Week 3 NFL Survivor Final Update: Another Photo Finish (Update: Sun AM)

****** Update Sunday morning 11:40am ET: Point spreads for CHI and DAL have held steady but the Chicago money line has dropped even further on Pinnacle. (It’s now DAL -390, NO -390, CHI -290, which is a big dropoff for Chicago.). That does not mean Chicago is still not the best play in some cases…in the comments, for example, one person has a pool where 2.5x as many people are picking Dallas than Chicago. In a situation like that, Chicago still grades out as #1. Outside of an extreme scenario like that, however, Dallas is the clear pick.

****** Update Friday 11pm ET: On account of the Bears line change and model prediction update after this post was published today, our top rated pick of the week is now the Dallas Cowboys. See notes below. We’re updating the official pick.

****** Update Friday 5pm ET: There has just been a (for the most part) consensus line move against the Bears over the last hour, potentially related to breaking Matt Forte news, not sure. It didn’t seem like Forte’s status would be a huge surprise, so it could just be an overreaction driven by public money, but you never know. Still, our analysis methods largely assume the betting markets are efficient, so this could change things. Our models have not updated their predictions yet, but if Chicago stabilizes at -7 -110 and nothing else changes, it makes the Cowboys the better pick across the board. But honestly, it’s so close, we may not even update our official pick. We just want to make sure our readers get the latest info. We’ll update the numbers and post once it looks like they’ve settled.  

I’ve gotta say, the last two weeks have made for some of the more exciting Survivor analysis I can remember us doing. Wednesday/Thursday shifts in numbers have conspired to leave us wanting to wait as long as we possibly can to issue a final pick. Well, here we go.

First, let’s take a look at the updated data table. As a reminder, this helps us answer the three main questions we ask ourselves about each team when making our Survivor pick.

1. How likely are they to win? (Vegas Line at -110 payout odds & 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: the number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75%+ from our NFL Survivor Tool, modified by some manual fudges for Week 17 and special-case weeks)

Week 3 NFL Survivor Decision Factors (Updated)

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.

TeamOpponentLine (@ -110)TR OddsPick %Future ValNotes
Tier 1: Top Options
Chicagovs St Louis-7.578%14.4%1.5Good line move (0.5)
Dallasvs Tampa Bay-8.075%8.7%2.5Good line move (1)
Tier 2: Might Be Worth A Look
New Orleansvs Kansas City-8.076%33.2%1The crowd's pick
Tier 3: AVOID!
San Franciscoat Minnesota-6.572%20.6%4Bad line move (0.5)

Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN)

What Has Changed Since Wednesday?

Since we posted our preliminary Survivor article a couple days ago, like last week, there have been changes in information that impact our analysis.

1. Chicago is now favored by an extra half point at the sports books, which makes them look a little better this week.

Update Friday 11pm ET: No longer. This line move reversed itself Friday afternoon, and Chicago is back to -7 -110. Their model win odds dropped to 74% as well.

2. Dallas is now favored by an extra full point, and their win odds have therefore jumped a few percent. Dallas’ public pick percentage has also crept up by +1% or so, but the Cowboys remain the least popular pick of this week’s considerations.

3. San Francisco is now favored by 6.5, not 7, so their win odds have dropped.

4. Based on some comments questioning our future value calculations, we spent some extra time analyzing the season schedule and weekly available alternatives for these four teams. Some minor adjustments resulted. We gave a little more future value credit to Chicago, a little less to New Orleans, and we docked San Francisco a full win point. SF still has by far the most future value of any of these teams.

In terms of pick safety, Chicago, Dallas, and New Orleans are all extremely close. It really all depends on what source(s) you consider:

  • Money lines at Pinnacle Sports imply that New Orleans (-380) is the most likely to win this week, by a whisker over Dallas (-377). Chicago is a bit back in third (-342).
  • Our algorithmic prediction models, which blend Vegas odds information with statistical models we have developed, say Chicago (78%) is actually the most likely to win, by a whisker over New Orleans (77%), trailed very slightly by Dallas (75%)

Update Friday 11pm ET: Pinnacle money lines are now Dallas -385, New Orleans -380, Chicago -320. Decent dropoff for Chicago now. 

