I found this particular ranking to be the most challenging for me to write so far. Defensive teams are easily most subjective and unpredictable group. The categories are self explanatory, the only interjection I have on that subject is that when considering the schedule I looked at teams that are prone to turning the ball over as well as the points they might possibly score. I included the return game because most leagues give points for return touchdowns to the defensive team. This is an offensive league and it is impossible to see future injuries so please do not judge me strongly by this list. Hopefully it helps someone.
1. San Francisco 49ers: This team in this spot should be a surprise to no one. Not only do they have an extremely talented defense and one of the best middle linebackers of the last decade but they have a solid return game and play in the NFC West, which should be slightly improved from last year, but still the worst division in the NFC.
2. Baltimore Ravens: The largest assets the Ravens have on defense are their playmakers. Ray Lewis is old but has more experience than any other defensive field general in the league. Haloti Gnata is the biggest part of an explosive pass rush that terrorizes quarterbacks. Ed Reed is perhaps the best ball hawking safety currently in the game. The fact that this team is predicated on short passes and runs also keeps their opponents off the field, keeping them from scoring points.
3. Houston Texans: The Texans are chock full of young athletic defensive players. The most important part of their defense, young JJ Watt, dislocated his elbow in practice a couple of weeks ago. The good news for Houston fans is that he will be back by the regular season. The Texans benefit by playing in the AFC South, and should put up a plethora of defensive points this season.
4. Chicago Bears: They are getting older, everybody knows that. In their favor is a favorable schedule and knowledge and experience. Also the fact that they should be able to control the ball on offense more with the addition of their new skill players; but the biggest thing that could help their defense score points is the offensive line. Also they have the most dynamic returner in the history of the NFL, and a couple other guys who could be the #1 returner on most other teams in the league.
5. Seattle Seahawks: For some reason Seattle seems to play above their talent level at home. Lucky for them, they get to do that 8 times this year. They have a lot of young, fast players on defense and some tall physically imposing cornerbacks. The team strength is probably their safeties, which means it will be tough to pass on them; which means it will be harder to move the chains. Leon Washington is one of the best returners in the game and adds another scoring dimension for this unit.
6. Philadelphia Eagles: The loss of Asante Samuel could mean a few less interceptions this year, but hopefully his replacement Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will feel more inclined to tackle. The addition of Demeco Ryans to their linebacking corps should have positive returns, and even though they play some offensive power houses, they could end up near the top in defensive points this season. Hard to believe this team that played horribly at times last year finished 8th in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: This is one team I believe father time will catch up to this season. Also two of their best players James Harrison and Casey Hampton are currently not practicing due to injuries. While Harrison may be back for the season opener it is likely Hampton will be out for a while longer. They do have a couple young explosive return men and with the teams they play it may counter balance their age.
8. New York Giants: Some of the best defensive ends in the league help this defense cover up occasional subpar play in the secondary. A lot of their linebackers are currently banged up, this doesn’t bode well for what was already the weakest spot on the team. They play an unfavorable schedule, but it is hard to disagree with a defense that carried this team through the playoffs and to a Superbowl victory
9. Buffalo Bills: The additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to a defensive line that already consisted of Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Shawne Merriman make this probably the best defensive front in the NFL. That is if the linebackers can step up and play well off of the big guys in front of them. A favorable schedule should help this defense play past it’s potential.
10. Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs lost their best defensive back in Brandon Carr to free agency and that will be a concern for the defense going into the season. They did sign Stanford Routt and still have one of the best edge rushers in Tamba Hali to chase quarterbacks all over the back field and hopefully bring them to the ground. I would not be surprised to see a different team in the top ten at the end of the season, but I think the healthy offense will help the defense and they should be right around this spot at the end of the year.
Some other teams that might crack the top ten are below.
New York Jets: If you believe Rex Ryan’s rumblings (which he should have learned by now that if he says something it will not come true) the Jets will have a top 5 defense this upcoming season. If they can manage that they should be near the top of the defensive point getters.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Great defensive coach and plenty of talent on defense makes this defense scary.
The odd men out on the NFL squads generally does not make much of a difference when it comes to fantasy greatness. Most people don’t even select a kicker until the final round, and some interchange their kickers every week based on matchups. I ranked them on a few different categories, three of them speak for themselves, while the “Distance” category was a combination of accuracy and distance. In other words just because they attempt a lot of long distance field goals does not mean they can make them. I felt distance was crucial to include due to the fact that most leagues give more points for longer field goals made. I would not recommend taking any of these kickers before all other spots are filled and at least one backup is taken at running back and receiver, but if any of these players are left in the final round you had better snatch them up.
1. David Akers – San Francisco 49ers: Highest scoring kicker last season by completing the most field goals of any kicker. He had ample opportunities courtesy of the atrocious 49ers red zone offense. It stands to reason that the new additions on offense and another year for Alex Smith will help improve the offense inside the 20 yard line.
2. Robbie Gould – Chicago Bears: Robbie is hitting the prime of his kicking career and his leg is getting stronger as he goes. Last year he was 6-for-6 on kicks of at least 50 yards and had a long of 57. If I remember right when I saw him make that kick he had a few extra yards on that kick. He hit another 57 yarder this preseason and should have plenty of opportunities to kick against the schedule he’ll be playing.
3. Sebastian Janikowski – Oakland Raiders: The biggest leg in the history of NFL kickers lands at #3 on these rankings. Surprisingly over his career he has not been very accurate, but he can kick the s*** out of the ball.
4. John Kasay – New Orleans Saints: He benefits from cleaning up after one of the most prolific offensive units in the history of the NFL. The same kicker that got cut from the Carolina Panthers because he couldn’t make a field goal much longer than an extra point (which cost the Panthers the playoffs) has surprising accuracy. He plays the right schedule to put up a plethora of points this upcoming season.
5. Mason Crosby – Green Bay Packers: Another beneficiary of a big time offense. Crosby has been improving his accuracy recently and has a very strong leg, which helps when kicking in the Frozen Tundra that is Lambeau Field.
6. Neil Rackers – Washington Redskins: Rackers is hitting the twilight years of his career, but for kickers those years generally do not show much of a drop off in production. Washington should have an improved offense this year with newcomer Robert Griffin III at the helm, this should help boost Rackers numbers. That is if he beats out incumbent Graham Gano.
7. Stephen Gostkowski – New England Patriots: Has been extremely reliable for the Patriots in recent years with the second highest overall field goal percentage among these kickers, only behind Robbie Gould. He hasn’t shown a lot by way of longer field goals, but if he gets the chance he should impress.
8. Jason Hanson – Detroit Lions: This guy has been around for what seems like forever. Detroit has shown a recent knack for getting up and down the field, if they have trouble punching the ball into the end zone Hanson will score a lot of points this season.
9. Dan Bailey – Dallas Cowboys: Dan is a second year player who came on strong as a rookie. He tied for third most made field goals in the entire NFL last year with 32. He hasn’t shown much for distance yet but it is too early in his career to tell if that will be an issue with him.
10. Mike Nugent – Cincinnati Bengals: The loss of Cedric Benson will probably contribute to more field goal opportunities for this kicker. I do not have much faith in BenJarvus Green-Ellis to produce in the red zone. Nugent has been pretty accurate compared to the rest of these kickers, and that landed him the tenth spot in these rankings.
Some other kickers who might crack the top ten this season are:
Rob Bironas – Tennessee Titans: Bironas is one of the top kickers from last season and has a great track record. His team could struggle in the red zone, giving him more opportunities for more points.
Matt Bryant – Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta has a sound offense that methodically puts points on the board. Bryant scores a lot of points this season, guaranteed.