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Defense may not win fantasy championships but they can help

It's now Week 10 in the football season. Most fantasy leagues only have a few weeks left before the playoffs begin. It might be time to shore up an overlooked part of your lineup: your defense.

It's hard to predict what the top fantasy defenses will be at the start of the year. The top-drafted fantasy defense this year in almost all leagues, the New York Jets, has just been average. Other high-ranking defenses -- Minnesota, Baltimore, San Francisco -- have been absolutely awful fantasy-wise. Only Green Bay and Pittsburgh have deserved their high position on draft day.

Of course, it's hard to predict defenses week-to-week, too. The Packers were one of the top fantasy defenses but are now squarely in first after scoring two touchdowns in the 45-7 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night. These are hard to predict; there's so much chance involved it's hard to say what teams are good at it.

In the final weeks of the regular season, if you're stuck with an underperforming defense, check on the waiver wire for one. Don't just look for highest point totals but for teams that get a lot of sacks, forced fumbles and interceptions, stats more likely to generate points. (Fumble recoveries are also somewhat random.) Defense is usually an afterthought in fantasy, but a performance like Green Bay's on Sunday night can tilt a game in one direction.

What's nice is there's bound to be a decent defense available if you're ready to give up on a team like the Ravens. Teams only have one defense in almost every league, so there should be a bunch available. Teams like Kansas City and Atlanta have easy schedules coming up. The Cardinals' high point total so far is bolstered by five defensive touchdowns but they have 17 takeaways and an easy schedule remaining.

San Francisco, pegged as a top defense at the start of the season, has improved its defense in recent weeks and also has an easy NFC West schedule. The 49ers have probably been dropped in your league and also might be worth a gamble.

• Brett Favre finally made headlines for playing football. The 41-year-old QB set a career high in passing yards with 446 in Week 9 and also threw for two scores and two interceptions. That's a very solid fantasy day, especially in yardage-heavy leagues, and Favre is probably available on the waiver wire.

Could it continue? The Vikings play three out of their next five at home. Unfortunately for Favre, three of those games are against top pass defenses (Giants, Chicago, Green Bay). Favre should put up huge numbers against the Redskins and Bills, but don't expect much from him in the other three. This is a pickup to make only if you're desperate for a quarterback, maybe in a league that plays two.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills: Amazingly, Fitzpatrick is still available in around 40 percent of leagues. Sure, the Bills are winless, and Fitzpatrick doesn't put up great numbers every week. But all the Bills do is throw; Fitzpatrick hasn't had fewer than 30 attempts since Week 4. He's going to put up at least OK numbers each week.

• Shaun Hill, Lions: Matthew Stafford was 20-for-36 for 240 yards and two scores before getting hurt Sunday. The Lions didn't get any first downs after he went out, but that was with Drew Stanton. Hill -- who played well in Stafford's absence earlier in the year -- could return on Sunday. Stanton's not a guy you'd want to start, even against the Bills' leaky pass defense, but if Hill is ready he should put up good numbers. There's a chance Stafford could play Sunday but it's unlikely.

• On the hot seat: Matt Schaub, Texans. That sounds wild, but with his 21-of-32, 267-yard, 1-interception performance on Sunday, three out of Schaub's last four games have been subpar. He's still worth starting if you don't have a top QB, but begin to consider other options.

• We are in the home stretch of the fantasy season, and as usual there are almost no running backs left. But injuries happen, and players come out of nowhere to have a big second half. On Sunday, the surprising fantasy start was Indy's Javarris James, who had a Jerome Bettis-like line of 4 carries for 12 yards and two touchdowns.

For now, he's the Colts' goal-line back. When Joseph Addai and Mike Hart come back, that probably won't be the case. But he's worth picking up if later in the week the other Colts' running backs look unlikely to return from injury.

• Reggie Bush, Saints: If an owner in your league dropped Reggie Bush after his injury, now might be the time to pick him up. Bush is expected to return against Seattle on Nov. 21. The Saints have a bye this week; Bush will be a hot pickup the week after it in leagues where he's available. If you can, grab him this week and beat the rush.

• On the hot seat: Beanie Wells, Cardinals. His performance in Week 9: 1 carry, minus-2 yards. Ken Whisenhunt said Wells didn't play much because he didn't get many reps in practice during the week. Unless Wells suddenly starts getting all the reps this week, he's not worth starting.

• Why is Bills wideout Steve Johnson still on the waiver wire in any league (about 20 percent)? His five-game touchdown streak ended Sunday, but Johnson still caught 11 passes on 14 targets for 145 yards. If he's somehow still around in your league, grab him immediately.

• Jacoby Ford, Raiders: It's hard to know what to think of Ford's game against the Chiefs. The Raiders have a different lead wide receiver seemingly every week, and Zach Miller was out on Sunday. Still, Jason Campbell targeted Ford nine times, most on the team. He's a pickup with an attractive upside, but only for those with the extra roster spot.

• Seyi Ajirotutu, Chargers: Thanks to injuries, the Chargers really do have a different top wide receiver every week. This time it was Ajirotutu, who was targeted five times. The Chargers didn't have Antonio Gates or Malcom Floyd on Sunday, but Ajirotutu has now been the Chargers' top wide receiver two straight weeks. He's another high-ceiling pickup that's only for those who can afford it or need to take a gamble.

• On the hot seat: Steve Smith, Panthers. With the quarterback carousel in Carolina, Smith just can't seem to get on track. He had just one catch, for nine yards, late in the game in Week 9. You probably have better options.

• Do you really need another recommendation for Jacob Tamme? The Eagles don't defend the tight end well, but Tamme still had 11 catches (on 17 targets) for 108 yards and a touchdown. He should have been gone last week, but he's available in about 30 percent of leagues. He's going to be a great pickup for the stretch run; get him if he's still available.

• Joel Dreessen, Texans: With Owen Daniels out, Dreessen got the most targets of anyone on the Texans with eight. He's not going to put up huge numbers, but with Daniels struggling and injured, he should continue to get opportunities.

• On the hot seat: Heath Miller, Steelers. It looked like Miller would return to fantasy relevance with the return of Ben Roethlisberger, but it hasn't worked out that way. He had three catches for 20 yards Sunday and has just 20 catches for the year. It's probably best just to drop him.

With the Eagles struggling to score touchdowns in the red zone, David Akers becomes an attractive fantasy option. He's hit nine straight field goals since missing three in a row against Atlanta last month, and is 4-for-4 in his past two games. Even if the Eagles' offense starts punching it in more often he should still get enough opportunities to be a useful fantasy kicker.

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