We are in the fine-tuning phase of the season. No longer is depth so crucial, as bye weeks are behind us. On most rosters across the NFL and fantasy leagues, roles are increasingly defined and sample sizes are more convincing. Trade deadlines have passed and the wire is picked clean in most formats.
This leaves us to maximize our offensive rosters as best possible each week with internal options. But on defense, both with individual defenders and team units, we can wield a bit more power for the playoff stretch by identifying and hoarding the best matchup assets for these critical upcoming weeks of football. In most scenarios, I find little need for say my fifth running back or fourth receiver at this late stage of the season, and over the past few seasons have taken to shifting those roster spots to defenders or team defenses, depending on the setup, in order to accumulate the best possible series of matchup options for Weeks 14 through 16. This season, I've been hoarding team units like the Bills, who we discuss in detail below, and the Browns and Titans, for the several savory setups they claim down the stretch. The same concept applies in stashing some timely individual defenders, especially those flush with fertile statistical setups. Do I get ribbed for having three defenses or two extra defensive backs on my roster? I sure do. But I also see benches on most teams still holding onto roster barnacles that will never see the starting lineup, while a profitable defensive pickup, if even for just one week, could actually influence fortunes.
Front Four: The weekly word on the world of defenders
Buying Buffalo: The football public likely isn't quite aware of it just yet, but Buffalo's Kyle Williams has been one of the best defensive line players in the NFL over the past four seasons. Having worked under four different coaching regimes and thus different defensive schemes, Williams has successfully worked all over the line in his time in Orchard Park. The LSU product has been at his dynamic best in defensive coordinator Mike Pettine's hybrid scheme (mixture of 3-4, 4-3 and 4-3 under looks), playing zero-, three- and five-technique as an all-everything weapon thriving at both end and tackle in varying looks. Since Week 8, a span including the Bills' bye week, Williams has 4.5 sacks, 22 tackles (20 of them solo) and two forced fumbles. You can find Williams for free in 73 percent of ESPN leagues as an ideal stretch-run acquisition.
For those considering Williams or the Bills D/ST for the stretch run, this telling bit of analysis from NFL Nation's Bills beat writer Mike Rodak helps illustrate just how effective the team's line has been under Pettine this season: "The Bills have been consistently among the league leaders in disrupted drop-back percentage, which measures sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls per quarterback drop-back. They are currently fourth in the NFL, disrupting 19.7 percent of drop-backs. The Bills are also tied with the Saints for the most sacks in the NFL, with 37. Buffalo's franchise record is 49 sacks, set in 1995." In order to set a new record, the Bills will need to average 2.6 per game the rest of the way.
Most Opponent Tackles
Tackle Targets: When seeking help in deciphering close roster calls, one useful index to peruse is the Opponent Defense Statistics page we have in our NFL stats database. We've discussed this specific page before, and its value remains given the easily identifiable indicators it offers. Run-heavy offenses understandably dominate the current leaderboard in opponent tackles, and targeting assets from these teams where possible could be a boon to defensive rosters down the stretch.
Most Opponent Sacks
Sack Race: Seeking out matchups with the most generous teams for sack allowance, interceptions (New York) and fumbles is another simple, yet underused, approach in hunting for help in determining the best matchups and potential acquisitions for rosters in these crucial weeks. You'll notice some valuable overlap between these two lists. Not to oversimplify, but you should probably be looking for matchups against AFC East teams if you want to pad your tackle and sack totals.
Bargain bin -- Defenders available in more than half of ESPN leagues
Arizona's John Abraham's five sacks since Week 8 ranks second in the league only to Robert Quinn. … The Jets' Sheldon Richardson is on pace for 86 total tackles and has 18 tackles over the past two weeks. While his production has largely come from tackles, Richardson cracks the ranks this week thanks to a sweet sack setup versus the porous Dolphins' line. … Dallas' Jason Hatcher collected two sacks in Week 12, giving him nine on the season, and plays host to an Oakland line that has allowed the third-most sacks in the league to date. … Oakland's Nick Roach has had some quiet outings this season, but his blend of sack production (3.5 on season) and tackles (on pace for 113) offers a nice combination of stability and upside. … The Colts' Jerrell Freeman is still available in more than 60 percent of ESPN leagues despite paces for 128 tackles, six sacks and three turnovers. … Oakland's Charles Woodson is not only heading for Canton when he's done playing, but also for wherever they host the IDP Hall of Fame (my basement?). In his 16th campaign, Woodson is a top-10 fantasy commodity at his position and has 30 tackles and two forced fumbles over the past four games.
Week 13: The Top 25 linebackers, linemen and defensive backs
So that we're working from agreed parameters, we'll use what many consider traditional scoring modifiers for an IDP league: Solo tackle (0.5), Assisted tackle (0.25), Sack (3), Interception (3), Forced fumble (3), Fumble recovery (3), Touchdown (6), Safety (4), Pass defended (0.5), Blocked kick (3).