Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season is finally here, and we’re excited to share data-driven advice for NFL pick’em contests and office pools with all of you Fantasy Footballers fanatics.

If you’re into fantasy football, odds are you’re also playing in an NFL office pool or two. That’s where we come in. We’ve been studying football pool strategy for the better part of a decade, and last year 80% of our subscribers reported winning a prize in a football pick’em.

In this post, we’re going to identify some of the top value picking opportunities in NFL pick’em pools each week. Of course, trying to pick lots of winners in your NFL pool every week is important — but maximizing your edge requires a higher level of thinking.

To win more pick’em pools, you need to identify the best opportunities to gain ground on your opponents and avoid making trendy upset picks that simply aren’t worth the risk. Our two-part series on NFL office pool strategy explains why in more detail.

Without further ado, let’s get to the Week 1 pick analysis.


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Good & Bad Week 1 Value Picks In Pools

To illustrate how to pick for value, we’re going to highlight three different pairs of 2019 Week 1 games and a bonus toss-up game. These pairs of games all feature teams favored to win by a very similar margin, but one of them offers a better relative reward for getting it right.

Keep in mind that we are not recommending that you make all of the picks below — the upset picks especially. The best Week 1 picks for your specific NFL pool depend on a number of different dynamics, such as your pool’s size, rules, payouts, and scoring system.

(Our Football Pick’em Picks product recommends picks for you based on all those factors.)

Note: Win odds and estimated national pick popularity data below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.

New England (vs. Pittsburgh) OR Cleveland (vs. Tennessee) 

The New England Patriots are coming off winning a Super Bowl, again. The Cleveland Browns are coming off not winning the Super Bowl, again, for the 53rd straight season, and not having a winning season for the last 11 years in a row.

Given their histories, you might think that the Patriots would be the team that the public would tend to overvalue in pick’em pools in Week 1. You would be wrong.

New England and Cleveland, both playing at home, come into the week as solid favorites. On Tuesday, the Patriots were favored by 6 points over the Steelers. The Browns are a 5.5-point favorite over Tennessee. Our model’s win odds for both teams sit at just under 70%. 

Yet the public is picking Cleveland to win 92% of the time, compared to 84% for New England. That may not sound like a huge difference but think of it this way: the public is twice as likely to be picking Pittsburgh (16%) to pull off the upset as Tennessee (8%).

Getty Images / Aaron Ontiveroz

It’s always hard to divine exactly what the public is thinking in these cases. Pittsburgh is a popular team, and Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have a better offense than the Titans, the underdog in the other matchup. But it’s not like the Titans are a bunch of bums, either; they’ve finished with a winning record the last two seasons. 

We are entering a brave new world in 2019. The Cleveland Browns are getting more hype than the previous year’s Super Bowl champs. In season-long pools especially, both of these teams are heavy enough favorites that from a risk standpoint, it’s probably unwise to pick against either of them. But a New England win will give you more of a boost in your pool standings.

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Chicago (vs. Green Bay) OR Kansas City (at Jacksonville)

Mahomes Mania returns to the gridiron in 2019 and NFL pick’em pool players are clearly excited. Kansas City is being picked by a whopping 94% of the public to beat Jacksonville, an extreme level of popularity normally reserved for favorites of a touchdown or more.

Yet the Chiefs are only a 3.5-point favorite, with less than 64% win odds according to both the betting markets and our models.

Do you know who else is a 3.5-point favorite this week? Chicago, playing at home against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on opening night. But compared to the Chiefs, the Bears are only being picked by 72% of the public.

Do the quick math, and from an upset pick perspective, Green Bay (28%) is being picked nearly five times more frequently than Jacksonville (6%). That doesn’t make any sense.

Green Bay and Jacksonville are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Packers revolve around the offense of Aaron Rodgers, and the hope that he regains his stature as one of the best QBs in the game with a new head coach and offensive system. Green Bay had also dominated this series until last year when the Bears won the second matchup and had a big lead before Rodgers’ heroics in Week 1 a year ago. Before last season, though, the Packers had won 12 of the last 14 head-to-head matchups. 

Jacksonville, meanwhile, has boasted a strong defense but was previously anchored down by having Blake Bortles at quarterback. In fact, last year’s Jags-Chiefs game was a microcosm of Jacksonville’s recent issues. Kansas City won 30-14 thanks to four Bortles’ interceptions, but the Jags defense didn’t yield a single touchdown pass to Mahomes. Jacksonville was the only team to accomplish that feat in 2019. And this year, they have a better QB in Nick Foles, and they have home-field advantage.

