Week 17 NFL Survivor Strategy: 6 Picks Stand Out Above The Rest As Motivation Plays A Huge Role

posted in NFL, NFL Survivor Pools

Week 17is here, which means — if you’re still alive — that there is only one more game standing between you and a share of the prize pool!

The decisions this week get much easier, as there is no more future value to consider. The choices can be based purely on immediate expected value. No more “saving” teams for later.

Burn ’em if got ’em!

[Welcome to the Week 17 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 16 Survivor Review

Last week saw the most popular pick (Houston) fall to the Colts in a pretty big upset. Luckily for readers of this column, they were our lone STAY AWAY rating in Week 16, so hopefully you survived while watching a big chunk of your opponents take a tumble.

Our official pick, the Carolina Panthers, destroyed Tampa Bay, 48-16. The Panthers are on the road against the Saints this week, so there was no future value lost there.

Overall, 29% of Yahoo players were eliminated, leaving only 125 people remaining. Wonder how many of those read this column …

Week 17 Survivor Decision Factors

As we mentioned above, future value doesn’t really exist any more, so we’re simplifying the table a bit this week, and leaving that out.

The other important thing to note this week is that playoff positioning plays a big role in Week 17. Some teams are in must win games, others are playing for seeding, and still others are locked in a certain spot and may rest starters. So, we’ve tried to point out these situations wherever relevant.

TeamOpponentLineTR OddsPick %Notes
Atlantavs Tampa Bay-12.082%10.8%PICKED
New Englandvs Buffalo-11.081%4.0%PICKED
San Franciscoat St Louis-10.572%19.1%PICKED
New Orleansvs Carolina-9.080%4.9%PICKED
Philadelphiavs Washington-9.077%35.3%
Pittsburghat Cleveland-7.077%3.7%PICKED; Ben R sitting?
Denvervs Kansas City-3.568%5.5%only DEN alive
Jacksonvillevs Indianapolis-3.559%3.3%
Detroitat Green Bay-3.558%0.6%PICKED; will either rest starters?
NY Giantsvs Dallas-3.065%3.1%PICKED
Oaklandvs San Diego-3.062%1.2%must win for OAK
Arizonavs Seattle-3.061%0.4%
Tennesseeat Houston-3.056%0.4%result only matters to TEN
Miamivs NY Jets-1.552%0.5%must win for NYJ
Minnesotavs Chicago-1.057%0.3%
Baltimoreat Cincinnati-1.053%0.3%PICKED; must win for CIN

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), New York Jets (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN), Baltimore Ravens (WIN), Atlanta Falcons (WIN), Carolina Panthers (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

Atlanta vs Tampa Bay — Atlanta must win (and have Detroit lose) to make the playoffs, while Tampa Bay is out of the hunt, so the motivational edge goes to the Falcons. They have the highest line of the week, the best TR win odds, and are only being picked by 11% of Yahoo. They’re the best pick this week, if you have them available.

New England vs Buffalo — The Patriots are very, very, similar to the Falcons, with their line and win odds just a hair behind. Their lower public pick percentage nearly makes up for that. New England is an excellent pick. They don’t have the #1 seed locked up, so a win is still important to them.

San Francisco at St Louis — A win would ensure a first round bye for the 49ers, so they should be fired up. However, our models project SF as the riskiest pick out of the six teams that are favorites of a touchdown or more. Plus, they are the second most popular pick of the week, at 19%. Therefore, the ‘Niners are a decent pick, but we’d slot them behind ATL, NE, NO, or possibly even PIT.

New Orleans vs Carolina — The Saints are still alive for a first round bye (though it would take a Rams upset of the 49ers), so they should be fairly motivated, and shouldn’t rest starters. They are a tick below the first few teams in terms of the betting spread, but our models actually have them nearly on par with ATL/NE. Combined with their low pick rate (5%), this makes them a great choice, just a hair behind the top two in terms of immediate value.

Philadelphia vs Washington — While the Eagles are solidly in this top tier in terms of the line and TR win odds, they are the most popular pick, at 35%. That lowers their immediate value enough that they are the worst pick of these large favorites. Still, they are a solid pick, and better than any of the small favorites (-3.5 or closer). The main plus for us is … we haven’t picked them yet, unlike these other big faves.

