The Team Defense Strength of Schedule Matrix (Plus 5 Early Season Targets)
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 (TDBC), not to be confused with Team Defense by Waiver Wire (or Streaming Defenses).
In order to find good combinations, I start 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) based on their last two seasons of average sacks and average interceptions per game, along with some analyst adjustments on my part.
A couple of things to note here:
- For the first four weeks, I assigned a “2” to New England with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. With his lack of experience, he could be a “3,” but the Patriots usually get efficient play out of their backup quarterbacks and they have plenty of time to get him prepared for the first month of the season.
- Notice that the Jets get a “2” despite the fact that Geno Smith is currently their starting quarterback. I still feel that there’s a better than 50/50 chance that Ryan Fitzpatrick signs, so they currently get a “2” even though he played at a “1” level last year. If Smith starts, the Jets would be a “3,” but I’ll try to update the matrix if the Jets don’t re-sign Fitzpatrick.
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 shaky/inexperienced quarterback).
Here’s a look at how each team’s overall schedule shapes up:
I then added up 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. 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.
The Vikings look like a good anchor defense this year after finishing eighth in defensive scoring last year. They’re currently the seventh D/ST off the board, so they can be had in the 16th round or thereabouts. They combine well with the Patriots and Jaguars, two other defenses that are poised for good seasons.
Speaking of the Jaguars, they combine well with a number of teams, but I should mention Raiders. Both teams spent a ton of money and draft capital on the defensive side of the ball. That duo can be had pretty late in drafts.
The Packers have nine matchups with quarterbacks in the “3” range, so they combine well with just about every other defense in the league. As a fantasy defense, Green Bay’s success depends largely on the quality of its offense (to put the opposition in desperate situations, where defensive fantasy points are made), and the offense should bounce back this season.
Team Defense Draft Plan
Due to the variable nature of the position (year-to-year), 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 – specifically the Seahawks, since they are the only team to finish in the top five in four straight seasons – in the 14th or 15th round, but they’re not always available at that point in the draft.
Note: Other than Seattle, only Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City and Denver have finished in the top five more than once in the last four seasons. (They finished twice each.) These teams represent five of the top six defenses off the board in 2016.
I typically play in leagues where streaming is a viable option, so if I’m not drafting a committee, I’ll target a decent-to-good defense with a favorable opening schedule and then stream the position the rest of the way if I don’t fall into a top-10 squad.