After several years of success blogging about picks and strategy for football office pools, including taking first place in the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference NFL pick’em contest, in 2013 we decided to take things to the next level.
We released the world’s most sophisticated picks and analysis for football pools, now part of our expanded lineup of Office Pool Picks products. We spent a big chunk of the summer working on improvements to this product, and we’re excited to announce the latest developments.
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We spent the summer figuring out how to dominate football pick’ems and NFL survivor pools.
This post is going to explain what we did and why we did it.
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It’s the final week of the regular season, so you need to assess your position and act accordingly. If you’re not near the very top of your pool, you’re almost certainly not going to win it. If the contest awards weekly prizes, though, should try to maximize your odds of winning this week’s prize by rolling the dice with very aggressive, unpopular picks.
In smaller pools, if you’ve been using our Conservative game winner picks, you may be finding yourself around 5th place in a 100-person pool, or even better if you’re in a spread based pool. In that case, your pool’s prize structure is the most important factor at this point.
If you’re in position to win some money (or only 1-2 wins out of the money) and are happy with that, you should probably play it conservatively. In that case, you should look to pick teams that you think many of your close competitors will also pick, regardless of which team you think will win, in order to minimize opportunities for opponents to gain ground on you. Making a risky, unpopular pick isn’t a good way to defend a lead.
If you’re more than a few games behind the money positions then you need to take some risks. How much risk depends on how far out of the money you are, so feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer.
Where We Stand After Week 16
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 17. While the more aggressive strategies basically held their positions, our Conservative strategy dropped slightly, yet still continues to rank in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:
- Conservative: 95th percentile (-1.4 from last week)
- Aggressive: 87th percentile (+0.2)
- Very Aggressive: 81.5th percentile (-0.2)
The New Orleans Saints pass defense has truly struggled this season, allowing 7.7 yards per pass attempt. Only Tampa Bay was allowed more. Dallas, meanwhile, ranks 2nd in the NFL in pass attempts per game (41.3) and 11th in yards per pass attempt (7.1).
Dez Bryant has been the Cowboys top target with 10 touchdowns and over 1000 receiving yards. While Bryant does have a hand injury that will require surgery, he hauled in four catches for 59 yards and a touchdown playing through the pain last week.
This appears like an excellent matchup for the Dallas offense, and our models see the Cowboys as narrow favorites to win. Vegas, similarly, has made Dallas 1-point favorites. With only 40% of the public backing the Cowboys, taking Dallas in game winner pools provides a solid chance to gain ground on the public without picking a risky upset.
Where We Stand After Week 15
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 16. While the more aggressive strategies took slight hits in the standings, our Conservative strategy rose for the third week in a row. The Conservative pick set now ranks in the top 4% nationally on ESPN:
- Conservative: 96.4th percentile (+0.6 from last week)
- Aggressive: 86.8th percentile (-1.3)
- Very Aggressive: 81.7th percentile (-4.8)
The Rams, coming off a dramatic win at Buffalo last week, possess a defense that has performed quite well this season. In fact, St. Louis ranks 9th in the NFL in opponent yards/play with 5.2.
While Adrian Peterson has enjoyed an incredible bounce back year for the Vikings, his efforts have done little to overcome a passing game that ranks second to last in the NFL in yards/pass attempt with 5.6. Minnesota QB Christian Ponder, who has posted a passer rating over 70 just once in his last ten games, has particularly struggled.
Our models do see the game as a close matchup, but with two-thirds of the public picking Minnesota, it’s the best chance this week to gain ground on pool competitors without absorbing too much risk.
Where We Stand After Week 14
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 15. All three strategies enjoyed a fairly stable week in the standings, and our Conservative strategy continues to be a highlight, ranking in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:
- Conservative: 95.8st percentile (+0.7 from last week)
- Aggressive: 88.1st percentile (-0.2)
- Very Aggressive: 86.5th percentile (+1.7)
Note Friday 12/7, 4pm ET: The line for San Diego-Pittsburgh didn’t come in until after our picks locked, so you may notice that the pick/confidence looks off. The Steelers are 9.5-point favorites, and we’d recommend taking them to win, most likely with a high confidence. For the ATS pick, our models like San Diego as a toss-up pick to cover and 80%+ of Yahoo! users taking Pitt -9.5. Consequently, in most cases we’d recommend going with the Chargers in ATS pools since there seems to be a lot of value there.
Titans RB Chris Johnson is seven yards shy of 1,000 on the season, and has his highest yards/carry average (4.9) since 2009, which is good for 6th best in the NFL.
While Andrew Luck has helped the Colts exceed all reasonable expectations this year (we currently give Indianapolis 77.5% odds to make the NFL playoffs), the run defense has been a weak spot. In fact, the Colts rank 30th in the NFL in opponent yards/rush attempt (4.8).
Our models do see Indianapolis as favorites, with adjusted win odds of 60%+, but they could be vulnerable on Sunday. As less than 5% of the public has picked Tennessee to win outright, the Titans are a tempting choice for those needing an upset pick to make up ground in the standings.
