Week 1 Survivor Advice: Pros and Cons of Five Popular Picks

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The 2019 NFL season is finally here, and we’re excited to share advice for NFL survivor contests and office pools with all of Fantasy Footballers’ dedicated readership.

If you’re into fantasy football or DFS, odds are you may be in an NFL survivor pool as well. We’ve been studying survivor pool strategy for the better part of a decade, and over the last two years, our subscribers have reported winning over $1.5 million in survivor pool prizes.

In this post, we identify the pros and cons of five popular survivor picks for Week 1.

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The Data That Drives Survivor Pick Strategy

To maximize your edge in an NFL survivor contest, you need to consider more than just how safe a pick a team is. Rather, you need to consider three metrics about every team:

  • Win Odds
  • Pick Popularity
  • Future Value

Win odds are an obvious one. All else being equal, you want to pick the team with the best chance of advancing.

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Pick popularity represents the percentage of time each team is being selected in survivor pools nationwide. As a general rule, it’s better to pick a less popular team than a more popular team.

(Many survivor pool players do not fully appreciate the impact that pick popularity has on their chances to win a pool. They focus so much on getting the best chance to survive a week that they forget there is only one way to win a survivor pool: You need to get your pick right while your opponents pick another team and get it wrong.)

Finally, the future value needs to be considered. If you burn a team this week, you no longer have them available in the future. So all things being equal, you would rather use teams that don’t look like they will be good survivor picks in many (or any) future weeks.

To make the best Week 1 pick in your survivor pool, you have to consider the pros and cons of each possible pick along with all three of these dimensions.

Survivor Pool Pick Analysis For Week 1

Now let’s get to the Week 1 pick analysis.

What we are doing here is providing our thoughts on the five most popular Week 1 survivor picks. We estimate survivor pick popularity based on picking trends data from several popular survivor pool hosting sites.

To be clear, we’re not implying that any of these teams is the best pick for your pool. In fact, that’s the problem with pretty much every other survivor pick advice article out there: there is no such thing as a universally “best” survivor pick.

The best Week 1 pick for your survivor pool would almost certainly change based on factors like your pool’s size and rules like whether you are allowed strikes, or have to make double picks in a later week. Our NFL Survivor Picks product (which is free for Week 1) will give you our customized pick recommendations for your pool(s).

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If you’d rather make picks on your own, the analysis below should help you weigh the pros and cons of the picks you’re probably considering.

Note: Data referenced below was current as of Friday morning, and could change between posting time and kickoff time. Our product updates multiple times per day with the latest information.

Seattle Seahawks (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)

Survivor Pool Pick Popularity: 28% (No. 1)
Point Spread: -10

It’s not a huge surprise that Seattle is the most popular survivor pick in Week 1. Until betting lines recently moved in Philadelphia’s favor, the Seahawks (a 10-point favorite) were the most likely team to win this week, playing at home against a Bengals team coming off a disappointing season, adjusting to new head coach Zac Taylor, and playing without star receiver A.J. Green.

Pro: High odds of winning. Our models put Seattle’s win odds just shy of 80%, and they are one of the two best options for surviving the week.

Pro: Modest future value, but maybe not as high as you might think. If you do not use Seattle in Week 1, it might be a while before they would be a consideration again. The next week in which the Seahawks project so strongly isn’t until Week 16 (home vs. Arizona). And if you are playing in a smaller pool that is unlikely to last that long, it may not even matter.

Con: Highest pick popularity, though the 28% pick popularity is not necessarily a knockout criteria — just clearly the biggest drawback this week. But it’s always going to be harder to gain ground on the rest of your pool if you’re picking along with the crowd.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Washington Redskins)

Survivor Pick Popularity: 22% (No. 2)
Point Spread: -10

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The Eagles are expected to bounce back as a Super Bowl contender this season, with an average projection of 9.9 wins in our season simulations after finishing 9-7 a year ago. Carson Wentz is back in as starting quarterback, now more than a year removed from the knee injury that cost him the end of his 2017 season.

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Washington, meanwhile, has lowered expectations entering the season. Journeyman Case Keenum will start at quarterback over rookie Dwayne Haskins, the skill positions are far from settled, and OT Trent Williams is holding out.

Pro: High win probability. Our models have the Eagles with around an 80% chance of victory, right up there with Seattle. And by Vegas moneyline odds, the Eagles are the safest play. 

