In our first article on NFL office pool strategy, we discussed the “Do’s” of smarter picking strategy in pick’em contests. Now, let’s dive into the “Don’ts.”

(The advice in this piece is just as big a reason why our Team Rankings subscribers won a prize in season-long NFL office pools over 4 times as often as expected last year.)


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DON’T: Ignore the Rules of Your NFL Pick’em Pool

As a smart fantasy football player, you would not draft the same way in a start-2-QBs league as you would in a standard league, and you wouldn’t have the same default draft order for running backs in PPR and non-PPR leagues.

Rules dictate strategy.

The same is true of NFL pick’em contests. Many rule variations exist for these games. You might have to pick college or pro games, or both. You may have to pick every NFL game every week or choose only a subset of games to pick, a common format for handicapping contests like the Westgate Las Vegas SuperContest. You might have to pick game-winners (“straight up”) or pick against the spread.

One of the most common rule variations is the use of “confidence points.” You assign a specific point value to each of your picks and get that number of points if your pick wins. 

These types of game formats all have their own twists when it comes to the optimal way to play. For example, in a spread-based pick’em contest, you need to be prepared for high variability. Compared to picking game-winners, an extreme result like going 5-0 or 0-5 in a given week is typically a far more likely possibility in a point spread based pool. And that fact has implications for how you should make picks if you’re trying to catch the pool leader or defend your own lead.

Let’s take a quick dive into another specific example: football pick’em pools that offer both weekly and end-of-season prizes.

DON’T: Confuse Weekly and Season Prize Strategy 

Most NFL pools offer prizes for the highest cumulative scores at the end of the season. Some pools also reward the top score(s) of each individual week. Even single-week contests exist.

As it turns out, the weekly vs. season prize structure of your pick’em pool can have a big impact on your optimal pick strategy.

You might be thinking, “But isn’t my goal in both yearly and weekly contests the same? Just make the best picks I can and try to pick the most winners?”

No, not necessarily. Remember that in an NFL pick’em pool, your goal is not to try to score a certain number of points. Your goal is to maximize your chance to get a higher score than all of your opponents, and that’s not exactly the same thing.

As it turns out, to win any one particular week in a pick’em pool, especially when you only need to pick 13 or 16 games, more extreme pick differentiation often pays off.

Shorter Contests

Think back to the Van Halen pool we described in our Part 1 article. Sammy’s risky strategy of picking all underdogs played best in the 400-person pool because it was a big pool and because it was a short, 3-game contest. Sammy’s entry was highly differentiated from his opponents, plus the chance of three underdogs winning was low but far from implausible.

In shorter contests, contrarian strategies don’t need as much luck to pay off as they do in contests that involve a much greater number of picks. A more boom-or-bust type of gambit can give you a clear edge to win the week.

Now when that strategy doesn’t win, it will usually bomb pretty badly. But that’s no big deal if you are playing in a series of one-week pools where you start fresh each week. In the best case, you’ll win a week or two or three, bomb out of the rest, and still earn a nice return overall.

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Longer Contests

A season-long pool has memory, though. Even just one week of making riskier picks that don’t pan out can significantly hurt your chances of winning an end-of-season prize.

So If your goal is to win a season prize, the better strategy is often to be more conservative, especially in the early weeks. Then, toward the end of the pool, you can reassess your position. If you find yourself significantly behind the leaders, you can then start to get more aggressive with your picks.

What about contests that offer both end-of-season and weekly prizes? Which one do you go for in that case?

The right answer takes some math, based on your expectations of how likely you are to win in each case, and how your pool’s prize pot is distributed between weekly and end-of-season prizes. There’s also the option of starting out chasing a season prize, but giving up and going all-in on weekly prizes if you fall significantly behind the season standings leaders.

DON’T: Let The Haters Get You Down

To play optimally in NFL pick’em pools, you need to have thick skin. Your strategy will often be mocked and criticized by inferior opponents, especially during the weeks and seasons in which it doesn’t happen to work out.

In these cases, never forget that you don’t win big by following the crowd. You wouldn’t be here reading this post as a member of the Foot Clan if Andy, Jason, and Mike did things exactly like everyone else in the fantasy football space.

In our experience, how the masses tend to mock optimal strategy cuts both ways. They’ll call you boring for picking all the favorites when it makes the most sense. They’ll call you crazy for making a high number of educated upset gambles in weekly prize pools.

What matters is being right, not being popular. So stay mentally strong and trust the process. Our subscribers have put these strategy concepts into practice in thousands of different real-world pools, and the results don’t lie.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this two-part series on football office pool strategy. Whether you go it on your own or enlist our help in your NFL pick’em contest this year, applying these strategy concepts to the best of your abilities should help improve your long term performance.

Good luck and have fun!

The TeamRankings Solution

Figuring out the weekly NFL pick’em pool picks that give you the best chance to win your pool isn’t easy. You certainly don’t have to give it a ton of thought, especially if you think it sucks all the fun out of the process.

But if you want to give yourself the best chance to win, well, you’re probably competing against some skilled players who understand and apply these advanced strategy concepts. There’s simply no way around the fact that maximizing your edge in an NFL office pool takes a lot of data and a lot of math.

Our solution was to build technology to do all the heavy lifting. Our Football Pick’em Picks product aggregates the data you need to evaluate both the risk and reward of every potential NFL pick. And based on data about your pool’s size, rules, and payout structure, it uses sophisticated algorithms to customize a complete list of weekly pick recommendations.


FantasyFootballers readers can get free premium access to TeamRankings for NFL Week 1, including all game predictions plus picks for your NFL survivor pools and pick’em contests: Get Free Week 1 Picks

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