Week 9 NFL Survivor Strategy: Which To Trust, Our Numbers Or Our Gut?

*UPDATE #2* Since we wrote this post, the spread for Oakland (our official pick) has moved from -9 to -7. Because of this, our projected win odds and the projected value of picking Oakland have both dropped. We now feel that Dallas is a better pick. As long as the Oakland line is -7.5 or worse and the Dallas line is -11 or better, we’d recommend picking Dallas. We will NOT be changing our official pick below, as we feel it’s basically “locked” already. So, the text of the post still says Oakland, and that’s what we will grade ourselves on this week. But our current suggestion is to choose Dallas.

Welcome to the Week 9 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.

Week 8 Survivor Strategy Review

We just survived by the skin of our teeth last week, as our pick of the Giants had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in order to beat the Dolphins by three. Still, a win is a win.

The only notable upset of the week was St. Louis taking down the Saints, which eliminated 13% of Yahoo contestants … and made us feel pretty smug about our mini-rant in last week’s column about how the line was way too high. Besides the New Orleans loss, we came close to seeing another third of the pool eliminated, but the Ravens managed to claw back from three TDs down to top the Cardinals.

Overall, 85% of Yahoo contestants survived, which means we didn’t gain much immediate value. We did, however, conserve all of our future value by using a team that is worthless from here on out. It was a stressful week, but it turned out fine in the end.

Week 9 Survivor Decision Factors

Time for the heart of our post, the table showing the factors that influence our decision:

TeamOpponentSpreadTR OddsYahoo! Pick %Future ValNotes
Dallasvs Seattle-11.584%11.6%1best Wk12 option
Houstonvs Cleveland-10.585%27.5%1PICKED
New Orleansvs Tampa Bay-9.084%1.7%0PICKED / best this Wk?
New Englandvs NY Giants-9.083%2.3%2PICKED
Oaklandvs Denver-9.078%5.5%0now only chance
Philadelphiavs Chicago-9.072%1.4%3best Wk17 option?
Atlanta@ Indianapolis-7.071%37.0%2why so popular?
Green Bay@ San Diego-5.569%0.7%5
Kansas Cityvs Miami-4.065%8.2%1
San Francisco@ Washington-3.565%2.7%6
Tennesseevs Cincinnati-3.064%0.1%0
Pittsburghvs Baltimore-3.058%0.2%2PICKED
Arizonavs St Louis-1.567%0.3%0
Buffalovs NY Jets-1.057%0.2%4

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 (WIN), Pittsburgh Steelers (WIN), San Diego Chargers (WIN), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (WIN), New England Patriots (WIN), Cincinnati Bengals (WIN), New Orleans Saints (WIN), New York Giants (WIN)

Weighing the Options

Dallas Cowboys (vs Seattle Seahawks) — This is the safest pick of the week, in terms of Vegas line and TR win odds, yet they are only the third most popular. That’s likely because people are trying to save them for week 12 (when they host Miami) or already used them in Week 7 (vs the Rams). This is a great pick for pools with very few people left (under 10), where future value is less important. In a large pool, we may want to save them, but they are definitely going to be a tempting choice.

Houston Texans (vs Cleveland Browns) — The big line and high win odds are definitely plusses, but they are the second most popular team, in a week with a lot of decent options. We’ve already picked them, but even if we hadn’t, we’d pass and root for the Browns to knock out 25% of our opponents.

New Orleans Saints (vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers) — Now we’re talking. Our win odds have this as one of the safest picks of the week, and Vegas sees it just a notch below the Cowboys or Texans. Yet absolutely nobody is choosing New Orleans, probably because hardly anybody has them left. This is also their easiest remaining game, so they’re likely the best option this week, if you haven’t used them yet. Unfortunately, we already have.

New England Patriots (vs New York Giants) — The Patriots are pretty similar to the Saints, except that they could be useful in Week 13 (vs Indy) and maybe Week 16 (vs Miami) if they haven’t clinched their playoff positioning yet. So, they’re behind the Saints because of future value, and they’re behind the Cowboys and Texans in terms of the Vegas line. Not a particularly compelling pick, but not terrible. Regardless, we’ve already used them.

Oakland Raiders (vs Denver Broncos) — This one is interesting. Our models have Oakland as a tad less likely to win than any of the above teams, though Vegas puts them basically even with the Saints and Patriots. They’re also a touch more popular. However, their big plus is that they have no future value. We’re not to the point yet where we can start burning the teams we’ve been saving willy nilly, so they could be a good choice. Of course, the big question is how will Carson Palmer do now that he’s had a bye week to prep himself and learn the offense? Picking Oakland might be scary this week.