Add it all up, and Kansas City is no more likely than Chicago to emerge from Week 1 with a win. Given the relative pick popularity of these two similarly risky teams, the case is strong to make an educated gamble either on Chicago (e.g., potentially bump up the confidence points you assign to them) or against Kansas City (the opposite in terms of confidence points, or even potentially go for the Jacksonville upset in some formats like single-week pools that reward more pick differentiation.)

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Los Angeles Rams (at Carolina) OR Detroit (at Arizona)

The Rams went all the way up to the Super Bowl. The Cardinals went all the way down to the first overall pick in this year’s draft.

LA begins its defense of the NFC Championship by having to go on the road to Carolina, while Detroit travels to face new Arizona head coach Kliff Kingsbury and quarterback Kyler Murray. Both road teams are slight favorites (Rams by 3 points, Lions by 2.5 points) with a chance to win that is practically equal, but the public perception of the favored teams is far different.

The Rams are being picked by 87% of pick’em pool entries nationwide, while the Lions are only being selected by 56% of entries. Based on Vegas odds, that makes the Detroit what we like to call a “value favorite” — a favored team that has higher win odds than pick popularity. In fact, Detroit is the only value favorite on the entire Week 1 slate. (Most of the time, the public overrates favorites and picks them at a higher rate than their actual chance of winning.)

It’s easy to see why the Rams are such a popular pick here. They played in the Super Bowl and Carolina collapsed down the stretch, losing seven of its last eight games. Cam Newton playing with a bad shoulder played a big part in that decline, though, and he appears healthier (though not perfectly healthy) to start this season.  

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

But the Lions, who wants to trust the Lions? Their past mediocrity is apparently no match for the Cardinals preseason hype train. But make no mistake, Arizona still isn’t expected to be a great team this year (our average season simulation projection was 5.4 wins), and the Cardinals are also playing without both starting cornerbacks.

Again, two similarly risky favorites, but a Detroit win gains you points on nearly half your pool, while a Los Angeles Rams win only separates you from 13% of your opponents. If you’ve got the inkling to make an upset gamble on either of these games, Carolina offers a far better risk vs. reward profile than Arizona.

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Bonus Toss-Up Game: Denver OR Oakland

In 2018 the Raiders finished with the NFL’s second-worst record and were dead last in the NFL in points allowed per game. But after some offseason moves like adding WR Antonio Brown, the betting markets (and our 2019 preseason NFL predictions) expect Oakland to improve this year.

Perhaps because of that optimism, around two-thirds of the public is picking the Raiders to win their season opener at home against the Denver Broncos.

Our models disagree, making Denver the slight favorite to win this contest. And the game was an even Pick’em in the betting markets at post time, with the point spread moving significantly in Denver’s favor after opening with the Raiders favored by 2.5 points. 

Denver will be playing its first game under head coach Vic Fangio, so perhaps the public anticipates a slow start for the Broncos. Alternatively, a lot of pick’em players may not realize how much the betting line has moved in Denver’s favor.

In a coin flip game, though, if the public is heavily skewed toward one team, the less popular team like Denver is typically the smarter play. You usually need to catch some luck in these 50/50 games to win an NFL pool, and when you get it, you want to maximize the upside.

Which Of These NFL Week 1 Picks Should You Make?

Once you know the best value opportunities of Week 1, you can increase your odds to win your pool by making educated gambles on them. Perhaps you bump up the number of confidence points you assign to a solid value pick like Denver, or maybe you take even more risk on an upset pick like Jacksonville or Carolina.

There are a lot of potential decisions to make, though, and not all of them will make sense for your specific pool. Things like pool size, scoring system, prize structure, and even your current position in the pool standings all weigh in. It takes a lot of data and math to get to the right answer.

Fortunately, we’ve built technology to do all the heavy lifting. Our Football Pick’em Picks product recommends the best weekly picks for your pool based on all the strategic factors that matter. You answer a few quick questions about your pool, and it constructs and presents the weekly pick sheet that will maximize your edge.

We invite you to give it (and all our other premium NFL tools) a try for free for Week 1. Good luck in your NFL pick’em contests and office pools this week!


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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