Week 7 NFL Survivor Strategy: Finally, A Clear Best Pick

posted in NFL, NFL Survivor Pools

Welcome to the Week 7 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.

Sometimes kickers make all the difference.

Last week, the Atlanta Falcons made a field goal with one second left to top the Oakland Raiders. The Arizona Cardinals, on the other hand, missed a last-second field goal that would have won the game, and eventually fell in overtime to the Buffalo Bills. For those of you who were following our Wednesday picks, those two kicks made the difference between being eliminated or having one of the best weeks of the season.

Unfortunately for us, the wrong kicker missed.

Last week started out promising, as 20% of Yahoo! Survivor contestants were knocked out by a Pittsburgh loss on Thursday. Things almost got way better on Sunday, as Atlanta nearly fell to Oakland at home. A loss by the Falcons would have eliminated another 55% of most Survivor pools.

The Falcons survived, however, and our preliminary pick, the Cardinals, met their demise. Hopefully, you’re one of the lucky ones whose league commissioner set up your pool to allow picks up through game time on Sunday, and you caught our Week 6 NFL Survivor Update that switched our official pick to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Last week’s switched pick stemmed from the lack of a clear best option — there was essentially a four-way toss up at the top. Week 7 is a totally different beast.

Week 7 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
Minnesotavs Arizona-6.0-270 / +23972%7.7%0.00.0
San Franciscovs Seattle-7.0-317 / +27975%11.0%0.50.5
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Oaklandvs Jacksonville-4.0-206 / +18562%7.1%0.00.0
Houstonvs Baltimore-6.5-300 / +26473%1.7%3.53.6
NY Giantsvs Washington-5.5-240 / +21461%3.3%1.81.8
New Englandvs NY Jets-10.5-460 / +39377%36.1%4.84.6
Buffalovs Tennessee-3.5-186 / +16754%2.0%0.50.3
New Orleansat Tampa Bay-3.0-143 / +12959%1.3%0.30.1
Indianapolisvs Cleveland-3.0-157 / +14255%3.7%0.00.0
Chicagovs Detroit-6.0-265 / +23566%5.7%3.34.1
Green Bayat St Louis-5.0-226 / +20266%18.6%3.03.4
Dallasat Carolina-2.0-130 / +11852%1.0%0.00.0
Pittsburghat Cincinnati-1.0-116 / +10552%0.5%1.31.5

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

Weighing the Options

Please note that the discussion below is designed for people in large pools. In pools with under 25 people left, where the contest may not last all season and where your pick actually changes the pool pick rates to a significant degree, please see the “Advice For Smaller Pools” section at the end of this article that provides quick strategy tips for smaller pools.

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Arizona Cardinals) — When you factor in both the Vegas lines and TR odds, New England is clearly the safest pick of the week, and Minnesota is in the next tier along with San Francisco and Houston. Given that the Vikings are the only team in that relatively safe tier that have no future value, they’re the best option. You’re taking only a marginal extra risk compared to the 49ers or Texans, but you’re saving those two bullets for later (unless you’ve already spent them, like we have). Plus the Vikings are less popular than the ‘Niners.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Seattle Seahawks) — We’ve already used the 49ers, so they’re not an option for us. However, they are a decent alternative to Minnesota. San Fran is a bit more popular (bad), and has a bit more future value (bad), but they are also a bit safer (good). If you have them left, and if you’re in a smallish pool, where future value is less important, or you think that Minnesota may actually be more popular than San Francisco in your pool, then the 49ers are an attractive alternative to the Vikings.

Oakland Raiders (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars) — After the top two teams, the pickins get pretty slim pretty quickly this week. That’s because the safer teams have tons of future value, and the riskier teams … well, they’re quite risky. The Raiders are in the third tier in terms of safety this week, but that’s not saying much. Last week I was pretty nervous about picking the Bucs, and they were a good 5% safer than Oakland is this week. If you really want to pick a team with no future value, and Minnesota’s not an option for you, then Oakland’s really your only reasonable choice. For most people, Minnesota is a clearly better option, as the Vikings have similar popularity and future value, but are safer.

Houston Texans (vs. Baltimore Ravens) — For those of you in small pools, where future value is less important, the Texans are a decent choice, as they present a great combination of safety (73% win odds) and low popularity (2% public pick rate). Unfortunately, Houston has a lot of future value, so for most people the smart choice is to save the Texans.

