Two-game slates force a player to be close to perfect, and the normal rules do not exist. Play three pass-catchers with one quarterback, two running backs from the same team, or a player against your defense. I already broke down the matchups, so I want to take you position by position with my thoughts before telling you my favorite stack, favorite play, and favorite fade.
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- Patrick Mahomes is not coming in popular with that ankle injury
- In 2019, he had a high ankle sprain in Week 1 on the opposite foot, and in the next six weeks on the injury report averaged 300.3 yards passing and two passing touchdowns
- The Cincinnati Bengals will likely play Cover 0 and Cover 1 at a high rate; Mahomes ranked ninth in yards per attempt amongst QBs with at least 100 snaps against it
- Pair Mahomes with two pass-catchers in every build; for large field tournaments, three can be viable
- The San Francisco 49ers will play a lot of zone coverage, and Jalen Hurts ranked third in yards per attempt against zone amongst QBs with 100 snaps against it
- Hurts is the only QB on the slate with an ability to run, and I expect him to use his legs against this 49ers defense
- The game script can go either way, and I believe we will see a big game from Hurts
- Hurts is my favorite quarterback on the slate, and I am willing to eat the chalk
- The Kansas City Chiefs will run a lot of Cover 1 or Cover 2 coverage against Burrow
- Joe Burrow averages 8.6 yards per attempt and a 70.4% completion percentage against these two coverages
- Against the Chiefs, Burrow led seven drives of at least eight plays. Five of his drives lasted four minutes of game time, and they will likely attempt to do that again
- The ceiling game for Burrow comes down to the offensive line holding up and his ability to continue attempting quick yardage throws
- Burrow is ranked third amongst QBs, and I will be underweight compared to the field
- I will not be playing Brock Purdy this weekend; the pricing doesn’t generate enough of an advantage for paying down, and I don’t believe he has a high enough ceiling
- The 49ers have the advantage in the run game, and Christian McCaffrey is chalk I am willing to buy into
- McCaffrey has an injury to monitor, but Shanahan knows he has to dial up the run game for his rookie quarterback on the road
- The Eagles have given up over 100 yards rushing in six straight weeks
- The trenches tool gives the 49ers a significant advantage in the run game
- If you are not playing McCaffrey, I recommend getting to Elijah Mitchell
- Slow, methodical drives will lead to Joe Mixon rushing attempts
- Mixon did not play in the first matchup. Samaje Perine ran for 106 yards and had six receptions for 49 yards
- Mixon is a target for Burrow out of the backfield and will get usage near the red zone
- I don’t believe Mixon is a must-have, but the slate of RBs is weak, and it won’t take a big game to be in the optimal build
- Jerick McKinnon is the Chiefs running back I want because of his ability to pass protect. Isiah Pacheco will out-carry him, but McKinnon will make it up in the passing game
- McKinnon played 65% of the snaps against the Jaguars, and I believe that was because of the Mahomes’ injury
- McKinnon is projected to be more popular than Pacheco
- I will not be getting Miles Sanders; I think the Eagles throw a lot more than run, and near the red zone, it will be Hurts
- McCaffrey is nursing an injury, and so is Mitchell, but I expect him to get enough carries to be viable
- Mitchell is my preferred punt play at running back because I expect the 49ers to be run-heavy
- Perine played extremely well against the Chiefs and has played over 40% of the snaps in each of the last two weeks
- The only problem with Perine is he is more popular than Mitchell, and Mitchell will likely see more touches
- The most popular wide receiver on the entire slate, and it’s for a good reason
- Ja’Marr Chase averages 139 yards against the Chiefs and has four touchdowns in three games
- This season, he came off an injury and had seven receptions for 97 yards in that game, and whenever they saw Cover 1, it was an easy play for him to make
- If the Chiefs can play Cover 2 for most of the game, I don’t believe he will have a big game to pay off the price. If they get the lead and force them into Cover 1, the explosive play is just waiting to happen
- The 49ers’ corners can be beaten on the outside, and A.J. Brown will be able to out-physical them the way we saw DK Metcalf do in the wild-card round
- If the 49ers attempt to play more Cover 3 coverage, Brown will be the player to have, but in Cover 4, Smith has been the preferred option
- Crossing routes have hurt the 49ers this season, and Brown has 19% of his targets on these routes
- DeVonta Smith has been the go-to for the Eagles against Cover 4, and in games where the 49ers will have the lead or be in a one-score game, they will play plenty of that coverage
- Smith has had eight targets in every game since Week 10, and I don’t think he will be under that number in this one
- Brown has the highest ceiling, but Smith can have a big game
- I don’t trust Purdy enough to make plays down the field against a defense that is one of the best in the NFL. Deebo Samuel has not been getting much usage in the ground game to compensate for that
- Burrow spreads the ball against Cover 2 coverage, and I think that style of play will limit the pass-catching group
- Tee Higgins is priced in a spot where he will be popular, but it is chalk I am willing to go to because he has a high ceiling
- In Cover 1, I expect Chase to be the main focus for this defense, and they will try to trust their corners on an island vs. Higgins
- JuJu Smith-Schuster is not great against man coverage. However, he will have the opportunity to run routes one on one with Eli Apple, and can win in that matchup
- The Eagles’ safeties stay over the middle of the field, and James Bradberry gets beat in man situations down the sidelines
- The only concern I have for Brandon Aiyuk is Purdy’s ability to make the throw, but out of the 49ers’ pass-catchers, he is my preferred option
- Tyler Boyd led the team in yards against Cover 2 coverage and is someone Burrow likes to target
- In Burrow stacks, I will get plenty of exposure to Boyd
- Kadarius Toney is the most explosive player after the catch for the Chiefs, and I believe he is key to their offense performance.
