*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:
Cam Newton, QB, Panthers, (DraftKings Salary $6,800)
It's been a disastrous season for Newton and the Panthers, but in terms of physical abilities, he's still one of the most dangerous weapons in the NFL, and he's going up against an Oakland defense that bleeds passing yards. Oakland will score points on Carolina, and if they grab the lead they'll allow Newton all sorts of short passes that could get him in rhythm.
This ties the lowest DraftKings salary that Newton has held in the past few years. He's just as capable of combining for four passing and rushing touchdowns as he was at much higher price tags.
Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders, (Draft Kings Salary $7,700)
There will be plenty of fantasy points to be had in this game. In fact, I expect it to be the highest scoring game of the weekend. Carolina has given up 19 passing touchdown this season. Cooper managed decent outings his last two games against good defenses in Denver and Houston. The last time he faced a secondary in the bottom-10 in passing yards (which Carolina is) was against Tampa Bay where he put up 173 yards and a touchdown.
Todd Gurley, RB, Rams, (DraftKings Salary $5,700)
It's been a tough year for Gurley who is a lonely gem in an offense with no other weapons and a crisis at quarterback. But with rookie Jared Goff getting his first start last week Gurley rushed for his first touchdown in over a month and it looks like he'll factor even more heavily in the offense under Goff.
Only the San Diego Chargers have given up more rushing touchdowns than the Saints. I expect Gurley to get somewhere around 25 carries and to find the end zone at some point.
Bills Defense, (DraftKings Salary $3,800)
Blake Bortles has more interceptions than games played this season. He'll be playing through a right shoulder injury against a Bills defense that has finally found its pass rush with the return of Marcell Dareus.
Bortles has five first quarter touchdowns in 40 NFL starts. That's an alarmingly low number and explains why the Jaguars are always playing from behind. Bortles often manages some garbage time stats once he's down 10 points, but Rex and Rob Ryan's defense is hitting its stride and the two brothers are more than eager to watch Bortles taking risks in must-pass situations.
But Don't Outsmart Yourself:
Brandon Cooks, WR, Saints, (DraftKings Salary $6,800)
Drew Brees doesn't force passes. He throws it to the receivers that can get separation from the defense and lately that hasn't been Cooks. He's only gone over 100 yards twice in 11 games this season, and he's too expensive to be playing like a boom-or-bust slot receiver.
The Saints will score a touchdown or two, but the Rams passing defense has been stout all year. They get to the quarterback, meaning Brees is more likely to rely on his tight ends. Simply as a product of having a great quarterback, Cooks is liable to have a big game, but that can be said for quite a few receivers. This isn't the week to gamble on Cooks.
Cole Beasley, WR, Cowboys, (DraftKings Salary $5,500)
Beasley said after the Cowboys win against Baltimore that it takes them a few drives to figure out what defenses are trying to take away from them. Once they do that, Dallas simply attacks with their other weapons. Luckily for Beasley, on a team with Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, he'll never be the one defenses game plan to take away.
Beasley has already surpassed his career highs in receptions and passing yards, and tied his career high in touchdowns. He's been one of the most consistent Dallas Cowboys all season, and leads the team in receptions. The Cowboys will probably have to reach at least 24 points to beat the Redskins. I expect Beasley to hit the 80-mark in a back-and-forth game.
Survivor Pick of the Week:
(Season Record: 9-2)
(Off the Board: Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs, Redskins, Steelers, Bills, Packers, Vikings, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys)
Tennessee Titans over Chicago Bears
Marcus Mariotta has found his stride over the past month. He's moving the ball and getting first downs, which makes life much easier for their defense. The Bears have an underrated pass rush, but a healthy dose of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry should keep them in check. The Bears' offense just doesn't have enough gas in the tank to keep up with all the points the Titans will score.