*Editor's Note: Each Thursday leading into the NFL games, contributing writer Jonathan Auping will break down a few things to consider as fantasy owners set their weekly lineups, including players to start or sit, along with trends to remember. Whether your game is the traditional fantasy league or the daily games from DraftKings, this weekly feature should help you get prepared for the fantasy weekend. *
Make the Smart Plays:
Brandon Cooks, WR, Saints, (DraftKings Salary $6,200)
Cooks' relatively average statistics last Sunday don't tell the whole story of how different that game could have been for him. Drew Brees uncharacteristically overthrew him on a wide-open route, Later, a Cooks touchdown was overturned when it was revealed he didn't maintain possession in the end zone. He also had 10 targets in the game.
This week Cooks' DraftKings salary is the lowest it's been all season. If you want to win big in a contest you need top-level production from mid-tier salaries. Cooks is your best chance this week against a Cardinals team that has lost any hope of a playoff appearance.
Buffalo Bills, Defense, (Draft Kings Salary $3,700)
Look, crazy things can happen in the NFL. Things none of us expected can play out in the most bizarre ways possible. But Robert Griffin III and the Cleveland Browns moving the ball and scoring numerous touchdowns in Buffalo with snow on the forecast is about as unlikely as anything that you could think of for this week.
Ben Roethlisberger threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions against Buffalo last week in the snow. He had to rely on Le'Veon Bell to produce offense. The Browns don't have Le'Veon Bell. The Bills are a high potential play for the second week of the fantasy playoffs. They might still be on waiver wire for some leagues and they're worth the gamble.
Drew Brees, QB, Saints (DraftKings Salary $6,600)
Just like Cooks, Brees' DraftKings salary is the lowest it's been all season, which means handcuffing your team to both of them for a big contest is the type of gamble that has a huge payoff.
Weather is a factor this time of year for fantasy football. Rain, snow, and cold weather can result in disappointing production for quality players. That makes Drew Brees playing in the 60-degree weather of Arizona all the more valuable. Zero touchdowns and six interceptions in his last two games is scary, but the last time that Brees went two consecutive games without a touchdown (in 2009) he followed it up with 369 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants, (DraftKings Salary $8,000)
No Cowboy fan wants to hear this, but Beckham might very well be the best player in the NFC East. He's so explosive that he doesn't need to be in rhythm with his quarterback to make a difference on the stat sheet. In fact, Eli Manning can have a horrible game like he did against the Cowboys last week and Beckham can still erupt with huge plays.
Detroit's secondary is a matchup Beckham owners have been waiting for all season. The Lions have given up 23 passing touchdowns this year, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. It's also worth noting how good this guy has been at home over the course of his career. Beckham averages 106.8 receiving yards per game playing at home.
But Don't Outsmart Yourself:
Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears, (DraftKings Salary $6,000)
So you made it to the second-round of the fantasy football playoffs and now you have Alshon Jeffery coming back from his four-game suspension, and you're feeling confident.
I'd suggest sticking with what got you there. Jeffery is an elite talent, but his quarterback will be Matt Barkley, a former USC quarterback set to play in a game against the Packers that may reach negative temperatures. Barkley has thrown four touchdowns in his NFL career and none of those have gone to Jeffery.
Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys, (DraftKings Salary $3,400)
Dak Prescott might be in for his toughest challenge of the season, and he's not going into it with a lot of momentum. Tampa Bay's pass rush is one of the most effective in the league. In their last five games the Buccaneers' defense has given up three passing touchdowns and forced eight interceptions.
Prescott might not have the time he'd like to wait for his deep routes to develop. So his best option comes back to the guy who has always been a security blanket to keep the defense honest. The Cowboys are going to want to keep things simple for Prescott. DraftKings operates under points-per-reception rules. Eight receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown would almost triple the production his salary suggests.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
(Season Record: 12-2)
(Off the Board: Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, Redskins, Steelers, Bills, Packers, Vikings, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys, Titans, Packers, Falcons)
Seattle Seahawks over the Los Angeles Rams
This is my second-straight week picking against the Rams, who are coming off of three-straight blowouts and last Monday's firing of head coach Jeff Fisher.
The Seahawks gave up 38 points last Sunday. The factors were pretty circumstantial: Russell Wilson threw five interceptions to put the defense in poor positions, they were facing Aaron Rodgers, and they fell behind early. But still, 38 points is not something the Seattle defense is okay with giving up.
Jared Goff and the Rams are very different than Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. The Seahawks' defense will look to make a statement, and it won't be pretty.