Football by the Numbers: Matchup Decider

Michael Salfino
Yahoo Sports

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

Yes, it's early. But we weight the rankings 50 percent for last year and 50 percent for the two weeks of 2012. This way, they can be better relied upon when choosing among players that you believe are generally close in value. Last week, it was 75%/25% and the results were pretty good – recommending the Chiefs and Vikings and advocating avoiding more marginal Jaguars, Cowboys, Ravens and Eagles.

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 Houston 4 8 1 1 2 18
2 Pittsburgh 14 11 8 5 15 24.5
3 Seattle 4 2 8 14 5 38.25
4 San Francisco 2 6 1 19 15 39.25
5 Baltimore 22 20 23 27 2 44.5
6 Philadelphia 4 15 8 4 2 60.75
7 San Diego 4 1 1 12 5 61.25
8 Dallas 14 23 19 3 5 62.5
9 Cincinnati 4 19 23 29 21 63.75
10 Jacksonville 29 31 31 17 1 65.5
10 NY Jets 11 22 19 16 26 65.5
12 Atlanta 11 25 28 15 5 66
13 Miami 22 4 19 31 5 67.5
14 Cleveland 11 18 1 28 26 69.75
15 Chicago 18 9 8 21 15 72.5
16 Arizona 18 13 1 10 5 78.5
16 Tennessee 29 30 23 20 26 78.5
18 Minnesota 14 12 1 11 21 86.75
19 Denver 22 7 8 9 21 89.5
20 Washington 22 10 1 30 32 89.75
21 St Louis 18 21 28 24 5 90.75
22 Kansas City 29 27 23 18 26 91.5
23 Green Bay 1 26 8 2 15 91.75
24 New Orleans 29 32 31 26 15 93.25
25 New England 4 5 8 7 5 93.5
26 NY Giants 4 16 8 22 26 94.75
27 Detroit 2 17 8 6 15 95.25
28 Oakland 22 29 28 8 5 112.25
29 Carolina 18 28 19 13 5 113
30 Indianapolis 28 14 23 25 21 116.25
31 Buffalo 22 24 8 23 26 125.5
32 Tampa Bay 14 3 8 32 21 126

Matchups to exploit

Buffalo (31) at Cleveland: The Bills were bad last year and this year. So Trent Richardson is very likely to be a top back again this week. Greg Little makes a good play. If you're in a two-quarterback league, you could do worse than starting Brandon Weeden, too. Weeden, by the way, had the greatest second-start improvement for any rookie QB since 2000, according to Stats, LLC, as I documented in the Wall Street Journal.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis (30): Okay, this doesn't help much. But if you are daring and/or desperate, this would be the week to cash the Justin Blackmon check you wrote on draft day. Remember, the zero last week isn't that big a minus because the Texans are a shutdown defense. And of course, you do not want to be playing against Maurice Jones-Drew this week.

Pittsburgh at Oakland (28): the Raiders are so terrible this year against the run. But that's mostly Reggie Bush, who maybe is just really good (5.2 yards per carry since 2009, 3.7 before). Nearly 20 percent of Steelers runs have gone for losses. But that clears a playing-time path for Rashard Mendenhall if he is able to go as expected. Should he play, I anticipate 15-to-20 carries – and against this team, that's flex-worthy, at least. But play Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers, too, because the Raiders adjustment may well be to crash the line of scrimmage, thus exposing the secondary one-on-one. As the Jets found out last week, that will get you burned against Mike Wallace and company.

Matchups to avoid

Houston (1) at Denver: The Texans are nasty. But the caveat is that the Broncos will go no-huddle and really try to wind the Houston defenders in the thin air. Still, this is a tough matchup for Peyton Manning. I'd play him and Demaryius Thomas if I owned them, but would look to replace Eric Decker and Willis McGahee this week.

Pittsburgh (2) at Oakland: Yes, these matchups work both ways. Play your Steelers, avoid your Raiders. Hope that Darren McFadden can do damage as a receiver. He's very unlikely to get his running on track here. Forget Carson Palmer and the rest of the Raiders completely.

Green Bay at Seattle (3): Aaron Rodgers owners I suspect are not going to be happy after this game. You have to play him, of course. And if you want to upgrade quarterback, I suspect Rodgers's price after this weekend will be lower than it's been since early in his first year as starter. Forget about Cedric Benson. No one else on the Packers should be expected to have great days. The Seahawks are nasty, no doubt.

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