Unless most of the teams in your league carry a backup defense, more than half of the league should be available to you every week. Perhaps instead of playing one above average defense every week, regardless of matchup, we should instead target the widely available waiver wire defenses with the best matchups in any particular week? You can always make exceptions if your rent-a-defense gets hot - heck, you might find a team worth starting all year by accident. Even if you don't, good matchups will continue to get greater in number as more QBs get injured or yanked as the season goes on. You can steal some points from bad weather come December. Each week I'll list the startable fantasy defenses on most waiver wires and rank them.
**Baltimore, Jacksonville, Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams, Denver, New Orleans, and Minnesota all have good matchups in Week 1 but are assumed to be owned**
Week 1 Candidates
Chicago (at Green Bay)
What? Start a D/ST against Aaron Rodgers? That’s crazy! Hear me out. The Bears just got Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith and already put up low D/ST1 numbers last year with Vic Fangio calling the shots. While you might hurt your Week 1 bottom line if Rodgers is typical Rodgers, what you gain is the Seahawks coming to Chicago, then a trip to Arizona, and Jameis Winston coming to Chicago in his first week back (which the team hasn’t even committed to him as the starter for) in Weeks 2-4. An early Week 5 bye is a bummer, but if you can hold the Bears, you get the Dolphins in Week 6. After a hard to stomach hold against the Patriots in Week 7, the Jets and Bills are up in Weeks 8 and 9. Fangio made the 49ers an elite defense, and he might have the pieces to do it again, especially once Leonard Floyd’s club comes off. If you know your league well enough to get the winning bid for the Bears in Week 2 for cheap, go the riskier, but more rewarding route. If you have the roster spot, carry the Bears and a better Week 1 play. But know that the Bears could be a very coveted D/ST in the first half of the season.
A Look Ahead: SEA @ARI TB - A pic-a-nic basket of potential goodies
Detroit (vs New York Jets)
The Lions will be the chalk streaming defense for Week 1. Sam Darnold, welcome to the NFL in a prime time road game. Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni will surely show Darnold some things he hasn’t seen before. The Lions defense isn’t exactly star-rich, and Darnold might have strict instructions to avoid Darius Slay. The Jets offensive line is also coming in with Kelvin Beachum nursing a foot injury and Brian Winters less than a year removed from a gnarly abdominal injury and surgery.
A Look Ahead: @SF NE @DAL - Nothing too exciting here, but it will be fun to see what Patricia has dialed up for Brady Week 3
Cincinnati (at Indianapolis)
Rejoice! Andrew Luck is back. The Colts offense will be watchable (maybe not the defense) and TY Hilton will be startable again. Luck, on the other hand, might not be a great Week 1 play against an underrated Bengals defense with a fierce pass rush that will test the Colts attempt to shore up the line this year. Quenton Nelson is probably going to be great, but he’s a rookie, and he hasn’t faced someone like grown man Geno Atkins in his entire career to date. This gets ugly if the Bengals well-oiled pass offense jumps out on the Colts minor-league defense.
A Look Ahead: BAL @CAR @ATL - If Flacco struggles at all vs. Buffalo, we might stick with the Bengals in their home opener.
Miami (vs Tennessee)
There was a lot of excitement about Marcus Mariota in Matt Lafleur’s offense instead of “exotic smashmouth”, but he didn’t look like a different quarterback in Week 3 of the preseason against Pittsburgh than the one that disappointed last year. The Titans will likely be without right tackle Jack Conklin against a very deep group of Dolphins rush ends. Xavien Howard should lock down one of the Titans outside receivers and Minkah Fitzpatrick gives them a possible instant top-end slot corner. There are weaknesses in the Dolphins defense, but we can’t assume the Titans will effectively expose and attack them.
A Look Ahead: @NYJ OAK @NE - If Dolphins start hot, you’ll want them in against Darnold next week.
Washington (at Arizona)
Washington’s defense is quietly amassing great talent up front with already strong but underrated edge rushers and some decent reclamation projects filling key roles. Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne have been reunited on the defensive line and it could unlock lots of opportunities for Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan against an undermanned Cardinals offensive line protecting a quarterback whose knee allowed him to basically play one good ame last year. The Cardinals are also breaking in a new defensive scheme and could have trouble slowing down Washington’s efficient offense despite the home cooking.
A Look Ahead: IND GB @NO - If Luck has a bumpy ride in his return and Washington has a strong defensive performance on the road, we will stick with them in Week 2.
Atlanta (at Philadelphia) **Thursday**
The last time we saw Nick Foles, he was ensuring that he will never need to buy a beer in the city of Philadelphia again, but after his preseason, Eagles fans might not be so happy to see him Thursday night. Foles was underwhelming when he first came in during the regular season last year, and he’s facing an Atlanta defense that has a better pass rush and secondary than the New England defense that he went up and down the field on in the Super Bowl. It’s a road game, but one that could be a springboard opener for the Falcons much like the Chiefs win at New England last year.
A Look Ahead: NO CIN @PIT - Nothing to see here unless the Bengals line is in shambles by Week 3.
Week 2 Pre-emptive Pickups
**New Orleans, Los Angeles Chargers, Philadelphia, Los Angeles Rams, and Denver all have good matchups in Week 2 but are assumed to be owned**
Chicago (vs Seattle)
Cincinnati (vs Baltimore) **Thursday**
Pittsburgh (vs Kansas City) **If you think Mahomes starts slow**
Washington (vs Indianapolis) **If you think Luck starts slow**
Miami (at New York Jets) **If you think Darnold starts slow**