- The Bengals will play man-to-man coverage and bring pressure; the deep play will be there for the Chiefs’ pass catchers like Marquez Valdes-Scantling
- Quez Watkins is my favorite option under $4,000, and I believe he will have the opportunity to have a big play touchdown in the game
- Travis Kelce will get plenty of work in this game, and you shouldn’t be concerned about what he can do
- The Bengals have a great scheme, but the chemistry between Mahomes and Kelce is too great
- George Kittle scares me off because of his price and because he might be needed a lot more in pass protection and blocking in the run game
- Kittle has a defensive scheme he can play well against, but like the wide receivers, I am not sure that Purdy can get the job done
- The 49ers have one of the best linebacking crews in the NFL, but they will have plenty to deal with against this Eagles’ run game and wide receiver room
- Dallas Goedert is way too cheap on DraftKings, and is a strong play on the slate
- Like the quarterback position this weekend, I don’t think Hayden Hurst can keep pace with the top portion of the tight end room
- The 49ers are viable, and I will be loading up those builds with the Chiefs-Bengals game
- The safest defense on the slate is the Eagles’; they are at home and going up against a rookie quarterback
- I would correlate them with Hurts’ stacks because you want them to play with the lead and get after Purdy
- Their defensive line is very motivated, and I am not buying into how well the Bengals’ offensive line played against the Bills
- Chris Jones can be a game-wrecker, and I will be banking on him in this matchup
- Lou Anarumo has slowed this team down and confused them in coverages
- They are the cheapest defense on the slate against a limited Patrick Mahomes
- QB Jalen Hurts, WR AJ Brown, WR Quez Watkins
- Runback: RB Christian McCaffrey
- QB Patrick Mahomes, WR Kadarius Toney, TE Travis Kelce
- Runback: WR Ja’Marr Chase
- QB Joe Burrow, WR Ja’Marr Chase, WR Tyler Boyd
- Runback: WR Kadarius Toney
|Player||Pos||Team||Opp||DK Salary||FD Salary||VegasPts|
|Patrick Mahomes||QB||KC||vs CIN||$7,600||$8,500||24.5|
|Jalen Hurts||QB||PHI||vs SF||$7,200||$9,200||24.25|
|Joe Burrow||QB||CIN||@ KC||$6,800||$8,300||23.5|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||SF||@ PHI||$8,000||$9,000||22.25|
|Joe Mixon||RB||CIN||@ KC||$6,500||$8,100||23.5|
|Jerick McKinnon||RB||KC||vs CIN||$5,400||$6,500||24.5|
|Eli Mitchell||RB||SF||@ PHI||$4,900||$5,600||22.25|
|Samaje Perine||RB||CIN||@ KC||$4,500||$5,300||23.5|
|JaMarr Chase||WR||CIN||@ KC||$7,600||$8,600||23.5|
|A.J. Brown||WR||PHI||vs SF||$7,000||$8,000||24.25|
|DeVonta Smith||WR||PHI||vs SF||$6,800||$7,700||24.25|
|Deebo Samuel||WR||SF||@ PHI||$5,700||$7,000||22.25|
|Tee Higgins||WR||CIN||@ KC||$5,400||$6,700||23.5|
|JuJu Smith-Schuster||WR||KC||vs CIN||$4,700||$6,100||24.5|
|Brandon Aiyuk||WR||SF||@ PHI||$4,400||$6,000||22.25|
|Tyler Boyd||WR||CIN||@ KC||$3,800||$5,300||23.5|
|Kadarius Toney||WR||KC||vs CIN||$3,700||$5,600||24.5|
|Marquez Valdes-Scantling||WR||KC||vs CIN||$3,600||$5,100||24.5|
|Quez Watkins||WR||PHI||vs SF||$3,100||$4,800||24.25|
|Travis Kelce||TE||KC||vs CIN||$7,800||$8,500||24.5|
|George Kittle||TE||SF||@ PHI||$5,200||$6,800||22.25|
|Dallas Goedert||TE||PHI||vs SF||$4,100||$6,400||24.25|
WATCH: Finding a DFS Big Play Option From 49ers
This weekend’s main slate lasts two days, so late swapping will benefit those who utilize players from Sunday’s games. I have a Divisional Coverage primer that you should look at because this piece will reference a lot of data from that piece. There are many ways to get unique on this week’s main slate and leverage spots at certain price ranges. I will be looking to flip the script with some of my builds based on the popularity of the expensive quarterbacks.
