Week 2 Survivor Strategy: Should You Sacrifice The Future For The Present?

Welcome to the Week 2 installment of our series of NFL Survivor contest advice columns, where we use a data-driven strategy to get an edge. This post includes analysis based on NFL predictions from our algorithmic Team Rankings models and other relevant data, like public pick trends and future week schedules.

One down, sixteen to go.

Before we get into the Week 2 analysis, let’s cover some housekeeping. In case you weren’t aware, there is at least one NFL game on Thursday in each of the first 15 weeks of the 2012 season. That means we need to get some Survivor analysis done on Wednesday, both in case the Thursday game ends up being a great pick, and to help people who need to have their picks in before the first game of the week.

Wednesday is pretty early to make a final call, though. Most games take place on Sunday, public pick data can change as the week goes on, and a lot of people don’t need to have their picks in early unless they’re taking a Thursday night team.

So, our plan for this season is to publish two Survivor columns per week. The first one will roll out on Wednesday afternoon (Pacific Time), as early as we can get it out. In it, we’ll take a look at the mid-week data, discuss our thought process, and make a preliminary pick.

Then, we’ll publish an second article on Friday afternoon with our official pick, and updated decision data. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section of either post.

Week 1 NFL Survivor Review

Despite some close games and a home loss by New Orleans, Week 1 was fairly uneventful from a Survivor perspective. Only about 8.5% of Yahoo! contestants were eliminated, with the Saints loss accounting for almost half of the casualties.

Our pick was the Houston Texans, and they easily took care of business, beating the Miami Dolphins 30-10. The Texans were a popular pick, but we’re perfectly comfortable taking a conservative option in Week 1, when it’s tough to get a handle on how teams will play.

Our “STAY AWAY” warning last week was bestowed upon the Detroit Lions, and it very nearly proved prophetic. The Lions were forced to come from behind in the fourth quarter against the lowly Rams, and needed an 80-yard touchdown drive to take the lead with only 10 seconds left in the game. Granted, that win counts the same as any other, but hopefully we prevented a few ulcers. There were several pundits out there proclaiming the Lions the lock of the week, which didn’t make sense at all to us.

Week 2 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? (Vegas Line & 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 Val: number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75%+, from our NFL Survivor Tool)

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.

***QUICK UPDATE*** The line on the Giants game has moved from NYG -9 to NYG -7. So, the Giants may not be as safe as originally presumed. What that means is that, if the numbers stay as they are now, Pittsburgh probably passes the Giants for our top pick. As we laid out in the article, we’ll make the official final pick on Friday. But for now, it looks like we’re leaning towards Pittsburgh. ***END UPDATE***

TeamOpponentLineTR OddsPick %Future ValNotes
Tier 1: Top Options
NY Giantsvs Tampa Bay-9.076%11.3%4good, safe pick
Pittsburghvs NY Jets-6.071%1.1%1riskier, but less popular, less future value
Cincinnativs Cleveland-7.069%11.3%0best chance to use them?
Tier 2: Might Be Worth A Look
Houstonat Jacksonville-7.575%9.5%6(PICKED)
San Franciscovs Detroit-6.570%2.4%5
New Englandvs Arizona-13.584%47.1%10save for later; pray for upset
Green Bayvs Chicago-6.065%0.9%3
San Diegovs Tennessee-6.067%4.0%4
Tier 3: Avoid These Favorites
Buffalovs Kansas City-3.561%0.6%0
Oaklandat Miami-2.555%1.8%0
Atlantavs Denver-3.053%0.2%3
Dallasat Seattle-3.060%2.8%7
Washingtonat St Louis-3.054%4.7%4surprised they are so popular
New Orleansat Carolina-1.056%0.8%3
Minnesotaat Indianapolis-1.051%0.6%0
Philadelphiavs Baltimore-1.053%0.1%4

Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (WIN)

Weighing the Options

New York Giants (vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers) — The Giants are the second safest pick of the week, behind New England, but they are much less popular, and have less future value. They are a good, conservative pick for Week 2, even if Tampa Bay seems bound to improve this year.

