Week 4 NFL Survivor Strategy: More Than Meets The Eye, As Usual

posted in NFL, NFL Survivor Pools

Welcome to the Week 4 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.

I’ll sum up last week in a song: “It’s a part….of my NFL Survivor fantasy….”

For those of you who did not grow up on 100.7 WZLX, Boston’s Classic Rock (in its early ’90s prime, by far the greatest radio station ever to hit the airwaves, by the way), I stole that line from a Bad Company song.

I know, I know, in this day and age I should probably be lifting quotes from Jay-Z or Kings of Leon or Justin Bieber to be relevant, but oh well. All I can say is, if you want to command respect in this world, pretty much all you need is that song blasting, a handlebar mustache, and this puppy right here.

Week 3 NFL Survivor Review

Last week was indeed a Survivor fantasy. It’s not too often that both of the picks that our numbers advocated (Dallas and Chicago) win, and pretty much every other team of Survivor significance loses, including our shout-it-from-the-top-of-the-mountain advice to AVOID San Francisco.

Let’s not kid ourselves. We got lucky. Out of Dallas, Chicago, New Orleans, and San Francisco, you would have expected one of those teams to lose. The fact that two lost, and that those two teams were the Saints and Niners, was primarily evidence of good fortune shining down on us.

But then to have our lovely friends in Oakland deliver a tasty dessert of spit-roasted Pittsburgh to top off the feast…man, last Sunday was like, All-You-Can-Eat Brazilian Steakhouse good!

The big takeaway here is a point we stress over and over and over. You will always need luck to win a pool, but if you are playing the odds intelligently, you can squeeze maximum returns out of good luck when it comes your way. Since we stayed off the most popular picks last week and we got lucky, our opposition simply got decimated. Over 70% of surviving entries on Yahoo! bit the dust on Sunday, a death toll significantly worse than even what the Cardinals/Patriots upset inflicted on pools in Week 2. Overall, the average Survivor pool has now lost almost 90% of its starting entries, and it’s only been three weeks.

So take a minute to pat yourself on the back if you’re still alive. Your odds to win your survivor pool are now around 10 times greater than they were at the start of this month. And if you’re in a smaller pool, your animal instincts are starting to detect the tantalizing scent of victory nearby. It’s the end-game now. You’re going to need to play even smarter and get another lucky break or two to pull it off, but we could have hardly asked for a better set-up heading into Week 4.

Notes On “End Game” Strategy

If you’re reading this post, odds are you’ve been following our Survivor advice and now find yourself one of few people remaining in your pool. If you started out in a big pool and there are still 100 or so people left, or 500, or 1,000, your approach to strategy shouldn’t change that much. You’ve done really well so far, but you’re still a longshot to win it all, and you need to keep taking smart risks to maximize your odds.

However, in smaller pools, it could be just you and one or two other people left at his point — or five or ten other people. That definitely changes things. Here are the main reasons how:

  • It’s less likely that your opponents’ picks will closely mimic the national public picking averages. Due to the combination of randomness, the very small number of people left in your pool, and things like regional bias, the distribution of picks in your tiny pool could be modestly or significantly different then the public picking trends on which we base our official weekly pick. For example, if 55% of people nationally are picking Baltimore this week, in a 5-person pool, your initial guess would be that three of those five people pick the Ravens. However, if it turns out one or two people in your pool just happen to hate the Ravens, or if no one in your pool has used Houston so far, you may only get one (20%) or two (40%) of your opponents on Baltimore. That’s way off the national average, and could be enough to completely change our advice for you. So a key skill at this point is figuring out which teams your opponents left still have available, sizing up their tendencies and personal opinions about teams, and producing your best guess on how you think they will all pick.
  • Future value means less. If your pool is down to a very small number of people, odds are that the winner is going to be crowned well before Week 17. That means you will likely end up not using a greater number of teams, and should be less concerned with “burning” good teams early. Specifically, even a good team that happens to have several of its favorable match-ups toward the very end of the year is worth less than it would have been if 70% of your pool were still alive.
  • Resist the urge to play overly conservative just because you’re close to winning. This is probably the most important point, referring to the mentality that separates those who are truly willing to make the best decision (i.e. the one that offers the highest expected value) from those who get nervous and make sub-optimal decisions late in the game. If you’ve been following our advice, you got this far because of trusting the numbers. So why in the world would you abandon them now, even if you feel they are recommending a somewhat “risky” pick? Every pick has risk. See Patriots, Week 2, and 49ers, Week 3. If you believe the announcers, these are the best teams in the NFL! The safest picks you can make! Yet wow, they sure are losing a lot lately, aren’t they! So tune out the hype. The bottom line is, an opportunity to take a smart risk and “go for the kill,” so to speak, can come at any time. It may not come until Week 10. It may come this week. You’ll never be certain, and you need to have the confidence to recognize a smart gamble when it presents itself, and go for it.

Updates To Our Methods: Introducing “Near Term Value”

The uniqueness of the current situation, with only 10% of entries left in the average pool, prompted yet another minor enhancement to our methods this week. Because future value of teams is less important now for people in small pools, we developed a second measure of future value I’m going to call Near Term Value.

The approach is pretty darn crude, the application doesn’t totally reflect the theory behind it, and the calculation is a bit arbitrary. With all that said, directionally it should help. Plus, we can always continue to refine it in the future.

What we’ve done is broken up future value into three-week increments. So instead of looking at future value for the rest of the season, we’re looking at future value in Weeks 5-7, Weeks 8-10, Weeks 11-13, and Weeks 14-16. (We ignore Week 17, when resting starters make pretty much any set of predictions unreliable.)

Then, we apply declining weights to the value of each segment. In other words, favorable matchups in Weeks 14-16 are worth very little, while favorable matchups over the next three weeks get full credit.

