Week 12 NFL Survivor Strategy: Four Safe Choices, So Take The Unpopular One

posted in NFL, NFL Survivor Pools

Welcome to the Week 12 installment of our series of Survivor advice columns, where we use a data-driven strategy to get an edge in NFL Survivor contests. This post includes analysis based on NFL predictions from our algorithmic Team Rankings models and other relevant data.

This discussion below is also meant to complement our Survivor Predictor tool, which provides a grid view of win odds predictions by week, from now until the end of the season. This presentation of prediction data will help you quickly grasp the current week’s best Survivor pick options, and will explain our logic in making our official pick.

Week 11 Survivor Strategy Review

For a while, we were sweating our Lions pick, as they had to mount another one of their now-trademark massive comebacks in order to top the Panthers. But as we’ve said many times this year, a win is a win.

The week started on a promising note, as the Broncos upset the Jets on Thursday, but favorites ruled the weekend. Our warning that Dallas might struggle against Washington was prescient, but the Redskins missed a long field goal attempt in overtime that would have knocked off the Cowboys.

As a result, this was the second most chalky week of the year so far, as 93% of Yahoo contestants survived. We’re happy with our pick of Detroit, because the most important thing in boring weeks like that is to conserve future value. Detroit had a bit, but it mostly overlapped with weeks where we have other good options saved up.

Week 12 Survivor Decision Factors

Time for the heart of our post, the table showing the factors that influence our decision:

TeamOpponentSpreadTR OddsYahoo! Pick %Future ValNotes
Pittsburgh@ Kansas City-10.575%20.7%3PICKED; Cassel injury
Atlantavs Minnesota-9.584%32.1%0
Cincinnativs Cleveland-9.086%17.7%1PICKED
NY Jetsvs Buffalo-9.082%2.9%1
New Orleansvs NY Giants-7.077%1.2%1PICKED
Dallasvs Miami-7.072%7.7%0PICKED
San Diegovs Denver-6.567%0.7%0PICKED
Green Bay@ Detroit-6.074%1.1%2PICKED
Oaklandvs Chicago-4.561%0.6%0Cutler injury
Seattlevs Washington-3.569%1.0%1
Tennesseevs Tampa Bay-3.566%0.1%1Hasselback status?
Carolina@ Indianapolis-3.565%8.1%0
Houston@ Jacksonville-3.564%3.2%2PICKED; Schaub injury
Baltimorevs San Francisco-3.562%0.2%2
New England@ Philadelphia-3.058%1.2%3PICKED; Vick status?
@ St LouisArizona-3.040%0.1%0Kolb status?
Arizona@ St Louis+3.060%0.1%0Kolb status?

Future Val = the number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75% or greater, based on our NFL Survivor Tool.

Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (WIN), Pittsburgh Steelers (WIN), San Diego Chargers (WIN), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WIN), New England Patriots (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), New Orleans Saints (WIN), New York Giants (WIN), Dallas Cowboys* (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), Detroit Lions (WIN)

*Our original official pick in Week 9 was the Oakland Raiders. However, we issued a an update to the post well in advance of Sunday morning that suggested readers switch to Dallas. Because Oakland lost while Dallas won, we feel that this series will be more useful going forward if we assume Dallas was our official pick.

Weighing the Options

Pittsburgh Steelers (@ Kansas City Chiefs) — The Steelers are the biggest favorites of the week according to the betting markets. Our TR win odds have them as a bit riskier, but we’d trust Vegas more this week, as Matt Cassel’s injury is probably better accounted for by the markets than by our models. Still, Pittsburgh is the second most popular team, and has tons of future value (Week 14 vs CLE, Week 16 vs STL, Week 17 @ CLE). There are plenty of good options this week, so we’d save the Steelers and root for the upset. Or, we would save them, if we hadn’t already used them.

Atlanta Falcons (vs Minnesota Vikings) — The Falcons are the most popular pick this week, and it’s easy to see why. They are in the top tier in terms of Vegas line and TR win odds, along with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the Jets. Plus this is their easiest remaining game. Public pick values will probably not be representative in small polls, so Atlanta is a decent pick in pools with only a few people left, but in larger pools you should avoid the Falcons and root for a third of your pool to be knocked out via upset.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs Cleveland Browns) — Our models have the Bengals as the safest pick of the week, but they are only the third most popular choice, which is a positive. They do have some future value (Week 15 @ STL, Week 16 vs ARI), but this is their easiest remaining game. We think the Bengals are a very good pick, but we’ve already used them.

