October 11, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
The Dolphins are likely to be a frequent underdog again in 2020... (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire)
The Miami Dolphins will have a big impact on survivor pool strategy throughout the 2019 season. Because of the standard rule that entries can select each team only once during the season, but can select against teams as many times as they want, Miami will frequently show up as an opponent of one of the top survivor picks each week.
Miami is off to the worst start, by point differential, of any team since at least 1940:
To put all that into some perspective, the team that finished with the worst record in the NFL and earned the No. 1 overall draft pick over the last decade has averaged 3.9 losses by 20 or more points all season.
Even among really bad NFL teams, Miami’s early season performance stands out. Our predictive rankings currently have them at 16.7 points worse than an average NFL team, and they are over eight points worse than any other NFL team on a neutral field.
Even the worst teams in the NFL win games from time to time. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule, only two teams have lost every game: the 2008 Detroit Lions and the 2017 Cleveland Browns. If you look at every team to get outscored by at least 180 points on a season since 1978 (38 teams in total), they averaged 2.5 wins. If you narrow it to the worst 20 teams over that span by point differential, they averaged 2.2 wins.
Our 2019 NFL projections have Miami with 1.9 total wins. They probably will not be favored in any game this year, but even with being a substantial underdog most weeks, the odds are better than 50% that they will win a game or two this year.
A hypothetical team that had only a 6% chance of winning each and every week would still be expected to win at least one game at some point over a 12-week schedule, and those kind of win odds would equate to being about a 20-point underdog every week. Despite their start, Miami is not going to be that big of an underdog every single week. They may end up not winning any games this year, but by the odds, they should win at least a game or two.
So if you trust the odds, what are the implications on future survivor pick strategy in 2019?
Miami’s presence as a team that will be heavily picked against makes for some interesting strategy dynamics in 2019 survivor pools.
One is on the overall survival rate. Looking back at the survival rates from the last decade, no season has had more than 2% of survivor pool entries survive the entire season, and the survival rate for the full season exceeded 1% in only two seasons.
This year is on course to break that record, a fact we can analyze using our “optimal path” tool, one of the many unique tools provided with a subscription to our NFL Survivor Picks product. For an entry that has already used the most popular pick each week through Week 5, it puts the maximum survival odds at over 17% to get through the rest of the year alive. In over half of those weeks, the safest survival option is playing against Miami.
In pools where combined wins of selections are used as a tiebreaker, Miami plays an even bigger factor. Selecting teams with likely overall losing records who get to play Miami potentially provides a tiebreaker edge over entries that do not use those games.
While the overall survival rates appear as though they will be higher in 2019 because of Miami, whether that plays out in reality depends on whether the Dolphins pull off any big upsets or not. If Miami wins a game in which the public is heavily on their opponent, that will have an outsized impact on survivor contests this season.
We are going to break down weeks where we currently project the team playing Miami to be the most popular choice in survivor pools. If you have read our NFL Survivor Pool strategy guide, though, you know that you must account for projected pick popularity, win odds, and future value to decide whether playing against Miami does or does not make sense.
(Note that these are a look-ahead to future weeks, and circumstances can change, with injuries and teams improving or declining. We can roughly estimate some numbers now, but the specific pick popularity and win probability weigh into whether a certain team is the best choice in a given week. Our NFL Survivor Picks product provides customized pick recommendations for your specific pool rules based on the latest data.)
Cincinnati is likely to be a very popular choice by the time contests get to Week 16 for several reasons. One is that they will be rarely used prior to that week. Also, because they are likely to have a losing record by then, and because some pools use season wins as tiebreakers, the Bengals may have elevated popularity. Entries still alive at that point will be focusing on tiebreaker factors even more heavily.
