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.
**Los Angeles, Arizona, and Seattle all have nice matchups and are preferred to any rent-a-defense this week, but they were also likely drafted,, so they are assumed to not be available as a late pick D/ST**
Week 1 Targets
Washington (vs Pittsburgh)
Prime time season openers can be fuel for the D/ST fire. Washington gets a rabid home crowd as they begin their defense of a division title, and big offseason addition Josh Norman should be a tone-setter against a quarterback who is much worse on the road. Ben Roethlisberger actually threw more interceptions than touchdowns on the road last year, and he is breaking in a new third receiver (Eli Rogers) and tight end (Jesse James), in addition to having a second receiver (Markus Wheaton) that he has never really gelled with. The Steelers defense is woeful in the secondary and they just put their most talented pass rusher (Bud Dupree) on injured reserve. If Kirk Cousins is in 2015 second half form, this could be a long night for the Steelers, but a lot of fun for anyone that starts the Washington D/ST.
Detroit (at Indianapolis)
It’s a bit unconventional to start a road defense as a streamer, but the Lions have the players upfront (Haloti Ngata, Ziggy Ansah) and a shutdown corner (Darius Slay) to frustrate and fluster Andrew Luck behind an offensive line that looked a lot like the one that let him down last year during the 2016 preseason. The Lions also have an uptempo short passing attack that should exploit the Colts problems in the secondary. The Colts are very thin upfront on defense to boot. The Lions may find a way to Lion this good matchup, but if they just play to their strengths on both sides of the ball, it could be a laugher.
A Look Ahead: TEN @GB @CHI - If the Titans stumble vs. Minnesota in their opener, we may go back to the well with Detroit.
Cleveland (at Philadelphia)
This game features two teams that are supposed to be in rebuilding mode, but only one that has been acting that way this summer. The Eagles are basically punting this year, starting Carson Wentz at quarterback even though he was playing FBS football at this time last year. Philadelphia is playing at home, and perhaps with Robert Griffin III at quarterback for the Browns, they are the right side to be on for the defenses. Still, Jim Schwartz has converted this defense back to a 4-3, which could take time to work out, and Wentz hasn’t even seen much meaningful preseason action. The Eagles fans can and will turn on this team if things get rough, so my chip is on Hue Jackson’s optimism and the Browns weapons on offense to set the tone in this game, and then their defense to pile on as the Eagles stare down the barrel of a top five pick type season - a top five pick that the Browns own!
A Look Ahead: BAL @MIA @WAS - We will only use the Browns under special circumstances. Week 1 applies
Green Bay (at Jacksonville)
The Packers avoided losing Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers from their defense when Roger Goodell called them into the principal’s office and cleared them of wrongdoing. They would be a slam dunk if this game was at Lambeau, although they are still a good play in Jacksonville, who looked more like a team ready to continue the march of misery than turn things around this preseason. There’s a lot of reason for hope on the Jaguars new-look defense, but Aaron Rodgers will probably give them more homework instead of an A on their first test. Blake Bortles can produce fantasy numbers in catchup mode, but some of those will go to the opposing defense.
A Look Ahead: @MIN @DET BYE - The Vikings first regular season game in their new stadium is not a place to try a rent-a-defense
Tennessee (vs Minnesota)
It’s a cruel business, but we have to incorporate a team’s mental/emotional state when we forecast games. The Vikings just saw their quarterback of the future potentially become their quarterback of the past. As a pick-me-up they traded a first-round pick and a fourth to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, who has been like a bankruptcy attorney than a franchise savior so far in his career. Vikings guard Alex Boone said the Bridgewater injury was the “craziest thing” he has ever seen and it put his body into shock. We’ll forgive the Vikings if they don’t answer the bell on the road Week 1. The Titans, on the other hand, have been rampaging through the preseason with their running game and Marcus Mariota playing hyperefficient football. It won’t be a surprise if the Titans take control of this game and force Shaun Hill into multiple turnovers.
A Look Ahead: @DET OAK @HOU - One and done for the Titans.
Week 2 Pre-emptive Pickups
Oakland (vs Atlanta)
Chicago (vs Philadelphia)
Washington (vs Dallas)
New England (vs Miami)
San Diego (vs Jacksonville)