Pittsburgh at Cleveland — While the numbers place this game in the top tier in terms of being low risk, we are a tiny bit dubious because of reports that Ben Roethlisberger may not play the full game. Still, the game matters seeding-wise to the Steelers but not to the Browns, so we’re inclined to go ahead and trust the numbers. That makes the Steelers a solid choice, just behind the top triumvirate of ATL/NE/NO.

Favorites of about a field goal — Denver, Jacksonville, Detroit, the New York Giants, Oakland, Arizona, and Tennessee all are favored by 3 or 3.5 points, have TR win odds between 56% and 68%, and are being picked by between 0.4% and 5.5% of Yahoo players. All these choices are a definite step down from any of the teams we listed individually above. The best of the bunch is Denver hosting Kansas City, the worst it Tennessee traveling to Houston, and the rest are fairly jumbled in the middle. Stick to one of the bigger favorites if possible. Otherwise, we’d rank them according to our TR win odds.

Other Teams — If you’re forced to take one of the remaining teams, you are in extremely precarious territory. Hopefully you’ve got a better choice available. If not, just use our win odds or the Vegas line to find the best option.

Official Week 17 NFL Survivor Pick:  Philadelphia Eagles over Washington Redskins

As we explained above, the Eagles are not the ideal pick this week because they are so popular, but they’re the only one of the big favorites we have left, so they’re our choice.

If you’ve actually got more than one of the big faves left, first of all, congratulations on making it this far without burning the top teams. Second, here’s how we rank the top choices this week:

  • 1. Atlanta Falcons
  • 2. New England Patriots
  • 3. New Orleans Saints
  • 4. Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 5. San Francisco 49ers
  • 6. Philadelphia Eagles

Beyond that, you’re taking a steep hit to your odds of surviving the week, so hopefully you have one of the above available. If not, we’d basically rank the remaining teams in order of our win odds, with one big caveat — if one of the teams in this lower tier appears to be pretty popular in your pool, stay away and pick the next safest option. The differences in win odds down here are fairly small, so being able to root for an upset to knock out a chunk of your pool has more value than the small difference between the safety of the picks.

Good luck!

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

  • Frank Elways

    So I can force a playoff by picking the eagles (two others left and they both will be taking the eagles), or I can go for the kill with the Saints, introducing the chance that I get eliminated.  Play to survive, or play to win? Saints spread has been plummeting to as low as 7.5, probably cause of talk of resting the starters, so I’m a little nervous.

  • Anon

    ATL is already in the playoffs, but must win and have DET lose to get the 5 instead of 6 seed. I think TEN playing for their playoff lives against banged up HOU who will be resting players is the 7th best pick, and could jump PHI based on public pick percentages. Great stuff!

  • Jared

    I have Atl, SF & NE avaiable to pick. My issue with taking ATL is that Det v GB is @ 1 & Atl may have nothing to play for by the time they take the field… I’m supprised that was not mentioned in the write up for your “best pick of the week” if you have them…

  • http://twitter.com/gunz4sale Ray P

    So you really think I should take ATL over New England? I saw something on Brady getting an X-Ray for a seperated shoulder. Do we know if he’s going to go for sure on Sunday?

  • Anonymous

    Hi David,

    You mention above that ATL must win and DET lose for ATL to make the playoffs.  I don’t think that is true.  ATL must win and DET lose for ATL to get the #5 seed and avoid going to New Orleans first round.  If DET beats GB at 1pm, then ATL has nothing to play for at 4pm and is locked into the #6 seed.  Beware. 

    We still have 13 people left and will start over in the playoffs with all teams available. Will you guys still be posting data through the playoffs?


  • BillyWest8

    Two people are picking Oakland, two are picking Denver… Denver is the highest ranked team that I have left. Should I settle for the potential three way tie with Oakland losing, or should I reach for someone like AZ or Jax and go for the win? AZ scares me more than Jax, to be honest with you…

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

    Frank — Payton has said he won’t rest the starters, which makes sense, as they’ll  still be in contention for the #2 seed when the game starts.

    How does your playoff work? Will teams reset, or do your picks carry over? If they reset, the math says very clearly to take the Saints this week, in the hopes that a single loss by the Eagles knocks out both opponents.