It’s not the most refined technique, but it should be better than our current approach to a team’s Future Value as it relates to small pool analysis. It also enables us to substitute Near Term Value for Future Value into our Survivor pick formulae, and see if the resulting top picks change from our larger pool recommendations.

Week 4 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 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 Value: 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. Near Value: a modified version of Future Value that assesses near term value and is more relevant to players in very small pools)

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.

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

TeamOpponentLineTR OddsPick %Future ValNear Val
Tier 1: Top Options
Houstonvs Tennessee-12.081%11.0%5.51.9
Green Bayvs New Orleans-7.577%2.2%4.01.6
Tier 2: Might Be Worth A Look
Denvervs Oakland-6.566%3.7%3.01.2
San Franciscoat New York Jets-4.066%1.2%1.50.9
Baltimorevs Cleveland-12.080%56.1%42.4
Atlantavs Carolina-7.068%8.1%74.3
Arizonavs Miami-6.067%10.2%53.2

Weighing the Options

Houston Texans (vs. Tennessee Titans) — Not much to say here. The Texans grade out as the best pick of the week by a decent margin. They’re the safest option (on money lines, this afternoon they were -613 at Pinnacle compared to -558 for Baltimore), yet the ratio of people picking Baltimore to people picking Houston is a whopping 5:1. (A lot more people have used Houston so far, plus some people are just dumb.) The Texans do have significant future value, but not as much in the near future, and even high future value isn’t enough to outweigh the other benefits. It’s quite the overall package, and friggedy-frack, we’ve already used them.

Green Bay Packers (vs. New Orleans Saints) — Well this is interesting. Solid spread and win odds, although granted they’re not in the same ballpark as Houston or Baltimore. And…wait…2.2% picked? Is that a typo? Part of it might be that everybody and their mother can’t possibly believe that the Saints could start the season 0-4, and that the Packers aren’t as good as usual. Well, put it this way…if I were going to come up with a plan for my 0-3 team (which, by the way, has now lost to three not good teams) to notch its first victory, it probably wouldn’t involve Lambeau field and a pissed off Aaron Rodgers and friends. That’s all personal opinion though, so let’s get back to the numbers. The numbers say that if 55%+ of your pool is taking Baltimore, and almost no one is on Green Bay, then the Packers look very appealing. Yes, they are riskier than Houston or Baltimore, but not by a ton. Even if we assume we’re overrating the Packers and underrating Houston/Baltimore, it would be about 85% win odds for Houston/Baltimore compared to 75% for Green Bay. The Packers are intriguing.

Denver Broncos (vs. Oakland) — This pick has a nice profile. Decent (not fantastic) win odds, very few people picking Denver (although still slightly more than Green Bay), but with the advantage of lower future value. With Oakland hitting the road after upsetting Pittsburgh and Denver coming off a home loss, it also seems appealing from the contrarian standpoint of exploiting people’s tendencies to overreact to the last game.

San Francisco 49ers (at New York Jets) — The 49ers barely made the consideration list, largely because our models like their chances and they have the least future value out of our seven top scoring Survivor picks this week. You’d need to get over the fact that they are on the road again after getting upset in Minnesota last week, though. San Francisco is the riskiest pick we’d consider this week, but relative to future weeks, now looks like a favorable time to use them.

Baltimore Ravens (vs Cleveland Brows) — Ah, the Obvious Pick. Are they safe? You bet. Conservative? Yup. If you pick them and they end up losing, you could never feel bad right? I don’t know, ask some of the people who picked the Patriots in Week 2. As of Wednesday, the Ravens are the most popular Survivor pick so far this year, with over 55% of people picking them. That’s a huge amount, and in a midsize or bigger pool especially, it’s a huge opportunity. There could be a special case where the Ravens are the best pick, but it’s looking doubtful.

Arizona Cardinals (vs Miami Dolphins) — The Cardinals are the third most popular pick of the week, are not particularly safe, and now look like they could have some decent future value. In isolation, the profile of this pick isn’t so bad, but there is absolutely no defensible reason to take them instead of Green Bay or Denver, both of whom have better win odds and similar or less future value, and are less popular picks. As a result, Arizona earns a spot on our Week 4 AVOID list.

Atlanta Falcons (vs Carolina Panthers) — The argument against the Falcons is similar to the argument against the Arizona. The Falcons are a bit safer, but they have way more future value, especially in the near term. You want these guys in your pocket for the weeks ahead, and it’s not worth burning them this week. Stay away from Atlanta.

Preliminary Week 4 NFL Survivor Pick: Green Bay Packers Over New Orleans Saints

First off, if you’ve still got the Texans in your pocket, it looks like the time to use them is now. Pick Houston.

If (like us) you don’t, Baltimore’s -12 spread be damned, our preliminary pick for Week 4 is Green Bay. This has nothing to do with the Seattle game’s ending or riding emotion or anything like that. It just comes down to the fact that in an eliminator-style contest, whenever 55% of a pool is on one team, it’s going to take some pretty special circumstances to conspire to make that team the best pick. And a 10% bump in safety for Baltimore just doesn’t cut it, especially when a relatively safe and hugely unpopular alternative like Green Bay exists.

In essence, we’re trading down from 85% win odds (a very safe pick) to 75% win odds (a safe pick) in exchange for an 11% chance to more than double the odds that we win our pool. Those types of opportunities don’t present themselves often, and we need to take advantage when we can. Looking forward, it seems doubtful that we’ll see this polarized of a public picking distribution in upcoming weeks.

To add some perspective here, this is a very similar situation to Week 2, only more attractive. There is a significantly larger concentration of people picking Baltimore this week (55%) as were picking the Patriots in Week 2 (45%), despite the fact that the Patriots, at a -13.5 spread, were technically a safer pick at the time. And we have a safer alternative to us available this week than we did in Week 2 with the Bengals.

