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Week 18 Defense (DEF) Streamers and Starts - 2023 Fantasy Tiers, Rankings

Dallas Cowboys Defense D/ST Streamers, Rankings, Waiver Wire - Micah Parsons Fantasy Football IDP

Most fantasy football championship games have been played, but not all of them. And while I prefer leagues that don’t include the final week, I pass no judgment on anyone who chooses to. It is another week of fantasy football after all. My main home league played into the final week until about five years ago, and I am currently in a title game spanning two weeks, so Week 18 is very much in play for me. So if you’ve got a meaningful game this week, we at RotoBaller have you covered.

The main issue and complication of Week 18 is the dreaded “resting of starters” for teams locked into a playoff spot. The following teams are in that scenario, where the outcome of Week 18 won’t change their current seed in the playoffs, or would only affect it minimally:

  • Baltimore Ravens
  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Cleveland Browns
  • San Francisco 49ers
  • Los Angeles Rams

The degree to which these teams might rest key players on both sides of the ball is unknown, and therein lies the risk. This might not seem like that many teams, but for DST purposes, this particular group has ripple effects in ranking DSTs for Week 18. Four of the five teams are top-tier DSTs that become almost too risky to start. And all five teams would be a bad matchup for the DSTs playing against them during any other week. This drops these DST every-week-starts down into Tier 4, therefore pushing up multiple “good-not-great” DSTs in good matchups. This week’s Top 12 mostly consists of teams in neutral-to-great matchups that are fighting for a division title or playoff spot. Good luck, and I hope you bring home a fantasy championship!

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers won two writing awards and received 12 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. A big congrats to our very own Byron Lindeque (Golf) and Jordan McAbee (NASCAR) for both winning Writer Of The Year awards! Be sure to follow RotoBaller's analysis and advice all year long, and win more. Win More With RotoBaller!


How To Determine What Defenses To Start 

When it comes to determining the top fantasy football defenses each week, you should look at which units have the most upside and can change the trajectory of your matchup. Defenses are often overlooked in fantasy, but the top DST scorers from each week can outscore some of your opponent's key starters. If you started the Texans or Browns in Week 17, you increased your chances of winning your matchup.

We also need to pay attention to matchup strength. In determining DST matchup strength, I use an adjusted fantasy points-allowed system. I include the raw fantasy points allowed per game to the DST position. I then factor in how that PPG allowed compares to the opponent's average DST PPG.

For instance, let’s say Team A allows 10 fantasy points to the Cowboys’ DST. Team B allows five fantasy points to the Panthers’ DST. If looking only at raw fantasy points allowed, Team B is ranked as a tougher matchup having given up half as many points. But if the Ravens’ DST is averaging 16 PPG while the Panthers’ DST is averaging only one PPG, that needs to be factored into the overall matchup strength. Team A’s Points Over Average (POA) allowed is -7. Team B’s POA allowed is +4. I assign weight to POA, which is factored into the overall rank.

Along with season-long POA allowed, my formula for adjusted fantasy points allowed also factors in POA allowed over each team’s last five and last three games. Each opponent will include their current rank, with lower numbers representing tougher matchups and higher numbers representing easier matchups.

Matchup strength is important, but it typically shouldn’t outweigh the strength of the DST in making a decision. To maximize the upside of your fantasy defense each week, you need to target units that can get to the quarterback constantly and cause turnovers. Sacks, turnovers, and defensive touchdowns are what create high ceilings for these fantasy defenses. To determine a somewhat safe start at defense, you should look at low point totals and teams that can hold their opponent to less than 20 points.


Tier 1 Defenses – Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 18

Dallas Cowboys DST @WAS

Yahoo Rostership: 88%
Vegas Odds: DAL favored by 13.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 45.5
Implied points against: 16
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 26th

The Cowboys are a Week 18 win away from claiming the NFC East title and the number two seed. A loss combined with an Eagles win against the Giants would bump them down to a wild card, which would send them on the road in the playoffs. This means they have a lot to play for in their regular-season finale against the Commanders.

