Streaming Defenses: Week 4 Targets
Were it not for pandemic-related closings of my state’s parks, I would have spent much more of the last two summers camping. I love getting out in nature for hikes, campfires, a tent, and sleeping under the stars and I’ve really been missing that more than anything else since March 2020. Nothing beats a nice stroll in the middle of nowhere along a babbling brook without a care in the world.
But we do have cares at this point in the year, with football season already fully underway. We’ve got to keep our eyes out of the stars and on our fantasy teams, and many of us have to give up the watery streams for the waiver wire ones until next summer.
I explained in my introductory article to the concept that streaming defenses is one of the most sound ways to approach the position in fantasy football, as well as how to do it, and what to look for from a statistical perspective in a defensive streamer.
This column will combine that approach with our own Kevin Zatloukal’s analytical model for streaming defenses. KZ’s model utilizes Vegas lines for predicting points scored by the opposing defense, opposing quarterback history for interception rates, and both the offense and defense’s history of allowing sacks – the most predictive parts of defensive scoring on a weekly basis.
It may not be as soothing as fishing for trout but hooking a great fantasy defense can be just as rewarding a feeling. Here are four defenses to consider picking up ahead of Week 4.
Week 3 Review
Given that we look to stream defenses rostered in 40% of Yahoo! leagues or fewer, we actually did pretty well here. In a week filled with upsets, the only streamable defense that we could have seen coming and missed on is the Dallas Cowboys, who dropped a 13-point performance on the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. The other surprise units who went off – the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Chargers, the Detroit Lions – only desperate fantasy managers in the deepest of leagues would have thought of using them. Kudos to you if you did, but we shouldn’t expect weeks like this to happen in the future.
The Carolina Panthers were our obvious streamer of the week, going up against the Davis Mills-led Houston Texans. They didn’t force a turnover but did sack the fourth-round rookie four times and held the Texans to just nine points. The Las Vegas Raiders had a good thing going early on, scoring a safety and getting two sacks, but a back-and-forth struggle that tussled into overtime meant their fantasy defense wasn’t going to get scoring or yardage points.
The Tennessee Titans were a solid defense this week, thumping the injured Carson Wentz for two sacks and holding the Indianapolis Colts to 16. They just couldn’t do much else to the opposition and walked away with an empty three points. The New York Giants did fairly well as a deeper streamer, holding the Atlanta Falcons to just 17 points while sacking quarterback Matt Ryan three times and forcing a fumble.
Top Streaming Picks
Tennessee Titans @ New York Jets
I hope you paid attention to last week’s look-ahead because the “Whoever is Playing the New York Jets” remains one of the best defenses you can start in Week 4. This time, it’s the Tennessee Titans defense that will get a crack at the NFL’s worst offense through three games.
Quarterback Zach Wilson currently holds a 4.6% turnover worthy play rate (the percent of dropbacks that “should” end up as interceptions or fumbles), tied for sixth-highest among NFL quarterbacks to drop back at least 30 times. That hasn’t stopped him from gunslinging, however; Wilson’s 9.1-yard average target depth is 11th-highest. Only four other quarterbacks have as high an average target depth and turnover worthy play rate through Week 3 – Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Davis Mills, and Jameis Winston. Making matters worse, Wilson has faced pressure on 46.7% of his dropbacks – the second-highest rate this year.
The Titans are not an intimidating defense, necessarily. They have created pressure on 32.1% of their opponents’ snaps (a good mark), but are converting just 16.9% of those pressures into sacks. In addition, they have allowed the eighth-most passing net yards per attempt. The good news is: every offense gets wilder and less effective in negative game script, and the Jets are 7.5-point underdogs in a game with a total of just 46 points. Tennessee is rostered in just 20% of Yahoo! leagues and is a top-three defense this week by KZ’s models.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
The second in our “bad defense meets bad offense: who will be least bad” series, I have to recommend you consider the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4. Cincy is hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars this week – or, as I like to call them, “Urban Meyer’s Dumpster Fires”.
Somehow first-year head coach Meyer has already cooked 2021 first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, to the point where this “generational prospect” is leading the NFL in turnover-worthy play rate at 6.5%. Lawrence also is throwing downfield on average more than anyone except Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen, which means there is big-time turnover potential for the Bengals in this contest if they can seize the opportunity. The one thing Lawrence and the Jags have been able to do well is limit pressure; Lawrence ranks 17th among 35 quarterbacks in percent of dropbacks pressured and has gotten sacked on just 9.8% of those pressures (fifth-lowest).
Cincinnati is also not a ridiculously pressure-tastic defensive unit in 2021, putting the squeeze on opposing passers on just 22.9% of their defensive snaps, though they are converting 22.6% of their pressures into sacks. The Bengals surprisingly have allowed just the fourth-lowest passing net yards per attempt, so there is some stability here in the potential to limit big plays. This is a high-upside, mediocre-floor defense that could pay off in Week 4 or could blow up in your face. Still, they’re our fourth-best fantasy defense, are 7.5-point favorites in a 46.5-point projected game, and are rostered in just 2% of Yahoo! leagues. They fit the process, so we’ll give them a chance.
Deeper Streaming Picks
Green Bay Packers vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
I know I said we wouldn’t go back to the Green Bay Packers so soon, but here we are. The Pack are actually limiting opponents to the 12th-lowest passing net yards per attempt, and have started to pick up their sack and pressure output some since Week 1’s debacle. The big selling point here is Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s 4.1% turnover-worthy play rate (ninth-highest). If Green Bay can get out to a lead and force the Steelers to abandon the run, there’s a solid fantasy day in store for this 14%-rostered defense.
Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions
Let’s keep the magic rolling with the Chicago Bears' defense by starting them against the winless and luckless Detroit Lions. Detroit quarterback Jared Goff isn’t doing a lot wrong, but he’s also not doing a ton right. The Lions are allowing a top-half pressure rate, and Goff has a top-half turnover-worthy play rate, so there is some upside here for a Bears defense with a 23.4% pressure rate and 27.3% sack conversion rate. The one thing you can count on here is a ton of passing volume, so there’s opportunity for Goff to make mistakes. The Bears D/ST is rostered in just 28% of Yahoo! leagues.
Week 5 Look-Ahead
Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
The Minnesota Vikings will welcome the Lions into their home and hope to stomp them out like the rest of the NFC North has to this point. Minnesota’s secondary has gotten torched badly to this point, allowing the fourth-most passing net yards per attempt, but a solid 26.8% pressure rate could play up here.
Tennessee Titans at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Titans get another cushy matchup. Hang onto them; you’ll thank me later.
Las Vegas Raiders vs. Chicago Bears
The Las Vegas Raiders are surprisingly good this season and are tied for seventh-fewest passing net yards per attempt. Add in a pass rush that is flying to the quarterback and an offense that throws relentlessly to force the opponent into negative game script, and we could see another panic-induced sack bonanza on Justin Fields like the Bears’ Week 3 showing.