By now, you are probably sick of intros for this column that feature the Dallas Cowboys. Frankly, I’m rather tired of talking about them. The problem is that they keep leaving me little choice but to lead off Getting Defensive with them—because fantasy football’s highest-scoring defense just won’t stop scoring touchdowns.
More appropriately, Dallas cornerback DaRon Bland won’t stop scoring touchdowns.
Last week against the Carolina Panthers, Bland logged his fourth interception return for a touchdown of the season, tying an NFL record. Per the team’s website, the 24-year-old now has his sights set on a fifth—and making NFL history,
“It just makes another goal to break it,” he said. “I think it was when I touched the end zone, it was like, ‘Wow, I just did it. I tied the record.’ I’m level-headed now and I want to go break it. It wasn’t really about the record. It’s really about being in the history books, being remembered.”
Frankly, he just might get it. The Cowboys’ Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Washington Commanders is an excellent one from a fantasy perspective. The Commanders have allowed 51 sacks—second-most in the NFL. Washington’s 21 giveaways are tied for the most in the league. And the team has surrendered the fifth-most fantasy points per game to defenses this season.
Not to go too far with the food metaphors the week of Thanksgiving, but the Dallas defense is going to feast (again) Thursday afternoon.
Cleveland Browns (at Denver Broncos)
The Browns keep winning games, and it certainly isn’t because of an injury-ravaged offense led by a fifth-round rookie at quarterback. The Browns lead the league in total defense and pass defense, rank sixth in pass defense, are allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground, have the league’s leading sack artist in Myles Garrett and sit third in the league in fantasy points among defenses after 11 weeks. The Broncos are playing much better over their four-game winning streak, but Denver is still just 23rd in total offense. This is going to be a low-scoring affair.
San Francisco 49ers (at Seattle Seahawks)
After hitting a bit of a rough patch, the 49ers have looked a lot more like the team we expected to see defensively in recent weeks. Thanks to lopsided wins the past two weeks over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Jacksonville Jaguars, the Niners are fantasy’s highest-scoring defense over that span. San Fran is fifth in the league in total defense, leads the league in scoring defense and are tied for the second-most takeaways in the league. Add in the fact that Seattle quarterback Geno Smith is iffy to play Thanksgiving night with an arm injury, and you have the makings of a third straight fat stat line.
Kansas City Chiefs (at Las Vegas Raiders)
It’s happening without a ton of fanfare in the land of Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce, but the Kansas City defense is arguably even better than the offense this season. The Chiefs are fourth in both total defense and pass defense, third in scoring defense, quietly third in the league with 36 sacks and fifth among all defenses in fantasy points. The Chiefs will no doubt be looking to avenge last week’s home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and that pass rush could be trouble for rookie quarterback Aidan O’ Connell and a Raiders team allowing the eighth-most fantasy points per game to team defenses.
Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cincinnati Bengals)
That the Steelers are 6-4 after 10 games is a testimony to T.J. Watt and a Steelers defense that has almost single-handedly kept Pittsburgh in games on a weekly basis. The Steelers are sixth among team defenses in fantasy points for the season, but this is a call that has as much to do with who the Steelers are as how the Steelers are playing. The Bengals have lost starting quarterback Joe Burrow to a season-ending wrist injury, which means that Jake Browning will be making his first career start against one of the best pass-rushing duos in the league in Watt and Alex Highsmith. Good luck with that.
New Orleans Saints (at Atlanta Falcons)
The Saints continue to be the best defense in the NFL that no one is talking about. New Orleans ranks eighth in the league in total defense, passing defense and scoring defense. The Saints are tied for the third-most takeaways in the NFL with 18. They rank a respectable seventh in the league in fantasy points. And Sunday the Saints travel to face a struggling Atlanta offense that ranks 24th in the league in scoring offense and who have surrendered the 11th-most fantasy points per game to team defenses this season. At least Desmond Ridder is back at quarterback—that should fix everything.
Baltimore Ravens (at Los Angeles Chargers)
The Chargers aren’t a good matchup for fantasy defenses—only the San Francisco 49ers have surrendered fewer points per game to the position this season. But the Ravens have earned every-week starter status—Baltimore leads the AFC in fantasy points among defenses and has more sacks (44) than any other team in the league. The Ravens are third in the NFL in both total defense and pass defense and have surrendered fewer points per game than any team in the AFC, and the Chargers have been absolutely decimated by injuries at wide receiver.
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Miami Dolphins (at New York Jets)
The Dolphins are coming off one of their better defensive efforts of the season—last week at home they allowed just 13 points, sacked Aidan O’Connell twice and logged three interceptions in a win over the Las Vegas Raiders—and compared to the floundering disaster that is the New York Jets, the Raiders are an offensive juggernaut. The Jets have scored exactly one offensive touchdown in their last 40 drives, Gang Green has surrendered the fourth-most fantasy points per game to defenses, and for reasons known only to God and Robert Saleh the Jets have decided that starting Tim Boyle at quarterback is a good idea.
Denver Broncos (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Statistically speaking, the Denver Broncos do not appear to be a defense of interest to fantasy managers, especially in terms of yards and points allowed—getting 70 points and approximately all the yards ever dropped on you by the Miami Dolphins tends to skew things. However, over the past month that same Denver defense ranks inside the top-five in fantasy points, and while the Browns have won seven of 10 games this season, they have done so with a rather alarming penchant for turnovers. The Browns have allowed the seventh-most fantasy points per game to team defenses this season.
New England Patriots (at New York Giants)
The Patriots come out of the bye week more desperate for any kind of positive momentum than any team in the NFL. And even the New England defense hasn’t played at the level we’ve become accustomed to in recent years. The Giants actually showed something of an offensive spark against the Washington Commanders, but the Giants still lead the NFL in fantasy points per game and have surrendered a staggering 61 sacks in 2023—easily the most in the league. If ever there was a week for the Pats to get back on track defensively, this is it.
New York Giants (vs. New England Patriots)
To be clear, watching this game may violate the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution against cruel and unusual punishment—the Giants and Patriots both rank 26th or worse in yards per game, and the Patriots and Giants are the NFL’s two lowest-scoring teams in the league this season. Both teams have miserable situations at quarterback and a lack of offensive weaponry. But the Giants have quietly shown a propensity for takeaways, and that could pave the way for a sneaky-good stat line.
Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)
The Bengals have all sorts of problems offensively now that quarterback Joe Burrow has been lost for the season, but the Steelers have had all kinds of problems offensively this year with everyone healthy—the Steelers are 28th in total offense and scoring offense, averaging less than 17 points per game. The Bengals aren’t a great defensive team, but they aren’t a bad one either, ranking 13th in fantasy points thanks in large part to 18 takeaways. When Cincy has had trouble defensively it has been against teams with a lot more firepower than the Steelers possess.
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Detroit Lions (vs. Green Bay Packers)
Over the first six weeks of the 2023 fantasy season, the Detroit Lions were a top-12 fantasy defense. But since then, the shine has come off. In fact, since Week 7, the Lions are dead last among all defenses in fantasy points. But this week’s Turkey Day tilt with the Green Bay Packers could have the makings of a slump-buster. Green Bay’s offensive performance against the Chargers last week was their best in weeks—the Pack is 21st in the NFL in both total offense and scoring offense, and Green Bay will be without lead back Aaron Jones for this one.