It's frustrating to own an underperforming fantasy defense.
Ask owners of the New York Jets' D/ST. After selecting them the No. 7 D/ST on average in the preseason, owners of the Jets' D/ST have watched them turn in the 10th-most fantasy points (30) to date, lose star cornerback Darrelle Revis to a season-ending injury, then put forth a zero-point stinker in a home game against the cross-country-traveling San Francisco 49ers in Week 4. Things don't look good for the Jets; they'll play two of their next three games against the Houston Texans and New England Patriots, both of whom rank among the three worst matchups for an opposing D/ST. They will do it without Revis but with a run defense that currently ranks 31st in the league.
It is examples like the Jets -- granted, one that's cherry-picked -- that illustrate the follies of investing earlier than a next-to-last-round pick -- remember that we always advise your last-round pick be reserved for your kicker -- on a D/ST. In fact, they're as compelling an argument favoring a "streaming defense" strategy as any.
Now, streaming defenses is hardly a new idea. We discussed the theory in detail in our Draft Kit, and there have been statistical analyses available for years that suggest that investing in a top D/ST is foolish, even if that top D/ST lasts deeper than its ADP into the draft. But despite that advice, and fantasy owners beginning to absorb its lesson, it appears many are still strategically behind the times. After all, the 49ers, the No. 1 D/ST picked this preseason, was an average seventh-rounder (ADP: 68th, 68.6).
One of the most-cited arguments against streaming defenses: It's too difficult to consistently "hit" on your streaming picks.
This being the place to discuss consistency, today's column has a surprising truth to share: Recent history shows that you'll receive more consistently good production from your D/ST if you stream matchups than if you simply ride with the best D/ST every given week. Consider this:
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2012 statistics, and fantasy points determined by ESPN's standard scoring, the charts contained in this column rate players based upon how consistently reliable they are. To familiarize you with some of the terminology:
Start: The number of times that the player's point total in a given week was worthy of having had him active in an ESPN standard league.
Stud: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the top at his position.
Stiff: The number of times the player's point total ranked among the worst at his position, making almost any waiver-wire option a smarter choice.
These are the benchmarks for what constitutes a "Start," "Stud" or "Stiff" performance, numbers identifying the player's rank at his position:
Sat: The number of times the player missed a game. Players are not charged "Stiff" points for sitting out, but it hurts their overall Consistency Rating.
%: The player's overall Consistency Rating, calculated as number of "Start" performances divided by scheduled team games.
• Since the beginning of the 2010 season, defenses that have faced the Arizona Cardinals (61.1 percent) have a higher Consistency Rating -- percentage of games that were worthy of a fantasy "Start" as judged by this column -- than does the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense/special teams unit (54.3 percent) itself. The significance of those teams: They are the leaders in those respective categories, the Cardinals representing the most consistently good matchup for an opposing D/ST, the Steelers the most consistent D/ST itself.
Here are a few more compelling arguments in favor of matchups-seeking:
• The No. 1-scoring D/ST in 2010 (Steelers), 2011 (49ers) and 2012 (Chicago Bears) combined have a 66.7 percent Consistency Rating and have been Stud-worthy in seven of 36 contests during those 2 1/4 seasons.
• Meanwhile, the No. 1 D/ST in terms of ADP in those seasons -- Jets 2010, Steelers 2011, 49ers 2012 -- combined have a 50.0 percent Consistency Rating and have been Stud-worthy only four times in 36 games during that span.
That's right, the top-drafted defense in each of the past three years has warranted, granted with hindsight, inclusion in your starting lineup only half of the time. Now compare that to the performance of defenses facing the league's worst offenses:
• The best D/ST matchup/worst NFL offense -- this measured by calculating fantasy points allowed to opposing D/ST, available here -- in 2010 (Carolina Panthers), 2011 (St. Louis Rams) and 2012 (Dallas Cowboys) combined have spawned a 77.8 percent Consistency Rating for their opponents and seven Stud-worthy performances in 36 games.
• Expanding that to include the three best D/ST matchups/worst NFL offenses, opposing D/ST combined for a 63.9 percent Consistency Rating during that span.
