2020 NFL Schedule: Early Reactions for Survivor Pools

2020 NFL Schedule and the Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)

With the 2020 NFL Schedule now released, we can start to look at how the specifics of that schedule could impact NFL Survivor pools. If you are unfamiliar with Survivor Pools or our advice on how to increase your chances, you can read about it in more detail here.

Earlier, we looked at betting market win total projections, and what they tell us about how teams are perceived. Our predictive rankings will be released closer to the season, but those betting market results give us some sense of how good each team is expected to be this year, which allows us to evaluate individual matchups and team schedules.

In Survivor Pools, you generally want to take teams with the best chances of winning each week. We say “generally” because finding value is important in Survivor Pools. Our strategy advice relies on public pick popularity to assess values each week. Sometimes, taking a team with slightly lower win odds gives you a better chance to win the pool, if the team with the highest win odds in a week is very popular. Further, because Survivor Pools limit you to picking each team only once, often you just cannot continue to take the highest win odds option each week.

This post is going to provide some early thoughts on how the 2020 NFL Schedule may drive strategy. This doesn’t supersede, though, specific advice as the season progresses. To get the most current recommendations, and the most customized advice for your specific pool formats, be sure to subscribe to our Survivor Pool Picks.

The 2020 NFL Schedule Has Some Built-In Features to Adapt to a Delayed Start

The first thing that stands out is that the NFL did build in some features to the schedule that will allow them to adapt if the season needs to be slightly delayed. If these options were exercised, it could alter Survivor strategy.

First, Week 2 of the 2020 NFL Schedule entirely consists of matchups between teams that share the same bye week later in the year. This was reported to be a potential feature, along with the ability to push the playoffs and Super Bowl back. The second feature, as noted by The Ringer, is that Weeks 3 and 4 contain zero divisional matchups this year, and every team plays one road and one home game over those two weeks.

Let’s go through how either of those features could impact Survivor Pools.

Week 2 of the 2020 NFL Schedule

Because every matchup involves teams with shared bye weeks, the NFL could decide to not use bye weeks for this year, eliminate Week 2, and spread the matchups out to the various weeks where the byes would have occurred.

If this were to happen, Survivor Pools would go 16 weeks (or less) instead of the normal 17 weeks. In addition, because every week has all teams playing, the depth of matchups to choose should be deeper. There are, for example, normally a week or two each year where six teams are on the bye, removing three potential matchups from consideration in Survivor Pools.

Using power ratings derived from the betting market win odds, here are the Week 2 matchups which could be most Survivor-relevant, and could be dispersed to other weeks with any revisions to the schedule.

  • Tampa Bay (vs. Carolina): could move to Week 13
  • Tennessee (vs. Jacksonville): could move to Week 7
  • Cleveland (vs. Cincinnati): could move to Week 9
  • Green Bay (vs. Detroit): could move to Week 5
  • Dallas (vs. Atlanta): could move to Week 10
  • San Francisco (at NY Jets) and Chicago (vs. NY Giants): could move to Week 11

If those games were moved, they would impact Future Value considerations, and some could make a big impact on the pick popularity of other choices.

Weeks 3 and 4 of the 2020 NFL Schedule

More interesting is what the NFL did with Weeks 3 and 4. By having two weeks early in the year with zero division games, and where each team plays both one home and one road game, the NFL would have the option of outright eliminating these two weeks if necessary. Teams would still have equal numbers of home and road games for the year, and would still play all division rivals equally.

However, the matchups aren’t uniform. Some teams play games across conferences, while others play only conference opponents. The quality of opponents can be vastly different. Kansas City, for example, plays Baltimore and New England those two weeks. The schedule strength looks a lot different without those games. Here are some of the potential Survivor-relevant matchups that could go away, and alter the Future Value for teams.

  • Philadelphia (vs. Cincinnati) in Week 3
  • Baltimore (at Washington) in Week 4
  • Cleveland (vs. Washington) in Week 3
  • LA Rams (vs. NY Giants) in Week 4
  • LA Chargers (vs. Carolina) in Week 3
  • Tampa Bay (at LA Chargers) in Week 4
  • Indianapolis (vs. NY Jets) in Week 3
  • San Francisco (at NY Giants) in Week 3
  • New England (vs. Las Vegas) in Week 3
  • New Orleans (at Detroit) in Week 4

Baltimore, for example, would lose a matchup against nearby Washington when they look like the top win odds option for that week. Philadelphia hosting Cincinnati looks like one of their two highest win odds matchups of the year, and their weekly pick rates in Survivor Pools would look a lot different without that week included.

