*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:
Devin Booker, RB, Broncos, (DraftKings Salary $4,800)
Booker's performances the past few weeks haven't exactly been inspiring. But the fact remains that Denver does not plan on changing their identity. They rely heavily on their defense, they refuse to ask too much of their rookie quarterback, and they run the ball to control time of possession.
So as Booker's DraftKings salary continues to dip his opportunities will likely remain high. He has gotten at least 18 carries in each of the past three games. That means opportunities for big plays or red zone touches that can immediately justify playing him. Opportunity is a boring way to analyze a player's potential compared to factors like recent play or opponent, but it's arguably even more important when dealing with low-salary options.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Panthers, (Draft Kings Salary $6,200)
If you played Benjamin against the Seahawks' defense last week then you knew what you were getting yourself into. Last week Cam Newton faced the best defense in the NFL. He targeted Benjamin nine times and only connected twice (22.2 percent). This week he's facing a bottom-five defense in the league, and nine targets to Benjamin are likely to look very different. In the five other games that he has been targeted at least nine times this season, Benjamin's caught at least 50 percent of those passes each time.
Tampa Bay Defense, (DraftKings Salary $2,400)
The Buccaneers have one of the lowest salary defenses in DraftKings this week for the specific reason that they're facing the New Orleans Saints. But Tampa's pass defense has been sneakily good this season. They have playmakers in the secondary and a formidable pass rush. Last week they picked off Phillip Rivers twice and returned one for a touchdown. The week before that they picked off Russell Wilson twice and allowed just 118 yards passing.
Drew Brees is coming off a zero touchdown/three interception game against the Lions, and he might not have the offensive line to protect him from a borderline dominant Gerald McCoy on the Tampa pass rush.
But Don't Outsmart Yourself:
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers, (DraftKings Salary $5,000)
A lot of my advice might seem like pinpointing low-cost options who could exceed their value. Well, it's just as important to not fall for big name players that have a low cost for justifiable reasons. The tentative weather report for Sunday is snow in Green Bay. So you're talking about a good receiver playing in an offense that's been inconsistent all year and is going against the best defense in the NFL in the snow. The floor for Cobb is very low.
This is the first week of the Fantasy Playoffs in most leagues. If you have a decent receiver sitting on your bench it might make sense to swap him in for Cobb. You can't afford a dud of a performance.
Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys, (DraftKings Salary $5,200)
Beasley had his least productive outing of the season last week against a Vikings defense that tends to minimize their opponents' opportunities. This didn't come at a surprise, as few would have expected Prescott to fling the ball all over the field on the road against Minnesota. But Beasley's stat line resulted in a $300 salary drop in DraftKings going into a much more favorable matchup.
One little nugget worth noting is that Beasley is more productive in primetime games than any other time slot over the course of his career. His highest reception yards per game averages come when he is playing at night, which is no fluke considering how often the Cowboys are scheduled for primetime.
Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Giants, (DraftKings Salary $8,000)
The Cowboys' defense has felt like a pleasant surprise all season. But if you watched their opponents' final drives the past two weeks you're well aware how vulnerable they are against a passing attack. Both the Redskins and Vikings effortlessly scored touchdowns late in the fourth quarter by passing for first downs like they were running plays in practice.
In terms of yardage, the Cowboys are one bad game away from having the worst passing defense in the NFL. Beckham's 73 yards against the Cowboys in Week 1 are an indicator of nothing, except that he's unlikely to be held under 80 yards again.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
(Season Record: 11-2)
(Off the Board: Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, Redskins, Steelers, Bills, Packers, Vikings, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys, Titans, Packers)
Atlanta Falcons over the Los Angeles Rams
My goal to have a better record in Survivor Picks than the Cowboys is looking tougher and tougher, and I'm going to need some luck to pull it off.
But I don't think I'll need much luck this week. The Falcons' strength is their offense. The Rams' strength is their defense, I guess. That isn't much of a strength versus strength matchup. Atlanta is going to put up points on the Rams' who have given up 75 points over the past two games.