This week, for us dyed-in-the-wool defensive streamers, is an embarrassment of riches – and not because there are a cavalcade of mouth-watering plug-and-play defensive options on your local waiver wire.
We can only hope, as streamers, for one of two blessings every week: a mediocre defense against a horrendous offense, or an elite defense, dropped by some nincompoop, facing a decent offense.
This week, we have the Arizona Cardinals welcoming the pathetic Miami Dolphins offense to University of Phoenix Stadium, which, if we’re judging by last week’s mutilation of Michael Vick and company, can get rather loud and decidedly unfriendly to out of towners.
So let’s begin.
Arizona Cardinals vs. Dolphins – I didn’t bite on the Cardinals defense as a legit unit last week because fantasy ballers have all seen defensive coordinators who stifle the Patriots – as the Cards did in Week 2 – anointed as a pigskin savants. I had also heard too many analysts I respect say that Patrick Peterson wasn’t a real life shutdown cornerback. Well, he is. Peterson at times against Philadelphia took away an entire side of the field, the way great cornerbacks do in their prime. Peterson’s presence, usually hip to hip with the opposing team’s best pass catcher, lets the rest of Arizona’s secondary flood the other side of the field, usually bottling up long pass plays with bracket coverage on speedy wide receivers. The Cardinals have the 10th ranked defense – one spot ahead of the 49ers, for all you non-streamers – after allowing an average of 13.3 points per game through three weeks. That’s five points per game better than the league’s No. 1 defense – the Cowboys. Arizona has harassed opposing signal callers in September, totaling 14 sacks through three weeks, and applying consistent pressure without all-out blitzes against Tom Brady and Vick. Playing the Cardinals defense against a grotesque Fins passing “attack” with no real downfield threat is what we like to call a high floor option. There’s no way the Dolphins will shred this beastly Cards defense at home. They might not turn over the ball 13 times, but then again, they might. Best of all, the Cardinals defense is eminently available: They’re owned in 5 percent of NFL.com leagues, 18 percent on ESPN and 46 percent of Yahoo! leagues. Make the Cardinals your No. 1 waiver wire priority this week, unless you’re dealing with bye weeks debacles. And if you land the birdies, your streaming days might be numbered. In the NFC West — the new black and blue division — I like the Cardinals as an almost-every-week defensive option. Hardly anyone on their remaining schedule frightens me.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Panthers – Mike Nolan’s defense isn’t the lifeless corpse it was expected to be after losing studly cornerback Brent Grimes a couple weeks back. Atlanta’s secondary flocks to the ball, laying out receivers who dare venture over the middle and displaying sure tackling that has prevented big runs after the catch in the early going. They lead the NFL in interceptions with seven, and showed just how silly they can make a quarterback look when they humiliated Peyton Manning on Monday Night Football in Week 2. The Falcons have allowed a minuscule 48 points this season, good for fourth best in the league. Now they face a turnover-happy Panthers team led by a quarterback intent on validating preseason calls for a sophomore slump. Cam Newton last week forced the ball into double and triple coverage several times, and the Giants less-than-awesome secondary took full advantage. I’d expect the same this week, with Newton facing a truly elite pass defending team waiting for his errant throws like zombies milling about a post-apocalyptic shopping mall filled with terrified flesh and blood. Something along those lines, anyway. The Falcons are owned in an astonishing 87 percent of ESPN leagues, 18 percent of NFL.com leagues, and 30 percent of Yahoo! leagues.
Miami Dolphins at Cardinals – I promised ample fantasy happiness to anyone brave enough to roll with the Fins defense last week. While they fared just OK, they were oh so tantalizingly close to a big game, with a handful of forced Mark Sanchez passes slipping through defenders’ hands late in the game. At least one of those Sanchez tosses would’ve been returned to the proverbial house. Remember that these Dolphins will stifle any running game they face, and with the Cardinals’ tandem of a nicked-up Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams – who still doesn’t seem to trust his surgically repaired knee – I think the Dolphins will be able to pressure the great Kevin Kolb without compromising coverage against Larry Fitzgerald and his merry gang of pass catchers. This has the look of a contest that could be over early, which would certainly limit the Dolphins defense’s fake football upside as the Cardinals would essentially sit on the ball and let their stellar defense and special teams win the game. I like the Fish a whole lot less than I like the Cardinals and Falcons, but if you’re in a pretend football league chock full of people who actually pay attention, and the Falcons and Cardinals are owned by a despised rival, plug in the Dolphins and hope for Kolb to be Kolb.