Welcome to the Week 15 installment of our NFL Survivor contest advice column. We apply a data-driven strategy to get an edge in Survivor pools, using analysis based on NFL predictions from our algorithmic Team Rankings models, public picking trends, future team schedules, and other data. This article presents our preliminary Survivor pick of the week; we publish our final, official pick on Fridays.
When it rains, it pours.
After our 29-game regular season winning streak came to a close last week, we’re now on a 2-game losing streak. Hopefully we’re getting all the bad mojo out of our system now, in one big burst.
Do we regret switching off our Wednesday pick of Cleveland? Well, based on the results, sure, a little. But given the closing lines (-350 for the Steelers, -305 for the Browns), Pittsburgh still seems like the smarter choice. Sometimes you make the right choice and get the wrong result.
And there is one silver lining here. Given that we were going to lose in Week 14 anyway, we can stop kicking ourselves over flipping the Week 13 pick from Denver to Detroit.
For those of you who survived, Week 14 was a fairly uneventful week. There were several minor upsets, but none knocked out more than a few percent of the public. Overall 13% of your opponents likely bit the dust, slightly boosting your chunk of the pie.
Week 15 NFL Survivor Decision Factors
This is the heart of our column, the table showing the factors that influence our weekly Survivor pick decision. For every team, here are the three questions we ask ourselves (and the data in our table that helps us answer them):
1. How likely are they to win? (consensus sportsbook Spread at -110 payout odds, Pinnacle Money Line, and TR Odds from our NFL win picks page)
2. How popular is this team? (Public Pick % from OfficeFootballPool)
3. Should I save this team for later? (Future Value: a quick rating created by giving 1 point for a future game that’s among the safest of the week, and a half a point for a game that seems borderline playable, with only partial credit for games in Week 16 or 17 when teams may be resting players. Based on averaging projections from our NFL Survivor Tool [which uses data from only this season] and our NFL Season Projections [which incorporates our preseason team projections].)
Teams are listed in order of how attractive we think they are as a choice this week. They’re also separated into rough tiers. If two teams are in the same tier, you may want to choose among them based on which pros and cons are more important to your particular situation.
|Team||Opponent||Spread||Money Line||TR Odds||Pick %||Future Val|
|Tier 1: Top Options|
|Houston||vs Indianapolis||-8.5||-385 / +334||77%||4.6%||0.6|
|Cincinnati||at Philadelphia||-4.5||-209 / +187||66%||2.0%||0.0|
|Seattle||vs Buffalo||-5.5||-240 / +214||66%||4.8%||0.3|
|Tier 2: Worth A Look|
|New England||vs San Francisco||-5.0||-243 / +217||70%||1.6%||0.9|
|New Orleans||vs Tampa Bay||-3.5||-192 / +173||60%||4.8%||0.0|
|Detroit||at Arizona||-6.0||-238 / +212||65%||20.4%||0.0|
|Oakland||vs Kansas City||-3.0||-157 / +142||60%||2.5%||0.0|
|San Diego||vs Carolina||-3.0||-150 / +136||61%||1.1%||0.3|
|Miami||vs Jacksonville||-7.0||-315 / +277||73%||54.1%||0.0|
|Tier 3: AVOID|
|Atlanta||vs NY Giants||-2.0||-125 / +113||54%||0.0%||0.0|
|Green Bay||at Chicago||-3.0||-150 / +130||59%||0.3%||0.8|
|Pittsburgh||at Dallas||-2.0||-121 / +110||52%||0.1%||0.0|
|St Louis||vs Minnesota||-3.0||-139 / +126||48%||0.8%||0.0|
|Denver||at Baltimore||-2.5||-140 / +127||61%||0.1%||1.1|
|Tennessee||vs NY Jets||-2.0||-123 / +111||51%||0.6%||0.3|
|Washington||at Cleveland||-1.0||-130 / +111||49%||1.1%||0.4|
Teams We’ve Already Used (Final Official Picks): Houston Texans (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), Dallas Cowboys (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WIN), Minnesota Vikings (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN), Seattle Seahawks (WIN), Baltimore Ravens (WIN), Atlanta Falcons (WIN), New England Patriots (WIN), Detroit Lions (LOSS), Pittsburgh Steelers (LOSS)
Previous Wednesday Preliminary Picks: Houston Texans (WIN), New York Giants (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN), Arizona Cardinals (LOSS), Minnesota Vikings (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN), Seattle Seahawks (WIN), Baltimore Ravens (WIN), Atlanta Falcons (WIN), New England Patriots (WIN), Denver Broncos (WIN), Cleveland Browns (WIN)
Weighing the Options
Please note that the discussion below is designed for people in large pools. In pools with under 20 people left, where your pick actually changes the pool pick rates to a significant degree, please see the “Advice For Smaller Survivor Pools” section at the end of this article that provides quick strategy tips for smaller pools.
