’re four months out from the start of the season, a lot could change and impact those teams. So while we’ll identify some teams to target for Weeks 14-16, take it with a grain of salt. Based on performance, injuries, strength of schedule we could be looking at other teams to stream come December.
Non-Waiver Teams: I’d hate to not bring up some of these teams, but I don’t expect them to be available on waivers by late November. But hey, anything can happen. The Ravens have a phenomenal fantasy playoff schedule in Weeks 14-16. They’ll play the Browns on the road, then the Jaguars and Giants, both at home. Likewise, the Steelers and 49ers have some decent schedules as well. The Steelers have the Redskins, Bills, Bengals, and Colts from Weeks 13-16 and the 49ers draw a similar slate of games with the Bills, Redskins, Cowboys, and Cardinals. It’s a little more difficult for the 49ers in Weeks 15 and 16 with two road games against Dallas and Arizona, but you have to like the home matchups against Buffalo and Washington.
Las Vegas Raiders – The Raiders are fascinating to me. In Weeks 14-16 they have three straight home games against Indianapolis, Los Angeles (Chargers), and Miami. And the time to pounce on them might just be prior to Weeks 12 or 13 since they’re on the road against the Jets in Week 13. The Raiders should have an improved defense in 2020. They signed Cory Littleton , Damarious Randall , and Nick Kwiatkowski while drafting Damon Arnette with one of their first-round picks. Assuming they get Johnathan Abram back at full strength after he missed a vast majority of his rookie year, this defense could actually be decent. And the schedule isn’t awful at the most crucial point of the season so keep this team on your radar.
Arizona Cardinals – The Red Birds were mentioned last week as an early-season streamer, but their schedule to end the year isn’t awful either. Following their Bye in Week 8 they have the Dolphins and Bills at home, then in Weeks 13-16 they have the Rams, Giants, Eagles, and 49ers with only the Giants game coming on the road. The matchup against San Francisco may raise some concern, but cross that bridge when you get to it and assess how you feel at that point in time. Last week I expected the Cardinals to be a little bit better, but I actually think they’re gaining traction and they could be a Top 10 D/ST for fantasy this season based on the offense potentially staying on the field longer as well as the additions to the defense.
Miami Dolphins – A lot of people will scoff at the Dolphins, but here’s what I like. Brian Flores is a defensive-minded coach and the Fins should be better on both sides of the ball. They added youth through the draft in Noah Igbinoghene, Raekwon Davis, and BranDon Jones . They also made splashes in free agency by acquiring Shaq Lawson , Byron Jones , Emmanuel Ogbah , and Kyle Van Noy . Based on the talent alone this should be a much-improved defense. Overall, the schedule for Miami isn’t great and you won’t want to hold them for too many consecutive weeks. Here is their schedule starting Week 10: vs. NYJ, BYE, at NYJ, vs. CIN, vs. KC, vs. NE, and at Las Vegas. Week 14 against the Chiefs is fun for no one. Week 15 against New England could be in play because it’s a divisional game and Miami plays New England tough. All in all, the late-season schedule for Miami’s D/ST isn’t terrible. They have some rough matchups, but it’s riddled with exploitable games and they grabbed arguably two of the biggest defensive free agent this year in Jones and Lawson. Don’t write this team off.
Cleveland Browns – Most of Cleveland’s free agency splashes came on the offensive side of the ball, but let’s not discount the additions of Karl Joseph , Andrew Sendejo , Kevin Johnson , Adrian Clayborn , and Andrew Billings . They also got a steal at safety with Grant Delpit falling to the second round out of LSU. They could be a little better, but it’s not an easy division to play in against the Ravens, and the Steelers should have a healthy Ben Roethlisberger under center. The Browns have a very tempting schedule in Weeks 15 and 16 with back-to-back games in the Meadowlands against the Giants and Jets. I’m hopeful that fatigue won’t play too much of a role in these games. Cleveland has a stretch of four road games in a 29-day span. Regardless, these are two games in crunch time that make the Browns viable as of right now. Both the Jets and Giants should be better on offense. Both made moves to improve their offensive lines and the quarterbacks of both teams are one year older looking to make some strides. See how things shake out and keep Cleveland on your radar.
Houston Texans – It hasn’t been the greatest offseason in terms of personnel changeover for Houston. They dealt DeAndre Hopkins and made some moves for the defense. They didn’t have a first-round pick in the draft, but added Ross Blacklock and Jonathan Greenard to improve the defense in the second and third rounds of April’s draft. The Texans were streamable at times last season, but overall they featured a wildly inconsistent D/ST. But their schedule in Weeks 12-16 is pretty sexy. They’ll face off against the Lions, Colts (twice), Bears, and Bengals. The Indianapolis contests could be difficult as divisional matchups, but we’ve seen Philip Rivers become a bit of a turnover machine when he has been forced to throw it in recent memory. The Lions, Bear, and Bengals don’t project to be very good. If the Texans are healthy they may be a hot commodity at this point. But they delivered just as many double-digit fantasy performances as they did negative outings. It’s only May, but if they’re a D/ST that can accumulate sacks and force some turnovers, these are games where they could return solid fantasy value off your waiver wire.