Written and Ranked by Jonnie Carlyle
1. Denver vs. Kansas City
Like Haley’s Comet or a blood moon eclipse, an Alex Smith-led offensive explosion (like the one two weeks ago dropped on the toothless Lions) is a rare sight indeed. However, this weekend should be a nice snap back into reality as Smith and the Chiefs travel to Denver where the Kansas City quarterback has never thrown for more than 255 yards and has been sacked five times in two games. DeMarcus Ware’s absence is far from ideal, but the Broncos proved with a four-sack performance in Week 6 that their defensive front can still produce without the talented pass rusher. Whether it’s the offensive line or Smith’s refusal to throw the ball, the Chiefs are allowing just a smidge less than four sacks per game and had the 6th worst red zone touchdown performance prior to the uncharacteristic outburst two weeks ago. Opposing quarterbacks have averaged just 154 yards passing in three games at Mile High and Denver has allowed only one touchdown through the air. Aqib Talib will be out (looking like a skinnier Al Haynesworth/Suh mash-up) too, but this is Alex Smith we’re talking about here. No defense has more touchdowns than the Broncos, more sacks or allowed fewer points.
2. Carolina at Tennessee
Although the Panthers would likely prefer to see the recently canned Ken Whisenhunt and his horrible goatee on the opposite sideline, I am not sure it’s going to make much difference come Sunday. Carolina leads the league in interceptions, registering at least one in seven of eight games, and has forced two or more turnovers in five of eight. Marcus Mariota has three interception-free starts, but none have come at home as he’s thrown five interceptions in three starts in Nashville. Only Seattle, Cleveland and Kansas City have allowed more sacks than the Titans, which is bad news considering Carolina is 4th in sacks and have registered a whopping 16 in their last four games. Not surprisingly Tennessee’s offense looked revitalized last week, be it the lack of goatees on the sideline or a non-existent Saints defense, but had posted just three offensive touchdowns in the four games prior. Look for the Titans to find the sledding a bit tougher on Sunday.
3. Philadelphia vs. Miami
Who could’ve possibly known, but when Miami isn’t facing the Texans or the Titans their offense looks quite a bit different. Ryan Tannehill hasn’t thrown a touchdown in two weeks, has turned the ball over three times, been sacked seven times (will be without starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James again on Sunday) and the offense is averaging just 12 points a game. Meanwhile, the Eagles are one of three teams to force at least one turnover in every game this season, including 11 in their last four, and scored a touchdown in two of their last three. Philadelphia’s sack total has more than doubled since Week 5 and they’ve allowed just 14.6 points per game at home. The loss of rookie linebacker Jordan Hicks undoubtedly hurts the Philadelphia defense, but Kiko Alonso’s return will help minimalize that.
4. Arizona at Seattle
It is not surprising Arizona’s defensive backfield leads the NFL with 13 interceptions, but consider me at least marginally shocked their number of sacks matches their interception total. Don’t get it twisted, however, as shocked does not mean concerned headed into Sunday’s game with the Seahawks. Seattle’s offensive line plays the part of quarterback protector about as well as Russell Wilson plays the part of head doctor, surrendering a league-high 31 sacks and that’s including a game where they miraculously didn’t allow any. Wilson is being dropped once every eight attempts and has been sacked at least four times in six of eight games. Wilson may be playing on God’s team, but the Almighty One has done a poor job of divinely routing his passes, resulting in at least one interception in 63% of his starts and just one fewer than he had in all of 2014. Seattle’s offense isn’t exactly stuffing the scoreboard collection plate, either, scoring the eighth fewest points and are far and away the least efficient at converting red zone opportunities into touchdowns (29%).
5. Kansas City at Denver
“Hi, I’m 1998-2014 Peyton Manning and I have Directv.”
“Hi, I’m noodle-armed has no offensive line and gets almost no help from my running game in a new-ish offense that has me leading the league in interceptions, including more interceptions than touchdowns in four of my last five and at least one in every game this season, Peyton Manning and I have cable.”
Does that about cover it all? Oh and Manning will be facing a Kansas City pass defense that’s recorded two interceptions in three straight games, sacked Matthew Stafford six times in London two weeks ago and has given up fewer points than the week prior in five consecutive weeks, including 18 or less in four straight. The Chiefs haven’t given up a rushing touchdown since Week 4 and more than one passing touchdown since Week 5. Old man Manning will likely have to rascal for his life too, as linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali make up two of the top three in quarterback hurries, combining for 42 in eight games.
