September 6, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Ben Roethlisberger is 13-2 when playing at division rival Cincinnati in his career. Tell me more about road division myths. (Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire)
In this post, we are going to bust three popular (and dangerous) survivor pool myths.
When you hear fellow survivor pool players talking about these “strategies,” plug your ears with cement and run away as fast as you can. If you blindly assume it’s good advice, the joke’s on you.
On the other hand, if you’re savvy enough to ignore this garbage guidance, you’ll gain an extra edge over your opponents that follow it.
Our premium survivor picks exploit the flaws inherent in these survivor myths, and over 30% of our subscribers report winning a survivor pool every year.
In no particular order, we present to you three very bad pieces of survivor advice:
In fact, they are all so bad that each one deserves a thorough explanation.
Underdogs, thanks to extra motivation and a better familiarity with their opponent, often play much better than expected in division rivalry games, and upsets occur more frequently.
Why It’s Wrong
Going back to 2002, when the current NFL divisions were formed, favorites of five points or more — the types of teams that often end up as survivor pool picks — have won 77.5% of their division matchups, yet only 75.5% of their non-division matchups.
You read that right. Over the last 17 years, division rivalry games have resulted in fewer upsets (among likely survivor picks) than non-division games have. And that outcome is not on account of division games simply featuring higher spreads. Here is a breakdown of division vs. non-division game results by point spread ranges.
Winning Percentage of Favorites in Division vs. Non-Division Games, by Point Spread Range
|Spread Range||W||L||Win %||W||L||Win %|
|5 to 6.5 points||175||77||69.4%||310||133||70.0%|
|7 to 8.5 points||188||50||79.0%||288||99||74.4%|
|9 to 10.5 points||129||36||78.2%||172||42||80.4%|
|11 to 12.5 points||49||7||87.5%||62||10||86.1%|
|13 to 14.5 points||45||4||91.8%||87||17||83.7%|
Despite the fact that it’s clearly not good advice, a large segment of survivor pool players appears to embrace this myth. In the 2018 NFL season, out of the 40 NFL games with the largest point spreads, the average survivor pool pick percentage for favorites playing a division opponent was only 14%, compared to 23% when the favorite was playing outside its division.
That’s an opportunity you can exploit. And if you have been blindly trusting this advice, just stop already.
Road teams are much riskier picks than home teams, even if they have similar point spreads.
Why It’s Wrong
First, it’s true that home field advantage in the NFL is real. 75% of teams favored by a touchdown or more last season were playing at home, and road teams are rarely huge favorites. Over the last 17 years, a road team was favored by 11 or more points in only 30 games — less than twice per year, on average.
However, a strict philosophy of always avoiding road teams as survivor picks is poor strategy. It’s no secret where NFL games are played. Market-based metrics like point spreads already “price in” the market’s expectation of the impact of that very public information.
For example, there’s no benefit in picking a 6-point home favorite over a 7-point road favorite. Since 2002, as one should expect, 7-point road favorites have won more often, with a 69.0% win rate (58-26-0) compared to a 61.5% win rate (93-58-1) for the 6-point home favorites.
It’s worth noting that you can sometimes appear to find evidence that backs up this myth, depending on how you cut the data. However, small sample sizes of data aren’t trustworthy.
For example, since 2002, NFL home favorites of 7 to 9.5 points have won 77.8% of the time, compared to only a 70.5% win rate for road favorites. That seems like an eyebrow-raising result. However, if you consider only the last five NFL seasons, the trend pretty much flips; more recently, the road favorites have won more often. So there is nothing you can conclude with high confidence.
There’s likely some attribution bias going on here, with survivor players who have picked a road favorite that got upset in the past thinking that they must have undervalued the impact of the game location. In reality, every team always has a chance to lose for lots of reasons. (Or perhaps they never actually checked the point spreads for each team in the first place, and were undervaluing home field advantage as a result.)
Don’t limit your options by ruling out road teams as survivor picks. It doesn’t happen very often, but occasionally, a road team ends up being the best play for your pool in a particular week.
So many things change over the course of an NFL season that it’s pointless to try to plan out your future survivor pool picks, especially for the later weeks of the season. A team that’s playing well early on could be a very different team eight or nine weeks from now.
Why It’s Wrong
We agree that no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy. Every NFL season features surprises, whether they’re injuries, suspensions, unexpected breakout players or sudden performance implosions.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from planning for the future in the best way you can, even if unexpected events end up requiring future adaptations.
Many survivor players take a very short-term view with their picks, especially in regards to minimizing their risk during the early weeks. Just survive until midseason, they think, and worry about the end game later. These players burn lots of great teams early, and that’s rarely the sharp way to play.
According to data from SurvivorGrid.com, over the last nine years an average of 0.57% of survivor entries nationwide have made it through Week 17 alive. So if your pool has around 175 or more entries, you should expect to have to go the distance to win it. Even if your pool is smaller, you’ll still probably need to get multiple late-season picks correct to win it. (Check out our post on weekly survival rates and how long contests tend to go.)
And just how unpredictable is the late season, anyway?
From Week 10 to Week 17 last year, 48 games featured a point spread of seven points or more (i.e., the types of games that usually feature an attractive survivor pick candidate). Nearly 80% of the favorites in those games were teams projected in the preseason to have winning records. Just as importantly, nearly 80% of the underdogs in those games came from teams projected to have losing records.
That’s far from being completely unpredictable. So if you completely discount the potential value of saving strong teams for the future — even much later in the future — just to get a slightly better chance to survive an early week, you could leave a lot of expected value on the table. Season planning needs to start in Week 1.
To be fair, there are some nuances here. For example, in our NFL Survivor Picks product, we award a team less “future value credit” for a juicy matchup that is far in the future, as opposed to sooner on the schedule. Because it is true that the farther away a game is, the greater the chance that something totally unanticipated happens in the meantime. We especially discount Weeks 16 and 17 for expected playoff teams, because those teams often begin to rest their starters at that point in the season.
However, completely ignoring the fact that a team you like in Week 2 also looks like it will be a fantastic pick in Week 11 is folly.
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