New York Giants (vs. Washington Redskins) — The profile of the Giants is middling in all respects this week. Their spread and money line place them as the 6th safest out of the 13 favorites. They are the 8th most popular. They have the 5th-most future value. Our TR odds are a bit down on them, and give them only the 7th highest win odds. It’s not an awe-inspiring resume. But frame it this way and you can see why they’re at least “worth a look”: No team with higher win odds is both less popular and has less future value. However, we think Minnesota is a better choice because their increased popularity is more than offset by their lower future value and higher win odds.

New England Patriots (vs. New York Jets) — As often happens, the Patriots are both the safest team this week, and the most popular. By now most of you probably know how we feel about this situation. When there’s a 20%+ chance that 35% of your pool will be knocked out, the smart move is usually to STAY AWAY from that team and hope for the upset. (For very small pools, things change dramatically, and New England may be a good choice, so please see our advice at the end of the column.)

Chicago Bears (vs. Detroit Lions) / Green Bay Packers (at St. Louis Rams) — Both of these teams have too much future value to justify using them this week, when their win odds are only in the middle of the pack.

The rest of the teams have spreads and money lines low enough that we can dismiss them with barely a second thought.

Preliminary Week 7 NFL Survivor Pick: Minnesota Vikings Over Arizona Cardinals

What a drop for Arizona — from our preliminary pick in Week 6 to the team we’re picking against in Week 7. That’s what losing at home against the Bills will do to you, I guess. Despite their red hot start, though, we never really considered the Cardinals to be an elite team this year, so it’s not a huge shocker.

Several of you were able to predict this pick a couple days ago, in last week’s comment section. If you’ve been following the column for a while, the signs were pretty obvious:

  • The clear safest team of the week (New England) is also very popular and has a lot of future value, so we want to save them for later, and hope for an upset to knock out a third of the pool.
  • Out of the next safest tier of teams, Minnesota has the least future value and is middling in popularity, so they are the most attractive option.
  • The only little-to-no-future-value teams that are significantly less popular than Minnesota are all 2 to 3 point favorites, so they are too risky.

That leaves us with the Minnesota Vikings as the clear preliminary pick in Week 7. This week looks a little more settled, and it would take a much larger line change for our pick to change before the weekend. Still, it’s always best to wait as late as possible before finalizing your pick, so be sure to check back Friday.

Advice For Smaller Survivor Pools

Remember, all the discussion above is designed for large pools, where future value is still very important. Many of 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 key three points 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.

Here is some specific advice for Week 7 for those in smaller pools:

Pools With 10 – 20 People — Future value is less important here, so San Francisco looks a tiny bit more attractive, and Houston looks quite a bit more attractive. The Texans join the top tier with the Vikings and 49ers. We lean San Francisco here, with Minnesota close behind, and Houston as the third best option. If it’s clear one of those teams will be fairly popular in your pool (over 10%), you should probably avoid them.

Pools With 3-10 People — If you’re in a very small pool, where you can take some rough guesses about who your opponents will choose, all bets are off. Our picks are made based on the assumption that these public pick percentages roughly match the pick rates in your pool, and that won’t be true for your poolIn very small pools, the general strategy this week is to ignore future value, and try to take the team you think will be least popular out of New England, San Francisco, Houston, and Minnesota. Any tie in projected popularity goes to the safer team. If you’re having trouble predicting who your opponents will choose, you may want to just default to San Francisco (if you have them available) or Minnesota.

Head-to-Head Pools — Strategy totally changes here again, as the pick percentages will always be 50% or 100%. It’s impossible for you to pick an unpopular team, because you are half the pool. And future value means almost nothing, as the pool may be over this week. In those cases, safety becomes the number one priority. So in head-to-head pools, we recommend taking the biggest favorite you have available. For most of you, that’s probably New England.

As always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section. However, please note that the volume has gotten high enough that we can’t commit to giving everyone a detailed answer. But we’re doing our best and can make it work if we all follow a few guidelines:

  • First, please read the “Advice For Smaller Pools” section and see if that answers your question.
  • A lot can change between now and Friday, when we publish our finalized pick. So if your pick isn’t due until Friday or the weekend, please hold off,  just because double-answering questions on Wednesday and Friday has been sucking up a lot of our time.
  • If you do need advice now, and you’re in a small pool, be sure to include information about pool size, who you have available, and who you think your opponents will choose, as those are the key factors in small pools.
  • If you’re in a large pool, please include info on why you think your pool is different than the generic Yahoo! and OFP pools.
Good luck!