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

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.