Depending on your league's scoring system, a poor defense could mean the difference between a win and a loss. In two of the leagues that I'll be in for 2009, a poor defensive outing can easily spell L-O-S-S. Starting a weak defense could bring you -10 or -15 points which can negate a strong performance from some of your studs. Looking back at the Nerd's 2008 rankings showed what a difficult year it was in predicting defensive performances. I like 2009's consensus and I think there will be a few surprises this year.
Here's what the experts are thinking for 2009.
Top 10 Fantasy Football Defenses
1. Pittsburgh Steelers
Is there another defense in the NFL as scarily good as Pittsburgh? The Steelers have virtually all of their players back led by Palumalu, Woodley, Hampton, and Harrison. They were the 2nd highest scoring defense last year and allowed the fewest points of all teams. It's hard to argue against the Steelers being #1 in 2009.
2. New York Giants
Osi Umenyiora is back and the Giants have depth galore at the various defensive positions. That's a good thing. Good enough that the consensus is that they'll outperform the Ravens and Titans even though those two teams outscored the Giants in 2008. The Giants have brought in some new talent this year which should improve upon an already impressive team. Boley, Brown, Canty, and Bernard are calling New York home this year and should help convince you to take NY when it's time to draft a defense.
3 Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore lost some great players this offseason, however Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs are gearing up to lead the Ravens in 2009. The Steelers may have allowed the fewest points among all DEF's last year, but Baltimore outscored them in fantasy points (standard scoring). The biggest reason for the Ravens to come in at #3 in the consensus rankings is due to their schedule. Their 2009 schedule is a bit harder than last year's, but they'll still keep points off the board while putting up some of their own.
4 Minnesota Vikings
You'll have a difficult time arguing against the superior line in Minnesota. Jared Allen along with Pat and Kevin Williams can not only stop the run, but they'll grab a number of sacks along the way. The question in Minnesota isn't can they stop the run, it's can they stop the pass? Darren Sharper fizzled last year and the Vikings won't have him on the field this year. If you liked the Vikings last year, you'll like them again. I'm expecting only a slight decline in their fantasy production.
5 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles blitz and blitz and blitz. In fact, they finished 3rd in sacks last year. Unfortunately (or fortunately) there's a new cast of characters in Philly. The secondary may struggle from time to time, but the front line will make up for that. Oh yeah, they still have Asante Samuel.
6 New England Patriots
Even though the Patriot's defense didn't come close to expectations last year, they've made enough moves to solidify their defense ensuring a strong 2009. Jerod Mayo has a year under his belt and the New England offense should be very, very solid.
7 Tennessee Titans
I'll admit that I thought I'd see Tennesse in the Top 5 and perhaps the Top 3 so I was a bit surprised by their #7 billing. I'd personally take the Titans ahead of Minnesota, Philly, and New England. Here's why: Even though they lost Albert Haynesworth, they basically retained everyone else. The Titans had more turnovers than anyone else last year and were ended last season with the 2nd most fantasy points. They no longer have the depth I'd like to see, so as long as they stay healthy, they're a stellar fantasy option.
8 New York Jets
The Jets D came out of hibernation last year to the delight of many fantasy owners. Like a bear waking up from a long winter's nap, the Jets will come out in 2009 very, very hungry. This is an aggressive team and blitzing attacks should be anticipated by opposing offenses. Calvin Pace will miss the first four games, but there are big names to pick up any temporary slack. How about Revis, Sheppard, Ellis, Jenkins, and Harris? I think the Jets will put a smile on many fantasy faces this year.
9 Chicago Bears
I'm not completely sold on the Bears this year and that's not because I'm a Packer fan. The once mighty Bears haven't shown that they're a Top 10 Defense and I can't find many reasons to believe that they will in 2009. The secondary is suspect and they don't play with any consistent purpose. Urlacher and Briggs are still very talented but they're not performing very well. I find myself disagreeing with the Nerd on the #9 ranking considering the fact that the Bears couldn't find their way into the top half of the league in points and yards allowed last year. Don't get me wrong. The Bears D isn't bad. It just isn't worthy of a #9 ranking.
10 Dallas Cowboys
DeMarcus Ware leads a good Cowboys team back onto the field. Even without problematic Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson, Dallas still has a strong team overall. The secondary will get burned again like 2008, but the front line will record a ton of sacks.
Beyond the Top 10
12 Green Bay Packers
It's difficult to be born in and live in Wisconsin and not be a Packer fan. Don't let my love for this team take away anything from the Packer's 2009 defensive capabilities. Don't let that interfere with my prediction that the Packers will be the Super Sleeper Defense of 2009. With the new 3-4 defense implemented by new coordinator Dom Capers, they've looked incredible during the pre-season. I don't care for white-haired-owl-face (aka Ted Thompson), but I do like the B.J. Raji pick. Raji will go toe to toe with some of the best backs in the league and stop them short. Barnett is back and AJ Hawk completes this dynamic duo. Opposing runners will find it difficult to get through the line, but if they do, they'll find a stone wall with these two. Aaron Kampman is one of the hardest working defensive players in the NFL and he's doing very well in the 3-4 transition. I also like Charles Woodson and Al Harris. These veterans are just as good today as they have been in years past. The Pack is back!
14 Miami Dolphins
I firmly believe that the Dolphins could be ranked higher than 14 if their schedule was as attractive as last year. Unfortunately, that's not the case. For Miami fans, you've still got Jason Taylor and the awesome Joey Porter. Porter provided 17.5 sacks in 2008 which was good enough for 2nd in the NFL. Expect another solid year out of the Fins.
Wrapping it up
Steer clear of the following teams. These are the kinds of teams that will happily give you negative points should your league allow for that type of scoring.
I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Raiders should bring back Bo Jackson just so they can start looking like an NFL team again. The Oakland Defense (ranked #25) has one good stud. Nnamdi Asomugha is simply phenomenal, but he can't do everything for them. Even the worst rushing teams in the league don't fear the Raiders. Oakland gave up more than 150 yards to opposing rushers last year. Oh how I love to see my fantasy players facing Oakland.
The Broncos (ranked #26) are the NFL's version of a soap opera (Minnesota's soap opera is on ESPN). I relish my fantasy QB's facing the porous Bronco's secondary. Denver can't stop the run and you can drive a truck through their secondary which means lots of fantasy points for the offense! The Bronco's offense has the ability to make the team shine, but the defense keeps the shine to an ugly dull.
I (and millions of other fantasy players) actually enjoy the fact that the Saints' defense (ranked #27) is poor. I wouldn't ever, ever, ever start the New Orleans defense, but that doesn't make me love them any less. It's the defense that makes the offense such a fantasy scoring machine. When the Saints are behind, they have to throw. When they have to throw, Drew Brees becomes the go-to man. When Brees takes charge, the offense provides you and I with all the points we can handle!
There's one thing in common with the bottom five teams on the Fantasy Football Nerd's defensive rankings: they all are so bad that they don't warrant even a bench spot on your fantasy team. The Browns, Bengals, Rams, Chiefs, and the 0-16 Lions are offensive meals. Don't let me catch you with any of them on your teams. :-)
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