Kansas City and Baltimore Have High Future Value

It should not be a surprise, but the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens look like the two teams that will be ahead of the rest of Survivor options in terms of future value. These two teams finished 1-2 in our predictive ratings at the end of last year, and have the two highest win totals in the betting markets for 2020.

These two teams project as Top 3 Win Odds option in nearly half of their matchups. (San Francisco comes in a distant third in the number of weeks where they look like a potential Top 3 Win Odds option, just ahead of several other teams). In calculating implied ratings from the betting market win totals, either Kansas City or Baltimore comes out as the projected top win odds option in eight of the 17 weeks.

Not only that, but the Week 1 schedule sets up to immediately test the patience of Survivor players. According to early Week 1 lines released by Westgate, Kansas City is the biggest favorite (10.5 points over Houston), while Baltimore (vs. Cleveland) is tied for the 2nd-largest favorite. The Ravens, along with the Colts against the Jaguars, were listed as 8.5 point favorites initially for Week 1.

With both Kansas City and Baltimore having high Future Value in 2020, that Week 1 decision could impact how much value they have in future weeks, if the public jumps on them early.

Most Frequent Opponents of Survivor Picks

At the other end of the spectrum, four teams show up as being roughly equal as opponents for the higher win odds options each week. Jacksonville had the lowest win projection in betting markets, with Washington, Carolina, and Cincinnati also just above them.

Each of those teams are projected as the opponent of the top win odds option using betting market info, in at least three different weeks. No other team shows up as the opponent more than once.

Maybe one (or more) of these teams will surprise. But if you wanted to guess as to which teams would be the most popular teams to pick against in 2020, it would start with those four based on the schedules.


Week 17 of the 2020 NFL Schedule: Saving the Mismatches

It’s hard to get to Week 17 in Survivor Pools. But entries that do get there may have more options in 2020. For whatever reason, the final week schedule has several potential matchups that look to be more imbalanced. Using the implied power ratings derived from the betting market win totals, there are nine (as in, over half) of all games that have a projected spread of 6 points or more after accounting for home field. Only two of the matchups in the final week are between teams that finished 1st and 2nd in the same division in 2019.

Week 17 is a bit unique anyway, because of the potential for teams to rest starters or have different motivations in the final week. But in 2020, a higher concentration of the division matchups that would be attractive in Survivor Pools seem concentrated there.

In comparison, the average for the other 16 weeks was just under four matchups with a projected spread of 6 points or mre each week.

Among those Week 17 matchups:

  • Philadelphia hosts Washington
  • Kansas City plays the Chargers at home
  • Indianapolis is home vs. Jacksonville
  • Baltimore is at Cincinnati
  • Buffalo hosts Miami
  • New England gets the NY Jets at home
  • New Orleans plays at Carolina
  • Tampa Bay is home vs. Atlanta
  • The Los Angeles Rams play the Arizona Cardinals at home.

Even if some of those favorites underperform expectations, or the underdogs exceed them, it looks like Week 17 is a week with an abundance of potential options in Survivor.

The Middle of the Season Looks Dangerous to Those That Don’t Plan Ahead

Well, with all those potentially higher win odds matchups at the end of the year, there must be another part of the schedule where fewer of them are concentrated. Weeks 8 through 10 have the fewest number of projected high win odds games, and Week 11 has the lowest projected “top” win odds matchup of the year.

In Weeks 8 and 9, Kansas City gets the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers at home, and looks like a high win odds option in both weeks. But after that, things could get scarce. Entries that use the Chiefs early in the year may be at a disadvantage.

Week 8 has the Chargers hosting Jacksonville. Minnesota plays Detroit at home in Week 9. After those two alternatives, though, things look murky. Other matchups could become attractive, but those weeks look like potential tougher calls for many entries, particularly since you cannot use Kansas City twice.

Week 11, meanwhile, does not have any clear top options based on preseason win projections, compared to other weeks in the 2020 NFL schedule. Baltimore is hosting Tennessee (in a playoff rematch) and New Orleans plays Atlanta at home. Seattle gets Arizona at home, and Pittsburgh plays Jacksonville, but on the road. Besides those matchups, there are a lot of compelling, but closer to even, games. Not every week is equal, and Week 11 looks like one that has potential for fewer Survivor options this year.

Based on historic survival rates, we know that most pools extend past Week 10, with the exception of those with very few total entries. Survivor players that do not plan ahead could be in for a shock when they get to the middle of the 2020 NFL season.