Earlier this week, we all thought that Christian McCaffrey was the fantasy MVP. What fools we were. Sure, McCaffrey has been by far the best running back in the NFL this season, and that usually equates to fantasy excellence, but in terms of actual value, the best fantasy player isn’t a player at all. It’s the Patriots’ D/ST.
In the team’s 35-14 win over the Giants on Thursday night, the Patriots defense and special teams racked up three interceptions, one fumble recovery, one blocked punt, one sack, and two touchdowns. It was another monster performance for a D/ST that has absolutely dominated this season, looking like one of the best defenses ever in both real life and fantasy.
The statistical line the Patriots dropped equates to 28 fantasy points in standard-scoring fantasy leagues, the type of total a D/ST records only if it has a truly special performance—or, you know, if it plays the Dolphins or Jets once. But the Patriots are doing this every week. The Pats D/ST now has 14 interceptions, two fumble recoveries, and 25 sacks on the season while allowing 14 points or fewer in every single game. Oh, and it has five defensive touchdowns—just one less than the vaunted Bears D/ST had in all of 2018.
The Pats D/ST’s per-game fantasy points average now stands at 20.3 in standard-scoring ESPN leagues. To put that number in perspective, the 2018 Bears, the top D/ST last year, averaged 11.8 fantasy points per game. It’s difficult to find historical numbers for fantasy defenses, but it’s almost assured that the Pats D/ST is off to one of the best starts ever. I for sure have never seen anything like it.
This has made the Patriots’ D/ST arguably the most valuable asset in all of fantasy so far this year. In fact, forget D/STs for a minute—the Pats are as productive as just about any single player, at any position. In standard-scoring leagues, the Patriots’ D/ST is averaging more points than all but two running backs (McCaffrey and Dalvin Cook), every single receiver, every single tight end, and all but six quarterbacks. The gap between McCaffrey and the 10th-highest-scoring running back is 11.5 points. The gap between the Pats D/ST and the 10th-highest scoring D/ST is 12.5 points. As we head into Week 6 of the NFL, having the Patriots’ D/ST has been a bigger fantasy advantage than having McCaffrey.
Fantasy football is supposed to be won and lost by top-level players: the running backs, quarterbacks, wideouts (and, rarely, the tight ends)—and usually the ones that were taken near the top of drafts. Defenses and kickers are usually afterthoughts (with some leagues ditching the latter entirely). The Patriots’ D/ST is turning the entire game of fantasy on its head.
As you can guess, no one saw anything close to this coming. The Patriots’ D/ST wasn’t highly drafted, entering the season as the no. 11 fantasy D/ST according to Fantasy Pros’ expert consensus rankings. That means that you likely could have grabbed New England in one of the last few rounds in most drafts. Hell, you might have been able to pick them up off waivers before Week 1. No one went into their drafts thinking the Pats D/ST would be their league-winning sleeper pick, and most players probably ended up with them essentially on accident:
our friend had to leave the draft early and we took the Pats D for him strictly to troll him because he hates the Patriots— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) October 11, 2019
The only glimmer of hope for those of us who don’t own the Patriots’ D/ST: This ridiculous level of production is not sustainable. Defensive touchdowns are incredibly inconsistent, and the Patriots have benefited from a cupcake schedule that would make Alabama blush. New England has begun the season with games against some of the worst teams in football: the Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, Bills, Redskins, and Giants. By DVOA, those teams’ offenses rank 25th, 32nd, 31st, 27th, 30th, and 22nd. The Patriots will get the Jets again in Week 7 and the punchless Browns in Week 8, but after that they’ll have the Ravens, a bye, and then the Eagles, Cowboys, Texans, and Chiefs. New England also doesn’t play the tanking Dolphins again until Week 17, after the vast majority of fantasy leagues will have concluded.
The Pats won’t remain a cheat code forever, but they could be back to dominating when it counts: New England will face dumpster-fire offenses in the Bengals and Bills for Weeks 15 and 16, which are usually the fantasy playoffs. The Pats D/ST is already propelling those who were lucky enough to grab them to the postseason. By the time the fantasy playoffs roll around, New England looks set to be every bit as much a league winner as any other player in fantasy football.