Week 16 NFL Survivor Strategy: Back In The Saddle

Welcome to the Week 16 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.

While the Miami Dolphins’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15 advanced over half of Survivor contests on to Week 16, the next most popular team, the Detroit Lions, couldn’t manage a win in Arizona. Their loss knocked out around one fifth of the public.

Our pick, the New Orleans Saints, laid a 41-0 whipping on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That ends our two-week losing streak and gets us back in black for the close of the regular season.

This week’s choice is probably obvious to those of you who have been following the blog all season, but let’s review the data before we make it official.

Week 16 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? We’ve changed this section a bit since there is only one week left. We’re now listing an estimate for Week 17 Win% based on averaging several sources (our Survivor Tool, our NFL season projections, and projected spreads from SurvivorGrid.com), along with a column that indicates whether next week’s game actually Matters for each team. In some cases, the results of this week will determine whether next week matters, so we added our best guess, along with a question mark.

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 %Wk17 Win%Matters
Tier 1: Top Options
Green Bayvs Tennessee-12.5-630 / +52084%5.4%59%yes?
New Englandat Jacksonville-14.5-900 / +70482%11.9%85%yes?
Denvervs Cleveland-13.5-750 / +60487%9.8%95%yes?
Houstonvs Minnesota-7.5-350 / +30577%0.6%62%no?
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Washingtonat Philadelphia-5.5-255 / +21570%3.8%61%YES
Carolinavs Oakland-8.0-375 / +32677%43.8%34%NO
Indianapolisat Kansas City-6.5-283 / +25069%17.7%38%no?
Chicagoat Arizona-5.5-228 / +20466%1.9%54%YES
Miamivs Buffalo-4.0-202 / +18165%0.9%15%no?
Pittsburghvs Cincinnati-4.0-195 / +17565%0.8%69%yes?
Tampa Bayvs St Louis-3.0-155 / +14062%1.8%24%NO
Atlantaat Detroit-3.5-190 / +17163%0.9%76%no?
Tier 3: AVOID
Dallasvs New Orleans-2.5-139 / +12654%0.0%39%YES
NY Jetsvs San Diego-2.5-134 / +12153%0.1%49%NO
at BaltimoreNY Giants+2.5+120 / -13251%0.0%43%yes?
San Franciscoat Seattle-1.0-107 / +10449%0.1%87%no?
vs San DiegoNY Jets+2.5+121 / -13447%0.0%73%NO
NY Giantsat Baltimore-2.5-132 / +12049%0.0%82%YES

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), Pittsburgh Steelers (LOSS), New Orleans Saints (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), New England Patriots (WIN), Denver Broncos (WIN), Cleveland Browns (WIN), New Orleans Saints (WIN)

Weighing the Options

New England Patriots (at Jacksonville Jaguars)
Denver Broncos (vs. Cleveland Browns)
Green Bay Packers (vs. Tennessee Titans)
These three teams are well ahead of the rest of the pack this week in terms of safety, with all having Pinnacle money lines of at least -630/+520 and TR win odds of at least 82%. The betting market ranks them from safest to riskiest as New England, Denver, Green Bay; our models order them Denver, Green Bay, New England. None of them are popular enough to raise big red flags, but Green Bay does have a slight advantage there, being picked by only 5% of the public compared to 10%-12% for the other two. The main differentiator here is that the Patriots (vs MIA) and Broncos (vs KC) have much easier Week 17 games than the Packers (@ MIN). All three teams may have something to play for next week, but it’s not certain. Green Bay is the best pick of the three due to their lower future value, but any one makes a good play, unless you have only absolute junk left in Week 17.

Carolina Panthers (vs. Oakland Raiders)
Houston Texans (vs. Minnesota Vikings)
The next safest tier consists of two teams with money lines in the -350 range, and TR win odds of about 77%. Houston would have a borderline playable matchup in Week 17 (@ IND), except they will likely have nothing to play for, so there’s not much value in saving them. The main difference between these two teams is that under 1% of the public are picking the Texans, but roughly 44% are picking the Panthers. That makes Houston the clearly better choice, and the Texans sneak into Tier 1 in our table. Despite their popularity, the Panthers aren’t a terrible choice either, mostly because the next safest teams either have some future value (WAS) or are somewhat popular themselves (IND).

Indianapolis Colts (at Kansas City Chiefs)
Washington Redskins (at Philadelphia Eagles)
Oh boy, road teams! We know how much everybody loves those. Still, these are the next safest pair of teams, with money lines of -283 (IND) and -255 (WAS), and TR win odds of 69% (IND) and 70% (WAS). While Washington may be ever so slightly riskier according to the betting markets, and do have a borderline playable game in Week 17 (vs DAL), the Redskins are the better play this week due to the moderate popularity of the Colts (18%).

Chicago Bears (at Arizona Cardinals)
Miami Dolphins (vs. Buffalo Bills)
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Atlanta Falcons (at Detroit Lions)
Here we come to a group of teams with money lines between -195 and -225, and TR win odds from 63% to 66%. None are popular with the public (2% or lower pick rate for all 4). Pittsburgh (vs CLE) and Atlanta (vs TB) are borderline playable options in Week 17, but it’s not a sure thing that their games will matter. Still, the possibility of future value for the Steelers and Falcons is enough to make the Bears and Dolphins the better picks out of this group.

Tampa Bay (vs. St. Louis)
Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Cincinnati Bengals)
Atlanta Falcons (at Detroit Lions)
There’s not a lot to say about this next tier of favorites. All are getting into very risky territory, none are very popular, and only San Diego may have some future value. Hopefully you don’t have to dip this low.

You might notice that we’ve included a couple underdogs in the table this week. That’s because there are a couple favorites (San Francisco and the New York Giants) that are very close to toss ups, plus may have considerable value in Week 17. In those cases, assuming you would actually need the 49ers or Giants next week, it’s probably better to take a slight underdog with no future value (we’d suggest the Ravens or Chargers) than to burn SF or NYG on a near coin flip.

Preliminary Week 16 NFL Survivor Pick: Denver Broncos Over Cleveland Browns

This week is a fairly easy choice for the official blog pick. We’ve got only one Tier 1 team remaining, and that’s the Denver Broncos.

It’s true that the Broncos have a very easy matchup in Week 17. However, there’s no guarantee that they’ll have anything left to play for next week, and we should have some reasonable alternatives (NYG, SD, TEN) that won’t be as popular as this week’s second option (CAR).

We’ll opt for taking Denver now and a riskier (but unpopular) team in Week 17, rather than taking the riskier and very popular Carolina now in order to save Denver for Week 17.

Our preliminary Week 16 NFL Survivor pick is the Denver Broncos over the Cleveland Browns.

Advice For Smaller Survivor Pools

At this point, with only one week left, you have to assume your pool will last the rest of the season, so there’s very little difference in strategy between large and small pools.

The main thing to keep in mind in smaller pools is that the public pick percentages we listed in the table probably won’t hold once you’re down under 20 people or so. In addition, your pick makes up a sizeable chunk of the pick rate, so it’s tough to pick a truly unpopular team.

Pools With 3-8 People — In very small pools this week, the least popular out of the Packers, Patriots, or Broncos is probably your best option. 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 — The pick percentages heads up 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 season will be over next week. In these 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 when there are multiple good options. This week, there are indeed multiple good options. Green Bay is the best pick out of the safest three teams because of their lack of future value.  After the Packers, we’d suggest the Patriots or the Broncos. If you don’t have any of the three available, follow our 3-8 Person advice and work your way down from safest to riskiest, picking the first team you have available, and making only minor adjustments for Week 17 value.

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.