In less than two weeks, the New England Patriots have lost two of their most important defensive players. On Oct. 3, they placed decorated defensive lineman Vince Wilfork on injured reserve with a torn right Achilles tendon, and 13 days later they did the same with two-time Pro Bowler and leading tackler Jerod Mayo
The 27-year-old linebacker underwent surgery for a torn pectoral muscle on Tuesday and New England placed him on season-ending injured reserve on Wednesday, according to several reports.
The news comes on the heels of New England’s biggest win of the season, a nail-biting 30-27 win over previously undefeated New Orleans. Mayo was a team captain who led the Patriot defense in the huddle, making him one of the team’s most vocal leaders.
While the loss of Mayo puts the Patriots defense in a tight spot, they are still a must start for fantasy owners this week.
For starters, second-year linebacker and 2012 first round pick Dont’a Hightower will reportedly take over in the huddle and wear the team’s on-field communication device to work with coordinators. That’s an honor defensive-minded Bill Belichick wouldn’t bestow on just any player, even if he did come from Nick Saban’s Alabama defense academy.
Plus, the Patriots still have second-year defensive end Chandler Jones, and a dizzying secondary made up of surefire All-Pro Aqib Talib and fellow corners Kyle Arrington and Alfonso Dennard. That trio has put up 19 passes defensed and six interceptions, not to mention safety Steve Gregory’s 41 tackles on the year.
Secondly, consider the Patriots next three games before their Week 10 bye. They go up against the New York Jets this Sunday and face quarterback Geno Smith, who the Patriots picked off three times a month ago. Then there’s a two-game home stand against rush-challenged Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.
Start the Pats in Week Seven, and take a look at the four other defenses below.
San Francisco 49ers
After a rough first three weeks, the 49ers defense has allowed 11.3 points in the last three games and won them all. This week they’ll meet the Tennessee Titans and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown four picks in two starts since taking over for Jake Locker.
San Diego Chargers
Disregard the fact that their opponent are the Jacksonville Jaguars (winless and surrendering the second most points per game in the league), and focus solely on San Diego’s performance in the 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts with rookie linebacker Manti Te’o making his NFL debut and calling the defensive plays on the field.
Facing the 1-5 Washington Redskins this week, this game could be a slugfest. The Redskins are 10th overall in pass and rushing offense, but the Bears have taken advantage of weaker opponents this season. The Bears' four wins have come against teams with a combined 6-16 record, with the only quality victory coming against a Cincinnati Bengals squad that’s gone 4-1 since Week One.
Despite a 2-3 record, the Panthers are third in total defense, tied for seventh with eight interceptions, fourth against the rush, and tied for first in the NFL with four passing touchdowns allowed. Their opponent this week are the hot St. Louis Rams, but of their three wins, only one (Houston in Week Six) came against a top defense.