    If the teams DON’T reset, then you need to worry about saving playoff teams, and it’s a much tougher choice. In that case, I’d probably go with the Eagles. (Unless you think you will be in terrible position for the playoffs anyway. Then I might gamble and go for the kill.)

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

    Several good comments here pointing out that by the time the Falcons play, Detroit may have already beaten Green Bay, in which case the game no longer matters for Atlanta, so they may rest starters. That’s a very good point, but I think the markets should be taking that into account already, and docking them some value. Still, the choice between Atlanta and NE in the top spot was a very close one, so maybe New England should be bumped ahead. Hard to say.

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

    Anon — Given the pick% in Yahoo (which obviously may not match your pool), TEN would need about a 70% chance to beat Houston in order for them to pull even with Philly in expected value. That’s seems very high to me, but not impossible. I’d keep watching the lines and see if they move significantly.

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

    Jared — Good point. ATL or NE is a virtual tie by the numbers, so if you feel uncomfortable backing ATL for this reason, that is enough to jump NE to the top spot, easily.

  • BillyWest8

    Forgot to mention that there is no tie-breaker, so I can either go for the win or settle with a split…

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

    Ray — Reports are that he’ll play, but will be in slight pain. Atlanta has the negative of possibly having the game not matter. The Pats have the negative of Brady’s shoulder. The numbers have them at almost a dead heat anyway. No real right or wrong answer here.

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

    Russ — Good point about Atlanta, though the Vegas line should already be taking that into account to a certain extent.

    I’m not sure what the plan will be for the playoffs. We should post *something* just not sure what yet.

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

    The numbers definitely say to go with ARI/JAX if you know that 2 people each will be on those other teams.

    Well, let me rephrase that. The numbers show that picking ARI/JAX has the highest *average* expected value. That’s because sometimes you’ll sweep the whole pot with that pick. However, you have a slightly greater chance of losing, as well. It’s something along these lines…

    If you go with ARI/JAX, you will sweep the whole pot about 8% of the time. In exchange for that chance, you will get knocked out (and your opponents WON’T) about 4% more often.

    It’s up to you to decide if that tradeoff is worth it. If the pot is huge at this point, you may want to give up the chance of sweeping, to raise your odds of getting at least *something).

    As for ARI or JAX, it’s a virtual tie by the numbers, so go with whichever makes you more comfortable (assuming you don’t go the safer route and pick DEN).

  • Frank Elways

    + 1 for playoff blogs please.

  • Derrick

    I have Pitts and Phylie both leftFew have Pitts from what I can see , but does Pitt rest regulars and allow Cleveland a home victory
    Would you go for the possibility of of a bigger payday with both sitting at the 77% TR win odds
    What would you do ?

  • Guest86

    First, thanks for your help.  I did not start following till mid season and it was very helpful.  Even more helpful were your comments to questions — although, after a while, I could guess what you’d say.

    Thoughts about hedging in a winner take all?  Cheapest and most efficient hedge seems a partial settlment, but after that seems a moneyline bet on the opponant could be decent if you can get >+250, if you have a place available to bet.  Could also bet on the opponant ATS and hope for a middle, but that feels less like a hedge to me.

    One last question — we have lots of entries in a big pool (900 and we have say 20 tickets).  Any rules of thumb on how many tickets to pick on individual games?  This one always gets us.

    Thanks again for you help.  Next year, we’ll have multiple entries and do a few blindly on you.

  • TX

    Down to 10 of us left. If more than 1 survives, teams reset for the playoffs, so this likely isn’t the last week.

    Of your top 6, I only have PHL available, but I really don’t like them. They are responsible for the elimination of my 2 other entries in the pool (weeks 4 and 10), and they have nothing to play for. Plus, 6 of us have PHL available, so I imagine most will pick them.

    Tempted to go DEN or JAX. Thoughts?

    Also, it would be AWESOME if you continued your blog posts through to the Super Bowl, as if teams reset for the playoffs :)

    Thanks for a great season.

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

    Derrick — All I can tell you is what the numbers and game theory say, and that’s that picking the less popular team (PIT) out of two with similar spreads and odds (PIT & PHI) will increase your expected value, because it allows a large chunk of your competition to be knocked out with a favorable result in a single game.

    Pittsburgh is slightly riskier, and it’s up to you to decide whether you’ll accept slightly increased risk in return for the chance at a bigger win.

