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Fantasy football

Posted by Ed Ryan November 20, 2008 05:54 AM

Next season, the first defense taken in many fantasy football drafts will be Green Bay’s.

That will be a mistake.

This season, Green Bay’s defense is outpointing the next closest defense in my league by 27, and the third closest by 39. Those are big numbers and can be attributed to the Packers’ nine defensive touchdowns, a fantastic achievement that is all the more stunning because six games remain. In this decade, only one team — the 2004 Bills — reached 10 defensive touchdowns in a season. Two others — last year’s Vikings and the 2006 Bears — had nine.

The key for Green Bay has been the stellar play of its secondary. The Packers are third in the league against the pass and lead the league with 16 interceptions. Green Bay dominated Chicago last weekend, allowing only three points and not allowing the Bears’ receivers to record a catch until the third quarter.

No one could have predicted such an outburst from Green Bay; the Pack was taken in the 15th round of my draft. Not that fantasy defenses are typically drafted early. They’re not, and for good reason. Many defenses will give you roughly the same output week after week, and if you don’t like yours, the waiver wire is full of others. Rarely do owners carry more than one.

In a typical week, if you receive 10 points from your defense, you’re happy. Maybe you’ve picked up a few sacks (one point each in my league), an interception (two points), or a fumble recovery (two points). Add it all up, and if you’re at 10 points or more for any given week, you can’t complain.

If your defense is returning turnovers for touchdowns, though, that’s when the points start to pile up. In my league, you get six points for a defensive touchdown, and if that score went for more than 50 yards, tack on an extra six points. Which is why Green Bay and its nine defensive scores are so valuable.

But does leading the league in defensive touchdowns one year indicate long-term success? When it comes to fantasy football defenses, unlike skill-position players, history says no. Which is why we’re offering a word of caution with regard to Green Bay in next year’s draft.

Last season, for instance, the Vikings led the league with nine defensive touchdowns; this season, they have two. In 2004, Buffalo led the league with 10; in ’05 it finished with two. In ’05 the 49ers tied for the league lead with six, and in ’06 they finished with two.

One exception is the Bears, who have typically been near the top of this category throughout the decade. In trying to position myself for the upcoming playoffs, I recently dropped the Bills’ defense, which had been giving me little, and traded for the Bears’ D, which responded with just two points. Trading for a defense, no matter how highly rated, is risky (I gave up Wes Welker — too much, I know), but I’ll give it a couple more weeks. If it doesn’t work out, there’s always the waiver wire.

Ed Ryan writes about fantasy sports and betting for OT and can be reached at ed_ryan@globe.com

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