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Week 17 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2021 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

dolphins defense fantasy football streamers DST rankings waiver wire icon

Sometimes cliched expressions become cliches for a reason. We've all heard people say, "Do as I say, not do as I do." Well, it certainly applies to us this week. For two seasons I've been saying that we don't want to elevate mediocre or bad defenses just because of good matchups. We've talked about it over and over again, so much so that people probably tune me out like I'm one of your parents reminding you to clean the dishes or take out the trash.

It seems I also tuned myself out. Despite having the Chargers and Seahawks ranked outside of my top-20 on the season, I had both defenses inside of my top-10 last week because of elite matchups. The Chargers were facing a Houston team that gives up the most points to fantasy defenses and was without their star Brandin Cooks, while the Seahawks played in a snow storm against a Bears team without Allen Robinson that gives up the 8th-most points to opposing defenses. The Seahawks finished with four points and the Chargers were the second-worst fantasy defense of the week with -3 points.

We could talk all we want about the play of Nick Foles or how important Joey Bosa turned out to be for the Chargers, but it doesn't really matter HOW it happened. The simple fact is that I went against my typical process and I got burned for it. In the fantasy playoffs, we can't allow that to happen. Sometimes the high stakes put such weight on every single decision that we start to overthink it or try to hit some home run with each decision. In truth, if you're still alive in your league then what you're doing is working. Don't deviate from what got you here.

As a reminder, make sure to always check the link to my updated rankings as the week goes on. Especially with all of the COVID-chaos, I will likely be updating that Google Sheet every day to reflect the newest information.

Editor's Note: Be sure to also read our other Week 17 waiver wire articles for even more in-depth waiver wire analysis on running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, quarterbackskickers, IDP leagues, recommended FAAB waiver wire bids, and players to consider dropping.


Picking The Right Defenses To Pickup and Start

Just a quick recap of my general philosophy and what we discussed at length last year: when choosing a defense, you want to look for defenses that get consistent pressure and takeaways. Sacks and turnovers are more valuable for fantasy defense than preventing yardage, and even to a certain extent, preventing points. If a defense allows a stingy yards-per-play number, that's great and I'll cite some of those numbers below. However, they better also be able to get into the backfield or force turnovers, or else it won't really matter in the long run.

Essentially, we need to move away from points against as being the most important factor in choosing a fantasy defense.  With offenses putting up video game numbers, it means that we can't continue to judge a defense solely by the number of points they allow or the number of yards they give up. Those numbers will naturally be higher than we're used to. Instead, we need to look for which offensive lines are truly weak points and which defenses will either be blitz-heavy or get consistent pressure with their pass rush. These are all incredibly important pieces of information in determining which defenses to play in any given week.

Starting the right defense every week can be a difference-maker, so remember to check back here during the week as I will make updates once we get more information on some of these injuries and also get a better sense of the weather for the game.


Week 17 Defenses To Start and Stream: Tiered Rankings

Returning for this year: Confidence Ratings (out of 15) - Since every league's DST scoring is different, projections don't always make a ton of sense. The confidence rating is a guideline for how much more I like one team over another instead of just a point projection. A zero means "do not start," then the confidence rises from there. Typically, the top-three tiers will be DSTs you should target, with Tier 4 being options in deep leagues.

New this year: BOD (Best Overall Defense) Rankings. This is my defensive rankings formula based on the stats that I think are most conducive to fantasy success, which are ones that focus mainly on pressure rate but also on turnover rate since these are metrics that traditionally lead to the most consistent results and are also scheme-dependent, thus highlighting defensive schemes that are more fantasy-friendly. You can see the full updated leaderboard here but the basic formula is:

(Pressure Rate x 2) + (Sacks) + (QB Hurry Rate) + (%Drives ending in a Turnover x 2)


(% Drives ending in a Score x 2) + (Yards per play)

BOD is designed to tell us who the best fantasy defenses are, but depending on the matchup, they might be ranked differently in a given week. That's why we have this column where I will be breaking down my rankings for each week and an explanation of why I have the defenses ranked the way I do. The rankings will take into account their BOD ranking, opponent, injuries, weather, etc., but I hope my explanation will help make sense of each ranking.


