October 31, 2012 - by David Hess
Welcome to the Week 9 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.
Our Week 8 pick survived by the narrowest of possible margins, with Robbie Gould kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired to complete Chicago’s rally from a 19-7 fourth quarter deficit. As we’ve said in the past, winning a Survivor pool takes a lot of luck, and we’re happy it was our side this week.
In other games, the favorites generally took care of business. The biggest exceptions were losses by the Vikings and Chargers, which helped knock out around 18% of contestants this week.
This week seems to have the potential for a larger chunk of entrants to be eliminated, as there are two teams backed by over 30% of the public. That means twice as many chances for an upset to do us a favor … provided we can find a decent alternative pick.
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.
|Team||Opponent||Spread||Money Line||TR Odds||Pick %||Future Val||Near Val|
|Tier 1: Top Options|
|Green Bay||vs Arizona||-11.0||-550 / +461||84%||6.6%||1.0||0.8|
|Seattle||vs Minnesota||-5.0||-225 / +201||68%||4.2%||0.0||0.0|
|San Diego||vs Kansas City||-7.5||-305 / +269||73%||30.8%||0.0||0.0|
|Tier 2: Worth A Look|
|Chicago||at Tennessee||-3.5||-179 / +161||65%||2.1%||0.0||0.0|
|Baltimore||at Cleveland||-3.5||-186 / +167||68%||4.8%||0.5||1.0|
|Washington||vs Carolina||-3.0||-179 / +161||64%||3.2%||0.0||0.0|
|Houston||vs Buffalo||-10.5||-515 / +435||75%||36.3%||3.3||3.5|
|New Orleans||vs Philadelphia||-3||-167 / +151||59%||0.9%||0.3||0.1|
|Detroit||at Jacksonville||-3.5||-176 / +159||59%||4.9%||0.0||0.0|
|NY Giants||vs Pittsburgh||-3.5||-178 / +160||63%||0.3%||1.3||1.4|
|Atlanta||vs Dallas||-4.0||-200 / +180||58%||1.2%||1.8||2.7|
|Denver||at Cincinnati||-3.5||-186 / +167||69%||3.4%||3.5||3.4|
|Oakland||vs Tampa Bay||-1.5||-121 / +110||50%||0.2%||0.0||0.0|
|Miami||at Indianapolis||-2.5||-128 / +116||52%||0.2%||2.0||2.6|
Teams We’ve Already Used (Final Official Picks): 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)
Previous Wednesday Preliminary Picks: Houston Texans (WIN), New York Giants (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN), Green Bay Packers (WIN), San Francisco 49ers (WIN), Arizona Cardinals (LOSS), Minnesota Vikings (WIN), Chicago Bears (WIN)
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 Survivor Pools” section at the end of this article that provides quick strategy tips for smaller pools.
Green Bay Packers (vs. Arizona Cardinals) — The Packers are the biggest favorite of the week, have only a bit of future value, and are being picked by only 7% of the public. There is basically no downside here, so the Packers are a no-brainer pick if you have them left. Unfortunately, we used them in Week 4, so we’re going to have to look elsewhere.
Houston Texans (vs. Buffalo Bills) — The Texans are a step below Green Bay in terms of safety, but are still -515 money line favorites, which is pretty darn safe. However, they are the most popular pick this week, with 36% of the public taking them. And they’re also very valuable going forward. So unless your pool is down to only a few people, we’d recommend saving the Texans for later.
San Diego Chargers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs) — The Chargers are a step riskier than Green Bay and Houston according to Vegas. However, our models are fairly down on Houston, and see them as only marginally safer than San Diego. The fact that 30% of the public is picking San Diego is obviously a large negative, but with Houston being even more popular, that is mitigated a bit. One point in San Diego’s favor is that they have basically no future value. Given the lack of other great options this week (unless you still have Green Bay available), the Chargers are a solid conservative pick.
Seattle Seahawks (vs. Minnesota Vikings) — The Seahawks are the fourth-safest team this week, but the drop off from the top spot is steep. However, they are extremely unpopular (4%) and have no future value, and our models like them more than similarly-priced Atlanta (-200 money line but only 58% TR win odds). The Seahawks are neck-and-neck with San Diego as the best non-Packers pick. They are several percent riskier than the Chargers, but in return you get to avoid the crowd and root for an upset to knock out a third of your pool.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Dallas Cowboys) — The Falcons are the fifth-safest team according to the Pinnacle money lines, but only 12th-safest according to our models. A discrepancy like that is fairly unusual, but look at the circumstances: the Falcons are the only undefeated team in the NFL yet rank only 5th in our predictive power ratings, while the Cowboys have a losing record yet rank 13th. The records make this look like a much bigger mismatch than it really is, and that may be skewing the public betting a bit. Regardless of whether you trust our models, the Falcons have too much future value to justify taking them this week. There are plenty of teams with much less future value that Vegas sees as only slightly riskier (Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, Detroit).
Chicago Bears (at Tennessee Titans) — The Bears are definitely a risky pick, but options are pretty slim this week. Chicago has little-to-no future value, and are only being picked by a couple percent of the public, which are both huge plusses. But you can say the exact same thing about Seattle, only Seattle has higher win odds. So the Bears are OK in a pinch or as a second option, but appear inferior to Seattle at the moment.
Washington Redskins (vs. Carolina Panthers) — Just read the write up for the Bears directly above this. The Redskins have an almost identical profile.
Baltimore Ravens (at Cleveland Browns) — The Ravens are in the same middling tier with Chicago and Washington. Baltimore is a tiny bit safer, but also has a bit more future value. They are another team that we’d hope you don’t have to resort to, but if you need to pick a team with a money line below -200, we’d recommend the Ravens, Bears, or Redskins.
The rest of the favorites either have too much future value (Giants, Broncos), are projected as too risky according to our models, (Saints, Lions), or are just clearly riskier even according to Vegas (Raiders, Dolphins).
Let’s get this out of the way up front — if you have managed to save Green Bay all year, congratulations, this is the time to use them. You rarely see a line this big matched with such low popularity and future value. A few weeks ago, it was looking a bit dicey whether the Packers were going to be the elite team everyone expected this year, but the last few weeks especially have gone well for them.
Yes, Green Bay may be slightly bigger favorites in Week 16 against Tennessee, but games in the final two weeks are notoriously difficult to predict this far in advance, since teams often rest starters for the playoffs, or give new young players a shot at impressing in relatively meaningless games.
Unfortunately, we burned Green Bay in Week 4, which means we basically have two options: San Diego or Seattle. San Diego is a bit safer, but also a lot more popular. While it’s a tough call, the proper strategy here seems to be to avoid the crowd and root for the upset, so our preliminary pick is the Seattle Seahawks.
This pick was a fairly close one, so if you think San Diego will be less popular in your pool (say, 20% or less) or that Seattle will be a bit more popular (10%+), then switching to San Diego is a reasonable move.
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:
For an expanded discussion on these points, see the Week 4 NFL Survivor post.
Here is some specific advice for Week 9 for those in smaller pools:
Pools With 10-20 People — Future value is less important here, but none of our top picks have much of that anyway. The rankings barely change for pools of this size. We’d still consider the same top three of Green Bay, Seattle, San Diego. Houston does looks a bit more attractive, so they probably slide up to the top of Tier 2.
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 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 Houston, San Diego, and Seattle. 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 Green Bay (if you have them) or Seattle.
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, we recommend taking the biggest favorite you have available, unless that team is going to be your only good option in one of the next few weeks.
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:
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