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Streaming Defenses: Picking a Week 17 Defense

Andrew Martinez

Andrew Martinez writes about baseball and football. He is a native Texan and roots for the Astros, Rockets, Texans, and Rice Owls.

The goal of this column is to identify team defenses you can stream into your lineup on a weekly basis. Weíre only going to consider defenses available in more than 50 percent of leagues or more, based on ESPN and Yahoo ownership data.† Here are the best options for this week:

Colts - At 2-13, what incentive do the Titans have to win this game against the Colts? Sure, itíd be a nice upset and their first taste of winning since the second week of October, but if they lose, they can at minimum lock up the No. 2 overall pick in this yearís upcoming draft. For the Colts, theyíre locked into the No. 4 seed in the playoffs, but will likely want to atone how poorly they played against the Cowboys last week. As for how this game breaks down, I just donít know where the Titans are going to turn to move the chains and score points. Theyíre tied for the third fewest offensive touchdowns per game at 1.7 and thatís down to 0.3 over their last three games, as theyíve scored only one touchdown in their last three gamesÖ one. If thatís not a clear sign this team has shut things down, Iím not sure what is. QB Charlie Whitehurst has a 7.99 YPA this season and 6:2 TD:INT ratio, which isnít all that bad, he just doesnít have a supporting cast to help him out. WR Kendall Wright showed he was over his hand injury by catching four passes for 73 yards last week, but thatís where the down the field weapons start and end for the Titans. TE Delanie Walker is good for around 40-50 yards on 6-7 targets each week, which is nice for a fantasy owner, but he has only scored one TD since Week 4. The Colts are a middling pass defense, as they rank tied for 19th in YPA (7.1), but they do have CB Vontae Davis, who rates out as the second best CB in the league this season, per Pro Football Focus, and I donít know how the Titans are going to convert third and long plays or get chunk yardage plays, if heís guarding Wright. On the ground, Bishop Sankey is at least getting the majority of the touches again, though it really hasnít amounted to much with a 3.7 YPC on the season and one rushing touchdown since Week 4. The most explosive weapon out of the Titans backfield is probably Leon Washington, as heíll catch passes and is an elusive runner in the open field. The Colts are average against the run, ranking tied for 15th in YPC (4.2), though that figure has improved to 3.4 YPC over their last three games. Overall, really none of the Titans weapons scare me or even have me thinking this could be a shootout. I understand that the Colts could rest some players in this game, but Iíd be surprised if they do that all game, considering how lackluster they were last week against Dallas and how theyíll need to rev things up next week in the first round of the playoffs. Vegas has this over/under set at 46.5 with the Colts favored by 7, which puts this at about a 27-20 game. Facing the Titans at home, the Colts defense/special teams has an ownership of 19.4 percent at ESPN and 50 percent at Yahoo.

Browns - What do the Browns do well on defense? Stop the pass. Theyíre tied for the fourth best YPA (6.0) allowed this season and are first in interceptions per game (1.4). Conversely, what do the Ravens do poorly on offense? Right now that answer is pass the ball, as they rank tied for 18th in YPA (6.8) and their YPA has dropped down to 5.9 in their last three games. What do the Browns do poorly on defense? Stop the run. Theyíre tied for 27th in YPC (4.5) allowed this season. And what do the Ravens do well on offense? Until the last two weeks, that answer was run the ball, as they rank tied for fifth in YPC (4.5) on the season. These last two weeks though, RB Justin Forsett had a 1.9 YPC against the Texans last week and 3.0 YPC against the Jags the week before. The point here is that the Ravens would be wise to run the ball against the Browns and not test their secondary too often. QB Joe Flacco is usually pretty steady, but last week against Houston he was rattled and produced a measly 3.9 YPA and threw three picks. I donít think the Browns have a JJ Watt of their own to induce that sort of pressure, but their secondary is talented enough to capitalize on his mistakes. The last time these two teams faced, back in Week 3, the game went about how I think this game will go, which is to say the Ravens ran the ball at will for 4.8 YPC and had an average day throwing the ball with a 7.0 YPA, one TD and one interception. The result was a 23-21 that was fairly even. I donít expect the Ravens passing game to produce significantly better numbers than then, as itís still Torrey Smith and Steve Smith Sr. running the same routes. I am somewhat concerned about Forsett though, as he hasnít been playing well these last two games. I would expect that to end this week and for him to have a pretty good game, as the Browns havenít been able to stop many teams from running on them. The thing that concerns me most is the QB play of the Browns, as Johnny Manziel (hamstring) is on IR and Brian Hoyer is still dealing with a biceps and shoulder injury that could force the team to go with Connor Shaw, who is on the practice squad. If he were to have to lead the Browns passing attack, the Ravens could feast on him and leave themselves with pretty good field position from which to score. The Ravens need this game to make the playoffs, so I expect for them to be prepared and motivated, while the Browns would love nothing more than to ruin their season, so I donít think weíre dealing with a team looking to tank here. More than anything, going with the Browns is about betting against Joe Flacco, which is a decent proposition in my estimation. Vegas has this over/under set at 42.5 with the Ravens favored by 9.5, which puts this at about a 26-16 game. Facing the Ravens on the road, the Browns defense/special teams has an ownership of 14.9 percent at ESPN and 35 percent at Yahoo.

