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Pass defenses to target and avoid in 2021 fantasy football

The right matchup can make all the difference in fantasy football.

New England Patriots v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Your work as a fantasy football general manager doesn’t end once the draft wraps up. Week in and week out, you need to spend time pouring over the roster and looking ahead to get the right matchups.

The first place to start is know which defenses present the most favorable and the worst matchups. For instance, you should know that your quarterback is going to have a rough day against someone like Aaron Donald and the Rams. At the same time, it’s useful to know that most randos off the waiver wire can play like an All Pro when they’re facing the Lions.

This look back at last seasons best and worst pass defenses, as well as some informed predictions about who’ll have the best and worst units this season, is a great starting point.

Worst pass defenses in 2020

Detroit Lions: The Lions led the league with 38 passing touchdowns allowed last year. But it wasn’t all bad news in 2020—there were two teams that gave up more passing yards on average each week. Detroit was a gift to quarterbacks in fantasy, surrendering an average of just under 24 points, in traditional scoring, each week.

Atlanta Falcons: A mainstay of any “worst pass defense” list, the Falcons held with tradition in 2020. They gave up 34 passing touchdowns and a league-worst 293.6 yards per game through the air. And if you were looking for chunk plays from you team, the Falcons were there to help, giving up a league-high 66 passing plays of 20 yards or more (tied with the Lions).

Tennessee Titans: It may surprise you to know that the Falcons were the only team to give up more passing touchdown last year than the Titans, who surrendered 36 scores through the air. They also allowed an average of more than 277 passing yards per game last season, the fourth-worst mark. Only one team threw for less than 200 yards against Tennessee, the pass-averse Ravens, last season.

Projecting the worst pass defenses in 2021

Detroit Lions: Hey, they’re rebuilding, give them some slack ... but when they’re in action, be sure you’re leaning on any quarterback or receiver, or pass-catching running back for that matter, who can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.

Houston Texans: Sure, they’re terrible at stopping the run, but guys like Zach Cunningham and Justin Reid don’t just miss tackles on running backs.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans cleaned house in the secondary after last year. However, they’re leaning on a young, mostly inexperienced group, with the exception of veteran stopgap Janoris Jenkins. Up front, they have a hole at nose and not many sacks to be found among the rest of the group. And because the offense is going to force opponents to throw and throw some more in hopes of keeping pace, this unit should once again be an attractive matchup in fantasy.

Best pass defenses in 2020

Los Angeles Rams: A good pass defense starts up front, so when your whole unit revolves around an All-Universe guy like Aaron Donald, well, things tend to work out just fine. The Rams had the second-most sacks in the NFL last year with 53. The secondary featuring Jalen Ramsey is nothing to sneeze at. They allowed just 36 pass plays of 20+ yards last season, tied with Washington for the league’s best mark in that category. In fantasy scoring, opposing quarterbacks average less than 15 points a game, in traditional formats, against the Rams.

Pittsburgh Steelers: No team brought down opposing quarterbacks more than the Steelers, who lead the NFL with 56 sacks; 15 of those came from T.J. Watt, the league’s sack leader. But the action wasn’t all up front. The Steelers also tied for the league lead in interceptions with 18.

Washington Football Team: For all the troubles Washington had on offense, the team’s defense quietly blossomed from an afterthought into one of the league’s best units. Led by Chase Young and Montez Sweat, WFT had 47 sacks last year and limited opposing signal callers to a meager 15 points per game.

Miami Dolphins: Yeah, you probably overlooked this one. But the Dolphins allowed just 21 passing touchdowns in 2020 and an average of just 251 passing yards per game. They also led the league with 18 interceptions.

New England Patriots: The Patriots actually tied the Dolphins for the league’s most interceptions, and they only gave up 22 passing touchdowns all year along with a stingy 222 passing yards per game.

Projecting the best pass defenses in 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers: Watt is still holding out, but it’s not exactly a huge leap to think that he’ll be ready to go in Week 1, ready to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award after two seasons as a runner up.

Los Angeles Rams: The Rams lost some of their supporting cast up front around Aaron Donald, but he’s one of those players who makes even the most average guy better.

Washington Football Team: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this turns out to be the NFL’s best defense in 2021. Chase Young is entering his second season, and it’s reasonable to expect some improvement over an already prodigious start. Slot corner Kendall Fuller and linebacker Cole Holcomb will take away the short, inside throws that desperate quarterbacks will be looking for against this pass rush, and cornerback William Jackson, an offseason acquisition, will give them a leg up on No. 1 receivers.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens were middle of the pack in sacks last year, but the defense should get a big boost from first-round pick Odafe Oweh. A full, healthy season from Jimmy Smith will help too.