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Matchup Meter: Rams offer Steelers, Mendenhall, perfect gift


It's been a rough holiday season for St. Louis. The NFL's worst-ranked run defense has given up six rushing scores over the past five games, and during that stretch the opposing team's leading rusher has averaged 116 yards on 24 carries.

This week the Rams will serve as a Christmas gift for a Steelers rushing attack that is gaining just 112.4 yards a game and has yet to reach double-digit touchdowns.

Preseason Top 10 pick Rashard Mendenhall could be the Least Valuable Fantasy Player of 2011. Regardless, the Steelers back should do well in this contest. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is still hobbled with a bum ankle and Pittsburgh would like nothing more than to give the running game some extra work before heading into the postseason.

These matchups suggest success is around the corner for a number of suspect fantasy starters ...

Washington's passing attack vs. Minnesota's defense

Leslie Frazier can't be pleased with how poorly his secondary has performed this year (31 touchdowns allowed and an opposing QB Rating of 110.8). Passers have exploited Minnesota's injuries to complete 69.1 percent of their attempts.

Expect a big day from: Like what you've seen from Rex Grossman and company in recent weeks? This is Washington's best passing matchup to date. Find a place for Santana Moss and Jabar Gaffney in your lineup.

Oakland's rushing attack vs. Kansas City's defense

The Chiefs have given up an average of 130.4 rushing yards per game, and only three defenses have permitted more carries (436) this season. Those numbers should sound like an alarm to Michael Bush's fantasy owners.

Expect a big day from: In Week 7 against the Chiefs, Bush gained 99 yards on 17 carries (the Raiders averaged 5.7 yards as a team). Oakland is still fighting for a playoff spot and will ride Bush as much as it can this week.

NY Jets' passing attack vs. NY Giants' defense

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In a battle for bragging rights in the Big Apple, the Jets will take advantage of a weakened Giants pass defense allowing 257.5 yards per game. Plus, more than half of the passing scores New York has given up this season (25) have come in the past month alone.

Expect a big day from: If the Giants fail to get pressure on Mark Sanchez he could pick them apart. Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress have both had disappointing fantasy seasons, but this matchup gives the duo an opportunity to finish the year strong.

These fantasy stars might need a rest this week due to an unfavorable matchup on the horizon ...

Seattle's rushing attack vs. San Francisco's defense

By now, fantasy owners know the routine -- San Francisco doesn't give up fantasy points to running backs. No touchdowns, few yards. And consider this fact: opponents have run the ball on San Francisco just 302 times this season, or 21.5 times a game.

Who to bench: Marshawn Lynch is one of eight NFL backs with 1,000 yards so far this season. In recent weeks he has been as productive as any fantasy back, with five 100-yard games in the past seven weeks. But even Lynch has no hope against San Francisco. Last time he faced the 49ers (Sept. 11), he gained just 33 yards on 13 carries.

Baltimore's receivers vs. Cleveland's defense

When these AFC North foes last met, Baltimore managed just 158 yards on 10 of 23 passing. No receiver caught more than three balls or found the end zone. It's similar to what the Browns secondary has done to a number of teams this year. The unit has allowed the third fewest passing yards and touchdowns.

Who to bench: At a time when fantasy owners can't afford for one of their players to lay a goose egg, it might be wise to keep Torrey Smith on the bench, even with the news that Boldin will miss two weeks with a knee injury.

Arizona's rushing attack vs. Cincinnati's defense

Should Cincinnati earn the AFC's final wild card spot it will be due in large part to a run defense that has allowed just 3.7 yards per carry this season (fifth best in the league). In recent weeks the unit has shut down some of the game's top backs: Steven Jackson (18 carries for 71 yards), Arian Foster (15 for 41) and Rashard Mendenhall (16 for 60).

Who to bench: Beanie Wells is limping to the 1,000-yard mark (he is six yards shy). A bum knee has limited him in practice but isn't expected to keep him on the sideline this Saturday. By the end of the day, he may wish he had taken this game off.