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Football by the Numbers: Matchup Decider

These rankings are for the purpose of predicting how many fantasy points defenses will allow to offensive players this week.

I understand with all the byes this week that you have to play someone and may not be able to avoid all of those who have bad matchups. But maybe you can pick some players who have easier matchups, as indicated below.

This week's highlighted matchups follow after the chart. But first a word about the categories. Only "Red Zone" is a little tricky. We're not talking efficiency there, but rather red zone possessions allowed. Red zone possessions have proven over many years to be more useful in predicting future defensive performances. RYPG is rushing yards per game. RTD/G is rushing TDs per game. PYPG is passing yards per game. PTD/G is passing TDs/per game. Yardage allowed is more reliable than touchdowns allowed for predictive purposes. Ideally, the two correlate. But some teams really can be break but don't bend, e.g., teams that blitz a lot.

Defensive Power Rankings

Teams are sorted by cumulative rankings in all categories. Lowest total number is best; highest is worst.
Rank Team RZ RYPG RTD/G PYPG PTD/G POWER
1 San Francisco 2 9 4 2 6 23
2 Chicago 3 1 2 14 6 26
3 Seattle 11 2 4 13 3 33
4 Houston 4 7 1 7 23 42
5 Detroit 1 12 2 17 17 49
6 Arizona 12 19 9 9 3 52
7 Dallas 10 14 18 1 10 53
8 St Louis 12 13 22 6 1 54
9 Minnesota 12 11 15 10 10 58
10 Philadelphia 18 15 4 16 10 63
11 NY Giants 3 16 9 21 15 64
12 Pittsburgh 19 10 14 4 20 67
13 San Diego 8 3 4 24 29 68
14 Miami 20 5 9 27 10 71
15 Atlanta 4 27 24 11 6 72
16 Green Bay 4 17 15 18 19 73
17 Tampa Bay 17 4 18 31 3 73
18 New England 8 6 4 28 30 76
19 NY Jets 16 28 27 5 6 82
20 Denver 20 20 15 8 20 83
21 Cincinnati 12 21 27 15 15 90
22 Baltimore 25 26 24 22 1 98
23 Washington 25 8 9 32 30 104
24 Carolina 28 23 18 19 17 105
24 Kansas City 29 22 18 12 26 107
26 Oakland 23 18 22 25 23 111
27 Indianapolis 25 29 32 3 23 112
28 Cleveland 24 25 9 30 30 118
29 Jacksonville 32 30 29 23 10 124
30 Buffalo 20 32 31 20 26 129
31 Tennessee 31 24 24 29 26 134
32 New Orleans 30 31 29 26 20 136

Matchups to exploit

Buccaneers vs. Saints (32): I confirmed with Cade Massey of statistical gurus Massey-Peabody Analytics that we should expect by default that about 60 percent of outcomes are dictated/controlled by the offensive team, versus the 40 percent that is controlled by the defense. Those are general ratios. The great offenses exert more control than that, as do the great defenses. But you can see that great offenses are more matchup-proof than average ones. I make this point to try to learn our lesson from last week, where we recommended the Cardinals against the Bills. So what do we make of the Buccaneers? Are they at least average? I think a little better – 13th in rushing yards per play and eighth in passing yards per play. So play Josh Freeman this week with confidence. Make sure you start Vincent Jackson, of course, but Mike Williams, too. Doug Martin should have at least another solid yardage game.

Titans (31) at Bills (30): I think Chris Johnson is a RB1 this week against that horrible Bills run defense. But you're going to play him anyway if you own him. The Bills pass defense is less awful so there will not be as much of a wind in the sails of Matt Hasselbeck and company. I do think you can skim Kendall Wright if he's on your bench, despite his terrible yards per target. But I can't recommend starting Hasselbeck with confidence. I think both teams will want to run.

Jaguars (26) at Raiders (29): The Raiders are not good anywhere on defense but stronger against the pass than the run. The Jaguars are terrible against the run and about average versus the pass. Expect big days from Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden. Carson Palmer is just a low-end, emergency starter. Palmer needs a lot of passing yards to pile up points and I do not think they will be there in what should be a close, run-dominated game.

Matchups to avoid

Seahawks (3) at 49ers (1): This looks like a real slugfest. Also, excepting last week, these Thursday games have tended to be under affairs. That means less fantasy scoring, of course. And the under here is low already. I'd play Vernon Davis, Frank Gore and Marshawn Lynch in this game, but that's it. And I wouldn't expect much of any of them, either.

Lions at Bears (2): This is the week to trade Matthew Stafford, who was terrible for most of the Eagles game last week. The Bears are going to eat the Lions up in Chicago. Freeman outscores Stafford this week. Of course, play Calvin Johnson. But short of his bye week, this is the week you want to be playing against Johnson.

Ravens at Texans (4): Baltimore does have to open it up now given that their defense is no longer good. With all the byes, you probably have to play Joe Flacco, but I don't trust him after that stinker in Kansas City. Houston's passing TDs/game ranking is heavily influenced by Aaron Rodgers's huge Sunday night. So I don't think they are an easy mark. I would play Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin and, of course, you always have to play Ray Rice. Note that while Boldin has just one TD all year, he's piled up 18 catches for 311 yards the last three games (0 scores).

If you have other questions relating to matchups, feel free to ask them via Twitter @MichaelSalfino. I cannot emphasize enough that these defensive rankings have nothing to do with which defense to play in fantasy.
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