Given potential inefficiencies in betting lines, the possibility that higher vigorish (sports book commission) could be baked into the money lines of some teams vs. others, and margins of error involved in model calculations, it’s foolhardy to make any final decisions based on these small differences in win odds. Bottom line, it’s pretty much a dead heat in terms of pick safety between the Bears, Saints, and Cowboys.

OK. Take a deep breath, throw all these updated numbers into our analysis process and you get….

Official Week 3 NFL Survivor Pick: Chicago Bears over St. Louis Rams Dallas Cowboys over Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Update Friday 11pm ET: The dropoff in win odds for Chicago even by a half point line move is enough to put Dallas on top. We’re switching the pick. This typically doesn’t happen too often this late in the week (happened once last year), but our goal is to give you the best decision based on the most up-to-date information. If you’re already locked in with Chicago, don’t sweat it, it’s still really close.

We’re sticking with da Bears, but damn was it close. Make sure you read all of the notes below before you lock in your pick. And remember that all of our analysis assumes that the picking percentages listed in the table above are a decently close representation of how your opponents in your pool will pick. If you’re all of a sudden in a small pool now after the Patriots lost last week, there’s a good chance that is not the case. Read on for some tips.

First, let’s get rid of the losers. Picking San Francisco now looks really dumb given the options. To the 20% of the world out there who picked the 49ers, we say, thank you very much.

As for New Orleans, if you think your pool’s picks will look anything like the table above, it just doesn’t make sense, given how many people are already picking them. The Saints looked like they might be the safest pick a few days ago, but they don’t anymore…their money line is almost equal to Dallas now, and our models put their win odds in between Chicago and Dallas.

So why not Dallas? Well, probably no real good reason, besides the fact that we have to pick one team for this column, and the Cowboys rank as our #2 pick by oh, about as slim a margin as you can get. Here’s a few things you need to know:

  • Dallas is the top EV (expected value) team this week. This means if you ignore or highly discount future value and only focus on picking the best risk vs. reward team in Week 3, it’s clearly the Cowboys. In big pools, future value matters a lot. In small pools that aren’t likely to last until the latest weeks of the season, it matters significantly less. If you’re in a small pool with picking percentages similar to the table in this post, pick Dallas.
  • Our Bears pick is extremely sensitive to the number of people picking the Bears. For example, I re-ran our numbers shifting 2% of the public from the Saints to the Bears (e.g. Bears picked by ~16%, Saints picked by ~31%). Just like that, the Cowboys become the best pick. If you think that, compared to our public pick percentage assumptions, your opponents may gravitate even just a little more to the Bears and less to the Saints and 49ers, pick Dallas.
  • Based on what we know of team strength through Week 2, combined with the dynamics of this year’s schedule, right now we think that Dallas has more future value than Chicago. While the Bears do have several games against weaker opponents, only a couple are at home (Carolina and Cleveland). If you think Chicago has more future value or Dallas has less future value than we are giving them, pick Dallas and save Chicago.

If you’ve got less than 15 or so people in your pool, throw all this out the window. Your pick could be Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, or even the Niners based on how other people are picking. Catch up on the comments about tiny pool strategy in this article (surely coming) and the previous one for more insight.

When the dust settles, we gear our official Survivor picks toward midsize or larger pools, and based on the Friday numbers we’re sticking with the Chicago Bears. The Dallas Cowboys look better for smaller pools. Good luck everybody.

Update Friday 11pm ET: Cowboys for all size pools as of late Friday night. As you now know, this pick is sensitive to even a small line move, since Chicago and Dallas are close. Let’s just hope things stay steady from here on out, and we can just relax and enjoy the games!

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