When all else fails, defense still wins championships…or maybe your fantasy league.  When coming into a new season, there are certain teams in the NFL that we know are going to play well on defense.  The Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburg Steelers, and New York Jets for example are usually one of the first few defensive teams picked in the majority of leagues.  After they’re taken of the board, don’t panic.  They’re actually 29 more teams to choose from my friend.
Over the past week, I've been campaigning for "The Next 5." These are the guys after the most productive/popular players at their positions have been drafted in your league already.  Here are five defensive squads that are sure to make a difference.
The Detroit Lions are first on my board with talent everywhere.  They’re coming off their best season in recent team history or memory but showed signs of inexperience and immaturity later in the year.  They were a threat in every game on defense whether it was nasty sack from Ndamukong Sue, a fumble recovery in the endzone by defensive end Cliff Avril or an interception by cornerback Alphonso Smith.  The Lions led the league with seven defensive touchdowns last year and I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on their maturation process.
At number two, just like the Lions, the Philadelphia Eagles have a lot to prove this year.  That “Dream Team” moniker made by now Buffalo Bill back-up quarterback Vince Young, faded as fast as his career did with the teams funky start to the 2011-12 season.  The team bounced back from a 3-6 start by winning five of their last seven games behind a young hungry defense.  The Eagles tied for first in the NFL last year with the Vikings with 50 total sacks and ranked tenth in the league with points allowed at 20.5.  If lockdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha can keep those concussions at bay and grab some interceptions, look for this new Eagles defense to have a strong sophomore season together.
There’s a lot of optimism floating around about my third team on the board.  The Seattle Seahawks are going to shock a lot of people this year.  The defense has slowly made a name for themselves since the arrival of the Pete Carroll era 2.0.  Seattle came in fourth in the league in interceptions last year with 22, ninth in yards allowed (333.2) and seventh in points allowed at 19.7.  With the addition of there first round draft pick defensive end Bruce Irvin coming of the edge and that feisty “12thMan” always making it hard for opponents to play in Seattle, look for a young defense to be ready to make some noise.
At four on my board is coach Marvin Lewis’ Cincinnati Bengals.  Lewis kept his team playing at a high defensive level all year long.  If you didn’t follow the Bengals in the 2011-12 season, you’ll be surprised at their defensive rap sheet.  They finished fifth in sacks in NFL with 45, fourth in fumble recoveries (12), ninth in points allowed (20.2), and seventh in yards allowed a game with 316.2.  If they can get that interception number up from just ten last year, look for the Bengals to prowl their way to the top of the NFL’s best defensive teams.
The last defensive squad on my list, and division mate to my last choice are the Cleveland Browns.  The team may have struggled offensively in the 2011-12 season but they played defense, pretty solid defense at that.  They only allowed 19.2 points a game, which ranked fifth in the league last year.  Though they weren’t necessary great at sacking the quarterback and intercepting the football, the Browns came in tenth in yards allowed with 333.4 and seventh in fumble recoveries with seven.  If the team can get to the quarterback this year and get cornerback Joe Haden to pick some passes off, look for another young defense to get better in the 2012-13 season.
Check back later for my final installment about kickers.