While defenses may not win Fantasy Football championships, a good defense may be the difference between a few close wins and a few close loses during the season This is especially the case in leagues where the return game figures prominently into the scoring. A good rule of thumb then, when considering a defense, is to check the scoring system in your league first before drafting. For those looking for a cheat sheet come draft day, here is a list of the top ten defenses available for the 2010 Fantasy Football season.
1) New Orleans Saints
Forget the fact they are the defending Super Bowl champs, or that they allowed over 350 yards per game, the Saints have an opportunistic defense which last season picked off 26 passes, logged 35 sacks, and scored a league high 8 touchdowns. Look for more of the same this season as Brees’ high scoring offensive will have opponents throwing caution to the wind and risk turnovers in order to get back into games. There return game is also in good hands. Though he is coming off a bad year, Reggie Bush is always a dangerous punt returner, and Courtney Ruby average 27.5 yards per kickoff return.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
With Troy Polamalu missing 10 games last season, the Steelers defense sputtered in 2009. Still, even without Troy, the Steelers still led the AFC in sacks with 47, with Lamar Woodley and James Harrison collecting half of them. A healthy Polamalu should mean the Steelers will have more than 12 pickoff this season, and the team should be able to improve on the 20.3 points a game they gave up last season. The return game is above average with Stefan Logan averaging 26.7 yards a kick return last season.
3) New York Jets
The Jets led all NFL defenses with a 14.8 points against average while yielding only 252.3 yards per game. Those are solid numbers which should stay about the same this year. However, to improve as a Fantasy Football defense, they will need to improve on the 17 interceptions and 32 sacks they logged last season. The former will be a tall order if Darrelle Revis holds out this season. The Jets top corner is coming off a season in which he picked off 6 passes for 121 yards, and is the key to their secondary.
4) Green Bay Packers
Packers had an opportunistic defense in 2009, one which picked off 30 passes (an NFL high), recorded 37 sacks and scored 4 touchdowns. The defense was also one of two defenses in the league who held opponents under 300 yards per game (284.4). With a strong corps of linebackers, which includes A.J. Hawks, and Clay Mathews (10 sacks his rookie season), and a secondary that includes Charles Woodson (9 interceptions, 178 yards and 3 touchdowns), and Nick Collins (6 interceptions), there is no reason to believe that the Packers won’t pick up where they last left off.
5) Baltimore Ravens
Any team that has both Ed Reed and Ray Lewis on defense, will always be a Fantasy Football favorite. In eight seasons in Baltimore, Reed has picked off 46 passes and scored 8 touchdowns, while Lewis anchors a defense that surrendered only 16.3 points per game. As the their offense continues to improve, look for the Raven’s defense to post a few more Fantasy Football points this season.
6) Dallas Cowboys
Dallas finished second to the Jets in points per game allowed (15.6), and would be ranked higher if they were more capable of picking off passes (only 19 Interceptions over the last two seasons). Still, this is a defense that boasts a linebacker corps that currently includes Ware, Spencer, and Brooking, and which added Penn State standout Sean Lee for depths. Look for Dallas to collect a few more sacks and pickoffs this year, and for the Fantasy Football value of this defense to go up in 2010.
7) Minnesota Vikings
As far as Fantasy Football is concerned, the 2009 season was a bit like the 2008 season for the Vikings, and if 2010 is anything like the past two seasons you can expect the Vikings to collect about 45 sacks and 12 interceptions, while giving up 19-20 points per game. However, if Percy Harvin is returning kickoffs for them again this year, look for the value of this defense to increase significantly in 2010.
8) San Francisco 49ers
Forget their 8-8 record, the Mike Singletary led 49ers have a good Fantasy Football defense. The 49ers led the league in forced fumbles (21), and recorded 44 sacks (tied for 3rd in the NFL) last season. They picked off 18 passes and held opponents to under 100 yards a game. Look for this young defense to improve on those numbers this year.
9) Philadelphia Eagles
Fantasy Football wise the Eagles had a decent 2009 season, picking off 25 passes and sacking the quarterback an additional 45 times. Asante Samuel led the secondary with 9 interceptions, and Trent Cole led all linemen with 12.5 sacks. The return game is in excellent shape as long as DeSean Jackson is returning punts (15.2 yards peer game) for them. Look for the Eagles to stay among the league leaders in sacks and interceptions again this season.
10) New England Patriots
Sure, the Patriots do not have the type of defense they had a few seasons ago, yet the 2009 version held opponents to under 18 points a game. With Brady and company able to score almost at will, there will be plenty of opportunities for the defense to get sacks and turnovers again this season when opponents have to play come from behind football. Look for the Patriots to score a few more points on defense in 2010.