It's a wacky, wacky year when the No. 31 fantasy defense/special teams from 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs, finds itself atop the fantasy leaderboard at the position (and 10th overall!) through five weeks, while the No. 1 D/ST last season (26th overall), the Chicago Bears, finds itself ranked ninth thus far and on pace for a whopping 74-point drop-off in production.
No, wait, that's every year when it comes to D/STs, isn't it?
It's advice we dish out annually during draft season: Don't spend an early pick on a defense -- certainly not one as early as either the No. 63 ADP of the Seattle Seahawks or No. 67 of the San Francisco 49ers -- and embrace the idea of streaming defenses, provided you have the patience to do so.
That said, what the Chiefs have done this season has generated fantasy headlines. Since 2001, only the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (94) and 2012 Bears (92) had more than the Chiefs' 87 D/ST fantasy points through the first five weeks of the season. Linebacker Justin Houston has quickly developed into an IDP stud, while fellow linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson and safety Eric Berry are off to solid starts.
If you're therefore finding yourself increasingly tempted to invest in, trade for or ride a singular defense, here's your friendly reminder: Don't.
The year-over-year Consistency Ratings continue to underscore how unreliable the position is, as the Chiefs' 80.0 percent number through five weeks -- that's four top-10 fantasy performances in five games -- is an outlier compared to other historical examples. Only the Bears (62.5 percent, or 10 "Starts," in 2012) and 49ers (62.5 percent, or 10 "Starts," in 2011) managed to break the 60 percent threshold in either of the past two seasons, and only eight D/STs in 2012 alone performed well enough to warrant having had them in your lineup in at least half of their games.
As for the Chiefs themselves, don't be too hasty to trust them, at least not from a long-haul perspective. While this D/ST has elevated its performance to the realm of "must-own" squads, its schedule after the Week 10 bye is fairly challenging:
Week 11: @Den, the worst matchup for a D/ST, per our Points Against page.
Week 12: SD, fifth in the league in net yards per game.
Week 13: Den, again, the worst matchup for a D/ST.
Week 14: @Was, 10th-worst D/ST matchup, and Robert Griffin III will be quite a bit further removed from knee surgery by then.
Week 15: @Oak, perhaps the one "favorable" matchup of the bunch.
Week 16: Ind, sixth in the league in points per game.
Week 17: @SD, ditto Week 12, except this one's on the road.
CONSISTENCY RATINGS BENCHMARKS
Using 2013 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.
Success at the D/ST position often follows a similar pattern to those who uncovered the Chiefs in the first place: They've been propped up statistically with two of the most favorable matchups to date, the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1 and the New York Giants in Week 2.
To that point, I took a look at how successful a fantasy owner might have been starting any defense going up against a matchup placed within the top 25 percent from 2010 to '12. For these purposes, this means the eight teams that have allowed the most fantasy points per game to opposing D/STs entering the week in question; so, for example, if this were a 2013 study, the top 25 percent (top eight teams) for these purposes would be the Giants, Jaguars, Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Arizona Cardinals, New York Jets and Cincinnati Bengals. These eight teams' statistics and rankings would then be refreshed with each passing week.
Forty-eight percent of the D/STs that fit in this group registered a "Start," meaning they ranked among the top 10 in fantasy points in the week in question. What's more, 55.3 percent of them were "Start"-worthy between Weeks 6 and 9, lending credibility to believing in early-season trends despite the small sample, at least at this middling stage of year. Conversely, only 14.8 percent of the time these D/STs were "Stiffs," meaning they finished outside the top 20 at the position in fantasy points in the given week.
Now, those raw numbers might not mean a lot to you, so let's put them into perspective.
Last season, only eight D/STs managed a Consistency Rating of greater than 48 percent, while the only D/STs to be "Stiffs" fewer than three times -- three times representing 18.8 percent of a season -- were the Cincinnati Bengals (1), Bears (2) and New England Patriots (2).
Suddenly, those New York Jets -- available in more than 97 percent of ESPN leagues -- look quite attractive a streaming option for Week 6.
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 his 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. All defense/special teams are included, regardless of whether they met those minimums.
These statistics are for 2013 only. Statistics for games since 2010 can be found here.