Tier 1 Defenses - Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 17

After finishing as the 3rd-ranked defense last week, Tampa Bay is my number one defense for the second week in a row. The loss of Shaq Barrett for the rest of the regular season is a big one for Tampa and will certainly impact their pass rush, but this defense is just playing great football right now. They have allowed under 300 yards in back-to-back games and have held an opponent under 20 points in three of their last four. They also have notched 17 sacks over their last four games, including seven last week against Carolina. On the season, they are 8th in turnover rate, 4th in yards allowed per play, and 2nd in sacks. They will now get a Jets team that is last in the NFL in turnovers and 27th in sacks allowed. Even if the Jets get Elijah Moore back next week, this is a team that has turned the ball over four times in the last two games and given up 10 sacks in their last three. Fire up the Bucs with confidence.

If there is one thing we know about Bill Belichick, it's that he hates to lose. After being thoroughly beaten by the Bills with the AFC East lead on the line, I expect New England to come into Sunday looking for blood. They won't just want to win; they'll want to make a statement. That's bad news for the Jaguars. This Patriots defense is 2nd in percentage of drives that end in offensive points, 3rd in the NFL in turnover rate, and 5th in pressure rate. Before the Bills game, they had held five or six opponents under 300 total yards and had forced 10 turnovers in their last four games. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are tied with the Jets for most turnovers in the league and just lost James Robinson to an achilles injury. I expect this to be a huge bounceback spot for New England.

On the other hand, Buffalo is looking to keep their momentum going. Since the 2nd half of the Bucs game, this Bills team is playing like on one a mission, and, in truth, they are. If the Bills win out, they will win the AFC East and secure a first-round home playoff game, so they are coming back home hungry for this matchup against Atlanta. While the Bills lead the league in pressure rate, they have only registered seven sacks over their last four games. So even though Atlanta has allowed 11 sacks over their last four, I expect the Bills to put up a strong fantasy outing by relying on their 6th-ranked turnover rate and NFL-best rate of defensive drives that end in opponents' points. The Falcons have only topped 20 points in two of their last seven games and have turned the ball over at least once in each of those games. The Bills likely won't put up a "week winning" total unless they can get a touchdown on defense or special teams, but they should be one of the highest floor teams you can find on the week.


Tier 2 Defenses - Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 17

I had the Rams just outside of the top-10 last week because of their matchup with Minnesota. Yet, the Rams put up 11 fantasy points and finished as a top-10 unit. Part of that has to do with the early departure of Adam Thielen, but this Rams defense also came to play. On the season, they are 8th in yards allowed per play, 12th in turnover rate, and 6th in sacks. They've forced at least one turnover in five straight games and have seven turnovers in total over that span while holding two of those teams under 215 yards of total offense. Aaron Donald and company have also notched 12 sacks over their last four games and now face a Baltimore team that gives up the most sacks in the NFL. While many Ravens fans are hoping that Lamar Jackson comes back this week, that weirdly might be good news for the Rams defense. Without Lamar, the Ravens only turned the ball over once and took two total sacks in the two games combined against solid Green Bay and Cincinnati defenses. The Ravens had turned the ball over at least once in the six games prior, including seven in the last three games Lamar Jackson played. Jackson had also taken 13 sacks in those three games and 26 sacks in six games, partially because of how often he tries to buy extra time with his legs. What all of that means is that, regardless of who is under center on Sunday, the Rams are a strong fantasy play.

