They say “defense wins championships”. That, and a darn fine kicker for game-winning field goals, it would appear.
The NFL has turned into a league whose followers worship a polarizing diety known as fantasy football, giving rise to high scores and obscene yardage totals. However, the need for defense and special teams arose in the slugfest that was Super Bowl LIII, as both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams had their units take center stage in what became a 13-3 win for the former. Special teams also accounted for 10 of the game’s 16 total points via field goals from Stephen Gostkowski and Greg Zuerlein.
A Super Bowl seen as a slog by many begs the question…which unit is best to repeat such a process, unwanted as it may be by the fans?
10. Washington Redskins
Part of the Redskins’ attractiveness as both a defense and potential for special teams points is the assumed thought of a stagnant offense. Nonetheless, Washington will welcome back talent such as sack master Ryan Kerrigan, who is working on a three-year streak of double-digit sacks. This offseason, the team brought in several renowned veterans and rookies to help out, like former divisional Landon Collins and SEC stud Montez Sweat. Kicker Dustin Hopkins was successful on 89 percent of his attempts last season, and may only get more opportunities with Colt McCoy and rookie Dwayne Haskins as the top quarterback options.
9. Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland revolution has been building for a long, long, time and their defense is ready to make its mark. Numerous early picks and a little help from their friends in New York have allowed the Browns to complete a two-decade rebuild. Myles Garrett is no longer a studly outlier, but now part of a fearsome arsenal. He’s joined on the front line of a 4-3 set by Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. The team’s kicking competition could be a problem (Greg Joseph vs. Austin Siebert), but potential for non-offensive six-pointers comes from a speedy secondary featuring Denzel Ward, Terrence Mitchell, and rookie Greedy Williams.
8. Dallas Cowboys
The common flaw to disappointing Dallas squads was a failure to boast a defense capable of making stops. That doesn’t appear to be the case anymore, as several diamonds in the draft rough have risen to the occasion. Jaylon Smith was left for football dead after a devastating injury in his Ohio State finale, but has since proven to be a strong pass rusher after the Cowboys took a second-round chance on him. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and cornerback Byron Jones were each chosen late in the first round. Combine that with a long-form kicker like Brett Maher and returning threat like Tavon Austin, this is a squad to be reckoned with.
7. New England Patriots
The New England dynasty has been punctuated by short-term offensive heroes that never seem to truly take off elsewhere (Deion Branch, Matt Cassel). The defense used to play into that as well, but now it appears there is long-term stability that will keep the Patriot dynasty churning for years to come. Solid veteran leadership in the secondary (Stephon Gilmore, Patrick Chung, Devin and Jason McCourty) backs up a grouping of linebackers starting to enter their respective primes (Kyle Van Noy, Dont’a Hightower). Add the consistency of Gostkowski and returners Sony Michel and Julian Edelman, and it could well be six more years of Patriot winter in the AFC East.
6. Houston Texans
There really isn’t much JJ Watt can’t do on the field (or off it, for that matter). But even removing the contributions of Watt (and potentially Jadeveon Clowney as well), this is still a fearsome unit to deal with. Whitney Mercilus has certainly lived up to his namesake. 2018’s third-round pick Justin Reid is making a name for himself in the secondary alongside Tashaun Gipson and veteran corners Bradley Roby and Jonathan Joseph. A strong returning duo of DeAndre Carter and Keke Coutee rounds out a strong group.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars
Things got out of hand for 2018’s AFC finalists, but their defense has enough name-brand talent to instill fear in opposing offenses. Nothing more truly needs to be said about Jalen Ramsey, but other returnees from that memorable squad, like Yannick Ngakoue, Calais Campbell, AJ Boyue, and Myles Jack are out to prove that the 2017-18 season was no fluke. In an underrated fantasy gem, the Jaguars were one of two defense to earn multiple safeties during the course of the 2018 campaign.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs’ defense may give up a lot of points (and is responsible for bestowing the football world another New England nightmare), but their fantasy scoring prowess makes them an attractive draft option. The unit totaled 52 sacks (tied for a league-high) and forced 23 fumbles (recovering 12). Of course, with offensive weapons like Patrick Mahomes in the lineup, you never have to truly worry about field position, but one of those weapons, Tyreek Hill, alleviates the concern anyway. If they can just clean up the big play lapses, Kansas City will be one of the league favorites for years to come.
3. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings possess a defense stuffed with talent. A secondary headed by Trae Waynes, Harrison Smith, and Xavier Rhodes earned 12 interceptions. They also managed to score three touchdowns on defense, and were one of four teams to earn at least 50 sacks. Stats like that are second nature when your front line boasts Linval Joseph, Danielle Hunter, and Everson Griffin. The linebackers earned a significant boost when Anthony Barr spurned the Jets and opted to stay in Minnesota.
2. Los Angeles Rams
LA might get a few points off for being able to complete the Super Bowl slugfest, but it’s hard to deny them a spot in the top fantasy list, they of 31 turnovers, four touchdowns, and two safeties. Clay Matthews and Eric Weddle are the latest additions to the group, joining the all-star cast of Aaron Donald, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters.
1. Chicago Bears
It’s understandable to say that Khalil Mack was an MVP candidate in the way he transformed the Bears into a Monsters of the Midway 2.0. But plenty of other Chicago mainstays rose to the occasion and created one of the most dominant defensive fantasy seasons in recent memory. They put up 50 sacks, 119 pass deflections, and 27 interceptions. Five of those interceptions contributed to the tally of six defensive touchdowns. With old enemy Ha Ha Clinton-Dix now in the mix, those numbers might only grow.