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Fantasy Football: Desperation bargain bin defense/special teams for the playoffs

Cheap. Efficient. Available. Last shot. Four D/ST units that may make or break the playoffs for you.

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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You're one of the chosen few who have risen above your friends, acquaintances, coworkers, strangers and enemies to achieve that highest honor: placement in one or more fantasy football playoffs. Do you feel special? You should feel special. Few people accomplish this, and by that I mean numerous people in countless leagues across cyberspace. That shouldn't detract from how special you feel. Breath it in.

Now start to panic because if you screw this one up you're done-zo. Finique. Outta here. Pfft. Just like that. Glory is snatched, and the record is negligible. It doesn't matter if you have 150 points and lost by two points and there's some jerkoff snoozing through winning with 80 points because both he and his opponent stopped paying attention to their injuries weeks ago. You can be dead just like that. Wham bam goodbye. Coffee's for closers.

So let's reevaluate that tired cliché that everyone loves to beat: Defense Wins Championship. In fantasy, that's ridiculous. A good D/ST loadout will certainly net you points, but I know from my own experience it can run off the rails in an instant. I can't count how many times I'd sit there watching a completely reliable defense suddenly go stupid and turn in negative points. I look across the waiver wires and free agents in my leagues and every note by every expert seems to pin every single unit with a variation on the phrase, "You can find better streaming options." Again, they say this about every team.

Each week, I wonder if there's really any value to it; if I'd be better without running that bum unit out there each week.

Defense can bite my balls. They don't win championships, they wreck them. Forget it. I want gun-slinging dragons and explosions nonstop. I want Big 12 teams like Baylor and Texas Tech playing with grown-ass men in the NFL. I want Bob Stitt as commissioner and a mandated 80 plays per game. In the words of Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter: "cut it loose, let's go." I love that man. He is so Tennessee it's frightful.

Where where we? Yes. You do need a defense for the playoffs or your daily fantasy roster. But where to turn? The guys you've been riding just put up two stinkers in a row and the best units are snatched up. You'd like to stream, but with the stakes this high you can't get caught out in the cold if your option for next week is a bust; you're also plagued by injuries, and you'd rather not let go of that handcuff tight end in order to fit the option.

Knowing the D/ST you're about to pick up is dreadfully important. You have to be mindful of injuries to so many individuals on a given Sunday and consider factors that are tangible and ignore advice that predicates itself on randomness (such as the always deceiving "ability to force turnovers"). You also need to know who the team is playing: the state of the opponent's offense line, the quarterback, how many times they like to pass, so forth.

Let's take a look at a few D/STs that should be available in your league or available on the cheap for daily fantasy, units you can rely on for these weeks of trial and vigor, three weeks of hell. The playoffs are here.

Pittsburgh ($4,400)

Defense DVOA rank: 13
Special teams DVOA rank: 18

This is one of those units that everyone is telling fantasy players to avoid, but the numbers sing a different story. They're still available in just under two-thirds of ESPN's fantasy leagues. It's going to be a gamble playing Cincinnati on the road -- the Bengals have been stingy for points all year -- but if Pittsburgh can replicate half of what they did when they played earlier in the season things should be gravy. The next two matchups for the Steelers then is a Denver team that hasn't put up a ton of points yet with Brock Osweiler and a collapsing Chargers team, both teams having to travel to Pittsburgh.

Washington ($4,500)

Defense DVOA rank: 19
Special Teams DVOA rank: 7

Owned in only about 12% of ESPN's fantasy leagues, Washington's quietly put together a few impressive outings, even as experts doubt the long-term viability of the unit. However, consider the remaining matchups: Chicago, Buffalo, and Philadelphia. Buffalo might give pause, but they'll have the Bills at home. For this week alone, they're worth considering for the Bears matchup, and they'll be throwing everything they can at this schedule with the postseason (the real one, not fantasy) on the line.

Tampa Bay ($4,300)

Defense DVOA rank: 14
Special Teams DVOA rank: 23

Arguably, the Bucs have the best matchups throughout the playoffs, but playing the Saints in Week 14 could be boom or bust. Thankfully, it is being played in Tampa and Mark Ingram is done for the year, so there's plenty of upside to be had unless Tim Hightower turns into a demonic horse and terrorizes the peninsula. If your first round matchup isn't too hefty, consider picking them up, because you can count on them to bring home the bacon against St. Louis and Chicago in the subsequent weeks.

Indianapolis ($4,300)

Defense DVOA rank: 15
Special teams DVOA rank: 16

The Colts get to play three morbid offenses, although they're hampered by the fact that their offense can't seem to get out of the way of their own shoelaces. That offense in 28 in DVOA, and that matters; if an offense is always getting stopped, the defense is forced to remain on the field, where they will get tired, and when they get tired they let up big plays and lose points. However, the worst of the three they play is Jacksonville (I know, Jacksonville, but don't sleep on what they can do in the air with the 17th-ranked passing offense in DVOA). They're worth looking into if your matchup this week is secure, but you want to feast on Houston and Miami in the subsequent weeks.