New York Jets (vs Buffalo Bills) — New York’s numbers are very similar to Cincinnati’s. They have the same line and only slightly lower TR win odds, plus this is their easiest remaining game. The one major difference is that only 3% of Yahoo contestants have picked the Jets, compared to 18% for the Bengals. That means the Jets are a great pick this week — they are safe, unpopular, and don’t have too much future value. They do host KC in Week 14, but we should have plenty of other good options that week.

New Orleans Saints (vs New York Giants) — Now that we’re past the first four teams, we’ve dropped down to the next tier in terms of how safe the picks are. The Saints are super unpopular, with only 1% of the public choosing them. They also have limited future value, as their easiest remaining game occurs in Week 17 (vs CAR), when it’s hard to trust the numbers due to the possibility of starters being rested. If you can pick one of the top four teams this week, that’s probably the best move, but if you don’t have any of them available, the Saints are the likely best of the rest. Though you, like us, probably already picked them.

Dallas Cowboys (vs Miami Dolphins) — The Cowboys have slightly lower TR win odds than the Saints, but are significantly more popular (8% Yahoo pick rate). This is likely your last chance to use Dallas, but they are not worth the risk when so many other safer alternatives exist. Plus, we’ve already picked them.

San Diego Chargers (vs Denver Broncos) — This is definitely your last chance to use the Chargers if you still have them available (which we don’t), and they are super unpopular. But as with the Cowboys, there are much better options. Plus, who wants to pick against the Tebow magic?

Green Bay Packers (@ Detroit Lions) — While the Packers aren’t any riskier of a pick than the Cowboys or Chargers, the Thanksgiving matchup at Detroit is one of their toughest games of the year. If you have them available, it would be foolish to burn them this week. We’ve used them already, but if you haven’t, this is a big STAY AWAY.

No other choices are worth considering, if you trust the numbers. Yet for some reason, 8% of Survivor players are picking Carolina at Indianapolis this week. Yes, the Colts are winless, but this is their best remaining shot at avoiding an 0-16 season. We definitely favor the Panthers, but there is a pretty good chance that the Colts band together and notch a win. STAY AWAY from the Panthers this week. There’s no need to get so risky.

Official Week 12 NFL Survivor Pick: New York Jets over Buffalo Bills

Two choices this week stand out above the rest for us: the New York Jets and the Cincinnati Bengals. We’ve already used the Bengals, so our official pick is New York.

There is a top tier of four teams — Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Cincinnati, and New York — who we feel are all roughly equal in terms of surviving the current week. Yes, our TR win odds are lower for the Steelers, but our models probably haven’t entirely caught up to the fact the Cassel is out at QB for KC. In that top tier, we’d prefer to lay off the Falcons because they are the most popular, and to save the Steelers because they have by far the most future value.

That leaves the Jets and the Bengals, with the unpopularity of the Jets (3%) giving them the edge. These are our top two picks for people in large pools (30+), where future value is still very important, and people in medium pools (10-30), where future value is slightly less important but public pick rates are still relevant for optimizing your immediate expected value.

Here is our rank ordering of picks for medium or larger pools, with lines thrown in to separate what we see as distinct tiers:

1. New York Jets over Buffalo Bills
2. Cincinnati Bengals over Cleveland Browns [picked]
3. Atlanta Falcons over Minnesota Vikings
4. Pittsburgh Steelers over Kansas City Chiefs [picked]
5. New Orleans Saints over New York Giants [picked]
6. Dallas Cowboys over Miami Dolphins [picked]
7. San Diego Chargers over Denver Broncos  [picked]

For people in small pools, just surviving the current week becomes much more important. Future value takes a back seat, and these public pick numbers become less reliable and perhaps even misleading.

In those cases, we’d suggest sticking to one of the four top tier teams (PIT, ATL, CIN, NYJ). If you have only one of those available, pick them. If you have more than one to choose from, try to figure out which one will be the least popular, and go with that option.

Of course, as always feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section.

