Do Defenses Repeat Fantasy Football Performances?

Jun 16, 2022
Do Defenses Repeat Fantasy Football Performances?

We often turn to strength of schedule as a tool in determining a player’s potential for success over the course of a season. In this study, we retreated to a dark corner of the fantasy library and complied defensive data from 2010–2021, in an effort to see if fantasy points allowed to each position correlated strongly, somewhat or not all from one year to the next, hoping for a sticky stat or two to sink our teeth into.

Below is a position-by-position analysis of the best and worst defenses in terms of half-PPR fantasy points allowed last season, and what it all potentially means for 2022.

Fantasy Points Allowed to Quarterbacks

When looking at year-to-year fantasy points allowed across all positions, points allowed to quarterbacks had the highest correlation coefficient of .33, which is still on the lower side of moderate. The top-five defenses against signal-callers repeated their performance 34% of the time the next season, with an average finish of DEF11.

On the other side of the spectrum, the defenses in the bottom five versus quarterbacks, ended up there again 24% of the time, with an average ending rank of DEF19.

Bottom-Five Defenses vs. QB, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Washington Football Team 32nd 393.5 23.1
Kansas City Chiefs 31st 362.7 21.3
Baltimore Ravens 30th 354.9 20.9
Atlanta Falcons 29th 350.2 20.6
Minnesota Vikings 28th 348.3 20.5

The Football Team was abysmal in stopping the QB both through the air and ground last season, as they ranked 32nd in air TDs and 28th in passing yards allowed, along with 30th in rush attempts by a QB and dead last in rushing yards allowed to signal callers. The Chiefs surrendered the most rushing TDs to opposing QBs (7) and the sixth-highest number of rushing yards, while ranking 25th in pass attempts allowed by QBs last year.

Baltimore was last in the NFL in passing yards surrendered to the QB position and 30th in scores allowed, while the Vikings' main struggles were defending the pass (30th pass yards, 29th in attempts) and Atlanta failed to stop the dual-threat QB, ranking 28th or worse in all QB rushing stats.

Both the Ravens and Chiefs have the potential to break out from the basement in 2022, as the Chiefs used four of their first five picks in the NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball and should have a healthy Chris Jones, while the Ravens, who were one of the most banged-up defenses last season, added some serious talent in safeties Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams. If Odafe Oweh can make a leap in his second season as a pass rusher to complement their stout secondary, the Ravens could be a really good defense this season.

Top-Five Defenses vs. QB, 2020
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Buffalo Bills 1st 215.2 12.7
New England Patriots 2nd 246.6 14.5
Denver Broncos 3rd 283.8 16.7
Carolina Panthers 4th 291.5 17.1
Miami Dolphins 5th 294.6 17.3

Buffalo led all defenses against the QB in 2021, as they allowed the least number of passing yards and touchdowns, with the fewest completed passes against them. The Patriots were right behind them, allowing the second-fewest passing yards and only allowing 319 completions, which ranked third. Carolina was fourth or better against opposing QBs in allowing passing attempts, completions, and yards, while the Broncos' lowest ranking was 12th in any of those same categories. Miami's success came both via air and ground, as they were sixth in both rushing yards allowed by a QB and passing TDs.

Buffalo, New England, and Denver are in great spots to repeat their success against the pass in 2022, while a Miami defense without Brian Flores could appear different, but they have the talent, particularly in the secondary, to remain one of the better defenses.

The one group that should take a dip this season in terms of signal-caller defense is the Panthers. They started out hot in 2021, but fell apart over the second half of the season when facing tougher opponents. A struggling offense does them no favors and with their QB situation as rough as it is, Carolina could struggle again in 2022.

Fantasy Points Allowed to Running Backs

The running back position proved the second-highest year-to-year correlation in terms of FPA at .32, which makes sense as the good teams tend to remain that way, and game script is extremely important for running back production. The five defenses that finished the best against rushers repeated 26% of the time with an average ending rank of DEF11.

For the poor defenses, the five worst units found themselves at the bottom 34% of the time in the following season, with an average rank of DEF20.

Bottom-Five Defenses vs. RB, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
New York Jets 32nd 571.7 33.6
Seattle Seahawks 31st 519.9 30.6
Las Vegas Raiders 30th 482.6 28.4
Detroit Lions 29th 474.8 27.9
Houston Texans 28th 465.7 27.4

The Jets were just awful against RBs in 2021, allowing the most rushing TDs (23), the second-most attempts, and the fourth-highest total rushing yards, along with the second-largest receiving yard total from the RB position. Seattle ranked 20th or worse in all four of those categories, with Houston coming in as 28th in rush attempts allowed, dead last rushing yards allowed, and 29th in TDs surrendered to opposing backs on the ground.

Detroit ranked 28th or worse in all defensive categories against RBs in the ground game and also allowed the second-most TDs to RBs through the air (8). The Raiders were a little better than the others at defending the rush with ranks of 19th in attempts and rushing yards, but allowed the third-most receiving TDs from RBs, along with the seventh-highest receiving yard total from opposing backfields in 2021.

Las Vegas could be the one group to step out from the basement this season, as the addition of Chandler Jones paired with Maxx Crosby should wreak some havoc, but as a whole, there are still deficiencies that will keep them in the bottom half of fantasy defenses.

Top-Five Defenses vs. RB, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Tennessee Titans 1st 315.5 18.6
New Orleans Saints 2nd 318.3 18.7
Dallas Cowboys 3rd 347.1 20.4
Carolina Panthers 4th 354.3 20.8
Indianapolis Colts 5th 355.5 20.9

The Titans surrendered the second-fewest attempts and yards on the ground to opposing RBs last season, while the Saints, Cowboys, and Colts were all among the 12 best units in rushing attempts, yards, and touchdowns on the ground allowed by enemy RBs in 2021. Carolina was the middle of the pack in those categories, but made their doughnuts against pass-catching backs, allowing the fewest receiving yards to RBs and the third-lowest total receptions to the position.