Woo boy did that Dolphins defense get after Ian Book on Monday night. You almost felt bad for the guy. Miami's defense has been out of this world over the team's seven-game winning streak, ranking as the number one defense in points per game with 15.1 over that span. They also now lead the league in sacks and have broken into the top-10 in turnover rate after starting the year off slowly. Here's where it gets a little interesting: this Titans team is totally different with A.J. Brown back. Yes, they are still missing Derrick Henry, but we just saw Brown basically single-handedly beat a very good 49ers team last week. After struggling with turnovers in the middle of the season, the Titans have turned the ball over six times in their last five games and four of them came in a game against the Jaguars where basically everybody on their offense was out. The Titans have allowed four sacks in each of their last three games, so Miami can bring pressure on Ryan Tannehill, but the return of Brown pushes the Dolphins into tier two for me.

It's important to start off by saying that this Saints ranking may change a lot based on what happens with the COVID spread currently occurring in Carolina. The Panthers were all sent home from the facility on Monday after a "somewhat significant" number of positive cases. As of now, most of the key players who have been placed on the COVID-IR are defensive players (Brian Burns and Shaq Thompson), but we'll need to see how this plays out over the next couple of days before we know what the Carolina team who takes the field on Sunday will look like. The Saints were obviously not impressive on Monday night, but that had a lot more to do with Ian Book starting at quarterback than flaws on the defensive side of the ball. We'll need to see if the Saints are able to get their own players off the COVID-IR before the game, so this ranking could change in a number of ways.

For weeks we have been talking about how the Eagles are a strong real-life defense that can't take advantage of plus fantasy matchups. They are 24th in the NFL in turnover rate, 31st in the NFL in sacks, and 17th in pressure rate. Over the last four games, heading into Sunday's matchup with the Giants, they had forced four total turnovers and recorded only five total sacks. In fact, they are only the 16th-ranked defense over the last month and that INCLUDES Sunday's game against the Giants, where the Eagles just dominated. They allowed only 192 total yards of offense while sacking Jake Fromm twice, forcing two interceptions and returning one for a touchdown. It was the type of performance we had hoped we'd see from them for a month. However, the real question is: will we see it again? Washington has turned the ball over six times in their two matchups against the Cowboys this year, but they have only four turnovers combined in their last five games against non-Cowboys opponents. They also gave up 10 sacks in their two games against the Cowboys but a combined 12 in their five other games, including only two to the Eagles last time out. It's great that the Eagles dominated the Giants, but I'm not going to anticipate they can do the same against a Washington team that has looked solid against everybody but the Cowboys over the last two months. Expect a high floor performance from the Eagles but not the same ceiling they just showed.

The Chargers couldn't take advantage of a good matchup with the Texans but perhaps the 49ers can. San Francisco has a far worse turnover rate than Los Angeles (ranking 26th in the league), but they are 8th in sacks and 9th in yards allowed per play. The 49ers have also forced six turnovers over their last four games and have multiple turnovers in five of their last seven games, which is a marked improvement from earlier in the season. However, this Texans team has settled down on offense after a horrible beginning of the season. In fact, the Texans have only turned the ball over four total times in their last six games. They've also only allowed 13 total sacks over those six games, which is another drastic improvement from earlier in the season. They are still not an incredibly potent offense, last week aside, but they are not a guaranteed high score of late, which means the 49ers are a solid play but maybe not as elite a play as we might have expected.

Much like the Panthers, the Colts are also dealing with a COVID spread as 14 players of been placed on the COVID-IR ahead of Week 17. Now, with the new protocols, vaccinated players can test out before the game, but as of now, there are some crucial pieces of the Colts defense who are on the COVID-IR, including Darius Leonard, Rock Ya-Sin, Kemoko Turay, and Khari Willis. Leonard and Ya-Sin were both out on Saturday, but the Colts still pulled off a huge win; however, playing short-handed is obviously never ideal, especially if the Colts are short-handed in the secondary. The second level of the defense is what has made the Colts fantasy-relevant this year. Heading into Week 17, the Colts are 31st in the NFL in pressure rate and 23rd in sacks. However, they are 2nd in the NFL in turnover rate, including 5th in interceptions and 1st in forced fumbles. If you take away their best playmakers in the linebacking corps and secondary, this becomes a much riskier fantasy unit, which drops them down even though they have a solid matchup against a mediocre Raiders offense.


