Despite misses by Austin Eckeler (nil second-half carry) and Joe Mixon (eight yards back), last week my picks were back on track. Probably my favorite win was watching Isaiah Hodgins go all out (8-105-1). However, I’m not so optimistic about the Giants’ pass this Saturday in Philadelphia.
There are only a few weeks left, and growth to 55% is quite real. Using Sportzshala’s metrics database and some help from stats ace Kyle Soppe, we’re working to start 2023 off to a good start!
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Saturday, 4:30 pm ET, GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO.
Choice: Travis Etienne Jr. OVER 17.5 receiving yards
Fantasy managers were rightly disappointed by Etienne’s underwhelming host role. While averaging just 2.1 catches and 18.6 receiving yards per contest set a running back’s second-year ceiling, it also kept his projected numbers low and created opportunities for foothold. Relying on a 1-12-0 receiving line in the Jags’ return win over the Chargers may seem reckless to rely on Etienne’s pass-catching prowess, but the data suggests otherwise.
Jacksonville ranked seventh in pass success (66.2%) from week 10 to the wildcard round. When lagging behind, the Cogs passed at the fourth-highest speed. This indicates a sufficient number of targets for Etienne. So why did he only see one look against the Chargers?
As it turned out, Los Angeles was tight on RB by air, losing ground in fifth place in receptions and sixth in receiving yards. Conversely, Kansas City was generous in catching passes, which led to a second-best goal completion percentage for RBs, as well as fourth-best receiving yards for RBs (45.6 yards per game).
Also, one catch is an anomaly, as Ettien recorded 13 games with multiple catches during the regular season. He also had six games with at least one catch over 20 yards. The only other runner with more of those games… was Christian McCaffrey. Talent always decides the tiebreak and only one of these captures clears the above lane.
New York Giants – Philadelphia Eagles.
Saturday, 8:15 pm ET, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia.
Pick: Daniel Jones OVER 45.5 yards
Isaiah Hodgins’ development was unexpectedly delightful. Darius Slayton also proved to be a useful farewell replacement during the regular season. And Richie James could surprise in Philadelphia on Saturday. But none of these players are elite separators looking to win their matches against a retired Eagles minor. This will force Daniel Jones to keep his legs on his toes, extend the game and get big yards.
Philadelphia allowed the seventh most bout QB in a season. In addition, the Eagles lost fifth place in yards per scrimmage (9.2 yards). To that end, Jones isn’t just buying time with his feet, he’s regularly doing designed runs. In fact, he had seven scheduled runs last week in Minnesota. He also had six straight games with one 10-yard throw and managed a 15-yarder on four of those six attempts.
Jones is in the top 5 in almost every advanced speed metric. His legs are part of the team’s offensive plan. Philadelphia’s defense force will force New York to stay creative on the ground. I trust Brian Daball to plan this and use every ounce of Danny Dimes’ physical ability.
Choose: Devonta Smith OVER 63.5 receiving yards
Smith ended his second regular season campaign as a WR9 fantasy overall, finishing in the top 10 in receptions (95), receiving yards (1,196), and YAC (485). Jalen Hurts has been hugely successful as a passer, averaging nearly 31 pass attempts per game, opening up unexpected opportunities for Smith.
The former Heisman Trophy winner used opportunities regularly, managing at least eight looks in nine consecutive attempts. In fact, Smith recorded a 30.1% target share (second only to Davanta Adams) from weeks 10 to 18. In addition, the 24-year-old has regularly passed 80 receiving yards in 11 of 17 games this season.
He expects to hit again on Saturday when he takes on a Giants defense that has lost 70 or more receiving yards to a single pass catcher 16 times in a year. Whether he’s getting main coverage from Fabian Moreau (as he did back in week 14) or he’s assigned softer coverage, Smith has to put in the numbers, especially with a projected total of 48 points.
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills
Sunday, 3:00 pm ET, Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, New York.
Choice: Josh Allen OVER 0.5 INT.
The more times a player throws the ball, the more likely it is to make a mistake. Allen ranks in the top eight in pass attempts, averaging nearly 34 per game. Consequently, he ranks third in steals (14) behind Derek Carr and Kirk Cousins in the regular season. In addition, he has made five picks in his last three attempts.
Cincinnati is behind the league average in picks, just 13 in the regular season. However, given the 5.5 spread, this game looks close with more back and forth. If Allen starts to press, the Bengals will have enough strength to capitalize on. Interestingly, Allen finished the regular season with 36 passes to intercept (QB3). His accuracy also declined over time as his off-target hit percentage increased from 10.9% from weeks 1 to 6 to 17.1% from week 7 to the wildcard round. It’s good for it to end and the Bengals to cover up.
Dallas Cowboys at the San Francisco 49ers
Sunday, 6:30 pm ET, Levy Stadium, Santa Clara, CA.
Choice: Deebo Samuel OVER 54.5 receiving yards
May Bay rejoice because Samuel has recovered and has a strong relationship with Brock Purdy. Samuel led the 49ers receiving corps in targets (9), receptions (6) and yards (133) in the team’s 18-point victory over Seattle last weekend. In addition, Purdy targeted Samuel on over 28.1% of his routes (outpacing Brandon Aiyuk, who was targeted on 21.9% of his routes). Samuel may not break triple figures against Dallas, but his brilliant numbers cast a shadow over the Star.
Samuel has the mythological ability YAC, crushing after catch and after contact. Not only did he record 480 yards after a catch (WR8) in 13 regular season games, but he also managed nine games with 10-plus yards after contact (making position only with Chris Godwin). Both things baffle the Cowboys, a defense that has allowed the 10th-best rushing yards per reception (4.4) this year.
Injuries late in the season plagued the Cowboys’ non-essential players, leading to significant increases in yards allowed. In fact, Dallas lost fourth in yards to rivals WR (763) in the final four weeks of the regular season. This is a good fit for a player like Samuel who is in the top 3 (behind only Cooper Kupp and Ja’Marr Chase) in catching over 40 yards.
Choice: Ja’Marr Chase OVER 83.5 receiving yards
High screams Kyle Soppe — who I’ve mentioned in the intro to this column every week since it was created — for tweeting this spicy naga.
Ja’Marr Chase receives lines (catch-yards-TD) as an underdog in a 40-plus game:
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 (@KyleSoppeSportzshala) January 19, 2023
Chase hurled receiving yards eight of 12 times during the regular season, which is 66.7%.
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