Week 6 NFL Survivor Strategy: Time To Roll The Dice

Welcome to the Week 6 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.

The good news: 20% of Survivor entries were knocked out of the Yahoo! public pool last week.

The better news: Our official pick, the San Francisco 49ers, crushed the Buffalo Bills, 45-3.

Our top line picks are still going strong, and we saw another fifth of the pool got eliminated. That leaves 19 thousand remaining on Yahoo!, after starting with 330 thousand. Not too shabby!

The bad news: Our top alternate pick, the Green Bay Packers, fell victim to a stunning second half comeback by the Indianapolis Colts.

The word “stunning” gets overused, but I do think it’s appropriate here. I turned away from the game at halftime with the Packers up 21-3, and I didn’t give it a second thought until I saw the final score and did a double take.

Does this mean you should be wary of moderate road favorites? Is a 6.5-point road fave less safe than a 6.5-point home fave, and should we pay more attention to that going forward? It’s a good question, and it was posed by reader TheTinDoor in last week’s comment section. However, the data seems to show that in that spread range, there’s no difference between home and road faves.

The worse news: this looks like it could be a killer Survivor week. There is only one team favored by at east a TD, and over half the public is picking them. That means there are basically no attractive choices, and we’re going to be forced to either make a risky pick, or a popular one. And neither of those makes us happy. GULP!

Week 6 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? (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? (Average public Pick % from sites like Yahoo! and OfficeFootballPool)

3. Should I save this team for later? (Future Value: the estimated number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75%+, based on averaging projections from our NFL Survivor Tool [which uses data from only this season] and our NFL Season Projections [which incorporates our preseason team projections]. Near Value: a modified version of Future Value that places more emphasis on 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.

TeamOpponentSpreadMoney LineTR OddsPick %Future ValNear Val
Tier 1: Top Options
San Franciscovs NY Giants-5.0-224 / +20071%0.9%3.02.9
Arizonavs Buffalo-4.5-215 / +19363%7.3%0.50.2
Tampa Bayvs Kansas City-4.0-177 / +15965%3.0%0.00.0
NY Jetsvs Indianapolis-3.5-182 / +16463%0.9%0.00.0
Philadelphiavs Detroit-3.5-210 / +18865%3.4%1.50.9
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Pittsburghat Tennessee-6.0-245 / +21869%20.4%1.51.3
Baltimorevs Dallas-3.5-190 / +17162%2.2%1.00.8
Miamivs St Louis-3.5-180 / +16266%1.3%2.51.3
Minnesotaat Washington------- / ----64%0.6%1.01.2
Atlantavs Oakland-9.0-390 / +33874%55.0%3.02.4
Houstonvs Green Bay-3.5-190 / +17162%0.4%5.04.2
New Englandat Seattle-3.5-175 / +15863%2.3%6.05.2
Cincinnatiat Cleveland-1.0-111 / +10149%1.2%0.50.4
San Diegovs Denver-2.0-120 / +10946%0.2%2.52.0

Teams We Already Picked (Final Picks): Houston Texans (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), Dallas Cowboys (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN)

Teams We Already Picked (Wednesday Picks): Houston Texans (WIN), New York Giants (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN)

Weighing the Options

Atlanta Falcons (vs. Oakland Raiders)

Let’s just get this one out of the way up front. We’ve gotten a few comments already along the lines of “Yeah, they are super popular, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and take the popular lock, and move on to next week.” We’re guessing they weren’t paying attention in Week 2 this season, when New England lost at home (and knocked out 50% of contestants) as a roughly 2-touchdown favorite to Arizona. Or Week 5 last season, when the New York Giants lost at home (and knocked out 70% of contestants) as a -9.5 point favorite. Both times we suggested avoiding the popular pick, and this is a similar situation. Over half your pool may be on Atlanta, and they’ve got a 20% to 25% chance to get upset this week. That’s awesome! STAY AWAY from Atlanta, and hope the upset happens! Yes, you’ll be sacrificing some security, but look at it this way — you’re trading a roughly 10% higher chance to get knocked out for a greater than 20% chance to more than double your expected average pool win rate. The math is slightly in your favor there, and that’s before we’ve gotten to future value … which the Falcons have a decent amount of.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. New York Giants)

We just used the 49ers last week, so they’re not an option for us. But our models are high on them this week, less than 1% of the public is picking them, and there are not many great options. In small pools where future value is less important, we think the 49ers are the best pick. In large pools, it may be wise to save them for later. They are certainly in the top tier, though, as they are the second or third safest team this week.

Arizona Cardinals (vs. Buffalo Bills)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
New York Jets (vs. Indianapolis Colts)
Philadelphia Eagles (vs. Detroit Lions)

Let’s discuss all four of these teams together, as they are essentially in a four way tie for the best pick in large pools. With spreads ranging from -3.5 to -4.5, money lines ranging from -177 to -215, and TR Odds ranging from 63% to 65%, they are part of a big clump of teams that are a solid notch behind Atlanta (and a smaller step behind Pittsburgh) in terms of safety. Also in this safety range are the Ravens, Dolphins, Texans, and Patriots.

So why are Arizona, Tampa Bay, New York, and Philly good options, but Baltimore, Miami, Houston, and New England aren’t? Well, Houston and New England have far too much future value to use them when there are so many similar options. Miami also has a bit more future value than any of the top-tier four. And then we can dismiss Baltimore — the Ravens are out on the basis of a head-to-head comparison with the Eagles, who have have a higher money line and TR Odds with equivalent future value.

Among this top tier, the Eagles appear to be the safest, and the Jets the riskiest, but we’re talking only a couple percentage points of difference. It’s really splitting hairs between the four, but we feel that Arizona provides the best mix of safety and minimal future value. Close behind is Tampa Bay, and we’ll be keeping a close eye on the lines for this game, as Matt Cassel’s injury could cause some uncertainty there. If the line moves towards Tampa Bay, there’s a good chance they’ll be our final pick on Friday, but as of right now we’ve got them a hair behind.

The Jets are behind Tampa Bay mostly because our models are a bit down on them this week. Subjectively, that makes sense to us — Indianapolis seems friskier than a Chiefs team who may be starting their backup QB. Finally, the Eagles round out the top four. They are a bit safer than the Jets or Bucs, but have more future value.

Pittsburgh Steelers (at Tennessee Titans)

The Steelers are in the second tier in terms of safety, a bit back of Atlanta. However, they are the second most popular team (20%), so if you want to take a safer, non-Falcons team, we’d recommend San Francisco if you have them available. If not, “downgrading” to Arizona or Philadelphia is worth it, since you give up less future value and get to choose a less popular team.

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Dallas Cowboys)

See the big group discussion above. They are a bit riskier than the Eagles, with similar public pick rates and future value, so we’d prefer the Eagles to the Ravens.

Miami Dolphins (vs. St. Louis Rams)

The Dolphins are similar the group of four discussed above, except they have more future value, so we’d save them in case they are needed in Week 10 (vs TEN) or Week 15 (vs JAX).

Minnesota Vikings (at Washington Redskins)

Given that RG3’s status is up in the air, and there are no lines for this game, we’re going to stay away. But it’s worth paying attention as the week goes on, to see if we get some more clarity.

The rest of the teams have spreads and money lines low enough that we can dismiss them without a second thought.

Preliminary Week 6 NFL Survivor Pick: Arizona Cardinals Over Buffalo Bills

Hey, another team facing the Bills! I sense a pattern…

This is a crazy week, and I’m sure a lot of you will be very hesitant to lay off of Atlanta, given their large win odds advantage. That’s understandable. However, the math is pretty clear on this one. Let’s lay it out for Atlanta versus Arizona, like we did for San Francisco versus Green Bay last week. Last week the math said to go with the safe team. This week it says to take a risk:

We’ll average the Vegas and TR win odds estimates, and use 76% for Atlanta, and 65% for Arizona. The public pick rates are 55% for Atlanta and 7% for Arizona.

  • 49% of the time, both win, so it doesn’t matter who we picked.
  • 27% of the time, ATL wins while ARI loses. This eliminates 7% of the pool, which boosts our win odds by a factor of about 1/(1-0.07) = 1.08. That 1.08 factor multiplied by a 27% chance equals 0.29.
  • 16% of the time, ARI wins while ATL loses. This eliminates 55% of the pool, which boosts our win odds by a factor of about 1/(1-0.55) = 2.22. That 2.22 factor multiplied by a 16% chance equals 0.35.
  • 8% of the time, both lose, so it doesn’t matter who we picked.

As we said last week, that 0.29 versus 0.35 comparison is what matters here. What do those numbers mean? Well, they aren’t really on the correct scale, because we haven’t taken other games and outcomes into account, but they are essentially unitless estimates of the expected value of each pick. Arizona comes out ahead, and this is before you take into account future value (which the Falcons have more of).

The math works out similarly for any of the teams in our top tier, compared to Atlanta. Despite being riskier, they increase the expected average value of your Survivor entry.

Which to pick out of those four is an extremely close choice. Honestly, you might as well draw straws. They all have a decent chance of losing this weekend, they all have relatively little future value (well, Philly is probably a step behind here), and they all are relatively unpopular. We’ll go with the team that Vegas currently thinks is most likely to win — the Arizona Cardinals.

But remember, every situation is different, and this week it’s looking like the best pick could vary significantly from pool to pool. If Arizona’s pick rate in your pool is up at 10%, and the rest are similar Tampa Bay is probably a better choice. Any team with significantly higher pick rates probably drops down to the lower tier.

Recap Of “End Game” Strategy

Most you are probably in pools with only a few people left. It’s important to remember that in small pools, the correct strategy can change considerably. Here’s a refresher on the three points we made last week about Survivor end-game tactics:

  • It’s less likely that your opponents’ picks will closely mimic the national public picking averages.
  • Future value means less.
  • Resist the urge to play overly conservative just because you’re close to winning.

For an expanded discussion on these points, see the Week 4 NFL Survivor post.

As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section. However, please note that a lot can change between now and Friday, when we publish our finalized pick. So if your picks aren’t due until the weekend, you may want to hold off on asking for advice until Friday.