The goal of a real-life NFL defense is to prevent the other team from scoring points. When we select a defense to roster, we’re trying to score the most fantasy points. It’s a subtle shift in thinking, but an important one.
The optimal way to select a defense in DFS is to think in terms of big events, not points allowed. Just 2.3% of games last season ended in a shutout and only 9.7% ended with one team being held to six points or fewer. In other words, targeting the “points allowed” category is a fool’s errand.
The real fantasy points come from sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions and defense touchdowns. These events are by far the most likely to happen when a quarterback is under pressure. The best possible outcome on a single play for our defense is a strip sack which results in a defensive touchdown as we get one DraftKings point for the sack, two for the fumble recovery and six for the touchdown.
With that in mind, below you’ll find the biggest mismatches between defensive and offensive lines for Week 15. The objective is to project QB pressure through film study, injuries, scheme, coaching and talent.
Biggest Week 15 DL > OL Mismatches
1. Patriots DL (19th in Brandon Thorn’s latest rankings for pressure) vs. Bengals OL (31st in offensive line rating)
2. Steelers DL (15th) vs. Bills OL (14th)
3. Eagles DL (9th) vs. Redskins OL (21st)
4. Packers DL (5th) vs. Bears OL (24th)
5. 49ers DL (1st) vs. Falcons OL (26th)
Biggest Week 15 OL > DL Mismatches
1. Saints OL (1st) vs. Colts DL
2. Eagles OL (2nd) vs. Redskins DL (22nd)
DL > OL
1. Patriots DL vs. Bengals OL
Key matchups: OLB Kyle Van Noy vs. RT Bobby Hart, DT Adam Butler vs. LG Michael Jordan
Notes: The Patriots DL ranks 5th in adjusted sack rate, 23rd in team pass rush win rate, 10th in pressure rate, and 6th in sacks with 41. The Bengals OL ranks 22nd in adjusted sack rate, 31st in team pass block win rate, 23rd in sacks per pass attempt, and 30th in total pressures given up with 174.
The Bengals OL continues to be one of the two or three worst units in the NFL despite a slight uptick in performance from the return of LT Cordy Glenn in Week 12. The offense has utilized more empty protections since Glenn’s return with middling success and now have to take on the best defense in the league that ranks 7th in blitz percentage.
The Patriots have one of the league’s best secondaries and a pass rush that is unpredictable with no great but several capable rushers coming from all sides (5 players have 20+ pressures).
Adam Butler does a great job as the catalyst for the interior rush with his ability to find creases that set up loopers and stunts behind him, something that will put an enormous amount of stress on rookie LG Michael Jordan and the interior of the Bengals OL as a whole. With stellar coverage on the backend and a dynamic blitz package with crafty rushers across the board, the Bengals will have to scheme and play the game of their lives to prevent chaos from ensuing up front.
2. Steelers DL vs. Bills OL
Key matchups: OLB T.J. Watt vs. RT Cody Ford, DT Cameron Heyward vs. LG Quinton Spain, DT Javon Hargrave vs. RG Jon Feliciano
Notes: Pittsburgh’s DL ranks 2nd in adjusted sack rate, 6th in team pass rush win rate, 1st in pressure rate, and 4th in QB knockdown percentage. T.J. Watt is 4th in QB hits (15) and total pressures (70). The Bills OL ranks 25th in adjusted sack rate, 7th in team pass block win rate, and 22nd in sacks per pass attempt. RT Ty Nsekhe missed the last three games and missed Wednesday’s practice.
In what will likely be a low-scoring defensive battle, the Steelers have a trio of significant mismatches in the trenches that they will be able to take advantage of on obvious passing downs.
T.J. Watt is in the running for defensive player of the year and will get to take on rookie RT Cody Ford while Cameron Heyward and Javon Hargrave get to take on an interior OL that are much better run than pass-blockers. Hargrave in particular has been on a tear as of late and will have the upperhand vs. Jon Feliciano when isolated against him on passing downs.
The Steelers have had a cake schedule this season and the Bills present their toughest test since Week 5 vs. the Ravens, but having an elite defense with the home crowd on their side will help put a tremendous amount of stress on QB Josh Allen and this OL.
Look for the Bills right side of their OL to struggle having to deal with Watt and Hargrave with Quinton Spain being severely overmatched in pass-protection vs. Heyward.
