It makes sense to think the best fantasy defenses come from winning teams. Teams that are ahead get more opportunities for sacks; teams that are behind need to force some things (resulting in more takeaways for the winners). And teams that get those takeaways have more defensive scores or at least short fields (helping them win). Is the theory true?
A couple of years ago I took a deep dive into the data. It was compelling, although maybe not as much as I expected. But 2018 definitely was.
The long-term numbers I looked at were only slightly favorable. Over the five-year period I looked at, 57 teams had double-digit wins. Thirty-three of those teams (58 percent) had top-12 fantasy defenses. So win 10-plus games, and you have about a 60-percent chance of being a defense worth starting over the course the season. That's not bad.
Flipside is that 40 percent of those teams that won 10 games weren't great fantasy defenses; not top-12 anyway. There's also the fact that while we know some of the teams likely to win 10-plus games in a given year, we don't know all of them. General conclusion at the time was that given a choice between two comparably ranked defense, take the one from the team you think is more likely to win double-digit games.
2018 data is below. Last year 11 teams won at least 10 games. Six of them had top-10 fantasy defenses; two more were at least better than average. If you want to parse things even tighter, five of the seven winningest teams had top-10 fantasy defenses (in a scoring system with giving 1 point for sacks, 2 for turnovers and 6 for defensive touchdowns).
At the other end of the spectrum, teams that won the fewest games generally had poor fantasy defenses. Of the 16 teams that won 7 or fewer games last year, nine finished 20th or worse in fantasy performance. Only three of 16 made it into the top 10. The three very worst fantasy defenses won 4, 4 and 5 games.
|WINS AND FANTASY D|
In the table, sorted by wins, top-10 fantasy defenses are in bold; bottom 10 are italicized.
Of course, we don't know exactly who the winningest and losingest teams will be for 2019. Not for certain. But we can assume the Patriots, Saints and Rams will be winners, and the Dolphins and Bengals will probably be losers, and factor that into our draft-day defense selection.
When you see the Defense story in the magazine, you'll see that eight of the teams in the top 10 look like playoff teams. Exceptions: Jacksonville and Denver. Will things work out like that? We'll see. But if I'm picking between two comparable defenses, I'll favor the one from the team I expect to be playing in January.