Patriots' defense has been found money in fantasy

October 29, 2019
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You do the best you can. Read the magazines, compile the rankings, listen to the shows. Fantasy draft day comes along and you're as prepared as can be.

If you're like me, those rankings run the show. You've got your players in order, plus at least a general idea of which positions you'll account for within a group of rounds. I'm going to load up on running backs and wide receivers early, I'm going to wait on quarterbacks and for the most part tight ends, and as far as kickers and defense go I might not even draft them at all.

I'm among the many that prefer to "stream" defenses, meaning I'm not banking on a certain team to provide consistently good value. Instead, I'm looking at waivers each week for the best defensive matchup. And I'll never have more than one defense on a roster.

Funny thing, though, about 2019 so far. One defense, the New England Patriots are not only far and away above all others, it incredibly ranks ninth in most formats among all players.

Graham Barfield of NFL.com was among those running the numbers Monday -- a day after the Patriots' defense stifled the Cleveland Browns while in the process scoring another touchdown, its sixth of the season (including special teams). 

Here's the entire list of players to have eclipsed 169.0 fantasy points through eight weeks, the Patriots' number: Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson, Russell Wilson, Michael Thomas, Lamar Jackson, Austin Ekeler, Aaron Jones.

Of course, it's not that you were supposed to pick New England's defense in the first round. I'm not even kicking myself for leagues in which I didn't pick them at all; the principle remains that predicting defense is too risky to justify it. But you've got to admit, the Patriots' defense has been like a cheat code so far in leagues. Free bonus points pretty much every week.

In your league, has it tipped the scales? Did somebody you're used to beating grab the Patriots' defense -- perhaps having no real reason at all for doing so -- and is now kicking your league's butt? Are you in a league where the Patriots' defense has been traded? (I'm not, but it wouldn't shock me to see it.)

Streaming defenses remains my preferred method, because, in part, of how matchup-dependent defense performance is. It is accurate that the Patriots have benefited from some exceptional matchups (New York Jets twice, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, New York Giants. The Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland were not supposed to be cake matchups, but they turned out to be pretty much that.)

New England has allowed only 61 points in eight games. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens allowed 89 in that span. The legendary 1985 Chicago Bears, 114. The 1977 Atlanta Falcons -- hardly a team mentioned in the pantheon of great defenses, I guess because there's no winning record here let alone a Super Bowl -- allowed 56 points in eight games, the record low since 1940. (This includes a 3-0 loss to the Bills, by the way.) After that, it's the 2019 Patriots and the 1962 Green Bay Packers.

So who does have the Patriots' defense in your league, or leagues? What place are they in?

Here's a partial breakdown of that from within my portfolio:

  • I have them in one league where I picked them up in Week 2, cutting Baltimore, doing so because the Patriots were about to face Miami (a team Baltimore had just beaten 59-10). In this league the, Patriots are averaging 13 points per-week for me. The league has somewhat of a screwy format which has them above McCaffrey for the season so, yeah, my otherwise average team is doing OK. Best record in that league.
     
  • In another league of mine, the Patriots' defense's owner is 4-4 with the fifth-most overall points. It's a dynasty league and he picked New England in the sixth round of our rookie/free agent draft. This team has a decent roster, led otherwise by Packers running back Aaron Jones, but would have at least one fewer win with an average defense instead. This league also runs a survivor side pool where the lowest team gets knocked out each week. The Patriots are the biggest reason why this team is still alive in that, and partly why my team is not.
     
  • One league I'm in has a neat wrinkle where in addition to your team defense, you start one individual defensive player that plays for that same team. Want to guess who's in first place? The Patriots are the second-highest scoring player in the league so far (behind Deshaun Watson, that same team's quarterback), and individually, Jamie Collins pulled down 14 points of his own in Week 8. This is like having the cheat code and then being able to double it.
     
  • Our Sabres beat reporter Paul Hamilton runs a league at work, and oh look!, there's Paul's team in first place overall, with the Patriots' defense in tow. I'm 1-7 there, so obviously no jealousy here or anything.
     
  • I had a Friday off in August and rounded up 11 friends for an impromptu afternoon draft. Thanks to the Patriots, Jackson and McCaffrey, that team is 7-1 and leading in points. My team otherwise here is below-average.

And so on and so forth.

For those of us that play seriously and loathe the idea of carrying an extra defense, it'll be interesting to see what happens next week when New England is on the bye week. Plus their schedule gets tougher, probably starting this Sunday night at Baltimore. Do you make an exception and use a bench spot on New England? If you have a good record -- take my 7-1 team, for example -- you might be looking ahead to the playoffs. If you make the fantasy final, which in most leagues is Week 16, New England that week hosts the Bills, just so you know. And that league I mentioned with the strange format, well that league plays its final Week 17. The Patriots that day host Miami.

The usual streaming strategy can still apply here, but the Patriots have provided a variable with their defense that most years doesn't exist. 

If you have them, good for you!