Our current models project the Bengals to have pick popularity above 30% in Week 16. However, they are not projected to be the safest team by win odds. New England is projected to have the highest win odds that week, but will have much lower pick popularity because they are a top choice almost every week. Seattle (vs. Arizona) and the Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Denver) are also projected to have roughly similar win odds as Cincinnati. Seattle was already the most popular choice in Week 1, and the Chargers were in Week 4, so they will be far less popular choices by then as well.
Week 16 presents a fascinating potential strategy call. Play the very popular Bengals, which could be a big move for tiebreaker purposes, or go against them in a relatively risky spot when it comes to picking against the Dolphins.
Miami travels to the Giants in Week 15, and New York is likely to be a very popular choice. We currently project that the Giants’ pick popularity could exceed 50% in Week 15. And while the Giants are likely to be a fairly large favorite that week, several other matchups are lining up in Week 15 that could provide similar safety. New England (at Cincinnati), Kansas City (vs. Denver), San Francisco (vs. Atlanta), Philadelphia (at Washington) and Baltimore (vs. NY Jets) are all games that could provide excellent expected value compared to a very popular Giants pick.
So Week 15 sets up as a very important week in the Miami strategy. If the Dolphins shock the Giants, there is a good chance it wipes out a large chunk of pools.
Buffalo looks like the safest choice in Week 7 playing Miami at home, and it will be the first opportunity for survivor players to use the Bills heavily. We currently project Buffalo with win odds above 90% and pick popularity over 50% that week. While Buffalo may still be a reasonable choice because of their high win odds, there are some reasons to look elsewhere.
For one, you will get even more value on Buffalo in a couple of future weeks. They play Washington in Week 9 (see below). You can also turn around and use them against Miami on the road in Week 11, when the Bills will be far less popular (because the majority of entries will likely have used them in Week 7).
If you do not go with Buffalo in Week 7, then taking San Francisco over Washington or Green Bay at home vs. Oakland look like the best options. The pick popularity for each could be below 15% if the public is heavily on the Bills.
We are currently projecting the Jets as the most popular survivor choice in Week 9. That’s because Week 9 is setting up as a week with few great choices and a relatively high expected elimination rate. Even a shaky team like the Jets will be attractive as an option with otherwise low future value, while Buffalo (versus Washington) and San Francisco (at Arizona) are the only two games with projected win odds higher than the Jets that week.
The pick popularity for Buffalo will likely be lower because they will be very popular in Week 7 when hosting Miami, so if you can avoid Buffalo in Week 7 you could come back with them here. The 49ers project as the most popular choice in Week 11 (when they get Arizona at home) and could also be an option in about five other weeks, as they have risen to second in our future value rankings.
The Jets aren’t a super safe play in Week 9, and given their likely popularity, going against them and picking someone else in Week 9 may be a good strategy.
Cleveland is going to be a very popular choice in Week 12 when they face the Dolphins at home, and could exceed 50% pick popularity. The Browns have been a relative disappointment so far after much preseason hype. Their future value in survivor has gone down as a result. The game against Miami, plus a Week 14 matchup with Cincinnati, look like the remaining weeks when survivor contestants may consider the Browns.
Depending on just how popular the Browns get, though, the Bears could be a reasonable counter option. Chicago gets the Giants at home in Week 12. That looks like the safest remaining spot to use the Bears, by projected win odds. New England could also have win odds similar to Chicago in Week 12, and have very low popularity, when they host Dallas.
The 2019 Miami Dolphins, so far one of the worst NFL teams we have seen in recent times, have introduced a significant dynamic into survivor pools in 2019. The presence of a team that is a large underdog to almost every other team in the NFL (even bad ones, as Miami, at home, is even an underdog to woeful Washington in Week 6), has a big impact on how smart survivor players should proceed.
Our goal with this post was to highlight some of the things you will want to consider as you lay out your survivor plan for the season, based on what we know looking ahead in early October. But if you want to get the best possible advice on when picking the teams playing against Miami make sense, and when you should consider avoiding the popular choices, you can use our NFL Survivor Picks product.
If you learned something from this article, we encourage you to check it out.
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