With just over three weeks until the NFL regular season officially kicks off, it’s time to start getting into gear for another season of DraftKings daily fantasy sports (DFS) football.
One of the more overlooked positions in DFS is defense and special teams (DST). A solid DST can often be the difference between making and losing money.
The trouble is that defensive performances are often difficult to predict in the NFL. Last year’s go-to No. 1 defense Seattle finished the season as the eighth-best DST, behind surprises like Green Bay and Houston.
A lot of a defense’s performance in fantasy is due to turnovers, which are hard to predict. Last year’s top DraftKings DST, the Philadelphia Eagles, were actually ranked 28th in total defense, allowing more than 375 yards per game.
But the Eagles were at or near the top in the other defensive categories that give points to DSTs. Each interception and fumble is worth two points, and every sack is worth one point.
Philly was slightly below league average with 12 interceptions but was second in sacks with 49 and led the league in fumble recoveries with 16. The Eagles were also near the top of the league in defensive touchdowns and led the league in special teams return touchdowns.
While turnovers are difficult to predict, they’re not necessarily impossible. Like all things DFS, matchups play a key role in determining who to start at DST in any given week.
Here are the teams with the most turnovers in 2014:
Some of the teams on this list are also high-octane, fast-paced, high-scoring offenses. Some, however, are just inept when it comes to turning the ball over.
Here are the worst scoring offenses in 2014:
And the worst offenses in terms of total yardage:
Combining the stats from giveaways with total offense and scoring numbers, it’s obvious which teams provide opposing DSTs with the best opportunity to score points. Teams that appear on all three lists are likely good sources for opposing DST points every week.
At the beginning of the season, a little more guesswork is required. For example, Tampa Bay is probably going to be a good opponent to rack up DST points against this season, because the only real change the Buccaneers made was at quarterback, where they’re expected to start a likely turnover-prone rookie.
Good, old-fashioned hard-nosed defense is a good indicator as to how a DST will perform too. Teams that allow the fewest yards also typically allow fewer points, limiting losses to their DST scores each week.
Here are the top total-points defenses from 2014. Until 2015 starts to take shape, defensive performances should mostly be based on 2014 numbers.
Obviously, contextualized predictions based on rookies and free agents should be accounted for as well, but defensive performances don’t stray much from previous years. The San Francisco 49ers may be an exception to that rule this season as a result of all their losses.
The “any given Sunday” mantra still exists, but that’s true of anything in fantasy. Given the parameters we’ve laid out and the 2015 matchups, these are the top five projected DSTs for DraftKings in 2015.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs finished 2014 as the 21st-best scoring DST in DraftKings, so their inclusion may be surprising. But Kansas City is on this list for a couple of reasons.
The team allowed the seventh-fewest yards per game in 2014 and the second-fewest points per game. The reason the Chiefs finished so low in DFS scoring was because of a lack of turnovers.
As we mentioned, turnovers can be difficult to predict, but the Chiefs do have the luxury of playing the sixth-most turnover-prone team, the Raiders, twice. If the Chiefs can increase their defensive turnovers, they should be a top DST in DFS this season.
4. Denver Broncos
Denver sat in the middle of the pack last season in points allowed per game (16th) but was the third-best defense in yards allowed per game. The Broncos were also just one takeaway shy of cracking the top 10 in that category as well.
The Broncos not only get to face the Raiders twice, but they also square off against 2014’s eighth-worst yardage offense, Kansas City, twice. In addition, Denver will take on two other low-scoring offenses in 2014, the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears.
Plus, they say the best defense is a good offense, and Denver should have one of the top offenses in football in 2015.
3. Houston Texans
The Texans have J.J. Watt. That should be enough.
They also get to play the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars a total of four times. In addition, Houston plays Indy twice; as high-flying as the Colts were in 2014 (third in yards and sixth in scoring), they also turned the ball over 31 times, which was bad enough for third-most.
The Texans can thrive off turnovers, as they reeled in a league-high 34 last season to go along with allowing the seventh-fewest points last season.
2. Seattle Seahawks
This is where the Seahawks earn their money. Unfortunately, that will also likely come with a heftier price tag as well.
Seattle was the only team in the NFL to allow fewer than 300 yards per game last season, and it did so by allowing 33.8 fewer yards than the second-best team. It’s also the only team to allow less than 300 yards per game in either of the last two seasons.
The Seahawks gave up a league-low 15.9 points per game. They finished as the eighth-best defense in DraftKings last season, despite finishing 23rd in takeaways.
Just imagine if they start forcing turnovers again.
1. Buffalo Bills
The Bills were the second-best DST in DFS last season, averaging just less than 11 points per game in DraftKings.
They did so by allowing the fourth-fewest points and yards per game, as well as amassing the third-most turnovers (30).
The Bills get the New York Jets twice and a (potentially) Tom Brady-less New England Pats once. Added bonus: Buffalo also plays the Titans and Jaguars this season.
As noted with the Broncos, the best defense is a good offense, and while the Bills will likely not have a great one (who’s their quarterback again?), they will probably have a solid run game, which should help them shorten the time their opponents are on the field.
Trust a Rex Ryan-led defense.
All stats and info courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.
2014 DraftKings fantasy points courtesy of RotoGuru.
Follow Aaron Brand on Twitter @AaronBrand47.
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