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Fantasy Football Playoff Defense Rankings

Bryan breaks fantasy football’s top defenses into tiers for the fantasy playoffs.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 17: Myles Garrett #95 of the Cleveland Browns reacts during the fourth quarter of a game against the Chicago Bears at Cleveland Browns Stadium on December 17, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Ignoring defense for 90% of the fantasy season isn’t just a habit; it’s a source of pride. I’m that guy who berates other managers for drafting a D/ST in round 10; it’s just illogical. In a year filled with some of the worst quarterback play we’ve ever seen in the NFL, fantasy managers have been spoiled for choice. Now, in Week 16, why focus on defense with several great options available?

I’ll tell you why: It’s the playoffs! This is that magical time of year when the most useless pieces in your lineup determine whether you win or go home. Fun, right? It’s time to rank the top twelve rest-of-season defenses in fantasy; your season might depend on it!

Fantasy Football Playoff Defense Rankings

The Elite Tier
  1. Cleveland Browns (W16 @ HOU, W17 vs. NYJ)
  2. Buffalo Bills (W16 @ LAC, W17 vs. NE)
  3. Denver Broncos (W16 vs. NE, W17 @ LAC)
  4. New York Jets (W16 vs. WSH, W17 @ CLE)

It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the Browns are the cream of the crop going forward. A relentless pass rush and stingy secondary have made Cleveland a nightmare for starting QBs, let alone backups. With C.J. Stroud likely out this Sunday and the Jets rotating through mediocrity behind center, Myles Garrett and company should have a field day.

The surging Bills, fresh off holding the Cowboys to 10 points, will have a much easier time keeping Easton Stick and (probably) Bailey Zappe in check. Denver’s defense was mocked after surrendering 70 points to the Dolphins in Week 3, but they’ve been a solid unit since then. Facing the same two opponents as Buffalo, just in a different order, sets the Broncos up for success. In New York, the defense has thrived in spite of some absolutely dreadful offense. Gang Green has a date at home against turnover-prone Sam Howell before heading to Cleveland to face Joe Flacco; the Jets should have a fairly safe defensive floor to end the year.

The Good, Not Great, Tier
  1. Indianapolis Colts (W16 @ ATL, W17 vs. LV)
  2. Chicago Bears (W16 vs. ARI, W17 @ ATL)
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (W16 vs. LV, W17 vs. CIN)
  4. Philadelphia Eagles (W16 vs. NYG, W17 vs. ARI)

Indianapolis could have made the top four of this list had the Falcons not announced that Taylor Heinicke will start this Sunday. Still, there are worse schedules than an Atlanta squad dealing with quarterback chaos followed up by an inconsistent Raiders team. The Bears, similar to Denver, have had a drastic defensive turnaround, fueled by the trade-deadline acquisition of edge Montez Sweat. Over the past four weeks, Chicago has forced 12 interceptions and 12 sacks while giving up 18 points per game. The turnovers should continue this week against a Cardinals team prone to mental mistakes.

Kansas City, despite their well-publicized issues on offense, has had a great year on the other side of the ball. Expect defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to scheme up plenty of pressure over the next two weeks against Raiders rookie Aidan O’Connell and Bengals backup Jake Browning. The Eagles’ defense has been a fantasy doormat for most of the year, but Christmas presents a get-right opportunity against Tommy DeVito’s Giants, a franchise that always struggles at Lincoln Financial Field. The following week against Arizona could see Kyler Murray forcing balls down field in order to keep up with Jalen Hurts.

The Desperation Plays
  1. Green Bay Packers (W16 @ CAR, W17 @ MIN)
  2. New Orleans Saints (W16 @ LAR, W17 @ TB)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (W16 vs. NO, W17 @ NYG)
  4. Houston Texans (W16 vs. CLE, W17 vs. TEN)

The Packers haven’t had many signature performances on defense this year, but Bryce Young followed by third-stringer Nick Mullens in primetime? Don’t be shocked if the Pack boost some teams to a title. New Orleans has hovered around the top-five range defensively, so they had to make the cut here despite some so-so matchups; the Rams at home are a threat, and the Bucs can move the ball downfield (but can also lose the ball).

Los Angeles has a challenging but manageable Thursday night game vs. the Saints before heading to the Meadowlands, where a vulnerable Giants offense awaits them. Houston’s upcoming schedule is fantasy-friendly, but C.J. Stroud’s concussion casts a shadow over the entire team. The Texans go from a comfortable start to borderline play without their franchise quarterback keeping them off the field.