As it turns out, the extreme public bias toward Baltimore is so great that it still pays to take the Green Bay gamble in smaller pools as well. That is, if you are in a 10-person pool, and your best guess is that at least five people will take Baltimore, but no one will take Green Bay, then the Packers are still the pick according to our numbers.

Note (Thursday 3:30 pm ET): The one probable exception to taking Green Bay, which was raised in the comments, is if you are in a heads-up play situation, competing against only one other surviving entry. In that case, we would not take on the added risk of Green Bay this week, and would pick Baltimore in a heads-up situation.

As we all know by now, a lot can change between Wednesday and Friday, so stay tuned. We’re going to spend some time projecting what will happen in the weeks immediately following Week 4 in terms of public picking tendencies, charting out our likely path of picks, and projecting which teams will still be widely available vs. scarce in future weeks. We’ll see what else comes to light.

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

  • theDavis

    500 down to 58. Woot! Picked Hou-NYG-Dal. I think GB is my pick for this week. However, I am heading out of the country and will have spotty (at best) internet for the next two weeks and need to pre-pick. Thinking SF in week 5 and Philly or NYJ in week 6. Thoughts?

  • Jon

    3 people left, 1 has already taken Baltimore. GB still the pick?

  • Cyndi

    What about using my bye this week. Pool started with 228 down to 36. 14 used their bye last week. I haven’t used Houston or GB. What do I do?

  • http://twitter.com/swamiluv Russ Aragon

    Houston is no brainer, gl

  • Dan

    Save it save it save it! There are some tricky weeks ahead… this week you have two solid picks to choose from. Although I hate “burning” them, Houston seems like as sure a bet as you can find to survive another week.

  • http://twitter.com/swamiluv Russ Aragon

    The key here is small pool,

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    If you don’t have a great sense that your pool’s picking percentages will be much different than the national averages, I agree with Russ & Dan here with Houston. 36 still seems big enough that saving a bye has value, and there are some big favorites on the board so a ton of people aren’t LIKELY to get eliminated, and you have a great pick available to you.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    If you think your opponents will go 2x Houston, no — Baltimore is clearly the best pick in that case, as they’re safer, yet still contrarian.

    If you think it will be BAL/HOU split, then it gets a lot tougher. By our numbers and informal majority 2-1 vote among TR people, Packers were still the call. However, there are a lot of variables and a bit of skepticism that would require more analysis to produce a better researched answer.

    Two points are worth highlighting though:

    1) In general, if you think you are way smarter than these other two people, there is value in not taking any major risks early in the game, with only three people left. If you think one of these two folks is bound to make a dumb decision sometime soon and it’s just a matter of waiting for them to shoot themselves in the foot, I could be tempted to go Ravens.

    2) Down to only two opponents, it’s a no brainer to see which teams they each have left, and if either of them will be in a real bind in one of the next few weeks as a result. If yes, then that’s when you can “go for the kill” instead of taking a bit of a risk now.

  • Bob

    Down to two people left in my 100 dollar pool. He has used NE, PIT, DAL in that order. I have followed your advice with HOU, CIN, DAL. I can tell if he’s made a pick prior to tomorrow’s kickoff (although not the team). So my question is if it appears he isn’t using BAL should I use them over GB? I’m thinking he might use HOU.

  • Chris

    If you can pick up to minutes before kickoff, and you can see that he hasn’t picked for thursday’s game, I think you should definitely pick BAL.

  • Bob

    i agree with you, would love a confirmation :)

  • Wile

    In 3 pools with 4 picks – have not used the Texans. Would you go Texans, Texans/Green Bay, Green Bay or Texans, Texans/Green Bay and then 49ners or Broncos? Each pool at 16%- 18% left so higher than the pools mentioned.

    Great car – would look better in blue (my Dad had one when I was kid).


  • Lasso Man

    Great work! My pool is down to 10. People in my pool went with Houston in week 1, so I expect a lot of Baltimore picks. I have already used Hou, NYG, and Dallas. I like the G.B. pick this week. I hate picking road teams for the pool, but next week, the pickins are slim and was thinking of using Green Bay NEXT week on the road vs. Indy. I expect the NYG (who I have already used) at home vs. Cleveland to be a popular pick in week 5, and the next few top matchups are teams on the road. Can you discuss your thoughts on road teams? How much do you models factor in that (huge generalization here) upsets are more likely to occur on the road? Thanks!

  • Chris

    Who do you like in week 8 if we burn GB now? I already took Houston too.

  • Bob

    I like PIT that week

  • Chris

    ya pit vs was or nyj vs mia are ok picks that week.

  • StevenB

    I’m in one pool that started with 700 and is down to 70. I’ve used your advice throughout, and will go with GB this week (as I’ve used HOU). Other pool is new one, just starting in Week 4, 200 entries. So, nobody’s used HOU (or anyone) yet. I expect about 50% on BAL, and 25% on HOU, and relatively nobody on GB. Is HOU stil the best pick here?

  • Dawgfan__1980

    Love these posts each week and appreciate all the work you are doing. My pool had over 10,000 entrants. We are down to just over 1700. Here is the kicker. In weeks 10-15, we have have to pick 2 teams. Week 16 and 17, we have to pick 3. I used Houston in week 1, before I realized you were doing these posts. Green Bay I actually had slated for week 8 or 9 where they will be obvious picks, but just before we get to the 2 picks per week and I really expect people to start dropping. I like the Denver pick. Considering the multiple picks week 10-15, do you see more future value with Green Bay or Denver? I had Denver as a possible play in week 13 and week 16, but both weeks appear to have several choices. I guess it comes down to this. Burn Green Bay now and make a tough choice in week 9, or roll with Denver?

  • Mike

    Our pool of 50 is down to nine. Of the nine, two have used Baltimore (including me), five have used Houston, and NO ONE has used Green Bay. Any thoughts on my strategy?