Houston Texans (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
The Texans are the biggest favorite of the week, and aren’t very popular. The main downside here is that they could be useful the next two weeks (vs MIN, @ IND). However, they won’t be huge favorites in either case, and it’s possible they’ll have a bye locked up already if things go their way this week, so we’d discount that future value a bit. Given their safety and their marginal future value, the Texans are clearly the best choice this week, if you still have them available.
Miami Dolphins (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
Miami is the next safest team after Houston, but over half the public is picking them. If you’re looking to maximize your expected value (which is what we’ve been doing every week for the past two years), the Dolphins are generally not a good pick. However, if you’re in a pool with a big payout, and you’re willing to sacrifice some of your average value in order to increase the chance that you get any chunk of the prize, then the Dolphins may be an OK conservative pick.
New England Patriots (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Buffalo Bills)
Detroit Lions (at Arizona Cardinals)
These three teams all have similar risk profiles, with money lines around -240, and TR win odds between 65% and 70%. However, Seattle looks like the best pick of the three, and one of the better picks of the week. Why? Because they are unpopular, and don’t have much future value. The Patriots may be useful in either of the next two weeks (@ JAX, vs MIA), assuming they haven’t clinched a bye yet, so future keeps New England out of the top tier. And the Lions get docked because they are the second most popular team this week, being picked by 20% of the public, meaning their immediate value drops a bit. (Though like Miami, they are still an OK pick if you’re placing a premium on winning any piece of the prize pool, rather than on maximizing your average expected value.)
Cincinnati Bengals (at Philadelphia Eagles)
New Orleans Saints (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Now we’re hitting team with money lines around -200, and TR win odds of 60% to 66%. Neither the Bengals or the Saints are very popular, and neither have any real future value, so both are decent picks this week, despite their risk. Cincy appears to be a few percent safer, so they are the better choice of the two.
Oakland Raiders (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
San Diego Chargers (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Green Bay Packers (at Chicago Bears)
The Oakland, San Diego, and Green Bay all have money lines around -150, and TR win odds around 60%, so they are another notch riskier. None are very popular, but they do vary in terms of future value. Oakland has none whatsoever, so the Raiders look like the best pick of these three – but still worse than any team listed above, except super-popular Miami. The Packers will be a good choice next week (vs TEN), so it’s probably smarter to save Green Bay. If you’re reaching down this low for a pick, there are surely other similarly risky options available to you. And the Chargers may have some value in Week 17 (vs OAK), but it’s tough to count on a projected Week 17 line, so we rank San Diego between the other two here.
The rest of your options this week are pretty close to coin flips, so if you have to stretch this far, just take any random unpopular one with no future value.
Preliminary Week 15 NFL Survivor Pick: New Orleans Saints Over Tampa Bay Buccaneers
[Quick programming note: we're going to keep making picks as if we had survived to this point. So for our purposes here, we've used Detroit and Pittsburgh already, and still have Denver and Cleveland available.]
We’ve got none of our top tier teams remaining, so for us this week, the choice basically comes down to:
- New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay (-192 money line, 60% TR win odds, 5% popularity, no future value)
- Miami vs. Jacksonville (-315 money line, 73% TR win odds, 54% popularity, no future value)
As we’ve discussed many times in the past, picking a super popular team is generally not a smart Survivor strategy. In order to win your pool, or to gain a bigger piece of the final prize pool, you need to win while your opponent loses. Obviously that’s not possible if you pick the same team as your foes.
