December 28, 2012 - by David Hess
Welcome to the Week 17 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.
As the season progresses, Survivor pool elimination rates usually increase. People use up all the good teams at the beginning of the year, and their choices over the last few weeks become more difficult.
Week 16 bucked that trend, as over 98% of Yahoo! contestants survived. It was the second safest week of the season, behind Week 11. Our pick, the Denver Broncos, breezed past the Cleveland Browns by a 34-12 score.
We’re now entering the final week of the season. The decision-making process becomes much simpler this week, as there is no future value to consider. If you’ve got a big favorite available, it’s now or never.
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? Most weeks, this is a very important consideration. However, in Week 17, we can safely ignore this question, as there’s no future to speak of in most pools.
Teams are listed in order of how attractive we think they are as a choice this week in large pools. 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.
|Team||Opponent||Spread||Money Line||TR Odds||Pick %|
|Tier 1: Top Options|
|Denver||vs Kansas City||-16.0||-1395 / +970||88%||8.0%|
|San Francisco||vs Arizona||-16.5||-1200 / +865||89%||14.8%|
|Tier 2: Worth A Look|
|New England||vs Miami||-10.0||-520 / +439||78%||2.9%|
|Seattle||vs St Louis||-10.5||-608 / +504||80%||13.2%|
|Atlanta||vs Tampa Bay||---||---- / ----||76%||0.8%|
|Houston||at Indianapolis||-6.5||-300 / +250||73%||0.1%|
|NY Giants||vs Philadelphia||-7.5||-347 / +303||71%||14.8%|
|San Diego||vs Oakland||---||---- / ----||73%||13.6%|
|Tier 3: AVOID|
|Green Bay||at Minnesota||-3.5||-184 / +166||65%||0.0%|
|Tennessee||vs Jacksonville||-4.0||-204 / +183||64%||4.1%|
|New Orleans||vs Carolina||-5.5||-229 / +205||67%||13.2%|
|Washington||vs Dallas||-3.0||-180 / +162||61%||3.1%|
|Buffalo||vs NY Jets||-3.0||-177 / +159||60%||1.6%|
|Pittsburgh||vs Cleveland||---||---- / ----||63%||8.0%|
|Chicago||at Detroit||-3.0||-146 / +132||61%||1.0%|
|Baltimore||at Cincinnati||-2.5||-132 / +120||50%||0.1%|
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), Denver Broncos (WIN)
As you can see in the table above, the teams are essentially just ranked in order of how safe they are, after taking both the sportsbook money lines and the TR odds into account. There are a few minor adjustments for public pick percentage, but nothing very extreme. Let’s touch briefly on each of those:
Seattle Seahawks (vs. St. Louis Rams)
New England Patriots (vs. Miami Dolphins)
Seattle is about 2-3% safer than New England, according to both the Pinnacle lines and our models. However, in large pools where you’re going to be splitting the pot with a lot of other people, your expected value will be slightly higher with New England than with Seattle. An upset of the Seahawks is only a tiny bit less likely than an upset of the Patriots, and the reward is about a 15% boost in your prize share, compared to a 3% boost with a Pats upset.
Houston Texans (at Indianapolis Colts)
New York Giants (vs. Philadelphia Eagles)
The betting market rates the Giants as safer than the Texans, but 15% of the public is picking New York, while essentially no one is picking Houston. Combined with the fact our models prefer Houston to New York, that’s enough to bump the Texans ahead by a hair.
New Orleans Saints (vs. Carolina Panthers)
Tennessee Titans (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)
Green Bay Packers (at Minnesota Vikings)
Once we get down into Tier 3, public pick rates become a bit more important, as there is actually a good chance of these teams getting picked off. As a result, the New Orleans Saints (13% pick rate) drop below the Packers (0%) and Titans (4%), despite being 2-3% safer.
We’ve already used most Tier 1 and Tier 2 teams, so our decision this week comes down to the New York Giants or the San Diego Chargers.
Our models slightly prefer the Chargers. However, those models do not explicitly take into account “soft factors” like motivation, and this week there ought to be a significant difference in motivation between the two teams.
As of right now, the Giants still have some slim playoff hopes, while the Chargers have been eliminated. Possibly as a result, the money line for the Giants implies they have about 5% higher win odds than our models give them credit for.
That positive evaluation by the betting markets is enough to bump the Giants ahead of the Chargers in terms of safety. The fact that there is no money line available for the Chargers is also a slight black mark, as it introduces some uncertainty into the equation.
Both teams are fairly popular — 15% pick rate for the Giants and 14% for the Chargers — so that’s a wash.
Given that the Giants are rated slightly safer, and there is no line available for the Chargers, our official Week 17 NFL Survivor pick is the New York Giants over the Philadelphia Eagles.
This is the last week of the season, which means there’s very little difference in strategy between large and small pools. Whereas earlier in the season future value was much more important in large pools than in small ones, now it’s of no concern to either. The most important goal now — especially given the lack of a single super-popular team — is surviving the week.
For most pools, the best pick will be the safest team left available to you, with one minor exception.
Pools With Under 20 People — 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, meaning it may be worth your time to try to forecast who your opponents will be picking In addition, your pick makes up a sizable chunk of the pick rate, so it’s tough to pick a truly unpopular team. You generally want to pick the safest team, but if you can pick a team that is only a few percent riskier, and 10% less popular (based on your opponent pick forecast, NOT on the values listed in the table above … and be sure to include your pick in the percentage!), it’s worth taking on the small additional risk.
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. 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, no matter who the opponent is picking.
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:
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