  • Greg W

    Great insight, once again. My specific situation is as follows. 4900 pool down to 780, I’m thinking I go GB here. 109 pool down to 18, 2 entries. I have Hou left for 1, so thinking Hou/GB split. Then I have a pool that had 20 and is down to 2. I don’t know who opp will pick, he hasn’t used any of the top choices. I don’t know if I go GB again, keeping my picks solid GB across the board, or if I slide Balt in for the small one, maybe even the medium one with Hou… I’m not sure I like the feeling of rooting against myself having so many teams selected, but I know it gives me better odds to win 1 pool vs trying to win them all. I saw your odds of losing post last week and that did help as far as understanding spreading out my risk and odds I lose 1 vs multiple teams.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robrodenparker Rob RodenParker

    Started with 200 people, now down to just 30. We start with 2, 3, or 4 picks. I started with and have 2 picks left thanks to you. So with just 30 people, I’m definitely going GB, but what about a second pick with 30 people?

  • Dave

    Phenomenal analysis as usual guys. Before reading any analysis, I figured that Baltimore was the safest pick, but like you say, they will be extremely popular. Other teams I thought about were SF, GB, Arizona and Atlanta. Good to see your reasoning behind SF, AZ and ATL. Likely I will end up picking GB – picking a survivor team at home just feels better to me overall. Though I do see SF winning against NYJ, especially with no Revis.

  • Tony

    Question for smaller pools: My pool has 12 people left. No one has used Baltimore. More than half have told me that throughout the season, they never pick the most obvious choice (which makes sense since we’re all still alive). Do you think that we’re at a point where people get TOO cute, stick to their strategy that “brought them to the dance,” and all of the sudden, the less-risky Baltimore pick becomes the minority pick (and hence the overall better choice)?

  • Jay

    you guys rock. using you in two pools:

    1) started with only 37 people…now 4 left (traditional style pool)…total pot: $740
    2) started with 688…now only 58 left (non traditional pool)…total pot: $65,200

    my question is on the second pool. a friend of mine and I are using two picks. luckily i talked him off the 49ers last week to dallas and i went chicago. he thinks i’m a genius ;).

    this pool allows you to pick any team each week (ie once you use a team you don’t lose them), BUT it doesnt allow you to pick thursday games…so only sunday/monday. this means 55% of the 58 won’t be on BAL (since they can’t pick on thursday). obviously leaning towards HOU/GB with our two picks, but wanted to get your sense on this since BAL is out of the equation. thanks for all your insights!!

  • Colin

    I’m in a pool where instead of not being able to select a team you previously used, there are “restricted” teams each week we cannot use. This week is Baltimore, Houston, and Atlanta (so I can pick anyone else). This pool started with over 12000 people (down to 1861 now) and always has people go through week 17 (at which point the money is split, no playoffs). I feel like this will make Green Bay the most popular pick, but seeing as my goal is just to survive (with no consideration to future value) I should keep picking the team with the highest odds I can, right?

  • Patrick Griffith

    It depends on how the others in your pool are playing. If most are playing based on the Vegas odds then there is a single “best” pick each week which almost everybody will take. If you take the same pick as everybody else and you win, you make almost zero progress. As such, it’s almost a lose-lose scenario. On the flip side, if you were to go with the second best pick of the week then you make unbelievable progress if the “best” team loses. Even if that means being less likely to advance there will almost certainly be an increase in expected value by NOT taking that obvious team.

    This week is a little bit trickier since Houston and Baltimore are virtually identical on the moneyline and action will likely be pretty evenly split between the two. If I was in your position (knowing only what I know now) I’d be taking Green Bay.

  • Patrick Griffith

    One comment and one question for you.

    I’m seriously impressed with your survivor articles. Someone referred your site to me last week from a sports betting forum I run after I went on a lengthy rant about how awful of a pick San Fran was last week. I’m one of the 5% or so of survivor players that I thought actually played it the right way by using this weeks odds and future value to determine the picks instead of “gut” feelings or whatever ridiculousness some people use to make picks. As such, at first the idea of visiting your site for help seemed laughable to me, because how much more could you know than I do? Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The level of depth that you go into every week (I went ahead and read your write-ups for the previous weeks) is truly remarkable. Good work!

    Secondly, a quick question. I notice that you didn’t address Detroit at all in this article. They were pretty much tied with Houston in my evaluation this week. Do you have any thoughts on them, or are you waiting until the odds are released? For reference, I have 4 entries in a pool with 2,124 left. Thanks!

  • Dan

    I’m locked in with the Texans. I was toying with using Atlanta or Baltimore this week but you talked me out of it. I think several in my pool will pick the Packers this week so hate to say it but, I’ll be rooting against the official pick this week.
    Thanks as usual for a great column. Even though I haven’t always gone with the official pick it has been very helpful in sorting through the information, and helping me narrow down to a single pick from 2 or 3 I have been considering. Your advice to pick Houston this week if availble sealed the deal and hopefully puts me on top (I’m one of 2 undefeated, though we do get to pick all the weeks. Tie breaker is longest streak to start the year so, I’m in a pretty good position).

  • Acetrizzie

    my pool doesn’t allow for thursday night football games as picks are submitted on friday, does this change anything?

  • Carlo

    Great articles. I’m still alive because of you. Houston, Cincinnati, and Chicago. Our pool started with 183 and now there is a total of 27 of us. Only 2 people has used Baltimore and only 1 person used Green Bay. Is it safe to say that 15 of the 27 will probably take Baltimore? That means the other 12 might go with Green Bay as well. Do I take a chance with Green Bay still? Or roll with ravens?

  • Chris

    Why would you figure the remaining 12 would take Green Bay? I’d say maybe 4 max do.

