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Prep for Playoffs Now! Drafting Defense Based on Playoff Opponents


While it is never smart to think you will have the same defense at the end of the season that you draft at the beginning, there may be some leagues in which it is a must. Whether it be a best ball league (acceptable) or a league which limits roster moves (unacceptable!), if you need to find a defense in the draft who will be there for you come crunch time, then this is for you.

The good thing about team defenses are their unpredictability, meaning you can still find good value even in the final round. This can be a crap shoot but there are always a few surprises in this area every year. How many of you are glad you drafted the Bears defense now? While there are some elite defenses the likes of the Jaguars or Vikings, it is very rare for defenses to repeat as number one. Even if you end up with a defense like the Saints or the above-mentioned Bears, this can work for you. The best part about the Bears and Saints defenses? They also have an early bye week, so you will not have to worry about a lack of points late in the season.

Let us now take a look at the defenses that can be targeted to give you the best matchups during the playoffs of Weeks 13 through 17 to give you an edge come fantasy playoff time.

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Defenses to Target Late

Houston Texans

The Texans should benefit greatly from the return of both J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus on the defensive side of the ball just as much as getting Deshaun Watson back at quarterback. If both players can stay healthy and finally pair for a full season with Jadeveon Clowney, the defense could finally turn into the wrecking crew which we have expected it to be in recent years before the slew of injuries took it away. Coming into the season, the Houston Texans have the second-easiest strength of schedule, which is directly due to their 4-12 finish last season.

In the main playoff weeks of 13-16, the Texans have three relatively easy defensive matchups against the Browns, Colts and Jets, followed by a Week 16 tilt against the Philadelphia Eagles. With the Browns and Colts game both being played at home in Houston, the Texans defense with the front seven as well as an improved secondary with newly acquired Tyrann Mathieu anchoring will be all over the Browns quarterback whether it be Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield and Andrew Luck bringing pressure and causing turnovers for Deshaun Watson and the offense to score.

If you need to play them in Week 16 against the Eagles, you can since this game is also at home in Houston. Depending on how Carson Wentz comes back this season behind the top-rated offensive line, you may have a vulnerable quarterback with a shaky receiving corps. Especially if Alshon Jeffrey continues to suffer from the injury bug which has followed him from Chicago. If this happens, it will be a weakened wide receiver group led by the likes of Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace. While the offensive line is highly rated coming into the season this could change If All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters is not healed from his own injury or if right tackle Lane Johnson has another PED suspension which would take him out for the entire season at this point.

Denver Broncos

Unlike the Texans second-easiest strength of schedule, the Denver Broncos is the fourth-hardest. But when it really counts in the playoffs, it is as soft as sleeping on a marshmallow. With games against the Bengals, 49ers, Browns and Raiders, the Broncos opponents are delightful when it comes to non-powerful offenses. While three of these games, the Bengals, 49ers and Raiders are on the road none of these teams will have a distinct home-field advantage. When it comes to Cincinnati, it will be winter on the river. Meaning windy and cold. This means a lot of the running game from both sides of the ball and this, in turn, means fewer drives and lower scoring making this a great defensive matchup for the Broncos.

The following week the team heads to the big bell bottom. A stadium so far away from the city it represents, no one wants to travel there even for a Super Bowl. With the injury to Jerick McKinnon taking him out for the season, it will rely heavily on whether or not Jimmy Garoppolo really is better than Tom Brady. If he is, the 49ers may pile on the points in this game. If not? Well, the Broncos' pass rush with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will make it a long day for the best-looking man in the NFL. Eric Decker retired, remember?

In the only home game in this stretch, the Broncos will take on the Browns and whichever quarterback is starting for them at that point in the season. Whether it is Tyrod Taylor or Baker Mayfield the offense, they could be stumbling to the finish of another disappointing season behind Hue Jackson. While the loss of Aqib Talib from the secondary will hurt the front seven, Miller and Chubb will be good enough to mask the deficiency and with Case Keenum behind center the running game and short pass game should keep the Cleveland offense off the field for major parts of the game again making this a likely lower-scoring game.