The Commanders have been a tougher matchup for DSTs over the last three games (-0.2 POA allowed; single-digit fantasy PPG allowed) and the Cowboys DST has been quiet in that same span, averaging only two fantasy PPG over the last three games. However, those were games against the Bills, Dolphins, and Lions, with each being a Top 6 unfavorable DST matchup. In favorable DST matchups (including both home and road games), this DST has averaged 16.1 fantasy PPG. I’m banking on the Cowboys finishing strong to secure their division title.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers DST @CAR

Yahoo Rostership: 37%
Vegas Odds: TB favored by 5.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 37.5
Implied points against: 16
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 31st

The Buccaneers’ defense faltered in Week 17 against the Saints, opening the door for the Saints to overtake them for the NFC South crown if the Saints win and the Buccaneers lose in Week 18. Tampa Bay can close that door by beating the Panthers, a team that ranks as the second-most favorable DST matchup in adjusted fantasy points allowed. The Buccaneers are a road favorite in a game with a sub-40 point over-under, which points toward a good day for their defense. With many of the top defenses either in bad matchups or projected to rest their starters in Week 18, Tampa Bay is one of the stronger starts even as a streamer.

New England Patriots DST vs. NYJ

Yahoo Rostership: 21%
Vegas Odds: NE favored by 2.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 30.5
Implied points against: 14
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 32nd

The Week 18 Patriots-Jets game has the lowest over-under of the 2023 season at only 30.5 total points. That by itself is reason enough to start both DSTs from this game as each unit has a safe floor. The Patriots are at home and the Jets rank as the best DST matchup by adjusted fantasy points allowed. The Jets’ implied total of 14 points is the lowest of any team this week, which is why I give the edge to the Patriots’ DST.

New York Jets DST @NE

Yahoo Rostership: 77%
Vegas Odds: NE favored by 2.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 30.5
Implied points against: 16.5
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 27th

The reasoning for the Jets being in Tier 1 is the same as what I discussed above about the Patriots. The Patriots rank as the sixth-best DST matchup, and even with the Jets being an underdog, their implied points allowed us only 16.5 points. This will likely be an ugly game that isn’t fun to watch, but both of the DSTs are strong plays in Week 18.


Tier 2 Defenses – Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 18

Jacksonville Jaguars DST @TEN

Yahoo Rostership: 59%
Vegas Odds:
JAX favored by 5.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 40.5
Implied points against: 17.5
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 30th

The Jaguars, Texans, and Colts have identical 9-7 records atop the AFC South. Jacksonville holds the tiebreaker over both of their rivals, meaning a Jaguars win secures the division title and a home playoff game. A loss would give the division to the winner of the Texans-Colts games and could bounce the Jaguars from the playoffs altogether, depending on some other Week 18 outcomes. The point is, that the Jaguars have as much incentive to win in Week 18 as any team, and their defense has momentum after pitching a shutout against the Panthers in Week 17. The Titans are the third-best DST matchup and have been more generous to opposing DSTs as of late compared to season-long, with a POA allowed of +5.4 PPG over the last five games.

New Orleans Saints DST vs. ATL

Yahoo Rostership: 49%
Vegas Odds: NO favored by 3
Over/Under (Total Points): 42.5
Implied points against: 19.8
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 23rd

The Saints are coming off a 14-point fantasy day against the Buccaneers in Week 17, an impressive accomplishment against a team that has been a negative DST matchup all season. They get the 23rd-ranked Falcons in Week 18, a team that surrendered double-digit fantasy points to the Bears in Week 17. This a must-win game for New Orleans in a crowded NFC Wild Card race, with an outside chance at the division if the Buccaneers were to be upset by the Panthers. The Saints’ DST has scored double-digit points in three of the last four and has feasted on positive DST matchups, averaging 12 PPG in eight games against teams ranked 16th-32nd versus DSTs.

Houston Texans DST @IND

Yahoo Rostership: 40%
Vegas Odds: HOU favored by 1.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 47.5
Implied points against: 23
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 15th

The Texans were the top-scoring DST of Week 17 after accumulating six sacks, a fumble recovery TD, and only three points allowed to the Titans. It was their second game with six or more sacks in the last three and rookie defensive lineman Will Anderson will hopefully be closer to full health after returning from a three-game absence in Week 17.