Cowboys - The Cowboys have a shot at the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs and as such will likely be prepared and motivated for this game against the Redskins, who at this point, Iím not sure what theyíre playing for, as theyíre 4-11 and have one win since Week 8. Of course that Week 8 win was against the Cowboys, who they edged out by three points in OT. I think the Cowboys will have that loss on their minds and a healthy Tony Romo this time around as well. For the Redskins offensively, QB RG3 is starting to perform like many thought he would this season, but it hasnít exactly translated into points for his team. Last week against a porous Philly secondary, he ripped off a 9.57 YPA with no TDs and one interception. The Cowboys secondary ranks tied for 23rd in YPA (7.2), but has improved that figure to 6.7 YPA over the last three games. WR DeSean Jackson is going play a major role in this game, as heís a matchup nightmare for most corners and is likely to get targeted the most in the passing game. One or two strikes to him could turn things for the Redskins passing game. Thatís just it though, if you can corral him, which few can, then you eliminate the big chunk yardage plays and really only have Pierre Garcon left to cover, as there is no TE or RB featured heavily in this offense. On the ground, the Dallas is average, ranking tied for 15th in YPC (4.2) and Washington is right there with them, ranking 14th in YPC forced (4.2). I donít really see either team getting the best of their opponent on the ground, though it could be a short day on the ground for Washington, if they fall behind early and have to abandon the run, much as the Colts did this past week. RB Alfred Morris is a decent weapon (4.1 YPC), but he doesnít catch passes, so itís tough to expect much out of him. If we see a vintage RG3 game, where heís outside of the pocket picking up extra yards with his legs and creating mismatches on zone-read plays and pulling up to throw passes to Jackson down the field, this could be shootout, but we havenít seen that RG3 or that Washington offense in some time. I donít think the Cowboys defense is anything special, as they rank tied for 26th in YPP (5.8), but their offense can be something special and when theyíre controlling the clock and keeping the other offense off the field, itís tough for other teams to stay committed to the run. Above all, I like that Dallas is playing for the No. 2 seed in an early game, where they wonít know their fate and will need to give max effort on both sides of the ball. Vegas has this over/under set at 49 with the Cowboys favored by 6.5, which puts this at about a 28-22 game. Facing the Redskins on the road, the Cowboys defense/special teams has an ownership of 8.3 percent at ESPN and 17 percent at Yahoo.

Jaguars - How much do you trust the Jags run defense? That is what this game will come down to, as the Texans arenít likely to let QB Case Keenum throw the ball much, as heís not very talented or experienced and their offense is predicated on getting RB Arian Foster the ball early and often. This formula has worked for them for the majority of the season on offense, allowing their defense to set the tone, turn teams over, and flip the field on opponents. On the season the Jags rank tied for 15th in YPC (4.2) and have improved upon that figure in the last three weeks (3.7 YPC). Still, they have little to play for, as a loss locks them into at worst a top five pick in next seasonís draft. The last time these two teams played was back in Week 14, when the Texans beat the Jags 27-13 and Foster ran wild on them for 5.3 YPC. The QB then was Ryan Fitzpatrick and he only threw the ball 19 times for 135 yards with no TDs, interceptions, or sacks. At half-time of that game though, the Jags were winning, 13-10 and they held that lead until late in the third quarter, when RB Alfred Blue scored on them and the flood gates opened up. Iím not sure either team is much better or worse than that game, though Keenum has to be viewed as somewhat of a downgrade. Last week against the Ravens he threw the ball a whopping 42 times and only came up with 185 yards on a 4.41 YPA with no touchdowns and one interception. The Texans will likely not allow him to throw the ball that much this time around, as heís likely to be exposed, much the way he was last season. Speaking of which, last season Keenum started two games against the Jags and produced a 5.2 YPA with one TD and two interceptions. Itís fair to say the Texans are a better team than last season in those games, but Keenum may not be, as he hadnít had a snap this season until last week. The Jags average the fifth most sacks per game (2.8), so Iíd be somewhat surprised to not see them bring Keenum down a few times. The obvious reason to not take the them here is that they donít have anything to play for, while the Texans still have a shot, if things fall right, to make it into the playoffs as a wildcard. I fully expect for the Texans to win this game, Iím just not so sure it will be by double digits as Vegas suggests, especially with Keenum a liability in passing situations. Vegas has this over/under set at 40.5 with the Texans favored by 9.5, which puts this at about a 25-15 game. Facing the Texans on the road, the Jags defense/special teams has an ownership of 2.3 percent at ESPN and 4 percent at Yahoo.

