After three weeks an upper echelon of fantasy football D/STs has emerged and as of now most should be here to stay. The Arizona Cardinals, the highest scoring defense in fantasy, sit just above the Denver Broncos, the rejuvenated Seattle Seahawks, the New York Jets, the wounded Carolina Panthers, and the Philadelphia Eagles as we head into Week 4.
Based off stats from FantasyData.com, Arizona’s 51 points and Denver’s 50 through three games put them head-and-shoulders above everyone else. The Seahawks find themselves all alone in the second tier of D/STs with 41 points after blanking Chicago, while the Jets, Panthers, and Eagles hold down the third tier with only five points separating them.
As Week 4 rolls in, only one of those squads stands to slip away from its elite status. Last week, we praised the Panthers D/ST for their excellent work despite the lack of a major free agent acquisition and the absence of star linebacker Luke Kuechly. But that was before defensive end Charles Johnson severely injured his hamstring against New Orleans and was placed on injured reserve. He won’t be eligible to come back until Nov. 26, at the earliest, which severely hampers a Carolina pass rush that’s tallied 7.0 sacks and allowed the secondary to force four interceptions and an opposing passer rating of 66.3, third-best in the NFL.
This week the Panthers could still be worthy of a fantasy start as it draws 1-2 Tampa Bay, which fields an offense led by rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and the league’s third-lowest scoring offense. But after their Week 5 by, Carolina heads to Seattle, then hosts Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Green Bay so in the long-run they may fall flat.
The other top DSTs have some favorable matchups this week and should be started in every league format as well. The Jets should outwork an up-and-down Miami offense, Arizona hosts flailing St. Louis, Seattle gets a Detroit offense that apparently can’t mask its play-calling, turnover-forcing machine Denver hosts a one-dimensional Vikings squad, and the Eagles get to pick on a dilapidated Redskins attack.
If you don’t’ have any of these top DSTs on your roster or they’re not available to pick up, here’s four others to consider starting in Week 4.
The Raiders DST has averaged a mere 4.0 fantasy points over the first three weeks of the season. But that could change against the Bears disjointed No. 28 offense. After Chicago was shutout against Seattle it’s now averaging a 15.3 points per game. Quarterback Jay Cutler returned to the Bears practice this week, but that isn’t any indication he will play. And even if he does receiver Alshon Jeffery will still have to adjust after missing the last two games. Oakland already showed it could hang with Baltimore and Cleveland’s limited attacks, and could be the sleeper DST start of Week 4.
Green Bay Packers
Fielding the second-best pass rush in the league with 11.0 sacks makes up for Green Bay’s difficulties against the run, especially when they can simply stack the box against a 49ers offense struggling with 172 passing yards and an NFL-worst 15.0 points per game.
San Diego Chargers
Like the Raiders, San Diego hasn’t exactly churned out fantasy points this year with only 3.0 per game. The lack of production stems from a pass rush that’s netted just 1.0 sack in three games, but that should change against a Browns offensive line that’s surrendered 10 sacks, tied for third-worst in the NFL.
The Chargers have also quietly fielded the third-best secondary in the league thus far, with 189 yards allowed per contest, even against high-flying offenses like Detroit and Cincinnati to start the season. San Diego has struggled against the run, coughing up 4.9 yards per carry, and the Browns might improve on their 3.6 yards per attempt. But Cleveland’s 20th and 25th in passing and rushing yards, respectively, and putting up only 19.3 points per game. The Browns also haven’t won on the road in four straight.
Two years ago, or even one year ago for that matter, a fantasy owner wouldn’t dare pit any DST against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. But Denver’s leaky offensive line has already allowed 8.0 sacks in three games, compared to 17 all of last year. The Vikings have generated 6.0 sacks this season, and their 23 QB hits are second only to Denver’s 25. Minnesota enters the matchup as the eighth-highest scoring DST in fantasy with 27 total points, and Adrian Peterson could keep Manning off the field with long, rush-heavy drives. This matchup should be a defensive slugfest with both sides worthy of a start.