We also have Rostership Data for FREE, which can be found HERE.
Stack: QB Jalen Hurts, WR DeVonta Smith, TE Dallas Goedert
The week of rest couldn’t have been more important to any playoff team with Hurts’ shoulder injury. A fully healthy Jalen Hurts can put up big numbers against the Giants, and there’s a blueprint to put up big numbers on them. Dallas Goedert has to watch the film of T.J. Hockenson and Mark Andrews and be ready to win in man-coverage situations.
A.J. Brown is the No. 1 receiver in the NFL against man coverage. However, Martindale has his former Titans teammate in Adoree’ Jackson, and I think they will have a good game plan for this matchup. DeVonta Smith is also a top wide receiver against man coverage, and I think being looked at as a second option in this game will allow him to work freely. I don’t believe I want to run it back in this game because of how good this Eagles’ defense is and how the Giants can utilize multiple wide receivers.
Stack: QB Trevor Lawrence, WR Christian Kirk, WR Zay Jones
Runback: TE Travis Kelce
The Jaguars-Chiefs game features the highest point total on the entire slate, and Trevor Lawrence isn’t projected to be one of the most popular quarterbacks on the slate. When Lawrence gets man coverage, who he targets has been relatively consistent week-to-week, and it’s Christian Kirk and Zay Jones. Since Week 10, Lawrence saw a high man coverage rate against the Chiefs, Lions, Titans, and Cowboys. During that span of weeks, Kirk had a 33.3% target share, with Jones at 29.6%, and with the game flow, I believe it’s the spot for the Jaguars to find success. The Chiefs are one of three teams to give up 20 or more touchdowns to wide receivers this year, and these two wide receivers combine for a 55.8% target share.
Travis Kelce has had 90 yards receiving in six straight playoff matchups and has scored in five of the last six games. All of these team’s games planned to slow down Kelce and couldn’t find any success, and I don’t expect that to change here. The Chiefs have a wide receiver rotation that I don’t plan on trying to guess in tournaments because I think the number of players they utilize will limit the upside of breaking the slate with the value at wide receiver this week. Kadarius Toney is the one Chiefs wide receiver I would bet on, and if Clyde Edwards-Helaire is activated, I have no interest in this running back room.
I’m not single stacking this week.
WR Tee Higgins, WR Gabriel Davis
Greg Jennings believes we could see Tre’Davious White shadow with Ja’Marr Chase, and with three starting offensive linemen, I think Joe Burrow throws Tee Higgins’ way in contested coverage. Higgins has been the best player against Cover 3 coverage, and with the Bills’ struggles against the run, I think we see plenty of that coverage for Higgins to exploit.
Gabriel Davis will get Eli Apple in this matchup, and Stefon Diggs will deal with bracketed coverages. Davis has to win in his matchup against the Bills for this offense to find success and score points. Last weekend, Demarcus Robinson was able to win deep on Apple, and Davis will have plenty of film on the matchup to be able to replicate that double move.
RB Christian McCaffrey, WR Brandon Aiyuk, WR CeeDee Lamb
Christian McCaffrey is a chess piece that Dan Quinn has not seen Kyle Shanahan have on his board before, and he will need to get going if they want to slow down the pass rush. Mike Martz believes that the Cowboys are weak in their interior defensive line and that McCaffrey can exploit that area of the field.
Brandon Aiyuk is a lethal route runner and the 49ers’ pass catcher that can get the job done down the field against the Cowboys’ secondary. Aiyuk is the down-the-field threat with Brock Purdy, and I believe he will continue that trend in this matchup.
The Cowboys should be looking at the Davante Adams film against the 49ers and getting every bit of the route combinations he ran for CeeDee Lamb to get free against the 49ers. The 49ers’ weakest point is the slot, and Lamb will frequently align in that area. The 49ers’ primary coverages also bode well for Lamb because he has a high target rate against them, with Dak Prescott as the starter.
Divisional Round DFS Player Pool
|Player||Pos||Team||Opp||DK Salary||FD Salary||VegasPts|
|Jalen Hurts||QB||PHI||vs NYG||$7,600||$9,000||27.5|
|Trevor Lawrence||QB||JAC||@ KC||$6,000||$7,600||22.5|
|Christian McCaffrey||RB||SF||vs DAL||$8,000||$9,200||25|
|Saquon Barkley||RB||NYG||@ PHI||$7,900||$8,500||20.5|
|Joe Mixon||RB||CIN||@ BUF||$6,500||$7,700||21.75|
|Travis Etienne||RB||JAC||@ KC||$6,400||$6,800||22.5|
|Tony Pollard||RB||DAL||@ SF||$6,100||$7,100||21|
|Jerick McKinnon||RB||KC||vs JAC||$6,000||$7,000||30.5|
|Miles Sanders||RB||PHI||vs NYG||$5,700||$7,200||27.5|
|James Cook||RB||BUF||vs CIN||$4,800||$5,800||26.75|
|Eli Mitchell||RB||SF||vs DAL||$4,700||$5,400||25|
|A.J. Brown||WR||PHI||vs NYG||$7,600||$8,300||27.5|
|CeeDee Lamb||WR||DAL||@ SF||$7,300||$7,800||21|
|DeVonta Smith||WR||PHI||vs NYG||$7,200||$7,400||27.5|
|Christian Kirk||WR||JAC||@ KC||$6,000||$7,600||22.5|
|Deebo Samuel||WR||SF||vs DAL||$5,900||$7,100||25|
|Tee Higgins||WR||CIN||@ BUF||$5,800||$7,000||21.75|
|Brandon Aiyuk||WR||SF||vs DAL||$5,000||$6,500||25|
|Gabriel Davis||WR||BUF||vs CIN||$4,800||$6,600||26.75|
|Zay Jones||WR||JAC||@ KC||$4,700||$6,500||22.5|
|Kadarius Toney||WR||KC||vs JAC||$4,100||$5,800||30.5|
|Michael Gallup||WR||DAL||@ SF||$3,800||$5,700||21|
|Isaiah McKenzie||WR||BUF||vs CIN||$3,300||$5,100||26.75|
|T.Y. Hilton||WR||DAL||@ SF||$3,200||$5,000||21|
|Travis Kelce||TE||KC||vs JAC||$7,700||$8,000||30.5|
|George Kittle||TE||SF||vs DAL||$5,700||$7,100||25|
|Dallas Goedert||TE||PHI||vs NYG||$4,500||$6,300||27.5|
|Dalton Schultz||TE||DAL||@ SF||$4,200||$6,400||21|
|Hayden Hurst||TE||CIN||@ BUF||$3,200||$5,000||21.75|
WATCH: Best Divisional Round Sleepers, Values
Opening Spread: Eagles -7
Opening Game Total: 48
Opening Team Totals: Eagles (27.5) Giants (20.5)
Weather: Outdoors, no current concerns
The Line Report
- This line opened as Eagles -7
- This line has moved to Eagles -7.5
- This total opened at 48-points
- This total has moved to 47.5-points
Eagles: Questionable: RT Lane Johnson, Edge Brandon Graham, Edge Robert Quinn
Giants: Questionable: WR Isaiah Hodgins, Edge Azeez Ojulari, LB Landon Collins, CB Fabian Moreau, S Julian Love
Eagles Offense vs. Giants Defense
At full strength, the Eagles have a top-five-level offensive line. If elite right tackle Lane Johnson misses this contest, Philadelphia is more of a fringe top-10 offensive line. I have the Giants defensive front as a top-10 unit. The Giants’ defensive front has enough ceiling to derail a game, but it also has been inconsistent this year. Overall, I’m treating this trench matchup as a relative draw where Johnson’s availability will have a notable impact.
Betting Notes Per TruMedia
- The Eagles are 8-9 against the spread this season
- Philadelphia is 10-7 on overs this season
- Jalen Hurts is 17-16-1 against the spread in his career
- Hurts is 20-14 on overs in his career
- Nick Sirianni is 16-17-1 against the spread in his NFL head coaching career
- Sirianni is 20-14 on overs in his NFL head coaching career
- Philadelphia scores 28.1 points per game, good for third in the league
- Hurts is ninth in the league in yards passing per game and fifth in yards rushing
- The Eagles are passing on 56% of plays and running on 44%, per Sports Info Solutions
- Per the Edge, Hurts is fourth among quarterbacks in yards rushing (760) and second among all runners in rushing touchdowns (13) despite missing two games
- Miles Sanders is fifth in the league in yards rushing with 1,269 and eighth in rushing touchdowns with 11
- A.J. Brown is 12th in the league in receptions (88), fourth in yards receiving (1,496), tied for third in receiving touchdowns (11), eighth in target share (28.7%), and seventh in air yards share (39.4%)
- DeVonta Smith is 10th in the league in receptions (95), ninth in yards receiving (1,196), tied for 15th in receiving touchdowns (7), and 15th in target share (26.9%) with a 30.2% air yards share
- Despite missing five games, Dallas Goedert was 12th among tight ends in receptions (55), seventh in yards receiving (702), 19th in touchdowns (3), seventh in target share (19.4%) and 13th in air yards share (15%)
- Per TruMedia, Brown has played 647 snaps on the perimeter and 287 in the slot
- Brown is sixth in the league in yards after the catch, and he’s third among non-running backs
- Smith has played 789 snaps on the perimeter and 222 in the slot
- Goedert has played 412 snaps as an inline tight end, 63 on the perimeter and 195 in the slot
- New York allows 21.8 points per game, which is 17th in the league
- The Giants are 13th in the league in sacks, second in forced fumbles, and 31st in interceptions
- Per The Edge, New York allows the fourth-most yards rushing per game and the third-fewest yards receiving per game to running backs
- The Giants gave up the 16th-most yards receiving per game to wide receivers this year
- New York gave up the seventh-most PPR points per game to perimeter receivers
- The Giants allowed the 10th-most yards receiving per game to tight ends this season
- New York has allowed the sixth-most PPR points per game to inline tight ends
Giants Offense vs. Eagles Defense
I’d argue the Giants’ offensive line is coming off its best game of the season against a formidable Vikings front. That outcome, in that high-pressure spot, has me bumping the Giants up toward the back of league average. The Eagles have a top-five defensive front, with the most defensive line depth by a considerable margin. The Eagles’ defensive front has a moderate to significant advantage against the Giants.
Betting Notes Per TruMedia
- The Giants are 13-4 against the spread this season
- New York is 7-10 on overs this season
- Daniel Jones is 31-22 against the spread in his career
- Jones is 21-30-2 on overs in his career
- Brian Daboll is 13-4 against the spread in his NFL head coaching career
- Daboll is 7-10 on overs in his NFL head coaching career
- New York scores 21.5 points per game, which is 15th in the league
- The Giants are 27th in the league in yards passing per game and fourth in yards rushing
- New York passes on 59% of plays and runs on 41%, per Sports Info Solutions
- Per The Edge, Jones finished the season with 708 yards rushing, which is fifth among quarterbacks
- Jones had fewer than 200 yards passing in 11 of 16 games this season, but he breached 300 yards passing against the Vikings a few weeks ago
- Saquon Barkley is fourth in the league in yards rushing with 1,312, and he’s 14th among running backs in yards receiving (338)
- Darius Slayton led the Giants in yards receiving with 724, but he’s been held below 50 in three of his past four games
- Richie James has at least seven targets and 60 yards receiving in three of his past four games, which includes 90 yards against the Vikings
- Isaiah Hodgins had an 8-89-1 line on 12 targets against the Vikings a few weeks ago
- Daniel Bellinger has 40 or more yards receiving in just two of his 11 games
- Per TruMedia, Slayton has played 473 snaps on the perimeter and 186 in the slot
- Hodgins has played 354 snaps on the perimeter and 57 in the slot
- James has played 85 snaps on the perimeter and 404 in the slot
>> Read: Daniel Jones Is New York’s Future
- Philadelphia has allowed 20.2 points per game, which is eighth in the league
- The Eagles led the league in sacks, were seventh in forced fumbles and fourth in interceptions
- Per The Edge, Philadelphia allowed the 22nd-most yards rushing and the 20th-most yards receiving per game to running backs
- The Eagles gave up the fourth-fewest yards receiving per game to wide receivers this year
- Philadelphia allowed the 19th-most yards receiving per game to tight ends this season
This Is What You’re Betting On
The Eagles are the NFC’s top seed, so they are coming off their bye. The Giants went into Minnesota and upset the Vikings in the Wild Card round. The Eagles beat the Giants, 48-22, in Week 14 and 22-16 in Week 18 against New York’s backups. The Eagles underwhelmed in the regular season finale, but the game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate. The Eagles were in control the whole way.