Vikings - Have the Bears finally quit on their season? After losing four in a row, it would seem that way. Itís not likely that much of the coaching staff will be allowed to keep their job after this season, considering how the offense regressed and how poorly the defense was all season long. QB Jay Cutler, who was benched a week ago, is back under center this week, as his replacement Jimmy Clausen is out with a concussion. I really donít think Cutler is that bad and donít understand why he was benched in the first place. This season he has posted a career high in completion percentage (66.1), TD passes (28), and passer rating (89.5). Last week against the Lions, the passing game was mediocre at best, as WR Alshon Jeffery got 15 targets for 72 yards and TD, Marquess Wilson had 10 targets for 66 yards, and RB Matt Forte saw six targets for 40 yards and a TD. After that seven targets went to four different players who combined for three yards. The Vikings rank tied for 15th in YPA (6.8) and rank seventh in sacks per game (2.7), so they should be a decent foe for the Bears passing game. The last time these two teams faced each other was in Week 11 and Cutler threw for 330 yards on 43 passes for 7.7 YPA, three TDs, and two picks. I really wouldnít be too surprised to see him have a similar type game, though itís going to be tough, as WR Brandon Marshall scored two TDs in that game and heís now out for the season. I like the Vikings chances though because RB Matt Forte really isnít anything special on the ground. As a pass catcher, heís great and can really create mismatches with his speed in space, but as a runner, he has been lukewarm at best lately. In his last five games heís had a 3.34 YPC with zero runs over 20 yards. The Vikings are an average to below average run defense, ranking tied for 21st in YPC (4.3), but if they can just do that against the Bears, it may be enough to induce them into throwing the ball more than theyíd like, which is where Cutler can fall into bad habits and their offense becomes one dimensional. Neither team is playing for much, but at least the Vikings are at home, where theyíve won three of their last four games. I also like that the Vikingsí loses have been close in the second half of the season, as theyíve lost by one, eight, three, two, and two points. That at least tells me that theyíre competitive. I wouldnít be surprised to see the Bears post 40 plus points in this game, just as I wouldnít be surprised to see them score single digits, with most of the coaching staff likely to be fired after this game though, the latter is the more likely outcome and a reason to take a chance on the Vikings this week, if youíre in a pinch. Vegas has this over/under set at 44 with the Vikings favored by 6.5, which puts this at about a 25-19 game. Facing the Bears at home, the Vikings defense/special teams has an ownership of 23.8 percent at ESPN and 35 percent at Yahoo.

Here are my rankings for this week:

Rank Week 17
2 NE
7 SF
10 IND
11 BUF
12 GB
13 DET
14 CLE
15 STL
16 DAL
17 JAX
18 MIN
19 CHI
20 KC
21 NO
22 PIT
23 NYG
24 CIN
25 SD
26 CAR
27 ATL
28 TB
29 NYJ
30 TEN
31 WSH
32 OAK

Finally, heres how the picks from the previous week faired:

Browns (@ Panthers) - 17 points allowed, 1 sack, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery

Jaguars (vs Titans) - 13 points allowed, 4 sacks

Giants (@ Rams) - 27 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 2 fumble recoveries

Panthers (vs Browns) - 13 points allowed, 3 sacks, 1 interception

Vikings (@ Dolphins) - 35 points allowed, 2 sacks, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery