September 28, 2012 - by Tom Federico
It’s late on Friday and I know people want to know our final verdict for the week, so let’s get right to it. Guess what? We’ve got a photo finish for the third week in a row.
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 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.
|Team||Opponent||Line||TR Odds||Pick %||Future Val||Near Val|
|Tier 1: Top Options|
|Green Bay||vs New Orleans||-7.5||77%||3.0%||4.0||1.3|
|Tier 2: Might Be Worth A Look|
|San Francisco||at NY Jets||-3.5||61%||1.2%||1.5||0.8|
Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), Dallas Cowboys (WIN)
Since we posted our preliminary Survivor article a couple days ago, like last week, there have been changes in information that impact our analysis.
First off, we have continued to make minor refinements to our “Near Term Value” calculation, adjusting the weights to put even more importance on the next six weeks. It’s doubtful we’re going to see many pools that are already cut down to a small size carrying on past Week 10 or so.
Secondly, as we usually do, we spent more time analyzing and adjusting Future Value for teams, and charting likely paths through the next few weeks. As it turns out, those exercises revealed a key insight that could impact your best pick for this week, in most situations.
Before we get to that, though, let’s see how our top considerations and other popular teams have fared over since Wednesday:
1. Houston has become a slightly more popular pick, but still not even close to as popular as Baltimore. With no major changes, the Texans still rate as the best pick of the week.
2. Green Bay has become slightly more popular and slightly less safe. The Packers’ money line is down to -320 on Pinnacle and upon further study, our models have tended to overestimate win odds for teams like Green Bay in similar situations. Still, the Packers are still the safest pick this week after Baltimore (duh) and Houston.
Perhaps more interestingly, prompted by an insightful discussion with fellow Survivor analysis ninja Vegas Watch, we took a much deeper look at the Packers’ future value. We’ll get into the details below, but our initial assessment on Wednesday likely underestimated Green Bay’s future value by at least a bit. But the Packers remain a top consideration.
3. Denver has experienced a favorable line move of half a point, and is now favored by a touchdown over Oakland. The Broncos are also -305 on the money line, which is close to as safe as the Packers. In addition, another revelation from the Green Bay investigation was that (again, details below) we may have overestimated Denver’s future value by at least a bit. All told, Denver took a solid step up in the pick ratings.
4. Baltimore beat Cleveland on Thursday night, in a game that was closer than the Vegas spread implied, with the Browns having a couple shots either to force OT or to win the game in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter. Man, it feels weird not to have the huge favorite that everybody was picking get eliminated!
5. San Francisco has experienced an unfavorable line move of half a point and are only -197 on the money line. Their TR model odds have also dropped to the point where we would no longer consider them at all for Week 4, even though their future value looks fairly limited. The risk is just too great now, so the Niners are officially dropped to AVOID status.
6. Atlanta is actually a decent pick this week in isolation, but given the alternatives, at -7 and -310 on the money line (less safe than the Packers), and with tons of future value, the Falcons are an AVOID except for some potential special cases. If you have several entries in your pool(s) and want to diversify your risk, Atlanta might be worth considering. If you have only one entry, it’s a pass.
7. Arizona has experienced an unfavorable line move of half a point (spread down to -5.5) and are -241 on the money line, which is risky. We also realized our initial future value estimate for the Cardinals was too optimistic. The Cardinals have a couple of favorable matchups in the next few weeks, and they are relatively popular this week, so picking Arizona is a no-no.
We’ve used the Texans, and except for recommending the Ravens in pools where only you and one other person remained, we passed on Baltimore due to it’s overwhelming popularity this week. And now that we know the Ravens won, it’s definitely not time to take any crazy risks.
So it’s down to Green Bay and Denver, and man, it’s close. For both smaller and larger pools, our numbers still give the Packers the ever-so-slight edge — but there’s a catch, and it’s a pretty major one. We’re not sure how much we should trust our ratings of New Orleans at this point.
To make a long story short, the ratings currently used in our Survivor Predictor tool to project future win probabilities are largely based on current season performance. In short, here’s what they know about the Saints:
Despite giving the Saints some hang-over credit for last year, these ratings still see New Orleans as a very bad team right now. Not slightly bad. Like, bottom of the barrel bad. And the Saints have been really bad…for three games.
However, if you look at Vegas futures odds and other types of ratings that factor in preseason expectations, the prognosis for New Orleans right now isn’t nearly as bleak. In that world, the Saints still project as a decent (but not elite) team that has just gotten off to a horrible, fluky start. And with a healthy Drew Brees at QB, it is indeed a bit difficult to believe the Saints will end up being terrible this year.
The outcome of this thought process could have a major impact on your pick this week. In Week 8, for example, the Packers (at home) play the Jaguars while the Broncos (also at home) play the Saints. According to our predictive ratings that focus on current season results, those two games will be relatively similar in terms of win odds. That projection implies that the Saints will be about as good a team as the Jaguars when Week 8 rolls around.
If you believe this will be the case — either because you do believe the Saints will be awful this year, and/or you think the Jags are indeed better and will continue to improve — then Denver should be a great pick in Week 8. And by that logic, you would probably double down on that opinion by picking the Packers against New Orleans this week.
If you think that the Packers over the Jaguars sounds a lot better than the Broncos over the Saints, then Denver looks like a better pick this week, especially if you think Week 8 could be critical in your pool.
There are other factors at play here, but the more we looked into the numbers and did sensitivity analysis, the more it became clear that the prognosis for the Saints was by far the most important decision factor this week.
We’re going to stick with the Packers as our official pick. In midsize to larger pools, for which our official pick is geared, our weekly picks tend to be driven by value and relative safety, vs. picking the team most likely to survive. We do think our ratings are underestimating the Saints, but even if the Packers end up being the most likely winner of Week 8 by a decent amount, there appear to be a few promising potential alternatives there from a value standpoint.
In addition, the Broncos have a favorable mid-range matchup, home vs. Tampa Bay in Week 13. The Packers, on the other hand, after Week 8, may not play another home game against a cupcake until Week 16, and a bunch of pools may not get that far. Based on what we know now, the Packers may also not turn out to be the dominant team that most people expected this year.
This pick is a risk, though, in that the Packers are likely at least a slightly better team than the Broncos, and we’re burning them this week for not much of an increase in safety. The biggest concern, especially for smaller pools, is that we pick Green Bay now, and by the time Week 8 rolls around, there are only one or a few other people left in your pool, and Green Bay is the safest pick that week by a significant margin. And you don’t have them, but your opponents do. You’d be at a disadvantage.
If you think overall safety over the next 3-4 weeks could be key to winning your pool, it’s worth going Broncos this week and sacrificing a wee bit of safety to preserve the Pack.
As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section.
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