The Team Defense Matrix

The Team Defense Matrix

By John Paulsen (Senior Editor), last update Sep 4, 2015

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John was named the Most Accurate Fantasy Football Expert by FantasyPros for the 2010 and 2014 seasons, finished as runner-up in 2011 and 4th in both 2012 and 2015 for a total of five Top 5 seasons in the last six years. Cumulatively, John was the most accurate expert from 2010-15 while also winning the 2011 Fantasy Sports Trade Association award for the most accurate draft rankings. 

Follow John Paulsen on Twitter: @4for4_John.

Most owners don’t put too much thought into drafting a defense. Even less time is spent considering a second defense, but in best ball leagues (where owners are stuck with whichever defenses they draft) and in leagues with large rosters (where there isn’t much available on the wire after the draft) it can be useful to know which defenses combine for a nice schedule.  That way, owners should have a pretty good matchup to exploit each week. This is also known as Team Defense By Committee, not to be confused with Team Defense by Waiver Wire (or Streaming Defenses).

In order to find good combinations, I started with the opposing quarterbacks, since they account for most of the fantasy points scored by opposing defenses. Each QB is ranked from one (tough matchup for the defense) to three (great matchup).

Team Score Team Score
BAL 1 NE 1
BUF 3 NO 1
DEN 1 SD 1
GB 1 SF 3
IND 1 TB 3
KC 2 WAS 3

Note: I updated the matrix for the news that Tom Brady would play in the first four weeks.

Another half point was assigned to each home game, since defenses tend to produce more fantasy points at home than they do on the road. So each matchup was on a scale from 1.0 (road matchup against a great quarterback) to 3.5 (home matchup against a bad/inexperienced quarterback).

I then summed the “best” matchup each week for the 496 possible combinations.

The matrix below shows how each defense combines with every other defense in the league. An "A" grade is excellent, a "B" grade is good, a "C" grade is average, while "D" and "F" grades are poor. For example, a defensive committee that inlcudes Miami and Atlanta combine to have an "A" schedule, While a Carolina/Baltimore committee gets a "D+". Please note that this is not an endorsement of any particular defense or combination; it simply shows how the schedules for any two defenses combine.


(Click for DTBCMatrix)


Team Defense Draft Plan

Due to the variable nature of the position, I’m typically not one of the first owners to take a defense on draft day. I’ll sometimes pull the trigger on an elite defense in the 14th round, but the top three defenses – Seattle, Buffalo and Houston – are typically off the board by then.

Instead, I’ll target one of the defenses below that I like and/or have a favorable early season schedule:

Miami Dolphins (@ WAS, @ JAX, BUF, NYJ, BYE, @ TEN, HOU)
The Dolphins were a top 10 fantasy defense last year and added Ndamukong Suh. Look at that schedule – they don’t play a good quarterback until Week 8.

Arizona Cardinals (NO, @ CHI, SF, STL, @ DET)
The Cardinals had the #5 fantasy defense last year and their opening schedule is pretty favorable. Sure, Drew Brees and the Saints aren’t a great matchup, but it’s at home and Brees has been tossing more interceptions in recent years.

Indianapolis Colts (@ BUF, NYJ, @ TEN, JAX, @ HOU)
The Colts don’t have a particularly good defense, but fantasy-wise they finished #12 last year. The early season schedule is a cakewalk. I’m not crazy about this unit as a set-and-forget option, but to start the season, it’s going to be tough to find a more favorable schedule.

Carolina Panthers (@ JAX, HOU, NO, @ TB)
The Panthers started to come together late last season, averaging 15.6 FP over their final four games. They have a very favorable opening schedule with matchups against Blake Bortles, Brian Hoyer and rookie Jameis Winston in the first month.

Cleveland Browns (@ NYJ, TEN, OAK)
The Browns finished #13 last year, but look at that early schedule. Geno Smith, Marcus Mariota and Derek Carr, oh my!

New England Patriots (PIT, @ BUF, JAX)
The Patriots suffered some losses in the defensive backfield, but a stellar offense should continue to keep the pressure on the opposition. 


Week 1 Only Plays

Cincinnati Bengals (@ OAK)
The Bengals were disappointing last year, but an opener against Derek Carr and the Raiders makes Cincy an appealing one-week play.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. TEN)
The Bucs should be improved on the defensive side of the ball. A home matchup against a rookie quarterback is a nice spot to roll the dice on Tampa.

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