6. Cincinnati vs. Houston
You be hard pressed to find a more a consistently high-floor defense than the Bengals in 2015. They own the second best opponent touchdown red zone efficiency, allowing touchdowns just 42% of the time and are one of just two teams who yet to allow more than 24 points in any given week. They have at least one turnover in every week but one and have averaged more than three sacks per game since Week 4. It’s certainly plausible this matchup isn’t as good for Cincinnati in fantasy as it likely will be in real life as Brian Hoyer has been the garbage time king, but this Monday marks the first time the journeyman will face a legitimate defense in 2015. Hoyer’s never had a season (with at least three starts) with better than a 59% completion rate (currently 60%) or anything remotely close to his current 13-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
7. St. Louis vs. Chicago
It’s too bad the Rams are so hot for Los Angeles as the Edward Jones Dome has become quite the house of horrors for opposing offenses (just ask Reggie Bush and Josh McCown). The Rams trail only Denver with 27 sacks, but 18 of those have come at home resulting in a paltry 13.7 points allowed with only one opponent scoring more than 12 points in four contests. St. Louis is forcing an average 1.5 turnovers per game at home too, which likely continues this Sunday with, albeit improved, Jay Cutler coming to town. Smokin’ Jay has eight turnovers in seven starts, with four of them coming in his three road starts. Matt Forte is almost guaranteed to be sitting out on Sunday and rookie Jeremy Langford will surely find the Rams in the dome much tougher than the zombies he just faced in San Diego. No back has rushed for more than 73 yards in St. Louis and only LeVeon Bell reached the end zone.
8. Green Bay vs. Detroit
So maybe the Green Bay defense has began to show their true colors just a bit in their last two games, but that’s not something a date with the Detroit Lions can’t fix. The Packers have turned the opposition over at least once every week, including at least one interception in seven of eight games and that’s likely to continue with Matthew Stafford and his 11 interceptions coming to Lambeau on Sunday. Despite back-to-back weeks without a sack, Green Bay still has the fifth most through nine weeks and has averaged almost four per game when playing at home. Detroit likely helps there too, as the Lions have shown no interest in protecting their quarterback with 13 sacks allowed in their last two games. The Pack’s defensive backfield is riddled with injuries, but Calvin Johnson’s has yet to move beyond a questionable tag despite a bye to recover meaning Green Bay could be facing a Golden Tate/Lance Moore/Corey Fuller wide receiver corps. Yeah, that’s not scaring anyone.
9. Pittsburgh vs. Cleveland
I know there is still some murkiness surrounding the Cleveland quarterback situation, but you can save the wondering for someone who actually gives a hoot. The Browns have turned the ball over a staggering 17 times, third most in the league and that likely means good news for a Pittsburgh defense that’s created two or more turnovers in five of their last six games. Only Seattle has taken more sacks than the Josh McCown/Johnny Manziel duo as the two have combined to take 30 on the season and 16 in their last five games. The Steelers have more games with 20 or less points allowed than games with more than 20 and are the only team that’s yet to take a bye that sits in the top 12 for fewest points allowed.
10. New England at New York Giants
Note to self (for the trillionth time): Never count out any Bill Belichick unit no matter how many studs they let walk from the year prior. The Patriots have allowed the fifth fewest points (18 per), notched the fourth most interceptions (nine) and have the second most sacks despite losing Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork and Brandon Browner. New England has only had one game without a turnover and held half their opponents to 17 points or less. Though Eli Manning has been the best Manning in 2015, that’s not really saying much these days. He’s thrown at least one interception in four of his last six, with a total of six during that same stretch. Since 2013, Manning has at least 39 attempts in 17 games (the average New England as has faced in 2015) and has thrown 26 interceptions in those games.
11. New York Jets vs. Buffalo
Call it a Patriot hangover or a case of deflated balls blues, but I think it’s evident the Jets are just now working their way out of whatever funk that loss to New England three weeks ago put them in. After an abysmal trip to Oakland, the Jets returned to everyone’s favorite rebound in Jacksonville and looked much more the part of dominant defense they were before their bye. They amassed more sacks last Sunday than they had in the previous three combined and for the third time (and first since Week 2) accumulated four or more takeaways. Buffalo’s offense with TyGod Taylor is much better than just about anyone gives them credit for, but it’s never easy to get right health-wise on a travelling short week. Sammy Watkins, though dominant last week, was a game-time decision prior to kickoff and reportedly had a noticeable limp leaving the locker room and has Darrelle Revis looming. LeSean McCoy was forced out of action last weekend with a shoulder issue and although Rex Ryan suggested he’d be ready to go on Thursday night, even a healthy McCoy is a questionable start against this New York rush defense. The turnovers likely won’t be there for the Jets, but the Bills have given up the sixth most sacks and could very well struggle to reach their expected Vegas total of 20 points given the health issues on the offensive side of the ball.