  • Carlo

    Yeah good point. I forgot that Atlanta and Arizona might get some attention as well. I don’t know I’m just scared to bet against drew Bree’s especially when the packers are all about running the ball and running 3 tight end formations. Baltimore pick doesn’t scare me at all. But like this article says don’t abandon the advice now. It worked so far so it should work again with Green Bay right! Hahaha!

  • mark

    In a very large national pool. 6318 entries left (18.5% of starting population) and I have two of them. Here’s what I have used so far:

    Team 1: CHI – CIN – DAL Team 2: PHI – SD – CHI

    HOU is the 4th most used pick so far in the previous three weeks for entries still alive. Should I go HOU with both entries, or mix it up and go HOU in one and DEN or GB in the other? I am a huge Saints fan, so to pick GB would be tough.

  • fredmertz

    Sorry if this is a repeat as I am having trouble logging in. Do you think it makes sense to take Balto in a pool where I have 3 of 14 entries left (down from 72). I figure if Balto wins, no problem. If Balto loses, there’s a good chance I will win one of my other two picks with Houston and Green Bay. And if Balto, Houston and Green Bay all lose, the pool will probably get wiped and start again. Sound logic to take them with at least one pick?

  • Anonymous

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  • Mike

    Hello Tom,

    The pool I am in started with 10,083 and is now
    down to 1,710. In weeks 10 through 15
    you must pick two teams and in weeks 16 and 17 you must pick three teams. It looks like I am in the same pool as

    I still have the 2 picks I started with and I
    owe that all to you guys!

    Pick 1 – HOU / CIN / CHI

    Pick 2 – CHI / NYG / DAL

    I was thinking either GB / HOU or GB / DEN

    Please let me know what you think.

    Thanks again for your help!


  • Mason

    So I’m playing in a pool with 5 people left (including myself). Of the 5 people left, 3 people have used Houston (including myself). How many people have to not pick Baltimore in my pool for Baltimore to become the optimal pick?

  • Mason

    So I’m playing in a pool with 5 people left (including myself). Of the 5 people left, 3 people have used Houston (including myself). How many people have to not pick Baltimore in my pool for Baltimore to become the optimal pick?

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Interesting one. I ran some scenarios, and the by far the biggest determining factor didn’t have to do with Baltimore at all. It has to do with Green Bay.

    If none of your four opponents are going to pick GB, I’d stick with the Packers. Odds are the other people will split among the Ravens and Texans, and even at 2 Ravens / 2 Texas, the most unfavorable split because it’s balanced, being the only one to take Green Bay is still worth the risk by our numbers.

    If you think anyone else will take GB, all bets are off. Go Ravens in that case.

  • Mason

    Thanks for the feedback! I’m counting on nobody else picking the Packers, so I’m going to go with them (pending your Friday update).

  • Rachel

    I’m in a pool where participants don’t get eliminated but, instead, we count win-loss record at the end of the season. How should this alter my picking strategy? Should I always pick the team with the best odds to win — while also taking into consideration future value? Should I be ignoring your commentary on pick popularity (and near-term value) because the size of my pool stays constant? So, basically, this week I should actually be one of the ones to pick Baltimore, too?! Thanks!! I enjoy reading your posts and analysis!

  • Rachel

    Oh, and I have already picked Houston. Trying to decide between Baltimore and Green Bay.

  • Ravensfan

    Started with 52 down to 4! Only one of the teams have used Houston so far, and I and the other two teams have not. Is it a coin flip for me between Houston and Baltimore? BTW thank you guys for your great help!

  • Jarrett

    Is there any sort of adjustment for teams playing on a short week? Or is that assumed to be taken care of by the Vegas lines?

  • Sammie

    Me too…I almost picked Dallas last week, which would have been OK, but am so glad I went with your last minute choice to stay with Chicago. I am now 3-0 and only four of us left. I was going to go with Baltimore, as like you said so are others although two have already picked them. So I am going to go with Green Bay. Fortunately, if I don’t go with Baltimore I can wait until Friday to get your last and final pick. You guys are terrific. I have had better luck with you than anyone in the the last 3 years. Have one 3 years running, except last year…there wasn’t a pool.

  • David

    Have 2 out of 290 remaining entries in a large pool. In weeks 14-16 we have to choose two teams. I have Houston still available to me for both entries.
    Houston does have good value in weeks 15 and 16, but thanks to the recent carnage, that may not be as big a factor as it once was.
    The question is, do I use Houston on both entries or do I take Green Bay in one

  • Devastation

    I’m in a pool where it is only me and 1 other guy left. I already picked Houston and he didn’t pick any of the top teams this week so I am leaning towards Baltimore.

  • Willis

    What about taking Cincinnati (vs. Jax) if I haven’t taken them yet?

  • Fo Real

    What you talkin’ bout Willis?

  • Hello

    But for real, what are you talking about? They’re only favored by 2.5 points

  • Jase44

    I am really torn. 6 of us went into a large pool together and only 2 on our team our left and 20 total left in the pool. The other guy I’m with is going Houston and I really don’t want to go on GB. In my opinion, New Orleans and Brees is too good to be as bad as they are and I don’t like betting for or against them. I really thought ATL would be my go to this week but no your making my head spin. Any thoughts on what I should do??

