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Third and Three: Defenses

Troy Polamalu is the "wildcard" that offenses can't account for.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With NFL training camps just around the corner, we all have our early thoughts as to who will be this year's fantasy bargains and who will be a flop.

In Part V of the series, we continue our search for bargains at the defense/special teams position. We'll look at three teams who will play above their current projected fantasy value and three who won't perform up to expectations.

Of course, over the next two months my opinions could change based on what I see at camp and in the preseason, but going into the season here are some of my early expectations.

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Pittsburgh - Historically, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense has been a top-three fantasy defense, but in 2009 they fell to ninth in points with 113. There were a couple of reasons for the drop, all of which are correctable in 2010. First and foremost, the heart of the defense, Troy Polamalu was injured for much of the season, playing in just five games. He is the "wildcard" that offenses can't account for and the 2009 team surrendered 9.4 points-a-game less when he was in the lineup than when he was watching from the sidelines. The Steelers threw the ball a lot in 2009, 55.6% of the time, but in 2010 with Ben Roethlisberger starting the season on the sidelines, the team will shift its emphasis to the running game. This should help their time of possession and keep the defense more well rested. They should return to the top-three, but currently have an ADP of 128 and are the sixth team off the board making them a bargain in 2010.

Dallas - The Cowboys were a tough team to figure in 2009. They finished second in points allowed yielding just 15.6 ppg, but scored just 101 fantasy points, placing them 26th at the position. While they sacked the opposing quarterback well (41 times), a lack of turnovers forced, just 21, was the culprit. I'm expecting improvement in that category this season and a big jump in fantasy points. There are being selected as the eighth-best defense, but I believe they'll be a top-five team in 2010.

Chicago - Brian Urlacher is back! And, according to new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, he'll reduce Devin Hester's offensive workload so that he can also focus on special teams. The combination means the 2010 Bears' defense will be improved and the special teams could score four or five touchdowns. Chicago is being selected as a bottom-end defense/special teams, 12th off the board, but should be a solid starting squad in 2010.

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Philadelphia - The Eagles were the No.2 fantasy defense in 2009, scoring 160 points. They're primary weapons were 44 sacks and six defense/special teams touchdowns. However, I worry about the defensive side of the ball in 2010. They were just 19th in scoring defense yielding 21.1 ppg and have lost a number of players from that side of the ball including: cornerback Sheldon Brown, safety Sean Jones and linebackers Chris Gocong and Will Witherspoon. And probably most important is the tough schedule they face in 2010. The NFC East is filled with tough veteran quarterbacks (Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Tony Romo) and their out-of-conference schedule includes: Green Bay, Indianapolis, Houston and Minnesota; in other words, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub and Brett Favre. They are currently the fourth defense off the board, but I'm expecting a big drop in production and I'd avoid the Eagles this season.

New York Jets - The Jets are the overwhelming choice as the No.1 defense off the board, and they are very good, but that doesn't mean they will be the best fantasy defense. In 2009, the Jets defense finished in a tie for 12th with 112 points. Sometimes a defense can be too strong and they end up "three-and- outing" the opposition too often to be a great fantasy defense. That could be the case here. Despite a defense well known for blitzing, they sacked the quarterback a middle-of-the-pack 32 times (tied for 19th best). They'll be good, but they probably aren't worth drafting before a number of other defenses.

New Orleans - The Saints were the No.1 fantasy defense in 2009, primarily due to nine defensive/special teams touchdowns. That's not a total you can expect, or rely on, in 2010 as the league average is just under three touchdowns-per- season. They were 13th in sacks with 35, but second in turnovers with 39 as teams forced the action on offense to try and keep up with Drew Brees & Co. Early fantasy drafts have New Orleans being drafted as the ninth defense off the board so it looks like many agree that the Saints defense will struggle a bit in 2010.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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