The story surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the season was the holdout of running back Le'Veon Bell. Bell had been quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's safety blanket over the past several years, offering a dynamic game on the ground and a safe pass catcher out of the backfield.
With Bell out, who would pick up the slack? Well, that question has been answered quite nicely by James Conner who has stepped in and produced strong numbers in both areas this season. He's carried 127 times for 599 yards and 9 touchdowns while adding 323 yards on 31 receptions. Due to that output, Conner finds himself among our top five starts for the week at RB in daily fantasy despite a tough matchup against the Ravens defense.
1. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Bucs, FD Proj. – 30.8 points
The best teams in the NFC have separated themselves to this point. It seems clear that the Rams and Saints are the two best teams in the conference, and while few are paying attention to the Panthers, they should be. Newton has found his stride as he has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 225.9 yards per game with 13 touchdown passes and four rushing TDs. He dominates against the lowly Tampa Bay defense.
2. Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns – 28.7 points
Mahomes is regularly in the top spot of this category, and he has a chance for another huge effort against the chaotic Browns. They fired their head coach and offensive coordinator, and Gregg Williams is left to turn things around. It won't happen this week, as Mahomes and the Chiefs will roll against this shattered opponent. The MVP run continues for Mahomes.
3. Tom Brady, New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers – 27.5 points.
This is a game that Brady has been looking forward to playing, because he will see Aaron Rodgers on the other side of the field, and that tells the future Hall of Fame quarterback to be prepared for a shootout. Look for Brady to have one of his most productive offensive game of the season as the Patriots and Packers go back and forth with big plays.
4. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots – 24.1 points
The Packers should be able to move the ball with quite a bit of proficiency against the New England defense that ranks 26th against the pass, and that should help Rodgers have a huge game. He is throwing for 326.1 yards per game with a 13-1 TD-interception ratio. Rodgers lights it up in Foxboro.
5. Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints – 24.0 points
These are the two heavyweight leaders of the NFC, and the Rams have the edge in consistency and confidence. Goff and the Rams are even more dangerous than Brees and the Saints, because the Los Angeles quarterback has running back Todd Gurley and a defense that gives him multiple opportunities. Goff has a 17-5 TD-interception ratio, and those numbers get even better here.
1. Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams at New Orleans Saints – 22.6 points
Gurley will likely have one or two bad games the rest of the season, but it is not likely to happen against the Saints. Even when Gurley does not have huge rushing numbers, he finds a way to pound the ball into the endzone and is also a superb receiver. There's no stopping him against the Saints.
2. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints vs. L.A. Rams – 16.6 points
Kamara appears to be the key player for the Saints this week at home against the Rams. Los Angeles will concentrate on stopping Drew Brees from going wild, and Kamara is going to need to get the job done taking short passes and weaving his way through the defense. He also needs to have his best game running with the ball here
3. Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns – 16.5 points
The Browns appear to have no idea of what they are doing. They have left Williams in charge of their team, and the defensive coordinator has not distinguished himself at any level. In addition to his bombastic personality, the Browns rank 28th against the run and 28th overall. Hunt should easily exceed 125 yards this week.
4. James Conner, Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens – 15.9 points
The Steelers have been finding their footing after a slow start, and Conner has been steady all year as he replaced Le'Veon Bell as a result of his holdout. Conner has made the most of his opportunity as he has rushed for 599 yards with nine TDs.
5. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Bucs – 15.7 points
Few observers are talking about the Panthers as one of the top teams in the league, but they are surging and McCaffrey is a huge reason. He has the speed and quickness to dominate against the hapless Bucs. McCaffrey was one of the best receiving running backs last year, and he has become an effective one-cut runner this year.
1. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints vs. Los Angeles Rams – 14.7 points
Thomas will have one of his top challenges of the season as he competes against the Rams, and the ability of the Los Angeles front four to pressure Brees could impact Thomas. However, Thomas excels at breaking free off the line, and he should be able to get open and make big plays after the catch.
2. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots – 13.9 points
The Packers appear to be in the sell-mode after trading Ty Montgomery and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at the deadline. However, this game against the Patriots appears to be a shootout, and Adams should be the prime beneficiary against a New England defense that is not well-equipped for stopping a strong passing game.
3. Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions – 13.4 points
The Vikings have not been the superior team that they appeared to be in the summer, as they have dropped games against the Rams and Saints, and they were also upset by the lowly Buffalo Bills. Thielen is their best and most effective player and he catches everything he touches. He catches 10 passes for 150 yards and two scores in this game.
4. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens – 13.1 points
Brown is the best receiver in the league and he could be at the top of this list every week. However, it is much harder to dominate against the Ravens pass defense – ranked first overall and second against the pass – than any opponent Brown will face. The Ravens won't stop him, but they could slow him down here.
5. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans at Denver Broncos – 13.0 points
The one thing that quarterback Deshaun Watson should know in his heart is that if he gets the ball somewhere within Hopkins' tremendous wingspan, he will catch the ball. Once he makes his first catch in a game, Hopkins can get hot and dominate. He has the best hands in the league.
1. Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots vs. Green Bay Packers – 10.8 points
This could be the week where Gronkowski has one of his classic games that includes 100-plus receiving yards and a couple of touchdowns. The game between these two explosive offenses should be a shootout, and the Green Bay defense is fertile ground.
2. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns – 10.6 points
As Williams takes on his role as the Cleveland head coach, let's examine what he has done with the Browns defense. That unit ranks 28th in yards allowed, and that should be music to the ears of all Kansas City skill players, including Kelce.
3. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers vs. Oakland Raiders – 8.8 points
The tight ends in the Thursday night game should both have an opportunity to get your fantasy team off to an excellent start. Kittle has top-notch hands and will make key yards after the catch. He leads the Niners with 37 catches for 584 yards and two touchdowns, and should build on that total here.
4. Jared Cook, Oakland Raiders at San Francisco 49ers – 8.5 points
The Raiders have become one of the worst teams in the NFL, and there's not much Jon Gruden can do to turn things around at this point. However, Cook knows how to get open and he can make some big plays when he makes the first tackler miss. He has caught a team-leading 48 passes and three of those receptions have been TDs.
5. O.J. Howard, Tampa Bay Bucs at Carolina Panthers – 7.9 points
Howard has All-Pro ability and he should benefit from the return of Ryan Fitzpatrick as the Bucs' starting quarterback. Howard has an impressive 17.5-yards average per reception, and that's noteworthy for a tight end. He can run over and past tacklers, and he knows how to get open.
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