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

    Sorry, I forgot to include what I would do … which is pick PIT (assuming your pool’s pick distribution is similar to Yahoo’s).

  • Joefast13

    OK last week, think Philly is an OK PICK they have momentum, however if more then
    1 person can take them say 5 or so then its whether you want a spilt or all the marbles.
    In that case take Giants AT HOME , 1 hit and ROMO will be history ,he may even fumble
    and if you lose at least you will know what the Giants will feel like.
    It will be like you are part of the team.
    Teams not to take over Philly are Jacksonville (upset) Denver (upset) Arizona (upset)
    Detroit is also a daring pick.
    Good Luck on you pick!

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

    That’s great that you could predict my answers. It means you’ve learned the concepts we use here.

    Hmm, I admit I have given basically zero thought to hedging. I think you have it right, though. A settlement would be ideal and more customizable. Then betting the opponent ML of your pick would be next. Sorry, I feel like I don’t have much to contribute there. I guess one thing to note is that if you make a safer pick in the pool, the opponent will have higher odds, so you’ll have to spend less to hedge.

    One thing to think about (thanks to another commenter for pointing this out in a previous week) is the game times. It might be too risky to pull off this time, since all the games except DAL-NYG are in the two normal time slots, BUT … if you pick a later game, you can use the results of the earlier games to inform the amount of your hedge. In other words, the more people get eliminated in the early games, the bigger your hedge should be. Like I said, it probably doesn’t work all that well this week because of the time frame. But could be useful in a future season when the late game is more desirable, or if you’re in a playoffs contest.

    Yeah, the optimal method of splitting up your multiple tickets in a big pool is a tricky question. I general, I recommend splitting them over 2 or 3 options, no more than that. If you assume each pick has a 75% chance to win (to make the math easier), then your odds of ALL your entries getting eliminated are:

    25% if you pick only 1 team with all
    6.3% if you split them over 2 teams
    1.6% if you split them over 3 teams
    0.4% if you split them over 4 teams
    0.1% if you split them over 5 teams

    By the time you hit 3 teams, you’ve already pretty much accomplished your goal of diversifying your portfolio enough that you’re nearly guaranteed to survive. But if you split over 3, your odds of all 3 surviving are only around 42%. (56% for both to survive if you pick 2 teams, and 75% if you pick only 1).

    So it seems 2 or 3 is the right balance of spreading risk while still having a good shot to advance all your entries. Then, instead of just doing an even split, I’d weight them more heavily on the safer picks and/or the ones with the highest immediate expected value (i.e. safe AND less popular).

    OK, essay over. :)

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

    TX — I ran through a few scenarios and looked at the expected value GIVEN that the true win odds for each team are an average of Vegas implied and the TR odds. Under that assumption, PHI’s win odds edge is large enough that DEN is only a better pick (from a pure EV standpoint) if FOUR more of your opponents are picking PHI than are picking DEN (not including you).

    So, if 4 pick PHI and 0 pick DEN … or if 5 pick PHI and 0/1 pick DEN, then DEN is better from an EV perspective. Otherwise, PHI is better.

    Of course, that assumes you give equal weight to Vegas and TR. If you think that PHI is actually less likely to win than that, then DEN looks like a lot better pick. If you dock PHI’s win odds by 5%, and the line by 2 points, then all of a sudden DEN is a good pick even if only TWO more opponents pick PHI (which seems likely from your description).

    So, bottom line, the current numbers say PHI is probably better, unless the picking will be severely imbalanced. But if you think PHI is not as safe as the numbers imply, then it only takes a slight pick imbalance to tip the scales Denver’s way.

    PS I did this all with Denver as they seem like a safer pick than JAX. But similar logic applies there. 

  • Derrick


    Last night I went to the movies.Saw the girl with the Dragon Tattoo
    After the movie I looked up one of the lead actors , as I had never seen her before
    Rooney Mara
    I found out her great uncle is the chairman of the Steelers , Dan Rooney..
    That said, I see it as a sign to go Steelers..
    Hows that for pure football science..
    Thanks again..by far the best site ive followed , and ive been studying foozeball since the invention of radio..lol..well..ok..not that long

  • Guest86

    Perfect, thanks and again —— great job and appreciate all the help!!

