NFL Survivor Pool Strategy: The Effects Of Pool Size

This is the third post in a short preseason series on Survivor Pool Strategy. Today, we’ll cover the effect of pool size on your choices.  Next week, we’ll touch on balance between short term and long term planning. If there’s another topic you’d like to see us cover, please leave a note in the comments. Also, in case you missed it, we’ve been running a preseason Pick ‘Em strategy series, on Wednesdays. Check it out!

Last week, we used the power of math and probability to demonstrate that sometimes it’s smart to pick an underdog, even when you have favorites available. The tips below are also based on logic and reasoning, but don’t worry — this week is a lot less math-heavy, and has more actionable intelligence.

The number of people you’re competing against in an NFL Survivor pool matters for a few reasons.

1. In small pools, you may not need to survive all year.

It’s pretty tough to pick 17 winners in a row. Judging from our Survivor Predictor, the best picks each week are usually in the 80% to 85% range. But, players aren’t likely to pick all of these, because they’ll have used up teams along the way.

Let’s say over 17 weeks, a good picker averages a 75% survival rate. To estimate the odds that the player survives all year, we can raise 0.75 to the 17th power:

(0.75)^17 = 0.8%

Meaning, if you can survive the entire season, you’ll beat that player over 99% of the time.

OK, but there’s more than one player in your pool. If we assume every player is equally good (probably wrong, but the math gets way harder if we don’t make that assumption), then the following table show the odds that zero players survive all 17 weeks, given the number of players in your pool, and how good you think they are at choosing winners:

Chance At Least 1 Player Survives All 17 Weeks (NFL Survivor)

Pick Accuracy:50%55%60%65%70%75%80%85%90%100%
5 Players0.004%0.02%0.08%0.3%1%4%11%28%60%100%
10 Players0.008%0.04%0.2%0.7%2%7%20%48%84%100%
25 Players0.02%0.1%0.4%2%6%17%43%80%99%100%
50 Players0.04%0.2%0.8%3%11%31%68%96%100%100%
100 Players0.08%0.4%2%6%21%53%90%100%100%100%
250 players0.2%1%4%15%44%85%100%100%100%100%
500 players0.4%2%8%28%69%98%100%100%100%100%
1,000 players0.8%4%16%48%90%100%100%100%100%100%
2,500 players2%9%35%81%100%100%100%100%100%100%
5,000 players4%18%57%96%100%100%100%100%100%100%
10,000 players7%32%82%100%100%100%100%100%100%100%

Check out the entry for 25 Players at 80% Pick Accuracy — only 43%. That means more often than not, if you’re in a pool with 25 other players, and they make relatively solid picks, there’s still going to be nobody left standing at the end. The point is, you may not need your awesome Week 17 pick.

2. As pool size increases, public pick data becomes more reliable.

This has to do mainly with sample sizes. When you flip a coin only 10 times, there’s a good chance you get a result like 70% heads. Flip it 10,000 times, though, and your heads percentage will end up very close to 50%.

Similarly, when you’re in a Survivor pool against only a few people, your competitors are likely not going to share all the same tendencies as the large group of pickers that creates the public data you find on Yahoo! or  ESPN. As you increase the size of your pool, though, the crazy Browns fans will start to become less important to the numbers, and your pool stats will more closely resemble the public pick percentages.

What this means for you is that if you’re in a pool with only, say, a dozen people, you’re better off studying their individual picking trends than you are relying on generic picking data.

Most pools allow you to view the past picks of your competitors. Use that to your advantage. See if anybody always picks the biggest favorite, or tends to select the team playing the Carolina Panthers.

3. As pool size increases, public pick data becomes more important.

In small pools, picking the favorites can often be good enough to get you the win. In large pools, however, you’re going to have to get lucky by avoiding a few large upsets, and/or picking some of your own.

Your odds of winning the pool increase if you can strategically choose those upsets, so that you survive when a lot of other players are knocked out. The public pick data lets you do that. If you’re in a 1,000 player pool, you should rely on it heavily.

Be sure to make some allowances for the type of players you’re facing, though. If you’re squaring off against a bunch of game theory aficionados, you can throw that public picking data out the window.

To Be Continued

In Tip #1, we mentioned that you might not need to save favorites from Week 17, if you’re in a small enough pool. That leads us to the topic we’ll be covering next: balancing short term strategy and long term strategy.

Until then, please feel free to ask for advice below, or make requests for what other subjects you’d like to see covered.