Fantasy Football Live:

Football by the Numbers: Matchups to seek and avoid

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

This will be the last matchup piece of the season. Thanks for following it and I hope it helped you navigate this very challenging fantasy season. Appreciate the feedback here and via Twitter @MichaelSalfino and look forward to doing it all over again next season. Until then, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

These rankings are for the purpose of predicting how many fantasy points defenses will allow to offensive players this week. 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. Plus there's too much overlap with the TD rates we look at. 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. Obviously, yardage allowed is more reliable than touchdowns allowed for predictive purposes.

Here are the rankings. Matchup recommendations follow.

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 Pittsburgh 1 6 3 1 5 16
2 Baltimore 8 2 6 5 1 22
3 Houston 5 5 6 2 5 23
4 San Francisco 1 1 1 21 10 34
5 Seattle 3 11 6 14 7 41
6 Atlanta 8 4 6 17 12 47
7 Cincinnati 5 9 18 11 10 53
7 Jacksonville 5 14 18 4 12 53
9 Dallas 11 7 6 19 12 55
10 Miami 15 3 2 25 18 63
10 NY Jets 10 16 28 7 2 63
12 Tennessee 11 23 3 15 12 64
13 San Diego 13 21 3 6 24 67
14 Cleveland 15 31 17 3 3 69
15 Washington 20 15 18 13 7 73
16 Chicago 26 8 6 27 7 74
17 New Orleans 3 13 13 28 20 77
18 Philadelphia 13 17 17 10 27 84
19 St Louis 15 32 18 8 12 85
20 Detroit 23 27 13 12 12 87
21 Arizona 23 18 24 22 3 90
21 Denver 20 20 6 20 24 90
23 Green Bay 18 12 13 31 20 94
24 Kansas City 20 24 24 9 20 97
25 Minnesota 27 10 13 30 32 112
26 Carolina 23 25 28 18 20 114
27 New England 30 19 18 32 18 117
28 Oakland 18 26 24 23 30 121
29 Buffalo 27 29 28 16 30 130
30 NY Giants 30 22 24 29 27 132
31 Indianapolis 27 28 31 24 24 134
32 Tampa Bay 32 30 32 26 27 147

The chips are all on the table this week. In addition to the matchups highlighted below, you want to start Rashard Mendenhall this week against the Rams even if Ben Roethlisberger does not play. Of course, if you own Mendenhall, your season probably effectively ended long ago.

Ray Rice is the other great running back matchup against the Browns, who are 31st in rushing yards allowed. So if you own him, you very likely will have a nice little bonus in store.

The teams not near the bottom overall but near the bottom in passing yards allowed are the Packers, Bears and Saints. That's good news for those invested in Matt Ryan and Falcons receivers. But the Packers play the Bears and there's no reason to play any Chicago skill players. And of course, you will always play your Packers, despite the disappointing Week 15 that did eliminate many owners with larger shares.

Matchups to exploit:

Tampa Bay (32) at Carolina: The magic carpet ride for Cam Newton owners continues this week. Steve Smith and both Panthers running backs (DeAngelo Williams especially) should also contribute.

Houston at Indianapolis (31): Forget about the Texans passing game but Arian Foster should run wild and Ben Tate is high reward with a little less risk this week. Now that the Colts have their win, expect them to revert to their regular 2011 form and get their doors blown off. I'll be surprised if Houston doesn't top 200 rushing yards.

Giants (30) at Jets: Ben Roethlisberger owners should look at Mark Sanchez and if you ever rotate Santonio Holmes or Plaxico Burress, get them in there too. Also, the Jets gave up the biggest yards per target (minimum five targets) game to a tight end since at least 1991 on Sunday to Brent Celek (over 26 yards per target). But the Giants have injuries to all their tight ends and thus it's unclear who will play, though odds at press time favor Travis Beckum (chest).

Matchups to avoid:

Picking up where we left off, you probably will be gravely disappointed if you play Hakeem Nicks (who will be covered by Darrelle Revis) and Eli Manning should have a poor day relative to his 2011 norms against the Jets secondary that really only struggles versus tight ends.

You're no way going to play any Rams against the Steelers, Colts against the Texans or Browns against the Ravens. So let's look deeper.

San Francisco (4) at Seattle (6): If you've been riding Marshawn Lynch, it's time to get off the train. You know about the 49ers not giving up any rushing touchdowns, but they don't give up many rushing yards or points overall, either (leading the league in both categories). And this is a very bad matchup on paper for Frank Gore, too. The Seahawks defense is very big and pretty stout against the run.

Feel free to ask my any questions via Twitter @MichaelSalfino

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