Week 9 NFL Survivor Friday Update: Flip A Three-Sided Coin

For three quarters, the Chargers let the Chiefs hang around, and it seemed possible they might do most of a us a big favor by blowing it in the end. Instead, Kansas City handed a couple late touchdowns to the San Diego defense, and 30% of our opponents survived the week.

Now, we’ve got to do the same.

The profile for our preliminary pick from Wednesday, the Seattle Seahawks, is looking a bit shakier, but the alternatives aren’t great either. Below we’ll review the evidence and decide whether to stick with Seattle or flip the pick.

Here’s a look at the updated Survivor 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? (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: a quick rating created by giving 1 point for a future game with 75%+ win odds and half a point for a game with 65%+ win odds, with only partial credit for games late in the season when teams may be resting players; 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. Both are 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].)

Week 9 NFL Survivor Decision Factors (Updated)

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.

It’s important to note that we’ve further refined how we calculate future value this week, thanks to some insightful discussion in last week’s comment section. Previously, we usually only gave teams future value credit for games with projected win odds of 75% or higher. But because we sometimes pick teams with lower odds (e.g. this week), especially now that it’s later in the season, we’re now giving half credit for future games with projected win odds of 65%+ or higher.

TeamOpponentSpreadMoney LineTR OddsPick %Future ValNear Val
Tier 1: Top Options
Green Bayvs Arizona-10.0-485 / +41282%7.8%2.01.6
Seattlevs Minnesota-4.0-205 / +18466%4.5%0.60.3
Baltimoreat Cleveland-3.5-192 / +17368%3.7%0.51.0
Detroitat Jacksonville-4.5-205 / +18462%4.8%0.30.2
Tier 2: Worth A Look
Houstonvs Buffalo-10.0-480 / +40875%31.8%3.93.7
Washingtonvs Carolina-3.0-164 / +14864%2.8%0.00.0
Chicagoat Tennessee-3.5-171 / +15465%2.0%1.51.2
NY Giantsvs Pittsburgh-3.0-170 / +15363%0.3%2.01.7
New Orleansvs Philadelphia-3.0-160 / +14459%0.7%0.50.2
Denverat Cincinnati-4.0-190 / +17170%3.8%5.04.9
Atlantavs Dallas-4.0-195 / +17558%1.0%3.33.8
Oaklandvs Tampa Bay-1.5-123 / +11150%0.1%0.80.4
Miamiat Indianapolis-2.0-125 / +11352%0.1%2.93.3

Teams We Already Picked: Houston Texans (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), Dallas Cowboys (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WIN), Minnesota Vikings (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN)

What Has Changed Since Wednesday?

Besides the fact that one of our top options played Thursday and is no longer available, there were a few line moves that have made the choice this week a lot tougher. Let’s review the important changes, team by team.

Green Bay Packers — The Packers have seen their money line drop quite a bit, from -550 to -485, but it doesn’t really matter. They are still a large favorite and are still clearly the best option in most pools. If you have Green Bay available, you probably ought to use them now.

Seattle Seahawks — On Wednesday, the Pinnacle money line for the Seahawks sat at -225. It’s now down to -205, which represents a drop of roughly 2% in win odds. The change to our future value metric (giving half credit for future games with 65%+ win odds) also hurts the Seahawks a bit, as they have a couple future weeks where they wouldn’t be a great option but could be used in a pinch (Week 14 vs. ARI, Week 15 @ BUF, Week 17 vs. STL). Seattle previously seemed like the solid leader among the teams with money lines in the -180 to -225 range, but now the gap has vanished.

Baltimore Ravens — The Ravens’ profile didn’t change much from Wednesday, but they look a bit more attractive in comparison to other teams now, and are neck-and-neck with Seattle. That’s mostly because Baltimore has few borderline playable future games, so our improved future value metric raises other teams’ future value while the Ravens hold steady.

Detroit Lions — An increase in the Lions’ Pinnacle money line from -176 to -205, combined with the drop in Seattle’s, means that Vegas now views Detroit as roughly as safe as the Seahawks. That’s a big change from Wednesday. Detroit also has only has one future week when they could even remotely be considered an option (Week 13 vs. IND), which compares favorably to Seattle. Our models, however, still project Detroit with lower win odds than you’d expect based on their Vegas lines, and that remains the main negative when deciding between the Lions and Seahawks.

Houston Texans — Their money line has fallen from -515 to -480. Their popularity has also dropped by about 5%. Those changes basically cancel out, and the Texans remain a decent option in smaller pools, but probably not in large ones.

Chicago Bears — The Bears have a lot of borderline valuable future weeks. None stand out as obvious plays, but they could be a good backup plan going forward. Our improved future value metric catches this, and the Bears look a lot less attractive once it’s taken into account.

