Bears are special; watch Bills on `D'.
COLUMN: FANTASY SPORTS
I suppose that this week I must continue my fantasy football season preview with a look at defenses/special teams. I am hesitant about doing so since the preseason top picks never seem to be the elite units at the end of the season.
Being wrong has never deterred me before, though.
And of course, we will be wrong. The 49ers had been everyone's hot sleeper team for a couple of years, appeared that they may finally be waning, but then sacrifices at the altar of Jim Harbaugh finally brought them to the Promised Land last year. They did it largely with a defense that looks like it should be great again.
All of San Francisco's starters return to a unit that led the league against the rush, giving up only 77.3 yards per game, and did not giving up a rushing touchdown through the first 14 games of the season. Add in 41 sacks and 23 interceptions and it's impossible to not rank the 49ers as No. 1.
But how surprised would anyone be if a team that has Alex Smith at quarterback finds it difficult to continue the positive momentum from last season?
To try to make my predictions a little safer, I then turn to teams whose defensive systems have worked for more than a single season.
That starts with the Bears, whose defense must be good since they have found some way to remain a relevant team with Jay Cutler under center. There is a big question mark with Brian Urlacher's knee injury, but it is minor enough that his aim of returning for the season opener seems realistic.
Something Chicago offers that no other team does, however, is Devin Hester. If things go downhill with Urlacher, it could still be worth trading the loss of a couple games from him to get Hester's inevitable return touchdowns.
The Ravens are also a constant defensive presence that no one has wanted to face for over a decade. Their injury concern is a little bigger because it looks like Terrell Suggs may not play this year with an Achilles injury. That is enough to put them beneath the Bears in my list, but one must still have enough respect for Ray Lewis to keep his squad near the top.
Or is that fear?
Call it whatever emotion you want at that point, but very frightening things begin after that. I mean, I've already placed more faith in the 49ers than makes me comfortable and now I have to think the Texans can still be powerful without Mario Williams?
He did play only five games last season, however, when the squad was a top-five defense under new coordinator Wade Phillips. So things should remain fairly status quo. Before Phillips returned to star coordinator status, however, he was a ho-hum head coach and one of his stops on that path of mediocrity was in Buffalo, which just happens to be Williams' new home.
The Bills increased their defensive line presence by signing Williams and Mark Anderson as their new ends. Add them to a team that was already a low-end safe fantasy defense pick last year and you have my sleeper pick for the year.
Not so much a sleeper pick, since no one will completely forget their dream team status last preseason, nut the Eagles are another team that stands to take an upward jump. Last year's injection of star cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a secondary that already included Asante Samuel was supposed to make them historic. That went downhill fast when Philadelphia allowed at least 23 points in each of its first five games.
Now Samuel is with the Falcons, though, and this could be an ironic positive as Rodgers-Cromartie and Asomugha could thrive with more well-defined roles. Going into last season, it was fantasy gospel that you never played your top receiver if he was facing Asomugha, and it's tough to believe the former Raiders star lost that in one season. Granted, everyone looks better in silver and black, but a uniform change couldn't change things that much.
Another team to keep an eye on is the Lions. They may seem much like the 49ers in that they were a team with burgeoning potential that finally made the playoffs. Detroit did it largely on the strength of its offense, though, riding the arm of Matthew Stafford (5,038 passing yard, 41 touchdowns) and the hands of Calvin Johnson (96 catches, 1,681 yards, 16 touchdowns).
They do have some defensive power, though, with Ndamukong Suh being the kind of player who has the power to change the complexion of an entire unit with his presence - when his temper doesn't get the better of him.
(Please note: I have now had to put both Nnamdi Asomugha and Ndamukong Suh in one column, so any other typos present should be overlooked due to the amount of work my fingers already had to do.)
Last year, ESPN had Detroit ranked as the eighth-best defense, though the site also cautions that that number is slightly inflated by the team's seven defensive TDs. Remove a few, though, and that's still a solid group to have once the top-flight squads are off the board. And the Lions should last that long, for they still feel like a team you're not supposed to be afraid of.
And considering the position, would anyone be that surprised if Detroit continues it upswing?
Josh Bousquet can be contacted by email at email@example.com.
Top 30 Defenses