Week 14 NFL Survivor Strategy: 29 In A Row Ain’t Bad

posted in NFL, NFL Survivor Pools

Welcome to the Week 14 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.

Well, it had to end sometime.

Since the start of the 2011 season, we made it through a run of 29 straight regular season weeks without a Survivor loss. Even taking solid favorites each week, the odds of that are pretty slim.

Taking a quick glance back at the last five weeks, the average TR win odds for our Survivor picks has been 73%. If we pretend that was our chance of being right in each of the previous 29 weeks, then our chance of actually making it through unscathed was 0.01% … that’s 1 in 10,000. We’ll take it.

Unfortunately, our Luck finally ran out (sorry, couldn’t resist), as Andrew tossed a game-winning TD with no time left on the clock to complete a 12-point 4th-quarter comeback by the Colts, handing both the Lions and our Survivor column a loss. If you watched the Lions’ strategy in the fourth quarter, you probably have some serious questions for Coach Schwartz, but alas, that’s just how it goes sometimes. I’m sure we’ve been on the other side of this coin as well at some point during The Streak, so there’s no point in moaning about it.

At least we can take solace in the fact that we weren’t alone. Week 13’s most popular pick, the San Francisco 49ers, fell to the Rams, knocking out roughly a quarter of Yahoo! contestants. The Ravens and Bears also were upset, knocking out another 12% between the two of them. Altogether, over 40% of the public was eliminated.

We know not all of you have followed our official picks each week, particularly last week when we faced such a close call. So we’ll continue to make Survivor picks for the rest of the year, even though our chance at a second straight perfect season is busted.

Let’s get to it.

Week 14 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? (Public Pick % from OfficeFootballPool)

3. Should I save this team for later? (Future Value: a quick rating created by giving 1 point for a future game that’s among the safest of the week, and a half a point for a game that seems borderline playable, with only partial credit for games in Week 16 or 17 when teams may be resting players. 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
San Franciscovs Miami-10.0-500 / +42381%11.5%0.30.1
Tampa Bayvs Philadelphia-7.5-360 / +31473%11.7%0.00.0
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Clevelandvs Kansas City-6.5-280 / +24869%4.2%0.00.0
Denverat Oakland-10.0-540 / +45481%6.2%0.80.8
Green Bayvs Detroit-6.5-290 / +25674%0.6%0.50.6
Pittsburghvs San Diego-303 / +24062%1.7%0.10.1
Indianapolisvs Tennessee-5.0-225 / +20161%6.0%0.00.0
Atlantaat Carolina-3.5-180 / +16263%0.6%0.00.0
NY Giantsvs New Orleans-5.0-225 / +20167%0.3%0.30.1
Tier 3: AVOID
Buffalovs St Louis-3.0-162 / +14660%0.3%0.00.0
Chicagoat Minnesota-2.5-148 / +13456%0.2%0.00.0
Seattlevs Arizona-10.5-550 / +46179%56.1%0.10.1
Cincinnativs Dallas-3.0-160 / +14458%0.1%0.50.6
Washingtonvs Baltimore-2.5-136 / +12356%0.0%0.20.3
NY Jetsat Jacksonville-2.5-138 / +12549%0.0%0.00.0
New Englandvs Houston-3.5-174 / +15768%0.0%1.71.9

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), New England Patriots (WIN), Detroit Lions (LOSS)

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), New England Patriots (WIN), Denver Broncos (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.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Miami Dolphins) — The ‘Niners, Broncos, and Seahawks are all basically even in terms of safety, significantly ahead of the rest of the pack. Of those three, San Francisco is clearly the best choice, as the Seahawks are way too popular, and the Broncos have more future value. The 49ers do have an easy matchup in Week 17, but we’re heavily discounting that, as they might have their playoff seed locked in by then, which would mean they could rest starters. (Then again, while Stanford’s coach, Harbaugh was the guy still going for 2-point conversions up something like 45 points on USC, so who knows how he’ll treat Week 17…)

Denver Broncos (at Oakland Raiders) — While Denver is about as safe as the 49ers, they have more future value, and are an option in both Week 16 and Week 17. In our situation, specifically, they appear to be far and away our best choice in Week 16. The Broncos are a decent pick, but there is value in saving them for later, and there are reasonable alternatives available.

Seattle Seahawks (vs. Arizona Cardinals) — The Seahawks are a huge favorite, but over 50% of the public is picking them. With so many other options available this week, we recommend avoiding the crowd. STAY AWAY from the Seahawks and root for an upset.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Philadelphia Eagles) — Tampa Bay is a bit riskier than any of the above three, but they are the safest out of all the teams with no future value. As such, the Buccaneers are a good pick for anybody that has slim pickings over the next few weeks.

