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2007 Team Defense/Special Teams Part III
By Patrick Snow

ESPN's Colin Cowherd opened his show today, July 17th, 2007, proclaiming the fact that it is time for the sports world to to swing into football mode. His point was that football is what the American sports fan cares about, even if it is the heart of baseball season, and there is no reason to wait until the middle of August to give sports fans a chance to chat up their favorite teams and players. He argued that there are two seasons in sports: football season and waiting-for-football season. Based on this, Cowherd claims that we should be talking football as much as possible.

Welcome to the conversation, Colin. Glad you could finally join us.

We at the Jungle, as is usually the case, are ahead of the pack in preparing you for the season. For the past several weeks, we have been discussing the fantasy rankings and projections for the upcoming year. You're welcome, Jungle Animals.

We continue to provide you with the best preseason coverage in fantasy football by resuming our trek through the defenses/special teams you need to know for your draft.

 Starters

 These defenses are sound starts if you don't have any of the elite teams:

  • Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles defense continued their consistent play last year. They were 15th in total defense and eighth in fantasy football. Philly brought in Takeo Spikes, bolstering their linebacking corps. They also have loads of talent on the defensive line, which should help their sack and interception totals. Moreover, they should hold opponents to around the 20.5 points per game they registered last year. Don't overrate the Eagles, but if you can snag them in the late middle-rounds, you will have a solid starting defense.
  • Jacksonville JaguarsJacksonville was a study in the discrepancy between fantasy football numbers and NFL success last year. The Jags finished second in total defense, but had a down year from a fantasy perspective, finishing 16th, below their three-year average of 11th. However, Jacksonville is always a solid defense, and they should rebound this season. To do so, however, they will need to improve their turnover (24) and sack (35) totals.
  • Pittsburgh SteelersPittsburgh will need to replace Joey Porter, but they are still a talented crew. Despite having a new head coach, the Steelers will continue to run their 3-4 defense while transitioning to Coach Mike Tomlin's 4-3 scheme, which means that there should be plenty of continuity. One of the most consistent fantasy defenses, Pittsburgh is set up to be a solid start again this year. If they can pick up their turnover and touchdown totals, they may once again be elite.
  • Miami Dolphins: Miami signed Porter, adding him to Jason Taylor, Zach Thomas and company. They were were the fourth-best defense in the NFL last year, finishing 11th in fantasy scoring. They recovered 19 fumbles, second only to the Bears, and collected 47 sacks, third in the league. The 'Phins need to intercept more passes to reach the elite level, but this is their only flaw, especially if Ted Ginn Jr. kick-starts their return game.
  • Dallas Cowboys: The new head coach of the 'Boys, Wade Phillips, was the Chargers defensive coordinator last year. Given what we said about that unit, we can expect that Dallas should remain in the fantasy top-ten list. They have a number of talented young defenders for Phillips to work with, including Roy Williams, DeMarcus Ware and Marcus Spears. Under Bill Parcells, the Cowboys forced 31 turnovers and scored five touchdowns. I don't know if Dallas can score five times this season, but they should continue to be a steady starting unit, especially if the can increase their sack total.
  • Seattle SeahawksSeattle's defense gave up too many yards and points last season to be a great fantasy option, but their ability to sack the quarterback (41 last year) makes them a viable selection, especially if your league rewards sacks as a priority. The Seahawks cut the aging Grant Wistrom and signed Patrick Kerney, which should reinforce the pass rush. The 'Hawks have averaged 106 points (6.6 per week--eighth overall) over the last three-years and, if they can figure out how to stop the pass, may be an elite starting defense this season.  
  • Denver Broncos: The Broncos were an average fantasy defense in '06. That should change in '07. They added Sam Adams to help against the run and Dre Bly to defend the pass. Bly and Champ Bailey make for one of the best cornerback combinations in the league. If the front seven can get any pass rush at all, the Broncos should improve on their 17 INTs from last year. I expect the yardage totals to shrink this year as well, which should mean fewer points allowed. All in all, the Broncos should be a solid number-one defense. 
  • Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings were a top-ten unit last year in fantasy football while enduring a number of key injuries. They achieved this by scoring six defensive touchdowns and forcing 36 turnovers. They may not reach those numbers again, but the addition of Mike Doss and the return of other players may mean they won't need to repeat these stats. If they can inflate their sack total (30) and lower their points (327) and yards against (5000), the Vikings will be a nice low-end starting unit.  
  • Carolina Panthers: The Panthers failed to reach their usual lofty place as a fantasy stalwart last season. Don't expect that to happen again. They are too talented. The Panthers earned this spot by consistently performing at a high level over the last few seasons. Last year was an apparition. However, to return to fantasy prominence, Carolina must force more turnovers (21 last season) and either cut down the points against or score more touchdowns. With their talented crew, this is possible. With John Fox as their coach, it is probable.
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