Week 12 NFL Survivor Strategy: The Lesser Of Three Evils

Welcome to the Week 12 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.

Enough with the narrow escapes, already!

Check out how key Survivor contests went last week:

  • The most popular pick (Cowboys) needed overtime to survive the Browns.
  • The biggest favorite (Texans) needed overtime to avoid a loss to the Jaguars.
  • Our official pick (Falcons) came back from 13 points down to edge the Cardinals.

Flip the OT outcomes of the first two games and we’d be surveying massive Survivor carnage, as nearly 60% of contestants would have been knocked out. Instead, only 1.5% of Yahoo entries were eliminated.

This week, over 75% of players are picking two teams, so there is a chance the situation above repeats itself. Lets hope this time all the breaks fall our way.

Week 12 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? (Average public Pick % from sites like Yahoo! and OfficeFootballPool)

3. Should I save this team for later? (Future Value: a quick rating created by giving 1 point for a future game with 75%+ win odds and half a point for a game with 65%+ win odds, with only partial credit for games late in the season when teams may be resting players; Near Value: a modified version of Future Value that places more emphasis on near term value and is more relevant to players in very small pools. Both are 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.

TeamOpponentSpreadMoney LineTR OddsPick %Future ValNear Val
Tier 1: Top Options
Chicagovs Minnesota-5.0-227 / +18561%1.4%0.10.0
Cincinnativs Oakland-8.0-390 / +33877%31.8%0.50.4
New Englandat NY Jets-7.0-320 / +28176%4.3%2.82.7
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Dallasvs Washington-3.0-169 / +15261%0.9%0.50.8
Tennesseeat Jacksonville-3.0-158 / +14358%1.1%0.30.1
Indianapolisvs Buffalo-3.0-156 / +14160%6.4%0.10.0
Pittsburghat Cleveland-3.0-154 / +13063%0.5%0.80.5
NY Giantsvs Green Bay-2.5-144 / +13053%0.1%0.30.1
Seattleat Miami-3.0-157 / +14259%1.3%1.10.9
Denverat Kansas City-10.0-500 / +42381%48.5%3.03.0
Tier 3: AVOID
Philadelphiavs Carolina-2.0-143 / +11028%*0.3%0.00.0
Atlantaat Tampa Bay-1.0-129 / +11752%0.2%0.40.3
Arizonavs St Louis-2.5-129 / +11746%0.8%0.00.0
San Diegovs Baltimore-1.0-113 / +10251%0.1%0.60.3
Houstonat Detroit-3.0-165 / +14953%0.5%2.52.3
San Franciscoat New Orleans-1.0-125 / +10564%0.1%1.92.2

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)

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)

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.

Denver Broncos (at Kansas City Chiefs) — The Broncos are the safest team this week, but picking them comes at great cost: they have the most future value of any team remaining and they are the most popular pick this week, with nearly half the public choosing them. Because they are so safe, they are a reasonable pick in pools with only a few people left. But if you’ll need to survive all the way through Week 17 (which most of you probably will) try not to burn them if possible.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs. Oakland Raider) — It’s rare for a team picked by over 30% of the public to be the second most popular team of the week, but that’s what we’ve got here. The high pick percentage is obviously a big negative, but the Bengals are nearly as safe as Denver, and have much less future value (borderline useful in Week 15). There are simply not any options this week that are very safe, very unpopular, and have little future value. Cincy checks off two of those three boxes, which is about as much as you can hope for this week, so the Bengals are a good option, despite their popularity. One thing to keep in mind is that having another team that’s even more popular mitigates the downside of Cincy’s 30% pick rate a bit, because you could still see half your pool knocked out in one game.

New England Patriots (at New York Jets) — The Patriots are the third team that you might call “pretty safe” this week (to use a technical term). Like Cincinnati, New England checks off two of three boxes: they’re safe, and they are unpopular. However, they will be a good option next week, or in the final two weeks, so you’re losing future value by taking them now. As we said above, though, there aren’t any perfect candidates this week, so the Patriots are a decent pick, despite their future value.

