2016 Outlook: Seattle's recent run of defensive dominance has translated to the fantasy world as well: The Seahawks have finished among the top five teams in D/ST rankings in each of the past five seasons. They have allowed the fewest points in the league four years running and have finished no worse than second in yards allowed for three straight seasons. Don't expect a downfall this year, as the intimidating core that includes Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Bobby Wagner remains intact. Plus, the Seahawks will benefit from an early-season slate that features the Dolphins, Rams and 49ers.
2016 Outlook: The Panthers rode big plays to a fourth-place finish in fantasy points last season, their second top-five ranking in three years. They led the NFL with 24 interceptions, 22 forced fumbles and 15 fumble recoveries. Their secondary took a hit in the offseason with the losses of Josh Norman, Charles Tillman and Roman Harper, but defensive standouts Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson and Charles Johnson will keep this unit among the best in the NFL. The Panthers should also benefit from a season-opening slate that includes the low-scoring Broncos, 49ers, Vikings, Falcons and Bucs.
2016 Outlook: Cincinnati's ball-hawking secondary consistently has kept the Bengals near the top of the fantasy rankings in recent years, but change has come to that group. The Bengals have picked off at least 20 passes for three straight seasons and have ranked as a top-10 fantasy D/ST in four of the past five seasons. But S Reggie Nelson and CB Leon Hall are gone, putting the onus on recent draft picks Shawn Williams, William Jackson III and Darqueze Dennard to replace them. The front seven remains talented, and if the new defensive backs do their jobs, this unit should remain one of the league's best.
2016 Outlook: The Texans started slowly but finished strong last season, posting seven top-eight fantasy weeks in their final nine outings. They led the league with 90 passes defensed and finished seventh or better in sacks, tackles for loss, yards allowed and points allowed. The 2016 schedule presents a greater challenge, with matchups against the NFC North, AFC West, New England and Cincinnati. Of course, with J.J. Watt leading a unit that includes Vince Wilfork, Jadeveon Clowney, Whitney Mercilus, Johnathan Joseph and 2015 first-round pick Kevin Johnson, Houston's D/ST remains among the best in the game.
2016 Outlook: After an underwhelming first month, the Chiefs were nothing short of dominant in the final three quarters of the 2015 season. They ranked outside of the top 12 D/STs only once in that span and finished the season with a league-high 11 top-10 fantasy weeks. The Chiefs scored six TDs, ranked second in INTs and were third in points allowed. To maintain their elite status, they must overcome the departures of Sean Smith, Mike DeVito and Tyvon Branch, as well as Justin Houston's ACL injury. But the likes of Eric Berry, Marcus Peters and Tamba Hali are well suited to do just that.
2016 Outlook: Denver was easily 2015's top-scoring fantasy D/ST, but the season was more a tale of two halves than it was a consistent run of dominance. The Broncos finished each of their first eight games among the top seven fantasy defenses, but from that point on, they were limited to two top-10 weeks and ranked 12th overall. The early-season schedule is rough (they open with the Panthers, Colts and Bengals), and the losses of Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan are massive, but with Von Miller leading the way, this remains a talented and deep group that should take only a small step back.
2016 Outlook: The Cardinals have become a reliable D/ST, having finished no worse than 13th in fantasy points over the past six seasons. That includes last year's third-place ranking, when they led the league in non-offensive TDs (seven) and forced fumbles (22). With Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu leading the way, they also ranked among the top five teams in interceptions, fumble recoveries and yards allowed. Newcomers Chandler Jones and Tyvon Branch add firepower to a unit that should start strong against the (Tom Brady'less) Patriots, Buccaneers, Bills, Rams and 49ers.
2016 Outlook: Players and coaches have come and gone, but one thing has remained constant for the Jets: They don't let opponents gain many yards. The Jets have ranked no worse than 11th in yards allowed over the past seven seasons, including fourth last year. The loss of run-stopping NT Damon Harrison hurts, but newcomer Steve McLendon adds to a dominant D-line that includes Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. The LBs are unproven, though, and Darrelle Revis is the only sure thing at cornerback--those concerns are strong enough to limit the Jets to the fringe of top-10 status.