Pittsburgh Steelers (vs New York Jets) — The Steelers are neck and neck with the Giants for our top spot this week. The Giants are a good bit safer, but the fact that almost nobody is picking the Steelers off their Week 1 loss is a plus, and Pittsburgh seems to have a bit less future value than the Giants. Because future value is still a bit tough to estimate after only one game’s worth of evidence, we’re inclined to weigh it a bit less than we will in a week or two. We prefer the safer Giants, but the Steelers aren’t a bad pick either.

Cincinnati Bengals (vs Cleveland Browns) —  The Bengals are roughly as safe as the Steelers this week, but are more popular and have slightly less future value. And while Week 2 looks like it could be your best chance to use the Bengals all year, nobody says you have to use the Bengals at all. At this risk level, we prefer the less popular Steelers, unless you need to save Pittsburgh for the playoffs.

Houston Texans (@ Jacksonville Jaguars) — Houston’s profile looks very similar to the Giants, except they are a bit less likely to win, and have a bit more future value. Unless the lines change, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to pick Houston this week. (We’ve already used them.)

San Francisco 49ers (vs Detroit Lions)There will be much better chances to use the 49ers in the future. If you’re looking for a very unpopular team, the Steelers seem like a better choice.

New England Patriots (vs Arizona Cardinals) — New England is easily the safest pick of the week. However, we’ll probably be able to say the same thing in Week 8 and Week 11. The difference will be that in those weeks, they won’t be picked by nearly half the pool. Sure, the chance of an upset this week is low. But it’s not zero, so it makes sense to save the Patriots for later, and hope the Cardinals play over their heads Sunday and eliminate half of our competitors.

Green Bay Packers (vs Chicago Bears) — The Packers are the riskiest team we’ve mentioned so far. Their profile this week makes them basically a riskier, more future-valuable version of the Steelers. So they are a pass.

San Diego Chargers (vs Tennessee Titans) — Like the Packers, the Chargers are riskier and may have more future value than the Steelers. They also are more popular. So, clearly not a great pick, unless the lines change significantly.

The Rest — We were already getting a little too far from ideal when reviewing Green Bay and San Diego above. Picking any other team is pretty much all risk, no reward.

Preliminary Week 2 NFL Survivor Pick: New York Giants over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

***QUICK UPDATE*** The line on the Giants game has moved from NYG -9 to NYG -7. So, the Giants may not be as safe as originally presumed. What that means is that, if the numbers stay as they are now, Pittsburgh probably passes the Giants for our top pick. As we laid out in the article, we’ll make the official final pick on Friday. But for now, it looks like we’re leaning towards Pittsburgh. ***END UPDATE***

This is a very close call between the Giants and Steelers. The Giants are safer, but are more popular and seem to have more future value. However, it’s fairly difficult to judge future value after only one week, and it’s not as if the Giants are super popular; only 11% of the public is picking them.

There’s also a general strategy point that comes into play here. Sometimes in Survivor pools, it’s clear what teams you should save for later, even if they are safe picks — like the Patriots this week. But there are also close calls. When you’re having a very tough time deciding between two teams, and the choice is between A) picking a safer team this week or B) going with a riskier team now and saving the safe team for later, our philosophy is that you should generally opt for the safer team now.

That’s simply because it’s harder to predict the far future than the near future. A lot can change over the course of a season, like the star QB for that team you were going to save getting injured. Developments like injuries and general team improvements are more likely to alter a team’s win odds farther in the future, so you may end up saving a team only to find out their future value has evaporated. In close calls, take the advantage while you think you have it.

Given the above, we think the Giants’ higher immediate value outweighs their higher future value, so our preliminary pick is the New York Giants.

Let’s be clear, though: New England is the safest pick this week by a substantial margin. But part of maximizing your odds to win a Survivor pool is recognizing that it’s a chess match and not a sprint. New England’s future value and popularity this week are more than enough to justify the incremental short-term survival risk of passing on them.

We should note that though the data right now points to the Giants, a line change or a shift in the public picking percentage between now and Friday could alter the balance in favor of Pittsburgh. We’ll be sure to publish updated data in a separate blog post Friday, and finalize our pick.

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