October 20, 2011 - by David Hess
Welcome to the Week 7 installment of our series of Survivor advice columns, where we use a data-driven strategy to get an edge in NFL Survivor contests. This post includes analysis based on NFL predictions from our algorithmic Team Rankings models and other relevant data.
This discussion below is also meant to complement our Survivor Predictor tool, which provides a grid view of win odds predictions by week, from now until the end of the season. This presentation of prediction data will help you quickly grasp the current week’s best Survivor pick options, and will explain our logic in making our official pick.
Last week we saw a virtual tie for the best pick between the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals. The Packers gave you the best odds to survive and the best immediate expected value (EV), while the Bengals and Steelers both sacrificed some of that immediate survival value in exchange for saving Green Bay’s huge future value.
We ended up going with the Bengals, which looks like the right choice in retrospect, since all three won. We get to save Green Bay for another week.
As it turns out, nearly every favorite won last week, and certainly every popular pick did. The biggest upset was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the New Orleans Saints, which knocked out a minuscule 1.7% of Yahoo! contestants.
Overall, over 96% of remaining players survived, which means anyone in a small pool who burned Green Bay in the hopes of watching some of their few remaining opponents bite the dust is now at a slight disadvantage.
So, not a great week in terms of paring people down, but we’re happy with our choice. Hey, not every Sunday can go as well as the last one.
Time for the heart of our post, the table showing the factors that influence our decision.
Keep in mind the change we made last week — the Future Value column now shows the number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75% or more. Previously it showed the number of games in which the team was expected to have win odds higher than the current week. (In other words, we’ve switched from relative future value to absolute future value):
Team Opponent Spread TR Odds Yahoo! Pick % Future Val Notes
New Orleans vs Indianapolis -14.0 89% 30.0% 2 Dallas vs St Louis -13.0 84% 44.7% 1 Green Bay @ Minnesota -9.0 76% 2.2% 7 Baltimore @ Jacksonville -9.0 66% 16.6% 5 Oakland vs Kansas City -4.5 71% 2.5% 1 QB situation
Tennessee vs Houston -3.5 62% 0.1% 2 Detroit vs Atlanta -3.5 59% 0.9% 3 Pittsburgh @ Arizona -3.5 59% 2.1% 2 USED
Cleveland vs Seattle -3.0 65% 0.5% 0 Carolina vs Washington -1.0 57% 0.4% 0 Miami vs Denver -1.0 56% 0.2% 0 San Diego @ NY Jets -1.0 50% 0.1% 0 USED
Chicago @ Tampa Bay -1.0 42% 0.1% 1 Tampa Bay vs Chicago +1.0 58% 0.2% 0 USED
NY Jets vs San Diego +1.0 50% 0.1% 1
Future Val = the number of future games where the team is expected to have win odds of 75% or greater, based on our NFL Survivor Tool.
Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (W), Pittsburgh Steelers (W), San Diego Chargers (W), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (W), New England Patriots (W), Cincinnati Bengals (W)
New Orleans Saints (vs Indianapolis Colts) — The Saints are the safest choice of the week, in terms of the Vegas line and TR win odds. And they have surprisingly little future value. Look at the Saints’ toughest remaining games; only next week at St. Louis is in the same ballpark as this week. But next week we ought to have other good options in the 49ers or Titans. The only negative is that 30% of the public is picking them. But that’s not the highest value this week, and it’s not so high to be an automatic no. They could be a good conservative pick.
Dallas Cowboys (vs St Louis Rams) — The Cowboys are the most popular pick of the week, mostly because basically none of the remaining contestants have picked them, and they have slightly less future value than the Saints. They have a worse Vegas line and worse TR win odds compared to the Saints, but are being picked by more people. From a game theory standpoint, it’s pretty clear we should avoid from the Cowboys this week, and hope for an upset. (This doesn’t get our official STAY AWAY grade, though, as there are not all that many legit options this week, and the Cowboys do have the least future value out of those.)
Green Bay Packers (@ Minnesota Vikings) — The Packers obviously have tons of future value, so we’d hate to lose that. But only 2% of players are choosing them, which means — unlike the Saints, Cowboys, or Ravens — there is no added value in avoiding them and hoping for an upset. In terms of immediate EV, they are neck and neck with the Saints. The Packers have lower win odds, but siding with Green Bay over New Orleans means we have another 30% chunk of opponents that might get bounced. This would be a risky pick — if none of the other upsets occur, you’ve blown a huge asset for no gain. But the Packers are definitely an intriguing pick.
Baltimore Ravens (@ Jacksonville Jaguars) — Remember the analogy section from the SAT? Well … Baltimore : Green Bay :: Dallas : New Orleans. The Ravens have lower win odds than the Packers, and more people are picking them, but you would be burning slightly less of your future options. However, that 5 versus 7 in the Future Val column above may be a bit misleading. The Packers have more fairly easy weeks left, but the Ravens have more very easy weeks left, as they still host Arizona, Indianapolis, and Cleveland. Given that the future value is close, we’d take the Packers over the Ravens if you’re looking to avoid the most popular teams.
Oakland Raiders (vs Kansas City Chiefs) — This game is listed because we want to make sure and point out that our TR Odds this week are probably off for Oakland. Our models have no idea that Jason Campbell is out for the year, so we trust the Vegas line here far more than our own odds. Given that line (-4.5), there’s no way we’re picking the Raiders. It’s far too risky.
ALL OTHER TEAMS — Nobody else is favored by even 4 points, or has TR win odds over 65%. You’re giving up far too much immediate value, just to save a bit of future value. STAY AWAY.
This week is a fairly easy choice. We get to take the safest team in terms of both the Vegas line and our TR win odds.
Plus, we’re giving up fairly little in future value (especially since there are other good options in their easiest week).
PLUS, despite those benefits they aren’t even the most popular team this week, as that honor goes to Dallas.
There are probably two reasons why the Saints are less popular than the Cowboys. First, a good chunk of contestants already used New Orleans in Week 4 (Jacksonville) or Week 5 (Carolina). Second, last week’s upset loss to Tampa Bay is fresh in the public’s mind.
Whatever the reason, we’ll grab this chance to back the biggest favorite, while also avoiding the most popular pick. It’s a win-win situation. Or, hopefully, win-loss.
One note: given the way the win odds, future value, and public pick percentages are laid out in the Yahoo! pool, New Orleans is the clear first choice, followed by a rough tie between Green Bay and Dallas, with Baltimore bringing up the rear.
But changing those pick percentage can drastically alter which the best choice is. For example, if you switch the pick% of the Saints and Cowboys, Dallas becomes the better choice (or at least as good).
The easiest one-size fits all advice here is that if one team is being picked by — to use a scientific term — “way more” people than they are in the Yahoo! pool, you should drop them down a tier. Ditto for the reverse. If way fewer people are picking a team, bump them up a tier.
For example, say you’re confident only 20% of people are picking Dallas. Then, they become as attractive as New Orleans. Or, if 15% or on the Packers, they’re suddenly no better than the Ravens.
So, if you know the percentages in your pool are different than above, try to use that rule of thumb to come up with more personalized tiers that fit your situation.
Of course, as always, feel free to ask questions about your specific situation in the comments section.
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