2016 Outlook: Green Bay's D/ST has finished in the top half of the NFL in fantasy points for nine of the past 10 seasons, including last year's 13th-place ranking. Big plays fueled the success in 2015: The Packers placed ninth in interceptions (16) and seventh in sacks (43) and tackles for loss (100). The team lost CB Casey Hayward to free agency and DT B.J. Raji to a 'hiatus' this offseason, but the Packers have plenty of depth at corner to replace Hayward and drafted Kenny Clark in the first round to take Raji's spot. The LB level is weak, but the Packers should be able to put together another top-half season in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Looking for a sleeper D/ST? Check out the Raiders. They added LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith, S Reggie Nelson and rookie S Karl Joseph to a unit that posted eight top-10 fantasy weeks (tied for fifth) last season. Oakland finished just 22nd overall in points and yards allowed but tied for first in the NFL with five blocks and was in the upper half in most fantasy-relevant categories. The Raiders still must fill a few holes, but with the additions joining gap clogger Dan Williams, resurgent CB David Amerson and, of course, All-Pro pass rusher Khalil Mack, they are headed in the right direction.
2016 Outlook: While the Patriots are best known for the points they pile up on offense, their D/ST has ranked among the top 10 fantasy units in five of the past six seasons. Last season the Patriots tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (22) and finished second in sacks (49). Although they traded their top pass rusher, Chandler Jones (12' sacks), to Arizona, additions Terrance Knighton, Chris Long and Shea McClellin should ensure there is not much of a dip in performance. The Pats face a relatively weak slate of opposing offenses in 2016, although there's a tough test in Week 1 against the Cardinals.
2016 Outlook: The Vikings' defense took a big step forward last season, finishing seventh in the league in sacks (43) and allowing the fifth-fewest points (302). Minnesota's D/ST posted 10 top-10 fantasy weeks, which trailed only Kansas City. With little offseason roster turnover, the Vikings return a talented group that includes Everson Griffen, Linval Joseph, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith and emerging Eric Kendricks. They're dealing with better offenses on the schedule this season, but the Vikings will be a solid spot-start option given the right matchup.
2016 Outlook: After finishing 2014 as fantasy's top-scoring D/ST, the Bills fell all the way to 22nd last season. The main culprit? A dip from 54 sacks and 103 tackles for loss in 2014 (both tops in the league) to 21 sacks (second fewest) and 61 TFLs (fewest) in 2015. Mario Williams is gone, after never feeling comfortable in Rex Ryan's system, and Nigel Bradham departed as well, but Buffalo spent its top three draft picks on pass rusher Shaq Lawson, LB Reggie Ragland and DT Adolphus Washington. Lawson, though, underwent shoulder surgery in May and won't return until midseason. The Bills should be solid but unspectacular this season.
2016 Outlook: After the offseason losses of James Laurinaitis, Rodney McLeod, Nick Fairley, Janoris Jenkins and Chris Long, the Rams' D/ST looks poised to decline for the third straight season. It was the seventh-best fantasy unit in 2013, tied for eighth in 2014 and 12th last year. The Rams aren't completely devoid of talent, though: Aaron Donald leads a dominant D-line that also includes Robert Quinn, William Hayes and Michael Brockers. But there are questions beyond Alec Ogletree, Mark Barron and Trumaine Johnson on the second and third levels. The schedule is also tough, so look elsewhere for a starting D/ST.
2016 Outlook: The Colts have provided decent D/ST production over the past three seasons, but they just can't seem to do enough to move into the league's upper echelon. Last season Indianapolis intercepted 17 passes (tied for sixth in the NFL) and scored five TDs (seventh) but finished in the lower third of the league in points and yardage allowed. CB Patrick Robinson was a much-needed addition opposite Vontae Davis, but the loss of standout ILB Jerrell Freeman will hurt. Davis, D'Qwell Jackson, Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford will lead what figures to be a middle-of-the-pack D/ST unit.