On the plus side, I was right about Jacksonville and Cincinnati covering last week. I did not, however, anticipate so many unders.
Despite nailing the process on a few props, the numbers weren't there. At least Travis Etienne Jr. squeaked past the published line and Josh Allen threw a late-game pick. Tough to find the "yay" in any of that, though.
Luckily, we have two more games to dig in on! Both figure to be close, presenting plenty of pingpong appeal, which bodes well for some overs. Using ESPN's metrics database and some assistance from stats ace Kyle Soppe, we're working toward an abundant start to 2023!
San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5, 46)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia
Pick: Deebo Samuel OVER 19.5 rushing yards
I get that Samuel has a sore ankle, and I also understand that the Eagles added veteran talent to beef up the run defense late in the season. But Kyle Shanahan is one game away from the game. The 49ers are loaded on both sides of the ball, but Samuel's craftiness adds an unexpected dimension to the offense. His rushing ability could be the thing that exploits Philadelphia's biggest defensive weakness.
The Eagles boast the league's No. 1 passing defense. But the team's run defending unit falls outside of the top 20, allowing the fourth-most yards per carry after contact. San Francisco, therefore, figures to attack via the ground. Obviously, Christian McCaffery and Eli Mitchell will be involved, but Samuel ranks third in YPC after contact, which takes advantage of Philadelphia's defensive deficiency in a spectacularly specific way.
Additionally, over 68% of Samuel's career rushes have come via the perimeter. That sets up nicely against an Eagles defense that has given up 5.77 yards per carry on perimeter runs this season. Following the math, then, just four outside rushing attempts would push Samuel over 20 rushing yards. That's an attainable number, given that he recorded 27 rushing attempts in three playoff appearances last year.
Pick: Jauan Jennings OVER 21.5 receiving yards
The 49ers' offense is loaded, and the Eagles' pass defense is ridiculously stout. Sometimes, though, a complementary receiver (or an under-the-radar player like Isaiah Hodgins) gets overlooked and ends up winning at the books.
With so many pieces to focus on, Philadelphia could lose track of Jennings, who has sneakily drawn a 21.2% target share during the playoffs while also recording multiple catches in five of his past six games. (By the way, if you're looking for a bonus prop, maybe consider OVER 1.5 receptions for Jennings.)
Jennings has additionally benefited from having Brock Purdy under center, as his aDOT jumped from 7.0 yards with Jimmy Garoppolo to 11.6 with the rookie. Noting that boost, it makes sense then that he has managed a catch of 21-plus yards in three of his past four games. Were that trend to continue, Jennings could clear the above line in one play.
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs (-1, 47.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri
Pick: Joe Burrow OVER 37.5 passing attempts
After jumping out to a big lead and playing in the snow, Burrow threw the ball 36 times last weekend. He figures to do that again at Arrowhead in what's projected to be a close game with a spread of just one point.
The Bengals are the sixth-heaviest passing team in the NFL (65.9% of snaps). That's a large part of why Joe Cool has covered the over on pass attempts at a rate of 71.4% (QB4) this season. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs rank third in pass rate. So, yeah, there should be plenty of back-and-forth in this game, pushing the number of pass attempts higher and higher.
Interestingly, opposing offenses have thrown on the Chiefs an average of 36.6 times per game. But the Bengals are more extra than average. I'll take the over and a bucket of popcorn, please.
Pick: Joe Mixon OVER 23.5 receiving yards
After weeks of volatility, I'm out on Mixon from a rushing POV. As a receiver, however, his usage has me intrigued. Burrow's aDOT has steadily decreased over the past three years, moving from 8.3 yards in 2020 to 6.9 yards in 2022. That's actually a good thing! It means Joe isn't just playing hero ball. Instead, he's checking down more frequently and using his RB1 as a pass-catcher.
As a result, Mixon has hauled in 12 more grabs (60, RB5) and drawn 26 more looks (74, RB7) despite playing two fewer games this go-around than he did last season. Additionally, 22.2% of his touches in 2022 have come via the air, which is up from 12.6% in 2021. That spike has shown up at the books, as the Oklahoma product has hit the over on receiving yards at a rate of 76.9%.
The matchup also sets up nicely for Mixon. Kansas City allowed the fourth-most receiving yards to opposing RBs over the regular season. Through the playoffs, the Chiefs have allowed the ninth-most yards after the catch per catch (7.9) as well as the third-most receiving yards per game to the position (45.1). Given that Mixon has accounted for over 72% of Cincinnati's RB receiving yards (when Samaje Perine has been active), a receiving total over 30 yards seems highly likely.
Pick: Patrick Mahomes OVER 273.5 passing yards
Mahomes led the league in passing yards (308.8 per game) and was top-five in air yards (285.9 per game) over the regular season. He's also averaging 8.1 yards per pass (up from 7.4 yards in 2021) and posting a career-best completion percentage (67.4%) through the postseason. Not bad for a guy who lost his primary receiver.
Tyreek Hill has moved to Miami, but there's still plenty of YAC in Kansas City. In fact, Travis Kelce, Juju Smith-Schuster, Kadarius Toney and Mecole Hardman (who was limited in practice Wednesday but could suit up Sunday) all averaged between 4.0 and 5.1 yards after the catch per target. That turf-eating prowess could lift Mahomes' stats, particularly when facing a Bengals defense that has allowed the 10th-most YAC per reception since Week 7.
Furthermore, as touched on earlier, Kansas City exists as the third pass-heaviest offense. The Chiefs like to throw it up early and often, recording the highest first-quarter pass rate. The Bengals execute in a similar fashion, ranking second in first-quarter pass rate. With both teams regularly putting the ball in the air (from the jump), the odds of a high-scoring game increase, obviously. The potential to-and-fro suggests regular changes (as does the 1-point spread), paving the way for Mahomes to YOLO his way to 280-plus passing yards.
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