Philadelphia Eagles (vs Chicago Bears) — The Eagles are similar to the Raiders in terms of immediate value — they are less popular (good), but also slightly less likely to win according to our models (bad). The biggest difference is that the Eagles could be an option next week (vs Arizona) depending on how the public pick percentages play out, and also may be the best bet in Week 17 (vs Washington) since there’s a decent chance that game will matter to them. So we’d lean towards Oakland over Philly here.

Atlanta Falcons (@ Indianapolis Colts) — Wow, did people completely forget what happened to the Saints last week when they visited the Rams? This set up seems very similar to us, and we’re very surprised that this game is so popular. There are four teams (Cowboys, Texans, Saints, Raiders) who are better than Atlanta in every single metric we list above. STAY AWAY.

Green Bay Packers (@ San Diego Chargers) — There’s a reason under 1% of the public is picking them. They have far too much future value to burn them when they are only favored by 5.5 points.

Kansas City Chiefs (vs Miami Dolphins) — Why???? Not sure what those 8.2% are thinking. The Chiefs and all those below them are definitely getting our STAY AWAY label. There’s just no reason to take on this much risk.

Official Pick: Oakland Raiders over Denver Broncos*

[Better pick, for those who still have them available: New Orleans Saints over Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Also, please see the update at the top of the post.]

This is an interesting week. Because so much of the public is weirdly picking Atlanta, any of the teams favored by 9 or more should end up being a positive choice for us. That said, deciding which one of those we should make the official pick is pretty tough:

  • We think New Orleans is the best choice this week, but we used them earlier.
  • Dallas has the most immediate value, and should be your pick in small pools where future value is much less important. But they look like they’ll be very useful in Week 12, which is important in large pools.
  • Oakland is a nice choice because we get to save Dallas (and others), but we are assuming a bit more risk this week in return.
  • We’ve already used Houston and New England, but we’d probably pass anyway, since Houston’s public pick percentage is so high, and New England has some future value.
  • Philadelphia is very similar to Oakland, but has lower TR win odds and more future value. We may want to use them next week, depending on how the public pick percentages shape up, and they could be useful in Week 17. So, they’re a pass.
  • Beyond that, it gets pretty dicey, so no reason to consider any other teams.

It basically comes down to Dallas or Oakland. Should we take the pick with more immediate value this week (Dallas), which will force us to be riskier in Week 12? Or should we take on some more risk now, and save Dallas?

The best remaining alternative to Dallas for us in Week 12 is Atlanta. The Falcons won’t be the top choice any other week, so we can look at this in a kind of vacuum, ignoring all weeks but this one and Week 12. Without getting into the math here, we’ll just say that according to projected power ratings and Vegas lines, the drop off from Dallas to Oakland this week is less than the drop off from Dallas to Atlanta in Week 12.

Of course, we should discount future value because of uncertainty, which shrinks that difference. Plus, we’re scared of backing Carson Palmer. But the bottom line is that — for people in large pools — the numbers are telling us to pick Oakland.

Now, our gut is getting queasy just thinking about relying on Carson Palmer to carry us to a win. But our whole philosophy here is that you have to trust the numbers, and try to ignore your subjective whims. And it’s not like it’s just our models that are high on Oakland. The market has set the line at -9, and that’s a much better measure of the overall Carson Palmer / Tim Tebow / Oakland bye week impact than we can hope to come up with on our own. So, with that bit of reassurance from the invisible hand of the market, our official pick is the Oakland Raiders. This was definitely a close choice, however, so we certainly wouldn’t say Dallas (or even Philly) is a bad pick.

*UPDATE* A couple of comments below pointed out something that we overlooked here — we’ve already used Cincinnati, but if you still have them left then you can use them in Week 12 instead of saving Dallas for that week. That removes the main reason not to take Dallas. Taking Dallas this week and Cincy in Week 12 is better than Oakland/Dallas or Dallas/Atlanta. So if you haven’t used the Bengals yet, Dallas looks like the best pick for you.

*UPDATE #2* Given the line move in the Oakland game, our new suggestion is to pick Dallas. For more details, please see the note at the top of this post.

Normally, we answer a lot of questions in the comment section. This week, however, we’re going to be heading out on the road, so we likely won’t be able to get to as many questions as usual. Of course, as always, feel free to ask. We just can’t guarantee you’ll get a timely answer this week. Sorry about that!