The Colts are a neutral DST matchup with Michael Pittman Jr. back, but Houston has been one of the better run defenses this year, and putting more of the pressure in this must-win game for both teams on Gardner Minshew will create more opportunity for sacks and interceptions. The Colts made me look silly last week with my high rank for the Raiders’ DST against them, but that’s not stopping me from liking the Texans' DST quite a bit in Week 18.

Detroit Lions DST vs. MIN

Yahoo Rostership: 27%
Vegas Odds: DET favored by 3
Over/Under (Total Points): 45.5
Implied points against: 21.3
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 29th

The Lions have been a mediocre fantasy defense this season, scoring double-digit points only three times. However, one of those games was against the Vikings in Werk 16. I might have the Lions ranked higher if we knew Jaren Hall was starting at QB again this week. Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell is being cagey early in the week by stating he knows which QB will start, but not revealing who it will be. Whether it’s Joshua Dobbs, Nick Mullens, or Hall again, the Lions will likely not be sitting any starters on either side of the ball unless they build a sizable lead. And with no T.J. Hockenson and a less than 100% Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison, the Lions are a great Week 18 streamer in their house.

Las Vegas Raiders DST vs. DEN

Yahoo Rostership: 32%
Vegas Odds: LV favored by 2.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 37.5
Implied points against: 17.5
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 22nd

The Raiders were a bad call in Week 17. There were a fair amount of good plays in my Top 12, but having the Raiders at number three was steeped in recency bias and unsustainable defensive TDs. That being said, I do think they’re a solid start in Week 18. They are back at home against a Broncos team with Jarrett Stidham at QB without his top weapon, Courtland Sutton. Both the Raiders and Broncos are now eliminated from playoff contention, but the Raiders should be motivated to finish as strong as possible for interim head coach Antonio Pierce, a hugely popular coach among the Raiders players.



Tier 3 Defenses – Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 18

Kansas City Chiefs DST @LAC

Yahoo Rostership: 85%
Vegas Odds:
LAC favored by 3
Over/Under (Total Points): 35.5
Implied points against: 19.3
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 25th

Tier 3 is dedicated to the teams in the risky situations unique to Week 18. The Chiefs’ playoff position is locked, affording them the option to rest starters in Week 18. The Vegas odds predict that they will, as that is the only logical reason why the Chargers are favored. Resting starters can be on a spectrum. All game? The starters play for a half then sit? Will it be mostly offensive starters who sit? This is the risky part. Any other week, the Chiefs in a matchup with the Chargers would be in Tier 1. They still make Tier 3 because even if defensive starters sit, if Keenan Allen and Josh Palmer are both out again (there isn’t really a reason for them to play) they could still have a good day.

Cincinnati Bengals DST vs. CLE

Yahoo Rostership: 85%
Vegas Odds:
CIN favored by 6
Over/Under (Total Points): 38.5
Implied points against: 16.3
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 16th

The Bengals are on the other side of the Week 18 conundrum. If the Browns had something to play for and weren’t locked in as the five seed, the Bengals’ DST might be in Tier 5. The same risks are there as discussed for the Chiefs, and the odds point at the Browns resting their starters, with the Bengals favored by six. If it’s an “all-game” resting, the Bengals could be a strong DST start. There is the added risk of the Bengals not being a good defense. I typically avoid these situations if I’m still playing in Week 18, especially with the availability of multiple streamers I like better in Tier 2.

Pittsburgh Steelers DST @BAL

Yahoo Rostership: 65%
Vegas Odds: PIT favored by 3.5
Over/Under (Total Points): 36.5
Implied points against: 16.5
Opponent rank vs. DSTs: 1st

The Steelers follow the same reasoning as the Bengals. You can ignore the Ravens’ rank as the toughest DST matchup as they have already clinched the top seed and a first-round bye in the AFC. The Steelers being road favorites in this game tells you what Vegas thinks about the Ravens’ starters. But again, exactly how the Ravens divvy up the playing time for their key starters is unknown. Do the Ravens want Lamar Jackson to go two full weeks without any game action?  Like the Bengals, if I knew the Ravens were playing backups across the board for most of the game, the Steelers’ DST would be in Tier 2.


