FANTASY PLAYS: Be flexible when choosing defenses, kickers

One of the biggest mistakes that a fantasy football player can make is to plan on only using one kicker or one defense for the entire season.

Of all the things that we know, it is that defense/special teams scoring is very unpredictable and changes on a week-to-week basis.

The same is true for kickers. While some kickers for elite offenses are going to do well over the course of a season, certainly much better than their peers, they are going to have avoidable peaks and valleys.

This is why we utilize a concept called “streaming”.

Instead of focusing on particularly strong players at kicker in our fantasy football draft, or drafting the Patriots or San Francisco 49ers defense early in our draft and then starting them all year, we look to the waiver wire to make the best available plays on an individual week.

One of the biggest reasons that strategy works out over the course of the season is: we have no idea who is going to be good at the beginning of the year.

Last year’s Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns are a great example of this. The Ravens were expected to win around eight games and were not even favored to make the playoffs. In the same division, the Browns were a trendy pick to reach the Super Bowl.

It is also difficult for great defenses to stay great for long periods of time. The strong Seahawks defenses from the 2010s struggled as their secondary aged. New England’s run of D/ST scoring last season lasted only nine weeks before they transformed back into an average-scoring defensive unit.

Players who are expecting the San Francisco 49ers to be as fearsome on defense this season will not necessarily be making a smart wager.

So if we agree that we are not going to take a defense and plan on starting them for the whole season, we need to agree on some criteria for selecting our weekly starters.

First, we want to target teams that are going to be playing at home. Teams that play at home are usually favored, and generally receive a slight boost over the long term in D/ST scoring. There are a lot of ingredients in that mixture, but playing at home definitely matters for D/ST scoring.

The biggest factor is playing a defense that is favored in the individual game that they are playing. Fantasy points for D/STs come from facing pass attempts, not rushing attempts.

You want your fantasy defense to have a chance to sack the opposing QB, generate interceptions, force fumbles and most importantly, score touchdowns.

There really is nothing better than winning your fantasy matchup in a given week because your D/ST scored one or more defensive touchdowns.

The easiest way to find those lucky weeks is to play the matchups. For example, a team might be missing its starting quarterback and be playing against a defense that is perceived as bad.

Except, how bad can a defense really be if they are playing against a quarterback that truly is not NFL caliber? Those are the kinds of edges that we want to exploit. Getting a defense that can start against backups is almost a guarantee for an above-average week at DS/T in fantasy football.

Many of these same principles apply to kickers as well, though with a few caveats. One of the main being: taking a kicker on Kansas City, Baltimore or Dallas might actually be OK.

Harrison Butker scored 166 fantasy points in standard scoring in 2020 and the No. 12 kicker in fantasy scoring (Chris Boswell) scored only 126. That difference is nothing like it is at RB or WR, but it is still enough for us to say that maybe it isn’t unreasonable to take Butker or Justin Tucker maybe in the third-to-last round in your fantasy football draft, it is OK.

The strategy of picking kickers from high-powered fantasy offenses should be self-explanatory.

At the start of the season, we can look at the aforementioned Chiefs/Cowboys/Ravens but in-season, it actually gets a little bit easier.

Before looking at any other factor, try and use your waiver-wire dollars (or first-come, first-serve free agency) to take kickers from the highest-scoring games of the week.

More points means more field goals and more extra points and that is how you get fantasy points.

Another very helpful wrinkle to keep in mind is that kickers playing in indoors games should always get an edge.

There is no wind in domes to make field goals harder and the kicking surface (turf) also makes it easier for place kickers to knock them through the uprights.

When it comes to kickers and defenses, we should basically be using the same strategy. We like both of them to be playing at home if possible.

We want to use as much information as possible and we want to optimize for weekly matchups instead of trying to find the best possible scorer over the course of the season.

If we follow these steps in 2020, it should help us win our fantasy football leagues.

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This column was provided to The Associated Press by SportsGrid Inc., www.sportsgrid.com

Copyright © 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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