3. Eagles DL vs. Redskins OL
Key matchups: DT Fletcher Cox vs. C Chase Roullier, DE Brandon Graham vs. RT Morgan Moses
Notes: The Eagles DL ranks 19th in adjusted sack rate, 4th in team pass rush win rate, 2nd in QB knockdown percentage, and 12th in sacks per pass attempt. Fletcher Cox ranks 4th in QB hurries (37) & pressures (50) among DTs. The Redskins OL ranks 31st in adjusted sack rate, 16th in team pass block win rate, and 31st in sacks per pass attempt.
Philadelphia has had an injury-riddled season but maintains one of the better defensive lines in the NFL led by one of the few truly ‘elite’ 3-techniques in Fletcher Cox. Cox primarily will line up over the RG and faces one of the best in Brandon Scherff this week, but slides further inside over the center in 3-down looks and has a huge mismatch against Roullier.
Cox’s presence will also take away Washington’s best offensive lineman in Scherff, allowing guys like Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Vinny Curry to face lesser players 1-on-1, matchups each should be able to exploit.
This is a bad Redskins offense that will likely be forced into being one-dimensional due to their inability to run the football, putting the burden to produce yards and points squarely on rookie QB Dwayne Haskins and this OL. Expect him to be under fire for most of the day with very little room to maneuver in the pocket.
4. Packers DL vs. Bears OL
Key matchups: OLB Za’Darius Smith vs. LT Charles Leno & LG James Daniels, DT Kenny Clark vs. C Cody Whitehair
Notes: The Packers DL ranks 12th in adjusted sack rate, 11th in team pass rush win rate, 14th in pressure rate, and 5th in QB knockdown percentage. Za’Darius Smith is 3rd in pressures (73), 2nd in QB hits (18), and 6th in QB hurries (43). Chicago’s OL ranks 18th in adjusted sack rate, 8th in team pass block win rate, 20th in sacks per pass attempt, and 23rd in QB hits given up (24). RT Bobby Massie is out with a high ankle sprain.
The Bears have won three games in a row with an OL that has gradually improved over the second half of the season but two of their last three games came at home and against bottom-tiered pass-rush groups (NYG/DET) along with a semi-impressive win against a Jekyll and Hyde Cowboys team.
This Packers front four is a ferocious group that gets a high amount of pressure without blitzing (27th in blitz percentage) and will be at home with a couple lopsided matchups to capitalize on beginning with Kenny Clark on the inside. Clark has bullied Cody Whitehair over the last few years due to his strength and power advantage so with him being able to push the interior of the pocket it will open up lanes and room for Za’Darius and Preston Smith to operate.
The right side of the Bears OL has two backups playing and while they’ve managed to scheme around them and stay afloat, this is the sort of game where they can get exposed. Clark and the Smith’s can pick the side they want to rush from and find a matchup that falls in their favor, making this an obvious inclusion on this list.
5. 49ers DL vs. Falcons OL
Key matchups: DE Nick Bosa vs. LT Jake Matthews, DT DeForest Buckner vs. OGs Wes Schweitzer & Jamon Brown
Notes: The 49ers DL ranks 1st in adjusted sack rate, 13th in team pass rush win rate, 4th in pressure rate, and 2nd in QB hurry percentage. DE Nick Bosa is 2nd in pressures from the right side (over the LT) with 48. The Falcons OL ranks 16th in adjusted sack rate, 29th in team pass block win rate, 30th in QB hits (33), and 27th in pressures given up (166). LG James Carpenter missed the last two weeks with a concussion and didn’t practice on Wednesday.
The 49ers are banged up on the defensive line after losing NT D.J. Jones and DE Dee Ford for the foreseeable future but still have the likely defensive rookie of the year Nick Bosa with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead to form a top-notch trio. Atlanta has been extremely banged up on their OL all season and hasn’t had both starting guards since Week 12 and it doesn’t look likely that it will happen this week due to James Carpenter’s concussion.
Buckner and Armstead will be able to move around the interior and have advantageous matchups against each guard while Bosa has the upper-hand against both LT Jake Matthews and to a greater degree vs. RT Kaleb McGary.
Not having Richard Sherman in the lineup can make it easier to get rid of the ball quickly for QB Matt Ryan but even with a hobbled defense Atlanta throws the ball more than any team in the NFL and will provide Bosa and this pass-rush plenty of opportunity to capitalize on a below-average Falcons’ offensive line.