As I mentioned above, the Panthers could take a decent step back this season, but the other four squads should still be fantasy competitors in 2022.

Fantasy Points Allowed to Wide Receivers

This is where we start to get very little year-to-year correlation mostly due to the volatility of the position. Of the best five defenses versus pass-catchers, 28% repeated the next season, with an average rank of DEF13. At the bottom, the five least efficient groups against the receiver were there again 26% of the time, with an end ranking of DEF19.

Bottom-Five Defenses vs. WR, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Minnesota Vikings 32nd 762.9 44.9
Tennessee Titans 31st 712.2 41.9
Baltimore Ravens 30th 675.5 39.7
Arizona Cardinals 29th 658.7 38.7
Los Angeles Rams 28th 653.0 38.4

It's not surprising to see two repeat offenders from the bottom-QB section of this article show up again for WRs. The Vikings allowed the most receptions and yards to opposing WRs, while Baltimore surrendered the third-highest air yards to the position along with the fifth-most TDs. The Titans were glaringly unbalanced on defense as they were among the top five in the fewest fantasy points allowed to RBs, but gave up the second-most half-PPR points to wideouts.

As a secondary, the Rams didn't live up to expectations, yielding the third-most receptions and fourth-highest receiving yards to WRs in 2021, while the Cardinals make this list due to the most end zone dances allowed last season in the NFL to WRs (27). LA should be among the Top-10 fantasy defenses in 2022, after all, they do have Aaron Donald, but cornerback Darious Williams is gone and they could take a dip in effectiveness.

Top-Five Defenses vs. WR, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Buffalo Bills 1st 425.9 25.1
Philadelphia Eagles 2nd 495.7 29.2
New England Patriots 3rd 501.4 29.5
Los Angeles Chargers 4th 516.9 30.4
Las Vegas Raiders 5th 538.3 31.7

Not surprisingly, the Bills show up here again, and impressively, they allowed a nice 69 fewer half-PPR points to opposing receivers than the next best defense, yielding the fewest yards and TDs to wideouts in the league. New England allowed the least number of receptions and second-fewest yards to WRs in 2021, while the Eagles and Chargers were sixth or better in receptions allowed, yards surrendered, and TDs given up last season. Vegas checked in as fifth in both yards and TDs relinquished to enemy WRs last year.

All five squads have the potential to repeat again in 2022, as they feature solid secondaries with improvements throughout.

Fantasy Points Allowed to Tight Ends

We saw the lowest year-to-year correlation points allowed to tight ends—even a negative correlation for teams that finished in the bottom five—most likely because facing just a few dominant tight ends can really make a team appear worse against the position since there are so few big names in general.

Only 18% of defensive units that finished in the top five were there again the next season, with an average end ranking of DEF14. Of the five teams that were the worst at defending tight ends, 20% landed in the basement that next season, with an average finish of DEF19.

Bottom-Five Defenses vs. TE, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
Los Angeles Chargers 32nd 298.3 17.5
Philadelphia Eagles 31st 296.5 17.4
Baltimore Ravens 30th 273.4 16.1
Indianapolis Colts 29th 263.9 15.5
New York Jets 28th 262.2 15.4

If you streamed tight ends at all last season, you knew that the Chargers were a sieve for fantasy points to the position. They sat dead-last in receiving yards allowed and 31st in yielded touchdowns to the tight end, plus they surrendered the sixth-most receptions to the position. Philly, Baltimore, Indy, and the Jets were all pretty permeable as well, ranking no better than 24th in any of those three categories.

Since the correlation is so insignificant here, there’s not much point in going over any potential turnover, but if faced with a difficult draft decision and one tight end is in the same division as one of these bottom units, they could edge out the other based on the history of FPA.

Top-Five Defenses vs. TE, 2021
Team Rank Total Half-PPR Pts Allowed Half-PPR Pts/G Allowed
New England Patriots 1st 123.2 7.2
Buffalo Bills 2nd 135.1 7.9
Arizona Cardinals 3rd 136.1 8.0
Denver Broncos 4th 146.5 8.6
Tennesee Titans 5th 148.1 8.7

The Pats shut down the tight end above everyone last year, allowing a league-low 46 receptions to the position, a mere 440 receiving yards (1st), and they only gave up four touchdowns which tied for third. Buffalo, Arizona, Denver, and Tennessee all fell within single-digit numbers when it came to defending all three statistical categories for TEs, with none landing lower than eighth in any of them.

The Bills, Patriots, and Broncos are projecting similar for 2022 so treat them as you would for any other position you’re looking at during the draft. Both the Titans and Cardinals are ranked in the lower half of the league so adjust strategy accordingly. I know that tight end is unilaterally the least favorite position after defense and kicker, of course, but there is a nice young crop of players emerging, so give them the due diligence when it comes to research.

Bottom Line

We’re all searching for an edge in fantasy football, and using strength of schedule is something that can benefit your roster and bottom line at the end of the season. At 4for4, we created the metric schedule-adjusted fantasy points allowed, or aFPA, which takes schedule bias out and rectifies the concerns over raw fantasy points allowed discussed above, leveling the playing field to compare matchups in an apples-to-apples manner.

After looking at a decade’s worth of data, we found that some positions had a stronger correlation than others when it comes to defensive points allowed from one season to the next.

  • QB showed the strongest relationship, but it still wasn’t exactly sticky.
  • Real defense doesn’t always translate to fantasy points.
  • Check out 4for4’s hot spot tool for tough SOS decisions, keeping all of this in mind.
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