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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.

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.

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 1 10 4 1 1 17
2 Seattle 12 6 4 8 1 31
3 Chicago 7 2 2 16 5 32
4 Houston 4 5 1 5 23 38
5 Detroit 2 16 2 6 14 40
6 Arizona 9 20 11 4 1 45
7 Dallas 9 15 19 3 10 56
8 Minnesota 16 12 12 11 8 59
9 Pittsburgh 17 9 12 2 20 60
10 Philadelphia 20 14 4 15 10 63
11 St Louis 12 11 22 14 5 64
12 San Diego 7 1 4 25 29 66
13 Green Bay 6 17 12 18 19 72
14 NY Giants 3 23 8 21 18 73
15 Miami 22 4 10 28 10 74
16 Atlanta 4 28 26 12 5 75
17 Denver 22 18 12 10 21 83
17 New England 9 8 8 29 29 83
19 NY Jets 12 30 25 9 8 84
19 Tampa Bay 17 3 19 31 14 84
21 Carolina 27 19 12 19 14 91
22 Cincinnati 12 22 27 17 14 92
23 Oakland 17 13 23 22 21 96
24 Indianapolis 20 26 27 7 24 104
25 Baltimore 28 27 27 23 1 106
25 Washington 26 7 12 32 29 106
27 Kansas City 29 21 19 13 28 110
28 Cleveland 24 24 12 26 27 113
29 Jacksonville 32 29 27 24 10 122
30 Buffalo 24 32 32 20 24 132
31 Tennessee 29 25 23 27 29 133
32 New Orleans 31 31 27 30 24 143

Matchups to exploit

Colts at Titans (31): This is a great matchup for Andrew Luck and his receivers, for sure. So empty your bench, especially if they're needed on the bye. Vick Ballard should be started in every league, too. He's in line for the bulk of the carries and the Titans are only slightly more stout versus the run. Expect another big game from Chris Johnson, who is up to 4.5 yards per carry now, against one of the poorer run defenses in the NFL in allowing both yards and rushing touchdowns. Johnson, remember, had two scores and was also tackled twice inside the Bills one-yard line.

Packers vs. Jaguars (29): Notice how poor the Jaguars run defense is and make sure you start Alex Green, who should be very productive. As hot as Aaron Rodgers is now, you obviously will play all Packers receivers, even chronically disappointing tight end Jermichael Finley.

Chargers vs. Browns (28): Cleveland is especially poor against the pass. And I don't want anyone lecturing me in the comments about how Joe Haden is back now. Big deal: he's been average at best thus far in his career (actually below average in QB rating allowed when targeted – 79 this year and 87.2 in 2011). So don't wory so much if he is matched up against Malcom Floyd. Start Philip Rivers with confidence.

Matchups to avoid

Panthers at Bears (3): This game is not likely to be good for Cam Newton's increasingly fragile psyche. Forget about Steve Smith, too, unless you are really in a pinch. The Bears are just really nasty, especially in Chicago.

Lions (5) vs. Seahawks (2): Bad news not just for the Lions of course but for the Seahawks, too. Matthew Stafford's rough season continues. Bench him for a backup or a waiver-wire addition. Remember, he's banged up, too. You have to play Megatron, but this will not be the breakout game even though I admit that skills like his can be matchup defying. You're not playing any Seattle receivers, right? That would be unwise given how stingy Detroit is in permitting passing yards.

49ers (1) at Cardinals (5): Of course you're not going to play any Cardinals except Larry Fitzgerald (with fingers crossed for one TD). But on the other side, you don't want to roll marginal receivers and quarterbacks out against Arizona, either. I know that Vernon Davis is a premium talent. But it's hard to trust him against a good pass defense when you remember that he wasn't even targeted one time against the Seahawks. There is just no imagination in the design of the San Francisco passing game when it comes to dictating mismatches with their best player. Expect another rough day for Alex Smith, too.
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