This week, for a 13% win odds penalty, we get a roughly 1-in-4 shot of doubling our expected payout. Choosing New Orleans is definitely the riskier move, but it’s the one that’s more valuable over the long term. So, our preliminary Week 15 NFL Survivor pick is New Orleans over Tampa Bay.
That said, for some of you, surviving to the end of the year may be more important than maximizing your expected value. Maybe your current share of the pool is so huge that just hanging on to that (i.e. sacrificing some average value in order to decrease your variance) is more important to you. Or, you’ve made it this far in a pool with your buddies, and bragging rights for “surviving all year” is more important to you than anything else at this point. For people in these types of situations, Miami may be a good choice.
Advice For Smaller Survivor Pools
Remember, all the discussion above is designed for large pools, where future value is still very important. Many of you are probably in pools with only a few people left. It’s important to remember that in small pools, the correct strategy can change considerably. Here’s a refresher on key three points about Survivor end-game tactics:
- It’s less likely that your opponents’ picks will closely mimic the national public picking averages.
- Future value means less.
- Resist the urge to play overly conservative just because you’re close to winning.
For an expanded discussion on these points, see the Week 4 NFL Survivor post.
Here is some specific advice for Week 12 for those in smaller pools:
Pools With 9-20 People — At this point, it seems likely that many pools of this size will last the rest of the year. So the strategy here is basically to follow the order outlined in the main data table, and the tips covered in the pick discussion above. The one caveat is that your pool’s picks may be quite different than the public, so if one team projects to be much more or less popular than in the general public, you’ll want to adjust your ranking of them accordingly.
Pools With 3-8 People – If you’re in a very small pool, where you can take some rough guesses about who your opponents will choose, all bets are off. Our picks are made based on the assumption that these public pick percentages roughly match the pick rates in your pool, and that won’t be true for your pool. In very small pools this week, the least popular out of the Texans, Dolphins, Seahawks, or Lions is probably your best option, as those four teams are in the safest couple tiers, plus have less future value than the Patriots. If you’ve got none of the above available, then working your way down from safest to riskiest (by money line) and taking the first unpopular team (only 1 or 0 people picking them) may work.
Head-to-Head Pools – Strategy totally changes here again, as the pick percentages will always be 50% or 100%. It’s impossible for you to pick an unpopular team, because you are half the pool. And future value means very little, as the pool may be over this week. In those cases, safety becomes the number one priority. So in head-to-head pools, we generally recommend taking the biggest favorite you have available, with future value only playing a role win there are multiple good options. This week, the Texans are the safest pick, but if you really need them next week, the Dolphins are a good choice as well. If you don’t have either available, Detroit or Seattler are the next most attractive, and then Cincinnati or New England, depending on whether you think you’ll need to use the Patriots in the future.
There is one thing to keep in mind here. If you’re trying to decide between two teams that are roughly equally risky, you may want to consider which teams your opponent has left. If he looks like he may have the upper hand in future weeks, it’s wise to try to pick a different team than him now. You’d be hoping to win or lose this week (with equal chances of both), rather than waiting for the future (where he has the advantage). On the other hand, if you have the upper hand in the coming weeks, you should try to pick the same team as him, so he doesn’t get the chance to win now, and must fight against the odds later.
As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section. However, please note that the volume has gotten high enough that we can’t commit to giving everyone a detailed answer. But we’re doing our best and can make it work if we all follow a few guidelines:
- First, please read the “Advice For Smaller Pools” section and see if that answers your question.
- A lot can change between now and Friday, when we publish our finalized pick. So if your pick isn’t due until Friday or the weekend, please hold off asking questions until Friday.
- If you do need advice now, and you’re in a small pool, be sure to include information about pool size, who you have available, and who you think your opponents will choose, as those are the key factors in small pools.
- If you’re in a large pool, please include info on why you think your pool is different than the generic Yahoo! and OFP pools.