Cleveland Browns (vs. Kansas City Chiefs) — The Browns are the poor man’s Buccaneers. They are another few percent riskier, but also have no future value. Plus, they are even less popular. Cleveland is another good pick for those needing to conserve future value.

Green Bay Packers (vs. Detroit Lions) — The Packers may be a hair safer than the Browns, but they look like a decent option in Week 16, which could come in handy for a lot people. If you’ve got the Packers and another of the above two teams available, we’d prefer to save the Packers, given the other similar options this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. San Diego Chargers) — There is only one major sportsbook with a money line out for this game, and our model odds may not be as accurate as usual, given the questions at the quarterback position for Pittsburgh. By Sunday morning, the Steelers may look like a very good pick, but for now there is enough uncertainty that we’d be cautious about choosing the Steelers. Still, if all you’ve got in the way of alternatives is a team like Atlanta or Buffalo, it’s probably worth rolling the dice with Pittsburgh.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Tennessee Titans) — The Colts are another step down in safety from all of the above teams. Hopefully you don’t have to reach this far down the list to find a team. If you do, don’t worry about the 6% public pick rate. Their lack of future value makes them a better choice than the Giants, but both are riskier than needed, given the other options this week.

New York Giants (vs. New Orleans Saints) — As mentioned above, the Giants have some future value; they look like they could be the blog choice in Week 17. Hopefully you have a safer option available, so you can save the Giants for later.

Atlanta Falcons (at Carolina Panthers) — The Falcons appear to be the best of the junk picks this week, if you define “junk” as any team with a money line under -200. They’re clearly very risky, and are only an option if you’re really desperate.

New England Patriots (vs. Houston Texans) — The Patriots are about as safe as Atlanta, but have tons of future value, so STAY AWAY.

Preliminary Week 14 NFL Survivor Pick: Cleveland Browns Over Kansas City Chiefs

[Quick programming note: we’re going to keep making picks as if we had survived to this point. So for our purposes here, we’ve used Detroit already, and still have Denver available.]

We’re having a little bit of déjà vu. Like last week, our best options are to either burn the Broncos now, or save them for later and take a riskier team with no future value (Cleveland). And, like we ultimately did last week, we’re going to go with the riskier team.

Here are the projected paths for each choice:

  • 14 CLE (vs KC), 15 MIA (vs JAC), 16 DEN (vs CLE), 17 NYG (vs PHI)
  • 14 DEN (@ OAK), 15 MIA (vs JAC), 16 CAR (vs OAK), 17 NYG (vs PHI)

And, side note, here is what your projected path probably looks like if you took Denver last week:

  • 14 CLE (vs KC), 15 MIA (vs JAC), 16 CAR (vs OAK), 17 NYG (vs PHI)

The drop in win odds from Denver to Cleveland this week is similar to the projected drop in safety from Denver to Carolina in Week 16. However, we expect Carolina to be more popular in Week 16 than Cleveland is now, and that’s enough to nudge us in the direction of saving Denver. So, our preliminary Week 14 Survivor pick is the Cleveland Browns over the Kansas City Chiefs.

However, if there is any chance your pool won’t last until Week 16, we would recommend taking Denver now. There is no point in saving the Broncos if Week 16 may not even matter in your pool.

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, and the tips covered in the pick discussion above. 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 49ers, Seahawks, or Buccaneers is probably your best option, as those three teams are in the safest couple tiers, plus have less future value than the Broncos or Packers. If you’ve got none of the above available, then working your way down from safest to riskiest (by money line) and taking the first unpopular team (only 1 or 0 people picking them) may work.

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 Seahawks clearly have the best combo of safety and future value, so they are the ideal pick. If you don’t have them available, San Francisco is the next most attractive, and then either Denver or Tampa Bay, depending on whether you think you’ll need to use the Broncos in Week 16.

There is one thing to keep in mind 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.

As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section. However, please note that the volume has gotten high enough that we can’t commit to giving everyone a detailed answer. But we’re doing our best and can make it work if we all follow a few guidelines:

  • First, please read the “Advice For Smaller Pools” section and see if that answers your question.
  • A lot can change between now and Friday, when we publish our finalized pick. So if your pick isn’t due until Friday or the weekend, please hold off asking questions until Friday.
  • If you do need advice now, and you’re in a small pool, be sure to include information about pool size, who you have available, and who you think your opponents will choose, as those are the key factors in small pools.
  • If you’re in a large pool, please include info on why you think your pool is different than the generic Yahoo! and OFP pools.