Where We Stand After Week 13
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 14. All three strategies rose in the standings last week, and our Conservative strategy continues to be a highlight, ranking in the top 5% nationally on ESPN:
- Conservative: 95.1st percentile (+1.3 from last week)
- Aggressive: 88.3rd percentile (+4.0)
- Very Aggressive: 84.8th percentile (+7.7)
The New York Giants rush defense has been less than stellar in 2012, and they currently rank 22nd in the NFL in opponent yards per rush attempt (4.4). Given the competition this week, that could spell trouble.
Washington has two explosive rookies in their backfield that rank in the top 13 of the NFL in yards per rush attempt. Last year’s Heisman trophy winning QB, Robert Griffin III, has continued his success at the professional level, and is currently tied for first in the NFL with 6.7 yards/carry.
While RG3 was a household name coming into the season, rookie RB Alfred Morris has been a revelation. Morris currently ranks 13th in the NFL in rush yards/carry with 4.7.
This rookie tandem appears to pose matchup problems for the Giants, and our models see this game and as virtual tossup. With more than 70% of the public picking New York, Washington provides significant value as an upset pick.
Where We Stand After Week 12
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 13. All three strategies more or less held their positions, and our Conservative strategy continues to be a highlight, ranking in the top 7% nationally on ESPN:
- Conservative: 93.8th percentile (-0.1 from last week)
- Aggressive: 84.3rd percentile (+0.8)
- Very Aggressive: 77.7th percentile (-0.3)
Note: This week has been a bit unusual largely due to QB uncertainties; as of late Wednesday night there are two games for which Pinnacle Sports has yet to release betting lines. They include a Sunday game and the Monday night game, so at least the Turkey Day games are unaffected. We’ll do our best to update the advice later in the week when the spreads become available.
As a result, as of the time of publication, our game winner model predictions for those games will be sub-optimal, and we’ll need to simplify our pick’em strategy until Pinnacle spreads are released. And spread picks for those games will not exist.
For the games that currently don’t have spreads, despite what our NFL office pool picks pages currently say, for game winner pools we’d just stick with the teams that we expect to be favorites once Pinnacle releases lines: Chicago over Minnesota with moderate confidence, and Carolina over Philadelphia with low confidence.
Where We Stand After Week 11
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 12. While our game winner picks took a slight hit for the second straight week, the Conservative strategy is still in solid position:
- Conservative: 93.9th percentile (-1.7 from last week)
- Aggressive: 83.5th percentile (-3.2)
- Very Aggressive: 78th percentile (-11.2)
Update Fri 11/16, 5 PM ET: Our office pool pick sets have now frozen for the week as a result of the NFL game tonight, but on account of Jay Cutler’s still-evolving injury status, Pinnacle Sports (our odds source) has yet to release betting odds for the Monday Night Football game between Chicago and San Francisco.
Our model predictions rely on the Vegas line to drive injury-related prediction adjustments, and as a result, our NFL game winner office pool pick pages are “unaware” of the Cutler injury. Especially if Jay Cutler doesn’t end up playing, current indications are that San Francisco may end up being a favorite of around 5-7 points, based on a line released by BetOnline.
We would play this game conservatively and definitely pick San Francisco to win based on what we know now. Likewise, we would not make Chicago at top play in aggressive strategies. Given the uncertainty, we’d probably just keep San Francisco as the pick to win with moderate to moderate-low confidence points across the board, and slide all the other picks up.
For against the spread pools, if you think 70%+ of your pool will go with San Fran, and they are 5-7 point favorites (70% are picking SF -5 on Yahoo! so far), as of now we’d probably fade the public and take Chicago plus the points, with relatively low confidence.
If your picks aren’t due today, the best move is always to wait as long as possible to pick. Hopefully a line will be released by Pinnacle by Saturday, and we’ll update this post again with a final recommendation.
Carolina’s QB has endured a rocky sophomore campaign (see Cam Newton’s passing stats), throwing more interceptions than touchdowns while fumbling nine times. This week’s matchup, however, could provide him with an excellent chance to get back on track as Tampa Bay ranks 30th in NFL opponent yards per pass attempt (7.9).
While about 75% of the public has selected the Buccaneers to win this week, we see this game as close to a tossup. Consequently, picking the Panthers at home is one of the more tempting upset picks for Week 11.
After a rough start to the season the Detroit Lions have won three of their last four. Minnesota, conversely has lost three of their last four, and we see the Lions as slight favorites this week.
Detroit could have an advantage on third downs in this match up, as the Vikings rank near the bottom of the league in opponent third down conversion percentage, at 43.2%. Conversely, Detroit ranks near the top of the league in third down conversion percentage, at 41.8%.
With the public backing Minnesota, the Lions look like an excellent game winner value pick.
Where We Stand After Week 9
Here is where our game winner pick’em strategies currently stand on ESPN (not confidence points based) heading into Week 10. Our game winner picks generally maintained their solid positions. Even with the Very Aggressive picks taking a drop, all three strategies remain in the top 10% nationally:
- Conservative: 96.5th percentile (-1.0 from last week)
- Aggressive: 90.3rd percentile (-1.2)
- Very Aggressive: 90.3rd percentile (-7.2)