#Eagles QB Jalen Hurts is off the injury report and fully cleared from his shoulder injury as Philadelphia starts preparation for Saturday's game vs. the New York Giants.
— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) January 17, 2023
If You’re Betting on the Eagles
The Eagles have the most talented roster in the league with top-five lines on both sides of the ball, a top-10 secondary, one of the league’s best wide receiver duos, a top-10 tight end, and a running back that was fifth in the league in rushing. Then you have Hurts, who oddsmakers had as the MVP favorite before a shoulder injury cost him two games down the stretch.
The Eagles have the raw materials to beat anyone, and they have a significantly more talented roster than the Giants. The Eagles can realistically exceed expectations on the ground, in the air and with their defense in this matchup. If you’re betting on the Eagles, Philadelphia’s talent edge in virtually every position group matchup is what you’re building that bet around.
You have a few concerns as an Eagles bettor. The first is Philadelphia’s ability to win with distance will be greatly reduced if Hurts has an average or worse game. Since Hurts has only played once during the last month, that type of outcome is on the table. The status of Johnson is important, as the Eagles have been a less reliable offense without him.
Philadelphia also stumbled down the stretch with a genuinely concerning home loss to the Saints in Week 17. While Gardner Minshew was the Eagles’ quarterback for that contest, if Philadelphia plays like that against the Giants, they’ll lose. You also should have some concerns about the Giants themselves. They are a well-coached team that has exceeded expectations all season, and they are playing with house money. The pressure is clearly on Philadelphia in this contest, while New York has nothing to lose.
If You’re Betting on the Giants
Jones couldn’t have played better than he did in Minnesota last week, but he hasn’t had many spike games as a passer in his young career. When he has, those have generally come against below-average pass defenses that allow consistent separation while achieving limited disruption. To phrase that another way, ideal conditions for a quarterback.
The Giants offensive line played an outstanding game last week, and the Vikings’ secondary left the Giants’ pass catchers abnormally wide-open. While Jones is getting a tremendous amount of praise this week, and he’s earned it, his performance as a passer against the Vikings is just as much about Minnesota’s defensive failures as it is his successes.
If you’re betting on the Giants, Jones’ needle is pointing up, but expect the Eagles’ defense to be more disruptive while forcing much tighter windows than the Vikings did. The Giants are well coached, but an offensive explosion against the Eagles is an outlier outcome.
Most of the Giants’ wins this season have come behind strong defensive efforts paired with Jones playing turnover-free football. That’s been the Giants’ formula all year, and that’s the most likely path to a close game in this matchup. That type of outcome is more likely now than it would have been a month ago considering the Eagles’ late-season struggles.
You have two major concerns as a Giants bettor. The first is if Hurts comes out hot and aggressive early in this game. That’s a major problem for New York. The second is if the Eagles’ defense has the raw materials to dominate this game in the trenches while forcing tight windows against the Giants’ below-average wide receivers. If both of those conditions happen, this game could be a blowout like the first matchup between these two teams.
Score Prediction: Eagles 27, Giants 16
Ryan’s Recent Betting Record
TS 2021: 49-31
ATS 2022: 48-32
Props 2022: 60-40
WATCH: Jones, Daboll Match Made in Heaven
It was late in the second quarter of the Philadelphia Eagles’ 29-21 Week 4 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The game was tied, 14-14, and the Eagles had a fourth-and-1 at the Jacksonville 12-yard line.
The fact that coach Nick Sirianni decided to go for it rather than let Jake Elliott kick a “gimme” go-ahead field goal wasn’t a surprise. Sirianni is one of the league’s more aggressive coaches, and his team had the fourth most fourth-down attempts (32) in the league this season.
The fact that they ran a quarterback sneak with Jalen Hurts on the fourth-and-1 wasn’t a surprise either. Hurts is a quarterback in a fullback’s body with a fullback’s strength.
However, what caught everyone’s attention was the assist Hurts got from tight end Dallas Goedert on the play. Goedert lined up on the right side in a three-tight end set, then came in motion across the formation. Just as the ball was snapped, he cut toward Hurts, put his hands on the quarterback’s butt, and pushed him forward for a 2-yard gain and a first down. Two plays later, running back Kenny Gainwell scored on a 10-yard run up the middle.