Tier 4 Defenses – Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 18

The Tier 4 defenses are mostly available and there are a few decent streaming options if you’re stuck. Unlike Tier 5, multiple DSTs in Tier 4 are decent plays. However, all the defenses in the previous tiers should be prioritized over these teams.


Tier 5 Defenses – Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 18

These are the defenses that I would not be playing in Week 18 unless you absolutely have to. These units are either going up against a top offense in the league, aren’t a good defense in general, or both. They offer low ceilings and significantly low floors that can hurt your chances of winning your fantasy matchup. Avoid all these choices entirely and try to get a defense in the top two to three tiers for Week 18.


Full D/ST Rankings for Week 18

In addition to going through each of the five DST tiers for Week 18, here is the full list of ranks for this week. The chart includes each team’s tier, Week 17 rank, Yahoo rostership, opponent, opponent rank versus the DST position, the over/under, spread, and implied points against.


Until Next Season

I want to take the opportunity to show my appreciation to everyone who read this article series. This was my first year doing weekly DST ranks and it has been a lot of fun. Like any analyst providing fantasy football rankings, I’ve had some good and bad calls. Regardless of the outcomes, I pride myself on providing sound reasoning for my ranks and takes. I learned a lot as the weeks progressed and will be working in the offseason to improve my process with the goal being to provide an even better series in 2024. I hope this series has been helpful and helped you win some matchups. That is why I do this. I don’t care about “being right.” I love fantasy football and I love diving into the data, and sharing what I find with other people who love fantasy football.

Have a great offseason and I hope you come back to this article and all of the great content at RotoBaller next season. As always, if you have any questions about this article or general questions about fantasy football, reach out to me on X (@MunderDifflinFF).

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Drake Maye - Fantasy Football Rankings, College FB, QB, NFL Draft Sleepers

Florio's NFL/Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Maye, McCarthy, Penix, Nix, and more

Quarterback is the hardest position to scout. No one can get inside a QB's head and I am not going to pretend like I know who has the intangibles and who doesn’t. I do not know if any of them did not have their friends attend their birthday party. But what I can judge is... Read More


UFL Fantasy Football Rankings for Week 3: QB, RB, WR, TE Rankings and Analysis (2024)

Week 2 of the UFL season is in the books and only two undefeated teams remain. The Birmingham Stallions and the San Antonio Brahmas will both attempt to remain unblemished with home matchups on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. On the flip side, last year's XFL champion Renegades sit at 0-2. They will take on the... Read More

Xavier Worthy - Fantasy Football, Rankings, NFL Draft Sleepers, Injury News, Wide Receiver

2024 NFL Draft Prospect Comparison: Xavier Worthy vs. Brian Thomas Jr.

The 2024 NFL Draft is fast approaching. This draft is known already for the depth with the wide receiver prospects, as big names like Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Rome Odunze are at the top of the class. Those aren't the only big names, though. This is one of the deepest wide receiver classes... Read More

Avoid These Quarterbacks in 2024: Fantasy Football Outlook

Football never sleeps at RotoBaller! The staff is already looking ahead to the 2024 season to help our readers get the jump on their competition. RotoBaller analyst LaQuan Jones discusses some Quarterbacks that you should AVOID in 2024 fantasy football drafts. Win MORE in 2024 with RotoBaller! Be sure to tune into RotoBaller Radio on... Read More


UFL DFS Value Plays: Week 3 Bargain Bin for DraftKings Including Reid Sinnett, Marcell Ateman, Cody Latimer, More

Welcome to the Week 3 edition of RotoBaller's UFL DFS Bargain Bin, where the goal is to touch on some potentially mispriced players in DraftKings' Week 3 UFL contests. Each week during the UFL 2024 season and postseason, I’ll give you my thoughts on where there may be some value spots to exploit for DraftKings'... Read More