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From Zay Jones to Alec Pierce, Receiving Overs Abound in Underdog Picks

Thursday night went 2-1 again, and unfortunately, our highest confidence play of the night was missed with Marquise Goodwin going lower than his line. That brings the season total to 80-75-2. As always, picks are listed with a confidence rating and where I would recommend playing the line, too, if it moves. 

Zay Jones HIGHER than 49.5 Receiving Yards

The new WR1 in the Jaguars' offense might be Zay Jones. Since Week 12, Jones has a 29.5 percent target share, which is the highest on the team. Christian Kirk has also been a top target in this offense for most of the season with a 21.4 percent target share in that same timeframe. Prior to Week 12 Kirk had a 24.5 percent target share and Jones had a 19.5 percent target share. I have been very bullish on Jones for a few weeks now. However, based on his usage against zone coverage, he is now starting to see some of Kirk’s targets against man coverage, too. 

The Jaguars get a difficult matchup with the Cowboys' defense this week, but 49.5 receiving yards seems too low for a receiver seeing such a high target share. I rate it as a 3/5 for confidence because Trevor Lawrence has been prone to having terrible games against elite defenses; see the Eagles and Broncos games. I would not play this entry any higher. 

Amari Cooper HIGHER than 57.5 Receiving Yards

Amari Cooper’s home and away split continues to astound me. This is Cooper's home and away split per game:

Home: 10.67 targets, 6.5 receptions, 91.2 receiving yards, 0.83 touchdowns.
Away: 6.4 targets, 3.4 receptions, 46.7 receiving yards, 0.29 touchdowns. 

Cooper is averaging more receptions at home than targets in away games and nearly twice as many receiving yards in home games. The Baltimore defense is playing a lot better recently than the start of the season. However, since Week 10, the Browns are still a bottom-half unit when it comes to receiving yards. Based just on how Cooper has performed at home, I want to rate this pick as one of my more confident picks of the week. However, I am worried about the hip injury Cooper is carrying. Also, this Browns offense started the game very slow in Deshaun Watson’s second start last week, and they only got going once they were at a significant deficit. I rate it a 3/5 for confidence and would play it up to 65.5 receiving yards. 

Alec Pierce HIGHER than 38.5 Receiving Yards

After a mid-season breakout, Alec Pierce has cooled due to inconsistent quarterback play, a change in coaching staff and a difficult schedule. Thankfully he finally gets a break from a run of difficult defenses this week with the Colts playing the Vikings. Minnesota is giving up the most receiving yards per game of any team in the NFL. You really might be able to go higher on all Colts passing and receiving entries because this Vikings' defense is that bad, but I chose Pierce as my favorite of these plays.

One reason the Vikings' defense has been so bad is it is giving up a lot of big plays. It gives up the most completions over 10 yards and the second-most completions over 25 yards. Pierce is really the only deep threat on the Colts, as he leads the team with 12.5 air yards per target. One stat that makes me love this play is that Pierce has three receptions longer than 38.5 receiving yards this season, so there is a possibility that Pierce hits on just one catch. The Colts are still the Colts, and if the Vikings can pressure Matt Ryan enough, the deep passing opportunities may not be there for Pierce. Because of that, I rate this play at 4/5 on confidence and would play it up to 42.5 receiving yards

Isiah Pacheco HIGHER than 70.5 Rushing Yards

Do not get distracted by the fact that Jerick McKinnon out-snapped Isiah Pacheco against the Broncos last week. Pacheco still had a large majority of the running back rushes and has had at least 13 rush attempts for five straight games. The roles of Pacheco and McKinnon in the Chiefs' backfield are starting to solidify, with them rotating between Pacheco and McKinnon when the game is competitive and McKinnon seeing the field on third downs. When the Chiefs start to build a lead, Pacheco controls the backfield and gets a significant amount of rush attempts.

Against one of, if not the, worst teams in the NFL, the Chiefs should have no issue building a lead. If Pacheco gets 18+ rush attempts against this defense, watch out, because this Houston rush defense is horrific. It gives up the most rushes of 10+ yards and 25+ yards, so if the Chiefs get out to a big lead, I think there is a chance that Pacheco leads the NFL in rushing yards this week. This line is extremely high, which means the game script has to go almost perfectly for it to hit, so I rank it as 4/5 for confidence and would play it up to 74.5 rushing yards. 

Sam Darnold LOWER than 176.5 Passing Yards

Sam Darnold is 2-0 since he got the Panthers' starting job. In those two games, he's averaging just 142 passing yards, which includes a high-scoring game last week against the Seahawks. The passing volume just isn’t there for him, either. Our new Trenches Tool shows that the Panthers rank 29th in passing plays this season with 32 passing snaps a game. Even if Darnold is able to get passing volume, this Steelers' defense has looked very good since T.J. Watt returned from injury. Since his return, the Steelers have given up the fifth-fewest passing yards per game. I expect the Panthers to continue to run the ball at one of the highest rates in the league and for this to go easily lower. I rate it as 5/5 and would play it down to 170.5 passing yards. 

Tom Brady HIGHER than 40.5 Passing Attempts

We can’t play Mike White passing attempts this week due to his being ruled out due to injury. However, I guess we can settle for a Tom Brady pick. Brady is averaging the most passing attempts per game in the league with 44.5 per game. Part of the reason for that is the Buccaneers look like a broken team. Consequently, Brady has had to single-handedly get them the win several times. The best example was two weeks ago against the Saints when he led two touchdown drives in the last six minutes of the game.

His highest pass volume has come in games the Buccaneers have trailed going into the third quarter. In those games, Brady is averaging 49.3 pass attempts per game. The Bengals are favored at most sportsbooks as they look to be hitting their stride, getting ready for the playoffs. This pick is fairly game script-dependent, but I am confident that the Buccaneers will struggle to keep up with the Bengals and will be forced to be pass-heavy again. I rate this play as five out of five for confidence and make it my most confident play of the week. I would even play it up to 42.0 pass attempts. 

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