The first reaction of many people watching the play was, Can he do that? The answer was yes. Yes, he can.
Pushing the runner to advance him forward has been legal in the NFL since 2005 and the college game since 2013.
“Until they say that we can’t do it, it’s legal [and we’re going to keep doing it],” Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen said. “We’re always going to do everything we can to put our guys in a position to succeed.”
Legal Play Since 2005
Until Steichen and Sirianni turned the Tush Push into an art form this season, teams didn’t really take advantage of the ’05 rule change. Occasionally, you’d see a running back give the quarterback a little nudge on a sneak or an offensive lineman give a runner a helpful shove forward downfield if defenders were holding him up and the whistle hadn’t blown. But that was about it.
Most teams, fearful of their quarterback getting hurt, weren’t even running sneaks on short-yardage and goal-line situations. In the four years from 2017 through 2020, just 13 teams ran 10 or more quarterback sneaks in a season, according to data provided to The 33rd Team by Sports Info Solutions. Only one of those 11 – the 2020 Patriots – ran more than 15 (22).
“Until they say that we can’t do it, it’s legal [and we’re going to keep doing it]. We’re always going to do everything we can to put our guys in a position to succeed.” — Shane Steichen
Last year, the number of teams that ran 10-plus quarterback sneaks increased to 10, though none ran more than 19 (Patriots again). This year, it has risen to 12, including five teams with more than 15.
No one has run more sneaks this season than the Eagles, who have attempted a league-high 33, which is the most by an NFL team since at least 1990. The Browns are a distant second with 20.
Hurts, who has run 31 of those 33 sneaks (backup quarterback Gardner Minshew ran the other two), has converted all but three of them.
The 12 teams to run 10-plus quarterback sneaks this season:
“It’s been a successful play for us,” said Steichen. “Our guys are really good at operating the play.”
“We really just trust those guys in that scenario,” Sirianni told reporters. “The confidence starts with those three guys up front (center Jason Kelce and guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo. Then it’s the quarterback and then there are a lot of different elements to it. So, we have a lot of confidence in that play.”
Primarily because of Kelce, a five-time first-team All-Pro, the Eagles have been good at quarterback sneaks for quite a while now. They were 11-for-11 on sneaks in 2017 when they won the Super Bowl, converting 8 of 9 in 2018, 13 of 15 in 2019 and 10 of 13 in 2020.
“Kelce’s usually lining up across from guys that are 320, 330, 340,” said former Eagles wide receiver Mike Quick, the team’s longtime radio analyst. “He’s maybe 290. But it’s about technique. It’s about quickness. It’s about leverage. It’s about getting off the snap and taking the fight to them before they can take it to you. If he’s quicker on the punch than the defensive guy and he’s in a good leverage position, that’s where he wins.”
“Let’s not underestimate Kelce’s lower-body strength,” said Marty Mornhinweg, an analyst for The 33rd Team who was an offensive coordinator with four different teams, including the Eagles, and worked with Hurts in 2020 as a senior offensive consultant for Sirianni. “There’s a couple of things that come into play with that lower-body strength – leverage and angles. Kelce is really, really smart that way. He will use leverage and angles to get a little bit of movement there.”
“It’s about quickness. It’s about leverage. It’s about getting off the snap and taking the fight to them before they can take it to you.” — Mike Quick
Hurts also has unusual lower-body strength for a quarterback. The guy can squat more than 600 pounds. Last year, his first full year as the starter, the Eagles converted 13 of 14 quarterback sneaks, including 11 of 12 by Hurts. This year, with the incorporation of the Tush Push, they’ve been next to unstoppable in and-one situations.
Last year, the Eagles had 33 and-one plays on third and fourth downs. They ran the ball on 29 of them, but only nine (31.0%) were by Hurts. This year, they’ve had 45 and-ones on third and fourth downs. They’ve run the ball on 42 of them. Twenty-nine of those 42 runs (69.0%) have been by Hurts.
In their 20-17 Week 5 win over the Arizona Cardinals, Hurts, whose 67 rushing first downs were the third most in the league this season behind only the Raiders’ Josh Jacobs (93) and the Browns’ Nick Chubb (69), ran a season-high seven quarterback sneaks. He converted six of them. On every one of them, he got a little help from his friends.