Con: High future value. The Eagles project as having the top win odds in Week 14 (vs. the Giants at home), and top-3 win odds in at least three more weeks (Week 3 against Detroit, Week 5 against the Jets, Week 13 at Miami). There may be viable alternatives to pick in several of those weeks, but with over 20% of survivor entries burning the Eagles in Week 1, it also increases the odds that Philadelphia will be a relatively safe yet unpopular pick in one of them, which is always a compelling scenario.

Baltimore Ravens (at Miami Dolphins)

Survivor Pick Popularity: 12% (No. 3)
Point Spread: -7.0

The Miami Dolphins seem to be in tank-for-the-future mode. They have traded away veterans like OT Laremy Tunsil for draft picks and will start 36-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. 

Baltimore, on the other hand, is handing the keys to young QB Lamar Jackson after he helped the Ravens make the playoffs a year ago. For an outside Super Bowl contender, the Ravens have made a lot of offseason changes, getting a lot younger at receiver and in the front seven, while adding veterans in RB Mark Ingram and S Earl Thomas.

Pro: Lower future value than the other most popular picks this week, including the Chargers. The main wildcard looks to be Week 2, when the Ravens should be the clear top favorite of the week when hosting Arizona, but could also be a very popular pick as a result. (New England and Kansas City project as the second and third most likely winners of Week 2, but both teams are playing on the road.) If Baltimore is hugely popular next week, it could be a positive expected value decision to avoid them.

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Con: Our models are more pessimistic than Vegas odds regarding Baltimore’s chance to win this game. Baltimore’s profile is very similar to the Chargers this week, but rising popularity and that the additional pessimism of our models holds them back a bit.

Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Indianapolis Colts)

Survivor Pick Popularity: 10% (No. 4)
Point Spread: -6.5

After the Andrew Luck retirement news, the LA Chargers (the No. 4 team in our preseason rankings) became a more popular pick. The line moved by 3-4 points in LA’s favor with the Colts change in quarterback to Jacoby Brissett, giving the Chargers around 72% win odds compared to somewhere between 77% and 80% for the Seahawks and Eagles.

Pro: A solid drop-in pick popularity from the week’s two most popular teams.

Con: High future value, especially in the next month. Like the Eagles, the Chargers have multiple weeks with “good survivor pick” level win odds early in the season, and the Chargers could be among the better survivor options in Week 4 (at Miami) and Week 5 (Denver). Then, there’s a bit of a lull in higher win odds games until Oakland in Week 16.

Con: Pick popularity is still decently high given that the Chargers aren’t one of the top couple teams most likely to win.

Dallas Cowboys (vs. New York Giants)

Survivor Pick Popularity: 6% (No. 5)
Point Spread: -7.5

Dallas’ popularity has risen slightly during the week, with the news of Ezekiel Elliott’s contract extension and return to the team on Wednesday. Their point spread has also seen a slight bump over the last two days as well.

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Whether the popularity continues to rise for the rest of the week is something to keep an eye on, as it will negatively impact the expected value of picking the Cowboys if it does.

Pro: Low pick popularity for one of the top favorites of the week. Dallas checks in as the fifth-most popular survivor pick this week, but the Cowboys’ 6% pick popularity is nearly half that of the next most popular pick, Baltimore.

Pro: Future value is modestly high, but not a huge issue. The Cowboys look like they will be the safest pick in Week 3, at home against Miami. But with the next-safest options that week likely to be New England and Philadelphia, Dallas could also be an extremely popular Week 3 pick. Then, starting in Week 4, Dallas’ schedule gets tougher for a while, and they don’t have a projected 70% win odds game until they host Buffalo in Week 13.

Con: You have to root for Jerry Jones’ team to start the year and your friends will not let you live down a Dallas loss if it were to happen. 

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Which Week 1 Pick Is The Best For Your Survivor Pool?

The teams above are the most popular picks this week, but that doesn’t mean one of them is the best pick for you. Every possible pick has an expected value and future value associated with it, and those values vary based on the specific characteristics of your pool.

We built our NFL Survivor Picks tool to do all of the number crunching for you. You answer a few questions about your pool’s size and rules, and it provides customized pick recommendations for your pool using the latest matchup data, betting market odds and public picking trends from national survivor pool sites.

The product even does a second layer of optimization if you are playing multiple survivor entries, recommending exactly how you should split a “portfolio” of survivor pool entries across one, two, or more teams. (Our product optimizes picks for up to 30 unique survivor pool entries.)

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Good luck in your survivor pools this week, and here’s to a skillful (and lucky) season of picking!

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Fantasy Footballers 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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