Chicago Bears (vs. Minnesota Vikings) — The Bears (this will sound familiar) check off two of three boxes: they are unpopular, and have very little future value. However, they’re a good bit riskier than the Patriots or Bengals. Still, out of all the unpopular, no-future-value options, Chicago is the safest. The Bears seem like a good pick, despite their relatively low win odds. However, monitor Jay Cutler’s status if you’re thinking of taking Chicago. The line for this game may move quite a bit depending on whether it appears he’ll play. If it drops, the Bears are no longer a good pick.

After the above four, there are a whole mess of teams with money lines in the -140 to -170 range. Hopefully you don’t need to dip into this pool of teams. Stare too long at this group, trying to pick the best option, and your eyes will eventually glaze over. All of them are relatively risky, unpopular, and have little future value, with only a couple exceptions. Let’s cover those exceptions, briefly:

Dallas Cowboys (vs. Washington Redskins) — The Cowboys are probably the best pick of this risky bunch. Based on their money line and TR Win Odds, we can conclude they are a couple percent safer. That should outweigh their slight future value  … unless you will need them next week, when they ought to be solid favorites over the Eagles at home.

Tennessee Titans (at Jacksonville Jaguars) — The Titans are a bit riskier than Dallas, but aren’t going to be useful going forward, so they are the other best option from this group.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Carolina Panthers) — See that asterisk by Philly’s TR Odds? That’s because when our models are this far off from Vegas, we get a bit suspicious. We’re not sure you should take that 28% at face value, but we do think it’s reason enough to avoid the Eagles this week.

Houston Texans (at Detroit Lions) — The Texans are among the safest of this bottom group, but there’s simply no way to justify using them this week when they have so much future value. Avoid Houston at all costs.

Official Week 12 NFL Survivor Pick: New England Patriots Over New York Jets

See that word “Official” up there in the section heading? Yep, it’s not a “preliminary” pick this time, because we’re finally choosing a team playing on Thursday. No backsies on this one.

There are three clear top options this week, and they each have one major weakness:

  • New England is safe and unpopular, but has a lot of future value.
  • Cincinnati is safe and doesn’t have much future value, but is quite popular.
  • Chicago is unpopular and has little future value, but is riskier than the Pats or Bengals.

We’ve already used the Bears and Bengals, so our decision is easy. Because our hand is forced, our official Week 12 NFL Survivor pick is the New England Patriots.

We’d imagine most of you are in a similar boat, but if you’ve got more than one of these teams available, first of all, congrats. Now, which pick is the best of the three?

If Jay Cutler were clearly healthy, the answer would be Chicago. However, as long as his status is up in the air, it’s tough to choose them with confidence. Still, we’re inclined to trust the sportsbook lines here, and right now they’re at a spot (-227/+185) where the increased risk in picking the Bears is outweighed by being able to root for two different major upsets (DEN or CIN), and by conserving future value.

If the Chicago line drops, then we lean towards Cincinnati, despite their popularity. The Patriots are borderline useful every single week, which makes them a great team to save for the future, even this late in the season.  So unless you have a clear path to survive the season that doesn’t involve New England, the Bengals may be the way to go.

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. 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 safest three teams (Broncos, Bengals, Patriots) is probably your best option.

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 Bengals clearly have the least future value out of the safest tier of teams, so they are the ideal pick. If you don’t have them available, Denver is a more attractive choice than New England because of their higher win odds and money line.

However, there is a caveat 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.

Thanksgiving Note

As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section. However, please note that due to the Thanksgiving holiday, we’re not going to be able to answer all questions. We’ll get to as many as we can, but travel, friends, and family will keep us away from our computers for much of the break. Also, our Friday post will likely be much briefer than usual, though we will still review the impact of any major injuries or line movements.

Good luck, and happy Thanksgiving!