Football by the Numbers: Matchups to seek and avoid

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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