*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:
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers, (DraftKings Salary $4,400)
For all the embarrassments that have come to represent the Cleveland Browns' season, one of the most peculiar is that their defense never seemed to realize tight ends are allowed to catch passes. Charles Clay had 72 yards and a touchdown on them last week. Tyler Eifert scored two touchdowns on them the week prior. Rob Gronkowski ran up 109 yards on them and Martellus Bennett scored three touchdowns on them earlier this season. The list goes on in this ugly manner.
If you've played fantasy football for the past 13 years Antonio Gates has probably produced for you at some point. This may be one of the last favorable matchups of his career, and he has a long history of delivering on favorable matchups.
Washington Redskins, Defense, (Draft Kings Salary $3,200)
Matt Barkley throws interceptions. It's been the most consistent part of his game this season. He's played in five games this year and thrown seven interceptions. He tends to fight back admirably and move the chains, but his penchant for turnovers creates such a high ceiling production-wise for opposing defenses.
As a fantasy defense, it's better to be handed turnovers than to simply earn stops. There aren't any statistics out there that would suggest Barkley is going to all-of-the-sudden stop making mistakes.
Latavius Murray, RB, Raiders (DraftKings Salary $6,200)
The Colts versus the Raiders might turn out to be the shootout of the season. A sneaky trick (especially in Daily Fantasy) for projected high scoring games is to start the game's best running back. Yardage is a precursor to points, and thus red zone trips are a given.
Running backs can't throw interceptions (usually) and they get more touches in games between two fast paced teams. Murray could score two touchdowns in a quarter and it might just be a footnote in the game's final results.
But Don't Outsmart Yourself:
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals, (DraftKings Salary $6,100)
We've sadly reached the point where Larry Fitzgerald isn't much of a deep threat. His yards per reception are below 10 for the first time in his career this season, and they are likely to finish that way. Carson Palmer is a shell of what he was last season. The Cardinals offensive line is inconsistent, and Fitzgerald just isn't the athlete that he once was.
If he's to recapture some of the magic that has made him a Hall of Fame player it won't come against the Seahawks. Seattle has only given up 14 passing touchdowns all season. When he faced the Seahawks earlier this year Fitzgerald only managed 70 yards in a game that lasted five quarters (and ended in a 6-6 tie).
Dak Prescott, QB, Cowboys, (DraftKings Salary $5,900)
If you're playing your Fantasy League's championship game then there's at least a decent chance that Dak Prescott is on your team. That's because he's been arguably the biggest steal of the fantasy season. You either drafted him in a late round, or more likely, picked him up off the waiver wire. Getting that kind of production from essentially a bonus player is the kind of move that wins championships.
That said, you'd probably also have another serviceable quarterback on your roster since you surely drafted one ahead of Prescott back in the summer. That's all to say you're entering the championship week with a quarterback decision. And I'm here to tell you to let Dak win you that trophy. He's given you solid to great fantasy performances in 11 of his 14 games. He has healthy weapons all around him and the better protection than any quarterback. Plus, he's scored rushing touchdowns in six of 14 games. The Lions have given up 25 passing touchdowns this year—the seventh worst mark in the league.
Golden Tate, WR, Lions, (DraftKings Salary $6,600)
The Cowboys give up a lot of yards through the air. Jameis Winston looked absolutely flustered by the Dallas pass rush and he still managed 247 yards passing. Dallas' bend-don't-break reputation is something the Lions will be happy to test. They set the standard for successfully running a dink-and-dunk offense. Tate will rack up yards all game with short passes from Matthew Stafford.
The Lions only managed six points against the Giants, and yet Tate still racked up 122 yards. Detroit takes what they can get and hopes they eventually turn a small play into a big play. Dallas will be sure to allow plenty of small plays, and if they make a mistake Tate will be more than ready to make a big play.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
(Season Record: 13-2)
(Off the Board: Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, Redskins, Steelers, Bills, Packers, Vikings, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys, Titans, Patriots, Falcons, Seahawks)
San Diego Chargers over the Cleveland Browns
This is the last week I can pick against the Browns, as they will finish the season against the Steelers who I've already picked before. I'm not sure I need any more reasoning.
It's also probably the last plausibly winnable game for Cleveland as well (at home against a below .500 team). So if they have any fight in them to avoid the tragedy of a winless season then that might make this a dangerous pick.
That said, they're still going to lose.