Despite gutting misses on Austin Ekeler (zero carries in the second half) and Joe Mixon (eight yards short), my picks got back on track last week. Probably my favorite win was watching Isaiah Hodgins put up a career effort (8-105-1). Although, I’m not as bullish on the Giants’ passing game this Saturday at Philly.
With just a few weeks left, the push to 55% is real. Using ESPN’s metrics database and some assistance from stats ace Kyle Soppe, we’re working towards an abundant start to 2023!
Jacksonville Jaguars at Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, 4:30 pm ET, GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
Pick: Travis Etienne Jr. OVER 17.5 receiving yards
Fantasy managers have been justifiably frustrated with Etienne’s underwhelming receiving role. While averaging just 2.1 catches and 18.6 receiving yards per contest capped the second-year running back’s ceiling, it has also kept his projected totals low and created prop-popping opportunities. Coming off a 1-12-0 receiving stat line in the Jags’ comeback win over the Chargers, leaning into a prop associated with Etienne’s pass-catching prowess might appear foolhardy, but the data suggests otherwise.
Jacksonville posted the seventh-highest pass rate (66.2%) from Weeks 10 through the wild-card round. When trailing, the Jags passed at the fourth-highest rate. That suggests an ample number of targets for Etienne. So why did he see only one look versus the Chargers?
As it turns out, Los Angeles is stingy against RBs via the air, having given up the fifth-fewest receptions and sixth-fewest receiving yards to the position. Conversely, Kansas City has been generous to pass-catching backs, allowing the second-highest completion percentage on RB targets as well as the fourth-most receiving yards to RBs (45.6 yards per game).
Furthermore, one catch is an anomaly, as the Ettiene recorded 13 multiple catch games over the regular season. He also managed six games with at least one catch over 20 yards. The only other running back with more such games … was Christian McCaffrey. Talent is always a tiebreaker, and just one of those grabs clears the above line.
New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Pick: Daniel Jones OVER 45.5 rushing yds
The development of Isaiah Hodgins has been unexpectedly delicious. Darius Slayton also emerged as a serviceable bye week fill-in during the regular season. And Richie James could surprise at Philly on Saturday. But none of these players are elite separators who figure to win their matchups when facing off against the Eagles’ shutdown secondary. That is going to force Daniel Jones to keep his legs churning, extending plays and ripping off chunk yardage.
Philadelphia has allowed the seventh-most QB scrambles on the season. Additionally, the Eagles have given up the fifth-most yards per scramble (9.2 yards). To that end, Jones isn’t just buying time with his legs, he’s regularly executing designed runs. In fact, he pulled off seven designed runs last week in Minnesota. He has also managed six straight games with a single rush over 10 yards and managed a 15-yarder in four of those six efforts.
Jones is top five in nearly every advanced rushing metric. His legs are part of the team’s offensive game plan. The strength of Philly’s defense is going to force New York to remain creative on the ground. I trust Brian Daboll to scheme it up and use every ounce of Danny Dimes’ physical ability.
Pick: Devonta Smith OVER 63.5 receiving yards
Smith closed out his second regular-season campaign as fantasy’s WR9 overall, ranking inside the top 10 in receptions (95), receiving yards (1,196) and YAC (485). Jalen Hurts made massive strides as a passer, averaging nearly 31 pass attempts per game, which opened up unforeseen opportunities for Smith.
The former Heisman Trophy winner drew regular opportunities, managing at least eight looks in nine straight efforts. In fact, Smith recorded a 30.1% target share (behind only Davante Adams) from Weeks 10 to 18. Additionally, the 24-year-old regularly converted, posting 80 receiving yards in 11 of 17 games this season.
He figures to produce again Saturday when he takes on a Giants defense that gave up 70 or more receiving yards to a single pass-catcher 16 times throughout the year. Whether he draws primary coverage from Fabian Moreau (as he did back in Week 14) or is assigned softer coverage, Smith should put up numbers, particularly given a projected total of 48 points.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, New York
Pick: Josh Allen OVER .5 INT
The more times a player throws the ball, the more likely an error will occur. Allen is top eight in pass attempts, averaging nearly 34 per game. Consequently, he is tied for the third-most interceptions (14) next to Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins over the regular season. Additionally, he has thrown five picks over his past three efforts.
Cincinnati is below the league average in generating picks with just 13 in the regular season. However, given a spread of 5.5, this game figures to be close with plenty of back and forth. If Allen starts to press, the Bengals are stout enough to capitalize. Interestingly, Allen finished the regular season with 36 passes that should have been intercepted (QB3). His accuracy additionally waned down the stretch, as his off-target percentage increased from 10.9% over Weeks 1 through 6 to 17.1% from Week 7 through the wild-card round. That sets up nicely for this over, and for the Bengals to cover.
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, California
Pick: Deebo Samuel OVER 54.5 receiving yards
May the Bay rejoice because Samuel is back to health and establishing a solid rapport with Brock Purdy. Samuel led the 49ers’ receiving corps in targets (9), receptions (6) and yards (133) in the team’s 18-point win over Seattle last weekend. Additionally, Purdy targeted Samuel on over 28.1% of his routes (ahead of Brandon Aiyuk, who was targeted on 21.9% of his routes). Samuel might not smash triple-digit numbers against Dallas, but his shine figures to cast some shade on the Star.
Samuel is in possession of mythological YAC ability, crushing after the catch and after contact. Not only did he record 480 yards after the catch (WR8) over 13 regular-season games, but he also managed nine games with 10-plus yards after contact (tied for the position lead with only Chris Godwin). Both things figure to confound the Cowboys, a defense that has allowed the 10th-most yards after the catch per reception (4.4) to wideouts this year.
Late season injuries have plagued the Cowboys’ secondary, resulting in a considerable uptick in yards allowed. In fact, Dallas gave up the fourth-most yards to opposing WRs (763) over the final four weeks of the regular season. That sets up nicely for a player like Samuel, who is top three (behind only Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase) in catches over 40 yards.
Pick: Ja’Marr Chase OVER 83.5 receiving yards
Number shouts two Kyle Soppe — whom I’ve mentioned in the intro of this column each week since its inception — for tweeting this juicy nug.
Ja’Marr Chase receiving lines (catches-yards-TDs) as an underdog in a game that sees 40-plus points scored:
Week 1, 2021: 5-101-1
Week 5, 2021: 6-159-1
Week 7, 2021: 8-201-1
Week 14, 2021: 5-77-2
Week 17, 2021: 11-266-3
Week 13, 2022: 7-97-0
Six-game totals: 42-901-8
– Kyle Soppe (@KyleSoppeESPN) January 19, 2023
Chase has cleared the over on a receiving yards prop eight of 12 times during the regular season, at a rate of 66.7%.
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