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Fantasy football: Ranking defenses to start and sit in NFL Week 15

Defenses win championships. That’s true in real life, and kinda’ true in fantasy as well. So let’s look at some options.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re still active in fantasy football at this point, you probably know what you’re doing. But defense and special teams can be pretty tricky. For instance, I lost a first round bye last week in part because the Minnesota Vikings’ defense (which had been #1 for most of the year) only got me 5 fantasy points against the Jaguars, while the Carolina Panthers’ defense (a disappointment for much of the year) put up 18 fantasy points against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. So it doesn’t hurt to explore your options on defense when so much is riding on your decision.

Think of fantasy player matchups as precious metals, and me as a jeweler. Like a good salesman, I’ll give you a tour of my shop, starting with the most alluring matchups and work my way down, presenting my case for each.

Key:

Platinum: can’t-miss investment, must-start

Gold: very good investment

Silver: solid investment

Potential gold mine: could be great, but, could also turn out to be nothing

Copper: least desirable of the precious metals, not a good start

Plastic: not even real gold, put on your bench

Fool’s Gold: shiny and enticing, but not a wise investment

Start ‘em

Platinum - Seattle Seahawks (vs Los Angeles Rams) - This one probably doesn’t even deserve mention it’s so obvious. But in case you were thinking the firing of Jeff Fisher might lead to offensive fireworks for the Rams, think again. Los Angeles has major problems on the offensive line and at wide receiver, and it’s highly doubtful interim coach John Fassel will be able to solve those on a short week.

Platinum - Buffalo Bills (vs Cleveland Browns) - Over the last four weeks, opposing defenses are getting 18 points per game when playing the Browns (according to NFL.com). Robert Griffin III’s return did little to help Cleveland’s offense, as he was only able to throw for 104 yards, 0 touchdowns, and an interception in his first action since Week 1. Expect more struggles against the Bills, who held Ben Roethlisberger to 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions last week.

Gold - Houston Texans (vs Jacksonville Jaguars) - After holding Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense to just 17 points in Indianapolis, the Texans get a home game against the struggling Jaguars, against whom the defense put up 12 fantasy points in Week 10.

Silver - Atlanta Falcons (vs San Francisco 49ers) - Colin Kaepernick has put up better numbers than Blaine Gabbert did, but it hasn’t meant much for the 49ers’ fortunes. It also hasn’t meant much for opposing defenses, who are averaging 7.62 fantasy points against San Francisco on the year, and 7.5 over the last month.

Sit ‘em

Copper - Pittsburgh Steelers (at Cincinnati Bengals) - As is customary this time of the year, the Steelers are getting a lot of love from writers. But their defense is still not one that instills fear in the opposition. Of particular weakness is their passing defense, which will face a Bengals team that is playing its best football of the year. Andy Dalton has looked rejuvenated behind slightly improved offensive line play, and his new weapons have developed good chemistry with him. Add an almost healthy A.J. Green to the mix (in a week it’s possible he will return), and Pittsburgh is unlikely to put up much more than 4 fantasy points (their average for the year) on Sunday.

Copper - New England Patriots (at Denver Broncos) - It’s tough to play in Denver, and that applies to Bill Belichick as well. In fact, the Broncos are the only team against which Belichick has a losing record as Patriots coach (he is 8-9 against them). While Denver hasn’t been particularly consistent on offense this year, it is unlikely a Patriots defense that has scored just 1.5 fantasy points per game over the last four weeks will carry you to playoff success.