  • Jase44

    should also mention we can’t take Thursday games and it is non-traditional survivor meaning we can use the same team as much as we want

  • AL

    In your “Resist the urge to play overly conservatively”
    section, once you do get down to 10-15 people in the pool, isn’t it better to
    base your pick strictly on your TR ranking and not factor in the pick
    percentages? Logic being, you want to pick
    the team that statically has the best chance to win and not which team will
    knock out the most people if it is an upset.
    The team that only 2% are picking is just as likely to lose in an upset
    as the team that 50% are picking.
    Granted, the results are better if you pick the 2% team and they win,
    while the other 50% loses.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    The spirit of your logic (thinking more conservatively as your pool size shrinks) is sound, but only up to a breaking point. Take this extreme case, imagining it were this week:

    – There are 15 people in your pool, including you
    – BAL has 85% win odds
    – GB has 84% win odds (for the sake of example)
    – You know for sure that all 14 of your opponents are taking Baltimore

    Baltimore is still the safest pick, but still, both BAL and GB in this case have very similar chances to get upset. But if you pick GB, and they win, and BAL loses, you would win your pool. There’s almost a 13% chance of that happening in this case, and it’s well worth sacrificing a slightly increased risk that you get eliminated. If you pick Baltimore, you have literally nothing to gain.

    The actual case with GB and Baltimore this week isn’t nearly as clear cut, of course, but the opportunity looks sufficient enough to make the gamble a smart one.

    The main point to remember is that winning is not measured by lasting a certain number of weeks. If you simply maximize your odds to keep surviving and so do lots of other people, you could get to Week 10 or Week 12 or whatever but still not have a great chance to win your pool. You will enjoy the sensation of “feeling like you’re still in it,” so to speak, but it’s a mirage.

  • offshore rocks

    Pool of 280 down to 28, as of 7:30 this morning only 3 of 28 have filled in their pick, so I decided to go with BAL and save GB & Hou for later plays. Of the 3 that have chosen teams already, only 1 took Balt. The other 2 were Hou and Atl. Previous pics- ATL, SD, CHI.

  • offshore rocks

    Fri Update. Of the 28 left for week 4, 6 of us took Balt (21%) which sounds a lot better the norm of 50-55%. Onward to week 5!

  • Ducer

    You say in the article,
    ” if you are in a 10-person pool, and your best guess is that at least
    five people will take Baltimore, but no one will take Green Bay, then
    the Packers are still the pick according to our numbers.”

    So, where is the tipping point that make Baltimore the correct pick instead of Green Bay? 40% picking Baltimore? 30%? 25%?

    Of the 18 remaining in my pool (other than me…I’m #19) my best guess is:
    7-8 will pick Baltimore
    2-3 will pick Green Bay

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could tell you an exact “inflection point” like this with a high level of confidence, given all the different factors and assumptions at play. But we can do some rough math.

    Right now, the ratio of Baltimore pickers to Green Bay pickers (nationally) is around 25:1. Playing with our formulae, it looks like GB and BAL get into the “toss up pick” ballpark when that ratio drops to around 3:1 or 2:1.

    You’re right there, so if you’ve used Houston and are choosing between GB and BAL, just go with whatever one makes you feel best.

  • Dave

    In my pool we have to have our picks in on Wed night if we are picking the Thurs night game – so 25% of our pool picked Baltimore. Which is a little less than I expected. I’ll probably still go with GB (since I can’t pick Bal this week anymore). But unfortunately the math edge that you talk about with picking GB might not be true in my pool. Who knows what everyone else will pick, it might be spread out across a bunch of teams, we’ll see when the pick sheet comes out after everyone is locked in.

  • Ducer

    I hit the nail on the head…only 6 of 18 took Baltimore. I was able to take the big favorite and still benefit from the odds of 12 others taking riskier teams.

    Thanks guys!

  • Eric

    Down to about 8 people in my pool. Over the past few years, it’s been pretty consistent that people submit their picks on Saturday and almost always neglect to even think about the Thursday night game as an option. So I’m inclined to think that no one or at the very least only 1 or 2 other people might pick Baltimore this week. Taking the popularity factor out of the equation, would Baltimore be the best pick this week or would they still be better saved for later?

  • http://twitter.com/swamiluv Russ Aragon

    Any thoughts on the impact of regular officials will have on this seeks games? thanks!

  • Chris

    I think regular officials make it less likely for the worse team to win.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.silberfarb Daniel Silberfarb

    I originally had picked Baltimore and was toying with Denver, but your article convinced me to switch to Green Bay.

    Some things did bother me about the Cleveland game:
    1) I hear the same officiating clowns who botched the GB/SEA game will also be officiating BAL/CLE.
    2) It’s a short week.
    3) If you follow the efficiency rankings at advancednflstats.com, Cleveland seems not to be as bad as everyone thinks. Maybe slightly below average – ranked 19th.

    My main concern with picking GB was the future value. I had originally slated them for week 8 against JAX. Maybe I’m rationalizing, but here’s what I tell myself to feel better about this pick.

    1) In Week 8, if GB still has a double-digits point spread, they will likely be the top pick and I may want to avoid them for that reason.
    2) More importantly, if you believe the rankings at advancednflstats, Denver is actually a better team than GB and NO is a worse team than JAX… So I can always pick DEN v NO in Week 8. They’re only 3 point favorites now, but that may change.

    Still nervous about the pick and wondering if I should have gone Denver now, but picks are locked in 10 minutes. Should be a fun weekend.

  • JimmyV

    Where did you find the advance spread for week 8? Is ther a site that predicts all future spreads for the year? Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.silberfarb Daniel Silberfarb


  • Thaddeus

    Significant weakness in your analysis: you assume Baltimore pick % will stay constant. This is certainly false, as many people do not pick until after Thursday. For example, in my pool 42% have picked right now. By game time, that figure might be 60% or so, but that still leaves 40% who can not possibly pick Baltimore. If we assume 55% of the early pickers take Baltimore, that is only 33% of the total pool and likely changes the analysis significantly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/daniel.silberfarb Daniel Silberfarb

    In my pool, picks were due this morning. 55% went for Baltimore.