12. New Orleans vs. Washington
Washington could literally be facing the Little Giants (one could probably argue the Saints are essentially just that) on Sunday and I’d still find a place to sneak them into my top 15, as Kirk Cousins is just that bad. He’s got four times as many two interception games as he does two or more touchdown games and that’s just if you’re looking at 2015. In four road games, Cousins is averaging 237 yards passing, which isn’t so bad for a Cousins-type until you consider he’s also averaging 41 (!!!) attempts in those same four games. Washington has yet to produce more than 21 points on the road and committed 9 of their 14 turnovers away from D.C. As bad as New Orleans has been defensively, whatever results they have produced have all come in the Superdome. 14 of their 19 sacks and 7 of their 13 turnovers created have come at home. I am not suggesting you go out of your way to start New Orleans, but I’d venture to say you could do worse (looking at you, Baltimore) on Sunday.
13. Baltimore vs. Jacksonville
Almost entirely nothing to do with Baltimore’s ravaged defense and everything to do with the opponent, I begrudgingly (first time I’ve ever said this about a defense facing the Jags) include the Ravens. In it’s most simple form, Blake Bortles just cannot stop turning the ball over. He’s thrown at least one interception in four straight games and a total of seven during that stretch. The Jaguars have given up a league high four touchdowns to opposing defenses, including three Bortles interceptions. I swear the guy has a Matt Schaub poster pinned up somewhere in his house that he taps before leaving every Sunday. Bortles has also been sacked 25 times on the season, the fifth most in the NFL and could be without one of his favorite targets through the air as Allen Hurns sprained his foot and was seen strutting around in a walking boot. I won’t spend much time pumping up the Baltimore defense as I’d be hoisting them up on a throne of lies, but just know the Ravens did notch two defensive touchdowns in the first three weeks, so there is some precedence there.
14. Oakland vs. Minnesota
The Oakland defense might still be a year away from putting it all together, but that hasn’t prevented them from being incredibly opportunistic in 2015. Since Week 2 the Raiders have had at least two turnovers in every game but one and at least one interception in seven straight games. The sacks haven’t been consistent, but given both Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith are top 10 in quarterback hurries and Minnesota has had some offensive line issues, there’s room for progression. Oakland won’t get backup Shaun Hill as Teddy Bridgewater is on track to start on Sunday, but you won’t hear the Raiders complain. Bridgewater has thrown four interceptions in his last four games and has just one game all season with more than one passing touchdown. Putting points on the board hasn’t been easy for the Vikings as they’re converting just 41% of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns (30th in the NFL) and be shocked if that continues to the case this weekend. Oakland’s given up an 18 points per game at home in their last two and allowed just three touchdowns.
15. Minnesota at Oakland
A bit of smoke and mirrors, the Vikings have sneakily been shutting down opposing offenses. I personally don’t love their inclusion in the top 15, but it’s hard to argue with whatever black magic they’ve been working. Don’t expect much in the turnover category on Sunday as Minnesota has gone three games straight without creating one or much in terms of sacks, they have just two in their last two games combined. However, the Vikings have been incredibly stingy when it comes to points allowed. Only Denver has allowed fewer (one point fewer to be exact) and only one team has notched more than 20 points (Denver’s 23) against Minnesota. Oakland faced a similarly stout defense in Week 5 (yep, Denver again) resulting in a season low 10 points and was also the only time Derek Carr didn’t throw at least two touchdowns.
Streamer Special: Tampa Bay vs. Dallas
If you’ve ever watched Matt Cassel throw a football, this one makes perfect sense. The four-year college backup has four interceptions in three games, including two that were returned for touchdowns. The one game he didn’t gift seven points to the opposition, it’s likely because he threw for 97 yards with half of his completions and passing yards going to a running back. The Bucs are likely stroking their parrot and licking their one gold tooth just thinking about that Cowboy booty (treasure, you freaks). No team has forced more fumbles than Tampa’s nine, forcing at least one turnover in every game this season and have two defensive touchdowns in their last four.