  • Guest86

    Actually the name Rooney Mara comes from a split marriage of her families —– Rooney for Pitt and Mara for NYG, so you can pick either!!

  • Derrick

    Ive used da Giants  :) so it makes it a mute point..just home the puppies in The Mistake by the Lake decide not to show up
    Oh what a great Sunday of football lined up.
    What would you poolies do..Go to work for the big money..or sit home with a few cold ones and watch the drama play out..

  • TX

    Thanks for the quick reply, David. I actually misread my standings — only 8 of us left this week!

    Here is the breakdown:

    1 will probably pick PIT
    1 will probably pick ATL
    2 will probably pick NOR
    2 will probably pick PHI

    and then there are 2 of us who will probably pick DEN (or the other guy might pick DET or JAX — he can’t pick PHI).

    I’m still leaning not PHI, as I kind of feel like WAS will win.

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

    OK, that seems reasonable. If you think PHI’s odds are significantly lower than we have them, it makes sense to be one of 1 or 2 on Denver, rather than one of 3 on Philly. Good luck!

  • ThaddeusB

    If you were in a pool with 28 left having used your exact picks and had to pick 2 teams this week, what would you do given that:

    -About half the pool is taking Philadelphia as 1 pick. 
    -No other team is picked by more than 5 people

  • ThaddeusB

     P.S. Thanks for the great column+site

  • Joefast13

    Picking arz or jack when you have better picks like Phil
    Or Denver is just foolish , I see Indy and Seattle better teams
    And expect both teams to win outright and in the Arizona
    Game Seattle will score first as Arizona has been a slow
    Starter. It has also been pointed out it’s in Jack best int
    Too lose …do they really want a other decade of Colt
    Domination with Luck

  • TX

    My predicted breakdown was close. The only surprise was that the guy who I thought would pick PIT picked DEN. So, in the end, there are 3 of us with DEN. Go Redskins and Broncos!!

  • MO

    2 survivors in large pool.  We both picked Philly this week.  The tiebreaker is we both have to select a winner for every NFL playoff game. The
    best win-loss record at the end of the playoffs wins.  Will you have a forward look during the playoffs, or will it be week to week?  Your analysis has been invaluable this year, and I hope it can take me through the final push…

  • Lolo

    Yippee! So thanks to your help I made it through my Survivor Pool undefeated. I get a bye the first week then it is one and done. PLEASE tell me you are going to keep offering advice thru the playoffs!!!!

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

    Thaddeus — Sorry I missed your comment, but by the time I received notification that you posted it, I was already out of commission for the New Years festivities. I hope your final picks went well!

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

    MO — 
    We do plan on posting some playoff Survivor analysis. However, I haven’t found reliable public pick data for the playoffs yet, so I’m not sure if we’ll be able to apply the same logic that we did in the regular season. At any rate, I plan on getting a post of some type up on Thursday. And, it should include some info on projected playoff odds, so you can use that to make picks for the whole playoffs, if necessary.

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

    Lolo — Yep, see my answer below to MO.

  • Fangeaux

    Great site.  I used your tools every week in the ESPN Eliminator Challenge and won the Fantasy Focus Man’s League bid with a perfect 17 week run.  I’ll be back next year!  Thanks!!

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


  • Lolo

    OK, so I got a buy this week because I was undefeated in the regular season (thanks to you)!  My pool 100 entrants, 2 losses and out in regular season, 1 and done in playoffs. There were 10 of us starting the playoffs. I was the only one who got a bye. I also have a one loss entry. So after much agonizing I decided (ungainst my gut feeling ) to go with the go with the pack mentality and take the Steelers rather than the Texans who I really wanted to take. My thought was that I go would go with the group to stay in and preserve my two entries. WRONG!  So 6 of us went out. That leaves me and 3 others. Of the 3 remaining 2 used Saints, 1 used Texans, and me nobody since I had the bye. So who would you take going forward? My thought is to stay on the AFC side and hope New Orleans wins. Then they will not have a pick ? If it comes to a tie-breaker it goes to the person who went the longest without a loss, which of course would be me. I REALLY want to win some money here!! Any help would be appreciated.

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

    Lolo — Interesting set up there. I haven’t even begun to think about this week’s survivor pick, and won’t for a couple of days. But be sure to ask this question again once I get this week’s post up, and I’ll give it some thought. Good luck!