In other words, nearly two out of every three times you started a D/ST against one of the three worst offenses in the league, you'd have been happy with the result.
That's a compelling argument to lean on matchups rather than skill at D/ST, and it should serve to caution fantasy owners who cling tightly to struggling units like that of the Jets, Steelers or Detroit Lions not to get complacent at the position. History shows that, with the possible exception of proven elite D/ST, like the Bears, Houston Texans or 49ers this season (and arguably the Arizona Cardinals are edging nearer), you're probably better off streaming matchups going forward.
But let's not leave you with merely that general advice; let's identify some of those "best D/ST matchups" you can exploit via a streaming strategy. Oddly enough, it's the Cowboys and Lions who have through four weeks been the best matchups for opposing D/ST. In the Cowboys' case, most of that is a matter of Tony Romo's interceptions, and in the Lions' case, exceptional special teams play by their past two opponents. I don't expect either of those things to continue, and therefore neither ranks among my five best D/ST matchups going forward, because both teams have solid offenses with top-10-capable quarterbacks.
These are my picks:
Cleveland Browns: They have rookies at both quarterback (Brandon Weeden) and running back (Trent Richardson), and while the latter may be a budding superstar, he's the one limited by his team's shortcoming, the lack of a quality run-blocking offensive line. Upcoming streaming matchups: New York Giants (home game for Giants), Week 5; Cincinnati Bengals (road), Week 6; Indianapolis Colts (home), Week 7; San Diego Chargers (road), Week 8; Oakland Raiders (home), Week 13; Kansas City Chiefs (road), Week 14; Washington Redskins (road), Week 15; Denver Broncos (home), Week 16.
New York Jets: Doesn't this go without saying? They've averaged the fifth-fewest yards per game and ninth-fewest points per game and sport a poor offense that just lost one of its most valuable pieces (Santonio Holmes) for an extended period. Upcoming streaming matchups: Colts (road), Week 6; New England Patriots (home), Week 7; Miami Dolphins (road), Week 8; Rams (home), Week 11; Patriots (road), Week 12; Jacksonville Jaguars (home), Week 14; Titans (home), Week 15; Chargers (road), Week 16; Buffalo Bills (home), Week 17.
St. Louis Rams: Credit Jeff Fisher for his creativity, but this is still a team with a questionable passing game and a 29-year-old running back (Steven Jackson) who, despite grittily playing through injuries, is still playing through injuries. Upcoming streaming matchups: Dolphins (home), Week 6; Patriots (road), Week 8; Bills (home), Week 14; Minnesota Vikings (road), Week 15; Tampa Bay Buccaneers (home), Week 16.
Jacksonville Jaguars: It is impossible to overlook that, in his 18 career starts, Blaine Gabbert has passed for 200 or more yards only four times and has only 17 touchdowns. He has improved this season, yes. But he is still very much a work in progress and he lacks anything resembling an elite receiver. Upcoming streaming matchups: Raiders (home), Week 7; Colts (road), Week 10; Titans (road), Week 12; Bills (home), Week 13; Dolphins (home), Week 15; Patriots (road), Week 16; Titans (home), Week 17.
Arizona Cardinals: There is no better time to begin warming to a quarterback like Kevin Kolb than immediately following a 324-yard, three-TD performance, as he had in Week 4. One week, however, doesn't answer the many questions he faced before that game, he did it against an awful Dolphins secondary and his team's running game is an absolute mess. Like this team for its defense, OK, and Larry Fitzgerald. But an elite receiver alone does not make an offense. Upcoming streaming matchups: Rams (home), Week 5; Bills (road), Week 6; Vikings (home), Week 7; Rams (road), Week 12.
Consistency Ratings chart
Players are initially ranked in order of their Consistency Rating, calculated as the percentage of the player's scheduled games -- not games played, scheduled games -- in which their fantasy point total registered a "Start" score. All categories are sortable both ascending and descending; just click on the headers to sort. Players must have met at least one of the following minimums for inclusion in the chart: 25.0 percent Consistency Rating in standard scoring leagues, 25.0 percent Consistency Rating in PPR formats or 2 "Stud" performances.
These statistics are for 2012 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.