Tough times have arrived for the Kansas City Chiefs' defense.
Both of their outside linebackers, Tamba Hali (ankle) and Justin Houston (dislocated elbow), exited Week 12 early with injuries, and are likely to enter Week 13 with questionable listings. Houston, who is third in the league in sacks (11), is unlikely to play, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
As a unit, the Chiefs' D/ST totaled minus-8 fantasy points the past two weeks combined, tied with the San Diego Chargers' D/ST (minus-8 in Weeks 2-3) for the second-worst consecutive-weeks total in the NFL (the Atlanta Falcons, with minus-9 in Weeks 10-11, were worst). They are only the sixth team in the league to have finished in the red in consecutive weeks; they joined the Chargers, Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars (Weeks 3-4 and 7-8), Minnesota Vikings (Weeks 11-12) and New York Giants (Weeks 2-3). If you've been tracking the seasonal fantasy point totals, you know that the Giants rank the highest, at No. 23, and the other four comprise the bottom four.
And the Chiefs now face the rematch of that most dreaded matchup on their schedule: The Denver Broncos, the worst matchup for an opposing D/ST (using fantasy points allowed to date).
They also have a Week 17 road game at the Chargers, which is the third-worst matchup for a D/ST using those same metrics.
D/ST strategy has been a popular question between chats and Twitter the past few weeks, with common inquiries going something like this: "Knowing the Chiefs' difficult remaining schedule, who would you ride the rest of the year, them or so-and-so?"
I've been adamant in my stance that streaming defenses is as legitimate a strategy as standing behind one, and frankly, "riding a D/ST" seems like a lazy strategy. The reason is that if you examine three of the top four at the position in fantasy scoring to date, there's at least one terrifying matchup left on their schedule. Let's take a look …
Kansas City Chiefs: Remaining schedule: DEN, @WSH, @OAK, IND, @SD. As Hali and Houston have played major parts in this team's defensive rebirth, their health will be critical in influencing their chances beyond that treacherous Week 13 matchup.
Seattle Seahawks: Remaining schedule: NO, @SF, @NYG, ARI, STL. The New Orleans Saints are the game's second-worst matchup for a D/ST and the San Francisco 49ers 11th-worst, so these won't be the easiest next two games. The Seahawks are also without cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, losses that while not devastating, improve Drew Brees' odds for this coming Monday night. That Saints game is the worst matchup the Seahawks face in 2013.
Carolina Panthers: Remaining schedule: TB, @NO, NYJ, NO, @ATL. If the Seahawks' schedule is scary because it has an upcoming game against the Saints, what does that make the Panthers' schedule? Granted, the other three matchups are outstanding for fantasy purposes, but there might not be a D/ST in the league with a schedule at such polar extremes as this one.
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.
I don't cite this intending to instill flat-out fear in owners of these D/ST, just that even those who own one of these top-four units to at least give a requisite glance at your league's free-agent list to consider quality streamer fill-ins for those tougher weeks. For example, I'll most certainly have the Cleveland Browns, who host the Jacksonville Jaguars, ranked ahead of both the Chiefs and Seahawks.
The reason is that, using the consistency metrics discussed weekly in this space, it makes quite a bit more sense to pick your starting D/ST by matchup over talent, so long as the gap in talent between the two isn't massive. Let's split out D/ST statistics by quarters -- specifically top-eight and bottom-eight D/ST matchups, using fantasy points allowed to the position -- to illustrate this:
All D/STs versus eight most favorable matchups:
88 games, 17 "Starts," one "Stud," 45 "Stiffs," 19.3 percent Consistency Rating. These teams have averaged 10.92 fantasy points in these weeks.
All D/STs versus eight least favorable matchups:
88 games, 50 "Starts," 16 "Studs," eight "Stiffs," 56.8 percent Consistency Rating. These teams have averaged 3.38 fantasy points in these weeks.
Comparing those numbers to the 2013 overall Consistency Ratings listed at column's end, that 56.8 percent Consistency Rating for the latter group is higher than that of any individual D/ST except the 49ers, Panthers, Seahawks and Cincinnati Bengals, which speaks volumes about the importance of matchups at the position. Here's something else to consider: The top eight D/STs this season in terms of total fantasy points scored have a 59.1 percent Consistency Rating and have averaged 10.53 points per game.
To take a different angle, let's consider the reliability of "good" D/STs (in this case, the top eight in total fantasy points for the season) versus bad matchups, and "bad" D/STs (bottom eight in fantasy points) versus good matchups.
Top 8 D/STs versus eight least favorable matchups:
16 games, four "Starts," zero "Studs," seven "Stiffs," 25.0 percent Consistency Rating. These teams have averaged 5.75 points per game.
Bottom 8 D/STs versus eight most favorable matchups:
19 games, 8 "Starts," one "Stud," four "Stiffs," 42.1 percent Consistency Rating. These teams have averaged 7.95 points per game.
Keep in mind that the latter group has averaged 3.82 fantasy points per game against all opponents for the season, so we're talking about a significant gain for the least talented defenses in the league when the matchup dictates. Most fantasy owners won't ever have to dig so deep as to pick up, say, the 30th-ranked Minnesota Vikings for a one-week play. More likely, they're going to find a team like my aforementioned Browns, available in more than 80 percent of ESPN leagues and ranked 11th in points for the season, out there to exploit that advantageous Jaguars matchup.
And that's really the point here: If you're stuck with an elite D/ST with a brutal matchup and a middling D/ST with a super-soft matchup is out there for the taking, make the swap every time.
To give you a head start, here are some in-advance picks for upcoming weeks:
Week 13: Browns (JAC), Buffalo Bills (ATL), Dallas Cowboys (OAK).
Week 14: Houston Texans (@JAC), Oakland Raiders (@NYJ).
Week 15: Bills (@JAC), New Orleans Saints (@STL), New England Patriots (@MIA).
Week 16: Browns (@NYJ), Broncos (@HOU), Bills (MIA).
Week 17: Tennessee Titans (HOU), Patriots (BUF), Dolphins (NYJ).
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 at least a 25.0 percent Consistency Rating in either standard scoring or PPR leagues for inclusion in the chart. 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.