In the final game of the fantasy season, the Oakland Raiders should prove to be a shipwreck. If Jon Gruden has his way, we may see a starting lineup of A.J. McCarron, Doug Martin, Jordy Nelson and newly signed Brandon LaFell on offense. Either way at 27.4 years of age he has built the oldest team in the league for this season and while they may be good locker room guys, they will also start breaking down by the end of the season, especially under the pressure of Gruden giving the impression that if they do one thing wrong, he may just get rid of them. With the trade of Khalil Mack to the Bears, they have unofficially thrown in the towel for this season as their win total has already gone from under 8.5 -135 to under 7.5 -155 in a matter of 24 hours. The experts in Vegas don’t have any confidence in the Raiders and neither should you. This lack of confidence should be directly relatable to your immense consideration for using the Denver Broncos, not just for the season, but especially come playoff time.

Los Angeles Rams

The last of our defenses to talk about, the Los Angeles Rams strength of schedule falls in between the other two teams at 19. The difference between the other two teams and the Rams is the offense. Whereas the Broncos are starting a new quarterback and after a game or two a rookie running back, and the Texans are hoping for Deshaun Watson to be completely healthy, the Rams have no such concerns.

With Jared Goff taking a major step forward in his second season, more importantly, his first without Jeff Fisher, he looks to be going in the right direction and is the perfect type of quarterback to lead the Rams team. Add to this the incredible season by Todd Gurley who rebounded from a disappointing 2016 season to the tune of 1,305 yards and 13 touchdowns on 279 rushes while adding another 788 yards and 6 touchdowns on 64 receptions in the receiving game. This allowed him to be the AP offensive player of the year, NFL MVP and most importantly for us, the number one fantasy running back. While it is not a guarantee he will finish at number one again, a top-five finish is surely ahead which will keep the offense humming in a down NFC West thus allowing the defense with newly happy Aaron Donald and an elite secondary to clamp down on opponents.

In their four playoff weeks, which come off their Week 12 bye week, they have three road games as well as only one home game, but their home game is against what should be the hardest opponent. In Weeks 13 and 14 the Rams will head on the road to take on the two bottom NFC North teams in Detroit and Chicago. While both should be better this season, this is just an assumption at this point and is still unknown. Can the Lions finally muster a rush game with Kerryon Johnson? Maybe, but with Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh patrolling the line they will need to throw it with Matthew Stafford. When they do throw, they will find it just as difficult with the likes of Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters clamping down on the receivers.

We are still cautious on the Bears, as we do not yet know what to expect from the Matt Nagy offense, but with the addition of Khalil Mack this weekend, we can reasonably conclude the defense will be better. This should make this a lower scoring game than first thought and with the Rams defense set to match, we should not have much offense in this matchup.

Moving on to the final two weeks of the playoffs, it starts with a rematch against the Eagles from a game last season in which Carson Wentz was injured and Nick Foles came on to the scene. This time around the Rams defense is better equipped to stop an Eagles offense which might take a step back this season. Considering the injury to Wentz and the ailing Alshon Jeffrey, the Rams will be able to slow this team down if not stop them before moving into a week 16 game against division foe Arizona Cardinals.

While David Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald are great, there is not much more to say about the Cardinals. If Sam Bradford can remain healthy this could bode well for tight end Ricky Seals-Jones, but this has not been the case in his career and the likelihood of Josh Rosen being installed at quarterback by this point lead to the belief the Cardinals will not be an explosive or in some senses even a decent offense. The Offensive line was bad in 2017 and will season-ending injuries suffered in the preseason they have only gotten worse. Whether it be the immobile Bradford, or the equally statuesque Rosen, both will be moving for their lives against the front seven of the Rams defense while the secondary will shut down Fitzgerald, Johnson and company in the passing game.

While the Rams are one of the first defenses to be taken in drafts, they are well worth the price as it should still be a last-two round pick. Please, I beg you. If your league mates are the types of players who drop defenses on a bye week, make sure you are the first one to pick them up. If you are already in the playoffs, just drop your defense for the Rams if they are dropped and don’t worry about your defense in Week 12. They are that good and could make all the difference come playoff time.

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