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Defensive Notes

Detroit Lions

Rising team also improved defensively

The Lions are going to be a popular sleeper pick in 2023, with the Vikings and Packers probably taking a step back and the Bears at least a year away from respectability. Early odds have Detroit the betting favorite in the NFC North. And I have some interest in their defense as a fantasy option.

It's been a while since they've been fantasy relevant. They haven't ranked in the top half of the league in either sacks or interceptions in any of the last four seasons. Last year they had 39 sacks and 12 interceptions, ranking 18th-19th among the NFL's 32 teams in both areas.

But Dan Campbell's team seems to be headed in the right direction, and it showed up last year.

Most notably, they were a lot better in the second half of the season than the first in those fantasy areas -- the most dramatic improvement among the league's teams.

The new 17-game season makes splitting the season in half tricky, but one way to do it is to look at the first nine games versus the last nine games -- counting that ninth game twice. The combined improvement in sacks and interceptions by Detroit was better than any other team.

Table shows sack and interception totals for the first nine games (1) and final nine games (2), plus the +/- change in each area, and the total improvement or decline. Detroit was No. 1.

SACKS / INTERCEPTIONS, 1ST HALF VS 2ND (2022)
TeamSk(1)Int(1)Sk(2)Int(2)SackIntTotal
Detroit156277+12+1+13
Kansas City273338+6+5+11
Pittsburgh17102512+8+2+10
New Orleans222295+7+3+10
L.A. Rams1852211+4+6+10
Las Vegas103183+80+8
Miami174254+80+8
N.Y. Giants202255+5+3+8
Green Bay17517130+8+8
Philadelphia2913445+15-8+7
Carolina146234+9-2+7
Arizona166226+60+6
Indianapolis234256+2+2+4
Jacksonville168216+5-2+3
Washington233227-1+4+3
Cincinnati148167+2-1+1
L.A. Chargers207217+10+1
Houston227209-2+20
Seattle275239-4+40
Cleveland203158-5+50
New England3211319-1-2-3
San Francisco2971814-11+7-4
Baltimore279256-2-3-5
Atlanta12893-3-5-8
N.Y. Jets2611243-2-8-10
Chicago13975-6-4-10
Denver256129-13+3-10
Tampa Bay296204-9-2-11
Dallas357219-14+2-12
Minnesota2610147-12-3-15
Tennessee299166-13-3-16
Buffalo2713176-10-7-17

Some of the other notable risers include Kansas City, Pittsburgh and New Orleans. Kansas City was embarking on a Super Bowl run. Pittsburgh got T.J. Watt back from injury. New Orleans also seemed to be putting things together, although their run ended just short of a playoff spot. But I'm interested in all three of those teams as fantasy options.

(The Rams also improved defensively the second half of the season, but it's hard to weigh that too heavily since they've cut or traded a majority of their defensive starters this offseason.)

At the other end of the table is a mild surprise: Buffalo. Part of that is due to injury. Von Miller was lost for the season, and they also dealt with numerous injuries in the secondary. But it's a cautionary note when projecting the Bills too favorably. Their defense was a lot worse the second half of the season than the first, in those key fantasy areas.

--Andy Richardson

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