  • Rick

    2 of us left in our pool.  He has NYJ, Cincy, Atl and Pitt and Dallas available.  I only have Alt and Pitt of the top 7 left.

    Pitt has much more future value but I need to survive the week.  My gut is to take Altanta and root for an upset assuming that he does not that Altanta either. 

    Any thoughts appreciated.

  • John

    Well everyone survived this past week….
    So here is what they look like now ,my two teams out 6 left in the pool.
    G2 Hou, Det, Pit,GB,NE, Oak, Dal, NYG,NO,Mia,49ers
    G5  NE Pit, SD,CHi, Det,GB,NO, Ten, Hou, Dal, Balt.

    The other group is as follows:
    B5 Phi, Det, SD,GB,NO,Pit,Dal,Bal,Hou,Jax,NE
    D10  NE,NYG,Balt, SD,NO,GB,Dal,Buf, Hou,Pit, 49ers
    E2   Ari,Det,SD,TB,NO,Pit,Dal,Balt,Hou,GB,49ers
    S2  Hou,GB,Ten,TB,NE,Pit,NO,SF,Dal,Mia,Balt.
     My thoughts of taking Cincy and NYJ am I chancing it one of those picks or go with Atl with one? for future picks i still have SF and Balt in one of my two picks left.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brianprestonj Brian Preston

    2 strike pool. I have 1 strike. Opponent has 0. We both have Cincinnati, Atlanta, and NYJ as options. He also has Pittsburgh available. Who do you think he’s most likely to choose? 

  • Jim C

    It looks like you have already picked Pittsburgh in Week 2!

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Rick — Yep, you are spot on. I would take Atlanta in your spot, and save Pittsburgh.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    John — The difference in Vegas line and TR Win Odds between CIN, NYJ, and ATL is very, very minor. So I would go with whichever two of those three teams that you think will be least popular in your pool. It’s tough to say which those are, since it looks like none of your opponents have used any of them.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Brian — Beats me. Other than probably not Pittsburgh, due to their future value. Maybe you can figure it out by looking at his past pick history?

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Jim — Thanks! I don’t know how I missed that. I’ll update the table and text.

  • Edurkin123

    14 people Left

    6 picked ATL

    0 Carolina

    10 Pitt

    2 Cincy

    5 Jets


    Week 14 have to start picking two teams.


    Debating over ATL or Carolina so I can save ATL for Week 15.



    Week 13 – SF

    Week 14 – Ravens/Lions

    Week 15 – Titans and Bears or ATL


    Should I go Carolina this week and hope for the upsets? 14
    teams left top 3 get paid out.


    Love your website, thanks in advance! 

  • http://twitter.com/drumzan drumzan

    I think the Phins beat the Cowboys. They have the run D to stop Murray.  The o-line is playing 5000% better…they’re making Henne look bad and Moore look good because Henne never got that kind of protection earlier in the year.  The game really boils down to whether their O-line can stop Ware, which I think they can.  

    Not that I don’t think the Saints will beat the Giants, but the Giants always seem to play best as heavy underdogs on the road.  Something to think about and definitely enough to keep me away from this game.

    I’d also stay away from the Jags-Texans game.  It has nothing to do with Leinart.  The Jags at home are just a dangerous team no matter how bad their offense is.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    As I said in the post, I would stay away from Carolina. They are a huge unnecessary risk.

    Apologies for typos and/or brevity; sent from my cell phone.

  • Tromano76

    i emailed you a couple weeks ago….
    I’m in a double elimination survivor pool.
    As it currently stands we have 79 entrants “still alive”, 8 with zero losses and 71 with one loss.  I’m currently one of the 71 with one loss. Here’s basically where things stand with teams that should be in play this week:

    Atlanta 34/79 used (4/8 with 0 losses used)
    Jets 38/79 used (3/8 0 losses used)
    Cincy 10/79 used (2/8 0 losses used)
    New Orleans 55/79 (5/8 0 losses used)
    Pittsburgh 63/79 (6/8 0 losses used)
    Dallas 72/79 used (7/8 0 losses used)
    San Diego 68/79 used (7/8 0 losses used)My thought is to use Atlanta over Jets, knowing that the numbers are basically split between them and the Jets with how many other entrants could be knocked out with an upset either way (4 more actually have used the Jets at this point).  There would be a +1 person bonus using Atlanta if they win and Buffalo loses as there is one more person with 0 losses that has already used Atlanta vs. the Jets. Thoughts?  Is there still a case for the Jets.  To boot i do like to stay away from division games, especially when a team is going for a season sweep.  Granted i know none of that means anything.