Tier 3 Defenses - Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 17

We start off tier three with two defenses that have been among the best in the league over the last six weeks but find themselves in really tough matchups. The Cowboys and Chiefs have been the 1st and 3rd ranked fantasy defenses, respectively, over the last month. They are both in the top-10 in pressure rate and top-five in turnover rate. They also both have offenses that force opponents to keep up, which often leads to turnovers and sacks. However, they also both play offenses this week that have the firepower to keep up with them. The Cardinals are one of the ten hardest matchups in fantasy football. The Cardinals have allowed only seven sacks total in the last four games and have turned the ball over five total times in five games, even though four of them came in one matchup against the Bears. With James Conner likely to return, this is still a difficult matchup for Dallas, and we just saw the Bengals put up 575 yards of total offense against the Ravens last week. That offense has been playing great football of late, with only two turnovers in its last three games, so the Cowboys and Chiefs are both playable given their recent run of success, but simply not in the best matchups for Week 17.

Even though Miami has been on a seven-game winning streak, a lot of that comes down to their defense. Their offense has been relatively mediocre and doesn't really push the ball downfield. They have also turned the ball over in every game since Week 9 and have seven turnovers in their last four games. Their offensive line has been playing much better, and this is a Tennessee team that only ranks 12th in fantasy points per game over the last month, with 7.5 per game. I think Tennessee is in a fine spot, but they also did just put Bud Dupree on the COVID-IR, so I think the upside for them in this matchup isn't as high as some people would like it to be.

Despite the Bears' reputation as a solid defensive team, we really haven't seen it this year. They are the 28th ranked defense over the last month, averaging only 4.0 points per game. They are 30th in turnover rate but are also 6th in sacks despite being 26th in pressure rate. Overall, they're simply not a great unit; however, the Giants with Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm at quarterback have been atrocious. They've gained 300 yards in only two of their last seven games and have nine turnovers over their last four. Interestingly, they've only given up 11 total sacks over those seven games and have faced teams like Tampa Bay, Miami, and Dallas, so it's possible that the Bears sack totals will be stifled a bit. As a result, the Bears are an OK option in deep leagues, but we know that we don't want to play bad defenses just because of good matchups.

We near the end of tier three with three defenses who have been strong units for us during the season but are a little too risky for me to play with so much on the line. The Broncos currently rank within my top five, while the Panthers have been a top-five defense for me for much of the year, and the Packers have hovered around the top-10. Even though the Chargers laid an egg last week, this is still a potent offense that could get Austin Ekeler and Mike Williams back and is playing for their playoff lives. The Panthers have the best matchup of the three but have really faceplanted of late and almost seem to be giving up. If Taysom Hill misses this game and Ian Book has to start again then we might move Carolina up, but they start here. Lastly, the Packers had another top-10 finish last week and have been a really good defense of late, but it's hard to trust them against the Vikings. We'll keep an eye on the Adam Thielen injury and Dalvin Cook COVID situation, but I'd be looking elsewhere for now.

The Seahawks failed to capitalize on last week's prime matchup against the Bears, and they've been a fairly average defense of late, ranking as the 13th best fantasy defense over the last month. Now, that's not anything to get overly excited about and they're still 27th in the NFL in pressure rate and 29th in turnover rate. They've also only forced six turnovers in their last seven games, but the Lions have turned the ball over at least once in six straight games, with nine turnovers in those six games. However, the Lions are feistier than people think. For starters, they've allowed more than 20 points only twice in their last seven games and have given up only nine total sacks in their last six games. That includes games against Minnesota, Denver, Cleveland, and Chicago, who all have solid pass rushes. As a result, I wouldn't go chasing the Seahawks too much this week.


Tier 4 Defenses - Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 17


Tier 5 Defenses - Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 17

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