A couple of times, it was Goedert, either lining up a couple of feet behind him or going in motion first and then pushing him forward as he did against Jacksonville. Several other times, the Eagles lined up in an elongated “I” formation, with one of their running backs and two of their wide receivers lined up behind Hurts. At the snap, the running back pushed the quarterback, while the wideouts were responsible for cutting off any unblocked penetration off the edges.
A Copycat League
“My first thought after I saw Nick do it early in the year was, why isn’t everybody doing this?” said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who spent 11 years in the league as an offensive lineman. “I put it on one of my (Twitter) breakdowns and said, why isn’t every team doing this in short-yardage and goal-line? All these teams that can’t gain a stinking yard when they need a yard just do what the Eagles are doing. It’s out there for everybody to do.”
That’s exactly what happened. The NFL is a copycat league. Since the Eagles’ early success with the Tush Push, almost every team has used it to a certain degree. Why it took 17 years for it to happen is anybody’s guess.
“I think the reason nobody has really been doing it before this is because it feels illegal,” said Charles Davis, an analyst for The 33rd Team and NFL broadcasts on CBS. “Middle of the night, you keep the notepad close to the bed in case an idea hits you. You wake up and say, ‘Oh, I’ve got it.’ Then you go, ‘No, we can’t do that. It’s illegal,’ and go back to sleep. Then you find out it’s legal, and you’re like, ‘Are you sure?’
“Personally, I want it to be illegal. I don’t like it. I don’t like the idea that you can run behind your guy and push him. I want to see the whole thing outlawed. I know I sound like one of those get-off-my-lawn people. But it just doesn’t seem right to me. I mean, why don’t we just go back to Pudge Heffelfinger and put straps on the quarterback and throw him over the line of scrimmage like they did back in the good old days? But give the Eagles credit. I may not like it, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t run it. It’s on the books. It’s legal. And they’re very successful with it.”
Mornhinweg said he would occasionally tell his running back to give his quarterback a little nudge on sneaks if the opportunity arose. But he never spent practice time on it like the Eagles do.
“I didn’t emphasize it a ton,” he said. “But if there was a running back behind the quarterback, I’d tell him to put his right shoulder on the quarterback’s left buttocks and give him a little help if he could.
“The key is to allow the quarterback to make his decision first. Let him get his momentum going. Then help the ball carrier move forward.”
“Just a pure quarterback sneak, I don’t know that we’re going to see it anymore. Until the rule gets changed — if it gets changed. I’ll be the one leading the charge to get it changed.” — Charles Davis
Mornhinweg said many teams were reluctant to use their quarterback on sneaks for fear of getting him hurt.
“If a quarterback was banged up – ribs, shoulder, that kind of thing – we probably weren’t going to sneak it unless it was a game-winning situation,” Mornhinweg said.
The Eagles weren’t at all reluctant to use Hurts on a quarterback sneak in their final regular-season game against the Giants, even though he was playing with a sprained shoulder. And after going 1-for-5 in the red zone in that game, they likely won’t be reluctant to let Hurts run or sneak on Saturday when the two teams meet for the third time this season in the divisional round of the playoffs.
“It’s been pretty impressive,” Davis said. “What they’ve done, they’ve almost made [the sneak] automatic. And they do it with various counters to everything they’ve done. They’ll say, ‘OK, we did it this way the last time. Now, we’re going to slide Hurts through the guard and tackle gap.’ They read things. They do things. And now, everybody is picking up on it and doing it too.
“Teams are putting the tight end in motion and having him jump in behind center and take the snap. They’re bringing other people around and having them come behind the quarterback and give him a push like the Eagles have been doing.
“I’d be surprised if, out of the next 100 quarterback sneaks, 99 of them don’t have some form of someone pushing the quarterback. Just a pure quarterback sneak, I don’t know that we’re going to see it anymore. Until the rule gets changed — if it gets changed. I’ll be the one leading the charge to get it changed. But I don’t know if anyone’s listening to me.”
The Tush Push has created enough of a stir that it will almost certainly be discussed at the March owners meeting. But whether there’s enough sentiment around the league to outlaw it, given how popular it’s become, remains to be seen.
“When I first saw it, it looked like something from a rugby playbook where you get into a big scrum and start pushing people forward,” Quick said. “Or something we did when we played in the playground as kids.
“But until they change the rules, you have to take advantage of the rules as they are. If you’re not doing that, you’re not giving yourself the best chance to win. And the rules state that you can … tush-push. As long as it’s successful and legal, they should continue to tush-push.”
Paul Domowitch covered the Eagles and the NFL for the Philadelphia Inquirer for four decades. You can follow him on Twitter at @pdomo.