  • Frank

    I am one of 89 left. My options this week were Houston and Atlanta. I was leaning towards Atl to keep Houston for later, but now you have me second guessing myself. Other than future value, such as Oak in 2 weeks, where is the reasoning here? The Falcons are rolling, their offence is almost unstoppable. And besides, week 6 also had Pit, Bal, and NYJ as potential picks, even though NY has not impressed and Revis is out, it’s still at home vs Colts. Houston has huge future value, especially later in the season: week 15 hosting Indy. Please elaborate.

  • Steve

    Well, it looks like everyone loves to ask questions here but not answers. Tell ya what — give me decent advice, and I’ll do the same for you.

    I’m one of 6 left out of 70. 3 have yet to use Houston. Everybody has Baltimore left to use. Let’s just assume 3 pick Houston and the other 2 pick Baltimore. Is GB still my optimal pick?

  • geddy1001

    Hi so remaining in two pools: In one pool there is 4 of us remaining BUT have to have my pick in before tonights game. The other pool there is 2 of us remaining and I have till EOD on Friday to get my pick in. How do you think I should go about this? In the pool that has a few more players but earlier deadline, do I just do with your initial pick? In that pool no one has picked GB or BALT yet, and 2 of us (including me) have picked Houston if that helps. In my other pool, both of us have have pretty similar picks so far. Thanks!

  • NYJoe

    So, I think i’m in the same pool as DawgFan_1980, at least the same rules and same amount of people left, only difference is I have 2 picks.

    Pick 1 Teams Used So Far: Texans, Giants, BearsPick 2 Teams Used So Far: Bears, Bengals, Cowboys
    I was thinking maybe Packers for pick 1 and maybe Texans for pick 2, what are your thoughts?

  • mark

    Most people have got to this point by using a contrarian strategy, just like we have.
    If they continue this approach it might be time to mix it up and go with the favorite.
    A few players may forget about tonight’s game, lowering the chances even more
    that the Ravens will be over used. In the freak chance there is an injury in practice this week, is there a plan “B” strong enough not to take Baltimore tonight ?

  • Chris

    I was thinking that too, but then realized if this is really the case, why then are 55% on Baltimore this week? You’d think if everyone was contrarian’s there wouldn’t be such a heavily favored public pick.

  • Eric

    Question – we have insurance for weeks 1 to 5, if you lose in those weeks, you are still in. Would it be smart to play Denver this week, so that if they win you can keep Green Bay for later in the season? We are looking to find a “middle road” game to play. Thanks

  • Chris

    why take denver? they have some value down the road. weeks 13, 16, 17. why not take someone like KC? utterly useless down the road. and if they lose you’re still in anyways. hell you could pick cleveland.

  • G

    1 of 5 people left and 1 has already used Baltimore. Baltimore would be a good play for me correct?

  • Elvis

    Love the column. Can you help me with the math on the “11% chance of more than doubling your odds to win”? Thanks!

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com


    – BAL win odds 85%
    – GB win odds 75%
    – Over 50% of your pool is on BAL
    – You pick GB

    Odds (GB wins and BAL loses) = .75 x .15 = .1125, or 11.25%

    If that happens, your pool gets cut in half (more than that, actually) and you’re still alive. You’re therefore competing against half as many people, so your odds to win will at least double.

    Considering that one or two other teams that other people in your pool picked are also likely to lose, if you pick GB, and BAL loses, and GB wins, your odds to win your pool should actually increase by 2-3x or more. So I was being overly conservative saying they would only double…

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Thanks for the kudos, btw.

  • Elvis

    Perfect. Muchas gracias.

  • http://twitter.com/swamiluv Russ Aragon

    Off topic sort of Look for A. Rogers to have his best game of the season so faar this year, He has went against 9ers, da bears, and Seattle D’s ao far this year. Now he is going against maybe the worst D in the NFL. Fantasy playes back up the truck Rogers and Finnley. gl

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    No jinxing Green Bay now, ya hear???!

  • http://twitter.com/swamiluv Russ Aragon

    LOL no way….Gb loses the jinx this Sunday!!!!!

  • Joe

    Its down to me & 1 other person in my league (started w/ 40) …. neither of has taken baltimore yet …. so baltimore or GB?

  • joe

    Its down to me & 1 other person in my league (started w/ 40) …. neither of has taken baltimore yet …. so baltimore or GB?

  • Patrick Griffith

    Case 1: You take GB and he takes Baltimore. You have -EV.
    Case 2: You both take Baltimore. You have 0 EV.
    Case 3: You take Baltimore and he takes a different team. You have +EV.

    Take Baltimore to assure yourself of Case 2 or 3.

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    I assume you don’t have Houston available. In that case, with heads up play this week, I agree with Patrick on this one, I don’t think it’s worth the loss in safety to go with Green Bay, even though you are giving up some future value by taking Baltimore.

  • AC

    OK, I was in a pool with ~5K entries that is now down to ~750. I’ve got two entries left and have used Houston already for both – I suppose the question this week is double up on GB or split GB and BAL. Thoughts?

  • chris ventrone

    why would ever double up? I dont see how that makes sense, diversify your picks

  • Chris

    In 2 pools.
    One with 4 left. One has previously used HOU. Bal/GB never been taken.
    In that one I’m taking HOU. Mainly because 1 person can’t take them, and I expect the others to be on BAL or perhaps someone else. Would suck if the others also used this same logic and took HOU as well, making the guy who has already taken them to be the sole BAL taker.

    Other pool has 11 left. Most have used HOU, including myself. I assume that means most people will probably be on BAL, with a few spread between GB and others. Seems to be in my best interest to take GB in this one.

    Those are my picks as they stand now and I’m pretty happy with them.

    Go Browns!