  • Caleb Marutzky

    With only 11 left out of ~1600 would you still try to pick against the majority game (atl)? I have both cin and atl avail but am leaning atl since it is a non divisional game. I know that the math prob says to pick cin but am not sure how well the models incorporate the intangible emotional aspect of division rivals.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Tromano — It’s hard to say who will be more popular in your pool, the Jets or Falcons. Since they are both relatively safe, and more people have the Jets available, and you feel more comfortable with the Falcons, I think they’re a reasonable choice.

    Apologies for typos and/or brevity; sent from my cell phone.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Caleb — The Vegas line definitely incorporates the Division game aspect, and it’s a factor in our models.
    As for picking against the popular teams, yes, it’s hugely important in small pools. The only problem is that the public pick data probably won’t be a great guide to who your pool will pick, so you’ll need to examine your opponents (who they have available, previous picking tendencies) and try to figure who the popular team is, then stay away from them.

    Apologies for typos and/or brevity; sent from my cell phone.

  • Supadad33

    Phew. I took DAL in spite of your CIN recommendation (I’d already taken PIT and NYJ, but not ATL). Here’s rooting for some upsets in a 15-left-out-of-81 pool!

  • Caleb Marutzky

    Thanks for the thoughts. Good pt on the Vegas line I didn’t think about that.
    Looking at my opp I am predicting that 6 will be on atl. We are split with 7 having atl avail and 8 having cin. One of my opp can’t pick any of the top 10 games in the models so not sure where he goes. In the past you just have to survive until there are about 5 teams left and then there is generally a split (the pot is large enough that it is worth the split)

  • Corpservices2001

    I have both NYJ and Cinci available in my suicide with 10 ppl left. I have already used up NO, BAL, ATL, PIT, NE
    I am just worried about sanchez throwing picks and interceptions-hubby liks cinci but they have lost 2 in a row so help please

  • JSacks

    I am just curious as to why the Win % for Cincinnati dropped from 86-83%. 

  • Anonymous

    I am also curious why the win % dropped.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Corp — Since we posted this, the NYJ line has moved to -9.5, while Cincy has moved to -7.5. So at this point, NYJ is a much safer choice.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    JSacks — The Vegas line is one of the inputs to our models, and the line has dropped from -9 to -7.5.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    ATTENTION ALL: Since we published this post, Cincinnati’s line has dropped from -9 to -7.5, and their TR Win Odds have dropped from 86% to 83%, so we would now rank them even with or slightly worse than ATL or PIT.

  • Charlie

    Six people are left in my pool I have ATL NYJ and SD left out of your top picks. The remaining people  have NYJ  CINCY SD. Would It be best to use ATL and hope NYJ or CIN get upset. Or should I go ahead and use NYJ even though most will probably use them and save ATL for week 15 which looks to be a tough week for everyone with what they have left. By the way GREAT website,

  • Charlie

    By the way Atl would be my best pick for week 15 also. Thanks

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Charlie — If nobody else has Atlanta left, I’d go ahead and pick them, and hope for upsets in the other games.

  • Cory Fanasyteam

    7 people left, so far the other 6 have picked: (Subject to change)
    Bengals-1 (Ive already picked them)

    Im feeling Pittsburgh this week, really cant see them losing this week coming off a bye, Cassel/Charles/Berry out, KC coming off a short week where they got blown out.  It might not be the best pick for my future but I think it’l get me through the week, any advice?

  • http://www.teamrankings.com/ David Hess

    Cory — I agree with what you said. It’s definitely not the best pick for your future, but it should get you through the week. Given that only 7 are left, getting through the week is pretty important. I would think your pool will probably still be active in Week 14, so I’d probably still lean NYJ, but it’s very close, and the main thing is just to stay away from Atlanta.

  • Cory Fanasyteam

    Week 14 is my most confident week remaining haha, still got the Ravens and most of my opponents dont

  • DK

    Should I take Texans or Bengals?