Official Week 9 NFL Survivor Pick: Seattle Seahawks over Minnesota Vikings

[Quick note: if you have Green Bay left, congrats. They look like the clear best pick in medium and large pools. Unfortunately, we’ve already used them.]

Oh boy, we’re starting to sweat over here.

Despite San Diego’s win, we still think avoiding the Chargers was the right move, given their popularity. And if you watched that game, it was a lot closer than the final score indicates, with the Chiefs hanging within striking distance until the fourth quarter. Still, any time we make a close call, a win by the team we did not choose certainly makes us feel the pressure heading into the weekend.

Seattle was the pick on Wednesday, and the other top option already played, so it’s an easy choice to stick with Seattle, right?

Nope. As we laid out in the section above, things have changed in the last couple days.

First, Seattle’s line has dropped while Detroit’s has risen. Now Vegas views them as roughly equally as safe, or even gives a slight advantage to Detroit (based on the spread).

Second, “A Different Tyson” pointed out in the comments Wednesday that our future value metric is probably too strict. We’ve been using 75% as a cutoff, but we’ve picked teams with lower odds than that several times already. This week, for example. So we made a change, and now are also counting games with 65%+ win odds, though only at half credit. That change means that Seattle loses its future value advantage over Baltimore.

To recap: Seattle’s safety edge over Detroit has mostly* vanished (*more on this below), as has their future value edge over Baltimore. It looks a lot like a three-team toss-up at this point.

Still, at this point, we’re sticking with our Wednesday pick, and our official Week 9 Survivor pick remains the Seattle Seahawks. But let’s take a deeper look at both of the alternatives.

Why Seattle Over Detroit?

Simply because our models like Seattle better.

The public pick rates for the two teams are basically identical, and Detroit has a slight advantage due to their lower future value. If you want to trust Vegas and ignore our models, which is certainly a reasonable thing to do, then Detroit is probably the correct pick, by a hair.

However, we feel the improvements we’ve made to our NFL pick logic over the past two years do add valuable info, and can reveal when the Vegas money line is shaded too far in one direction. (For evidence see our NFL money line pick performance; our model’s picks against Vegas money lines have been profitable for four straight seasons now.) So we’re trusting our models when they say that Seattle is slightly safer than Detroit.

Why Seattle Over Baltimore?

Our models actually say Baltimore is slightly more likely to win, though, so why are we going with Seattle here? There are a couple reasons.

First, while we do generally trust our models, we also think it’s smart to give at least some weight to Vegas’s win odds estimate as well, especially when a team loses major parts of their defense like Baltimore has (Ray Lewis & Lardarius Webb). In special circumstances like that, the wisdom of the crowds can be useful, and our models probably aren’t the best at adjusting.

More importantly, notice that Baltimore’s “Near Val” column is higher than Seattle’s. Seattle is technically listed with higher overall Future Value (barely), but Baltimore’s future value is front loaded, which means there’s less of a risk that something dramatic could change over the course of the rest of the season. In fact, the Ravens’ future value also comes all in one big dose, next week against Oakland.

There’s a reasonable chance that we’ll want to use Baltimore next week (vs. OAK), and that possibility trumps saving Seattle for possible use in Week 14 or 15.

There are strong arguments for taking either Detroit or Baltimore, and if the lines change dramatically over the next two days, so could our pick. At this point, though, we’re sticking with Seattle. Fair warning: This is definitely a week you want to re-check this post right before your picks are due.

Advice For Other Pool Sizes

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 updated specific advice for Week 9 for those in smaller pools:

Pools With 10-20 People — Future value is less important in small pools, which means Houston actually moves into the top tier. If you think less than a third of your pool will pick Houston, you may want to burn them now, given how risky the alternatives are. Otherwise, we’d probably opt for whichever you think will be the least popular out of Seattle and Detroit. Baltimore will do in a pinch, but we’d prefer to save them for possible use next week.

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 pool. In very small pools, the general strategy this week is to take Green Bay or Houston if you think less than half of your pool will choose them, and otherwise try to take the team you think will be least popular out of Seattle and Detroit. If you’re having trouble predicting who your opponents will choose, you may want to just default to the safest team you have available.

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 very little, as the pool may be over this week. In those cases, safety becomes the number one priority. So in head-to-head pools, if you have Houston or Green Bay available, take them. Otherwise, Seattle or Detroit is probably your best option. If you think your opponent has better teams available going forward, we’d try to pick whichever of Seattle or Detroit he won’t be on this week, to roll the dice now. If you think you have the better options going forward, you may want to try to match his pick, and delay any resolution til later weeks.

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