  • Guest

    I think my comment from earlier got deleted? Anyway, there are 8 people left in my pool. In the past, most people submit their picks on Saturday so it’s been pretty rare to see anyone even consider taking the Thursday game just out of laziness. So I’m inclined to think very few people will pick Baltimore this week – maybe 1 or 2. In that case, taking the popularity factor out of the equation, are they the best pick? If I’m the only one in my pool picking Baltimore and they have the highest odds of winning this week aren’t they the best pick? Luckily I have multiple picks so I’m hedgging my bet with Green Bay and Houston anyway, but I could potentially take a bye with my third pick or use it on Baltimore.

  • Kevin

    You guys are great. I won last 2 yrs and I love how you are tweaking things to come up with the near-term value based on what has happened so far this season.

    Keep up the great work!

  • Steve

    I have two entries left in a pool that still has 50 people. I have used HOU with both entries already. My thought was to go with GB and DEN, but part of me is thinking of going the safer route with GB and BAL. thoughts?

  • Phil

    Hey guys, this week is very interesting because of the large percentage of Thursday night picks. How are you dealing with the Friday analysis… after tonights game is played the best pick will not take into consideration the percentage of people that picked Baltimore, win or lose, correct? So my specific question is, will the analysis be re-run, assuming a brand new week and pool size? The major change would be the pick percentages, Houston might go from 11% of the current pool to 20% or 30% of the remaining pool after tonights game, this change will cause Houston to be a less appealing pick. Maybe we should just wait and see what happens tonight, but for those of us that are picking later in the week, this will be an important factor. If Baltimore loses, the entire pool size will change and it will definitely affect the pick percentages, the more interesting case is if Baltimore wins.

  • Micky

    I am in 2 pools, one had 12 people left, and the other has 2 people left. I am thinking about taking GB in the pool with 12 left and baltimore in the pool with just 2 left.

  • Tony

    Well done article. Thanks. Rollin’ with GB this week. Great job on filling in.

  • Greg

    Do you account for leagues where you get 3 strikes and your out? So far I’m surviving with 0 strikes and one other player also. The other 14 people have 1 or 2 strikes against. In this case do I go with GB or BAL?

  • geddy1001

    So specifically for tonights game Im going Head to head. Neither of us have used GB or Balt. Is this the instance that I should take Baltimore?

  • Greg W

    Picks just released for 109 pool i’m in, down to 18, two entries for me still. 12 took Balt, 3 took Hou (1 being me), 1 GB (me), 1 ATL, 1 DET. Just thought I’d share.
    In 1 pool down to 2, took Balt, not sure on other guy yet. Final pool is 780 left of 4900, leaning GB as well with your advice. Makes me nervous having 3 teams chosen, cheering for a Balt upset which could lead to me losing the small pool. But i think i’d take it at this point given my other situations. Thanks for your input this week, look forward to any updates!

  • Mike

    Hello Tom,

    The pool I am in started with 10,083 and is now
    down to 1,710. In weeks 10 through 15
    you must pick two teams and in weeks 16 and 17 you must pick three teams. It looks like I am in the same pool as

    I still have the 2 picks I started with and I
    owe that all to you guys!

    Pick 1 – HOU / CIN / CHI

    Pick 2 – CHI / NYG / DAL

    I was thinking either GB / HOU or GB / DEN

    Please let me know what you think.

    Thanks again for your help!


  • rcc22

    ok…here is the situation…i have 2 picks…

    just over 100 left in the pool…about half have picked the Ravens.
    So far another 20 have houston…funny..nobody i believe except one other has Green bay…but still 40 or so havent put there picks in…
    Im thinking Green Bay/Houston?
    any thoughts?

  • SteelersFan13

    Hey y’all

    Gotta say your advice has been amazing. Helped me win 2 pools last year (no money sadly) and perform very well in the ESPN one. Now that my pool is down to 4 people, I’d love some individualized advice.

    My picks: HOU, CIN, DAL

    Opp 1: HOU, CIN, CHI

    Opp 2:HOU,CIN CHI

    Opp 3: DET, CIN, CHI

    The picks of Opp 1 and 2 have me very concerned they’ve been using your advice. I obviously switched to Dallas, but it seems they didn’t. That said, how can I beat your own advice and survive? Thanks.

  • Lew

    Hey Whiz Team!

    I’m 1 of 5 left and I’ve followed your picks so far (HOU/CIN/DAL). Turns out none of my 4 opponents went with BAL last night. 2 of them still have HOU as an option and no one has used GNB, DEN or SF. I’m thinking my pick is still GNB but does the fact that I know that no one picked BAL last night change that?

    Thanks for the great advising!

  • http://www.facebook.com/Hambone09 TJ Hannon

    My pool is down from 75 to 14 with 7 of them choosing the Ravens. Our picks if choosing the thursday game have to be in by wed. at 9pm and saturday by 9pm if choosing sundays or monday games. Knowing that the Ravens won last night and we have a person picking the Broncos and Bengals respectively. I would assume the Packers are the pick. I have used Texans Bengals Bears.

  • Kmart

    Should someone change their pick based on the results of the Baltimore game? For instance if you had 3 entries and you could still pick Houston or Green Bay with one and only Green Bay with the other two. Would you want to make all 3 Green Bay and try and preserve Houston’s future value? (1800 person pool down to 250 at this point with 50% making it through with the Baltimore pick)

  • jason

    a new pool has started this week for us. not 1 person in this 20+ team league picked ravens. now that they are off the board who am I supposed to roll with?

  • mglokc

    What time does the Friday update come out? I”m one of 5 left in my pool (2 grand for the winner) and your articles are the reason I’m still kicking. thanks

  • http://www.teamrankings.com TeamRankings.com

    Just a quick note — sorry to have been less responsive than usual this week, but we’re shorthanded and it’s been crazy busy. Working on the final pick analysis and post now, should be up in 2-3 hours (~6 pm ET). Keep ’em coming, will get to as many comments as I can after posting.

  • Mason

    Is there an ETA on when the final pick will go up? (I have to submit my pick in the next few hours). Thanks guys, appreciate it!