Quick: Which team fields the best defense in Fantasyland?
First, did you answer out loud? If so, please don’t do that again. You’re embarrassing yourself.
So, did you say Pittsburgh? Nope.
How about the Giants? Nuh-uh.
Maybe Tennessee? Wrong again.
Okay, so it was a trick question. My criteria for this distinction doesn’t involve sacks, turnovers, points-allowed or defensive scoring. Rather, I’m referring to the defensive unit that serves up the most fantasy points to its opponents.
And by that measure, nobody holds a candle to the Houston Texans.
In a league where there are few absolutes and every trend is meant to be broken, the Texans are the closest thing to a sure bet you’ll find. Plug a quarterback and receiver into your starting lineup against Houston, and watch the fantasy points fly.
Four of the six QBs that have faced the Texans thus far in 2010 – Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Bruce Gradkowski and Eli Manning – had their best statistical performances of the season against them. Matt Cassel had his second-best outing, and Tony Romo had a strong day as well.
Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, Dwayne Bowe, Roy Williams and Zach Miller each posted their most productive games of the year against the Texans’ sieve-like secondary. Austin Collie, Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark torched them for 342 yards and a touchdown apiece in the opener. Santana Moss never reached the end zone, but his 10-catch, 89-yard effort was a keeper. Among top wideouts, only Miles Austin has been held in check by Houston this season.
Perhaps the Texans will right their defensive ship over their Week 7 bye, though that seems highly improbable given the season-ending injury suffered by All Pro linebacker DeMeco Ryans against the Chiefs. More likely, fantasy’s “best” defense will return from the break just in time to get walloped by the Colts again. Then the Chargers, Jaguars, Jets and Titans will take turns feasting at Houston’s fantasy smorgasbord in November.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, you need to start with a good draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents can also make a big difference. Here’s a look at a few players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else’s line-up.
Catch ‘em while you can
Chris Ivory, RB, Saints. After his 175-combined-yard performance against the Bucs, the undrafted rookie deserves some love. Should Pierre Thomas miss another game, as expected, with his sprained ankle, Ivory will have a favorable matchup against the Browns in Week 7. He doesn’t offer much long-term value, and he’ll give up some touches to Ladell Betts and even Julius Jones, but he can be a nice bye-week filler in a pinch.
Deion Branch, WR, Patriots. Before you get caught up in the “good ole days” bandwagon, remember that Branch has never cracked the Top 20 ranks among fantasy wideouts. His career highs in receiving yards (998) and touchdowns (5) came in 2005. That said, Branch’s nine-catch, 98-yard, one-TD outing Sunday was the best production for a Patriot receiver this season. He’s worth a pickup; just don’t expect consistent fireworks.
Jason Avant, WR, Eagles. If you saw the hit DeSean Jackson took Sunday, you know he’s not playing next week (and the Eagles’ bye is Week 8). His absence could extend even longer, given the severity of his concussion (and subsequent memory loss). Avant ascends to the starting lineup, which is a good place to be when both the quarterbacks who could be passing to you are playing great.
Fred Davis, TE, Redskins. The backup notched six TD passes in 2009 after Chris Cooley fractured his ankle in Week 7 and was lost for the season. Davis should get another chance to shine while Cooley recovers from a concussion incurred Sunday night, especially with tight end-friendly McNabb at the controls.
Don’t be fooled
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions. He had a great run, but a broken forearm and the impending return of starter Matt Stafford spell the end of Hill’s fantasy relevance this season. Give him a peck on the cheek and promise to give him another chance next year, especially if he finds a starting job via free agency.
Patrick Crayton, WR, Chargers. If Antonio Gates misses time with his ankle injury, and if Malcom Floyd’s hamstring forces him out, and if Legedu Naanee remains inactive with his own hamstring problem, then Crayton could followup his fine outing in St. Louis with another solid performance against the Patriots next week. That’s a lot of ifs.
Devery Henderson, WR, Saints. The problem with Henderson is that he always seems to have a good game the minute you give up on him. Which underscores the real issue: He’s inconsistent as all get-out. After being targeted just once against the Bucs, and being out-shined by Lance Moore and Robert Meachem again, it may be best to eliminate the problem altogether.
Kevin Walter, WR, Texans. Jacoby Jones and Owen Daniels are now fully healthy. The team is heading into their Week 7 bye. And Walter wasn’t targeted a single time against the Chiefs. Three strikes, he’s out.
Ladd Biro is a syndicated fantasy football columnist and host of Sporting News Radio’s weekly Fantasy Files show (Saturdays, 8-9 am CT). Follow his daily fantasy advice at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com) and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).