Despite the glaring lack of a major acquisition in free agency, the injured foot of defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, and Pro Bowl linebacker and captain Luke Kuechly playing only one half, the Carolina Panthers have emerged as one of the more surprising fantasy defenses (D/STs) through the first two weeks of the season.
To some it might not be such a surprise, but Carolina’s excellent defensive production (6.0 sacks, 3 INTs, one fumble recovery, and one touchdown) seems to have caught many fantasy players off guard. Even though they haven’t finished outside the top 10 in total defense since 2011, as of now the Panthers DST is owned in just 75 percent of Yahoo and 65.1 percent of ESPN leagues.
The huge oversight could be tied to Carolina’s inactivity on the free-agent market during the offseason, specifically on defense. Other than the hefty extensions given to Kuechly, tight end Greg Olsen, and quarterback Cam Newton, the most the Panthers spent for a new defender was the $2.8 million over two-years to former Chief free safety Kurt Coleman.
The lack of activity can certainly be attributed to defensive end Charles Johnson and the more than $35 million he’s owed the next two seasons, but that certainly doesn’t explain why fantasy owners have passed on a team that’s allowed an average of 13 points and 282.5 yards per game thus far and started the season with the league’s sixth-easiest schedule.
Also, take a look at how third-year Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has dispersed his budget and you'll see Carolina is getting a tremendous return from their defense.
And now the NFC South rival New Orleans Saints are coming to town, perhaps with quarterback Drew Brees out of the lineup. The All-Pro passer suffered a bruised rotator cuff in his right shoulder in Week 2, and his status for Sunday’s matchup against the Panthers is in doubt. After beating up Jacksonville and Houston to go 2-0, Carolina could next beat up a Saints squad led by veteran back-up quarterback Luke McCown (9 TDs, 14 INTs, 68.3 passer rating in 38 career games).
The Panthers schedule will get hairier after their Week 5 bye, with their subsequent four games at Seattle, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Indianapolis, and vs. Green Bay. But for the next couple of weeks fantasy owners should consider adding them via the waiver wire or free agency before Week 3 commences.
With the Panthers leading the pack, here are four other DSTs to consider starting in Week 3, each broken down and picked by their favorable matchup or superior personnel.
The Browns D that was No. 8 against the pass last season with 21 interceptions was the exact group that showed up in Week 2 against Tennessee. Cleveland terrorized the Titans for 7.0 sacks and three turnovers. Now they’ll host a Raiders squad helmed by second-year quarterback Derek Carr who’s never won a game on the road. Oakland’s coming off an emotional victory over Baltimore, but the Browns have the defensive backs to contain Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper and enough pass rushing upfront to disrupt Carr. They’re owned in just 24 percent of Yahoo leagues and could be an excellent sub for a San Francisco D/ST that’s on the road against blazing-hot Arizona.
Baltimore certainly has enough firepower to score 15 or more points against the Bengals, thus limiting their fantasy value. But Cincinnati’s recorded 18 interceptions against quarterback Joe Flacco, by far the most of any other team in the league. The Ravens offense is also very limited outside of receiver Steve Smith and running back Justin Forsett picking up only 3.8 yards per carry.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It’s very premature to say the Bucs are a fantasy force after coming up with 4.0 sacks and three turnovers in Week 2, but they have a very favorable matchup against the beleaguered Texans offense. Houston’s o-line has allowed 6.0 sacks and quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett have combined for a 68.7 passer rating, second-worst in the league, and their 5.5 yards per pass average is the third-worst. In very deep 12 or 14-team leagues, the Bucs could be this week’s sleeper DST.
The Steelers are an offensive juggernaut, which was expected, but they also unleashed a devastating pass rush we didn’t expect in Week 2. Led by linebacker Ryan Shazier and defensive tackle Stephon Tuitt, the Steelers are now tied with Cleveland with 7.0 sacks on the year and should put plenty of pressure on St. Louis’ limping offense. The Rams have four offensive touchdowns through eight quarters, with no running back tallying more than 57 yards, quarterback Nick Foles connecting on only 59.3 percent of his attempts, and no receiver’s caught more than four passes.