September 18, 2019 - by Jason Lisk
Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys win the award for Most Popular of Week 3 (Photo by Andrew Dieb/Icon Sportswire)
Last week started out with a significant survivor upset when Carolina, which had been picked by about 13% of survivor pool entries nationwide, lost on Thursday night. That result stole the crown from Tennessee over Cleveland in Week 1 as 2019’s biggest survivor elimination result so far.
However, the week ended with another above-average survival rate overall, as the majority of the public went with either Baltimore or New England, and both of those big favorites won (although the Ravens made their backers sweat a bit). By our estimates, around 87% of survivor entries alive at the beginning of Week 2 made it to Week 3.
In this post, we’ll analyze the five most popular survivor and knockout pool picks of Week 3 2019 using the “Holy Trinity” of pick data we introduced in our first survivor post of the season: win odds, pick popularity, and future value. This deeper level of analysis is big reason why our subscribers have reported nearly $1.5 million in survivor pool winnings over the past two seasons.
(Note that this is an early read on Week 3 survivor picks, and data may change over the course of the week. We may have some updates by Friday.)
Week 3 again features two very large favorites, the Patriots and Cowboys, followed by a selection of significantly riskier picks. So for the second week in a row, the primary decision factor for most survivor players will be whether or not it makes sense to take a gamble and avoid the two safest picks of the week, when those teams also happen to be two of the safest picks you ever see in the NFL.
Miami continues to set new lows in terms of an utterly wretched start to an NFL season, and the strong-starting Cowboys are favored to beat the Dolphins by more than 20 points this week, based on the point spread. Meanwhile, the Patriots return home to face a Jets team that will be starting third-string quarterback Luke Falk, and are favored by 23.
However, we are obligated to remind you that last year in this exact week, everyone thought the Buffalo Bills were the worst team in football, and the Vikings were seen as NFC contenders. Then, Buffalo knocked out nearly 60% of still-alive entries in survivor pools when they won as a 16.5-point underdog at Minnesota. Never say never.
Let’s analyze the five most popular survivor picks for Week 3.
Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 60%
Point Spread: -21.5
Miami appears to be breaking the NFL. They’ve lost their first two games by a larger cumulative point differential than any team since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
But the other 12 teams since 1978 to lose their first two games by a combined 55 points or more? They went 8-4 straight up in Week 3, and 10-2 against the spread. Two of them won as underdogs of more than 16 points (Bills against Vikings last year, and Colts against the Patriots in 1978). But none of them were as big an underdog as these Dolphins are in Week 3.
So the case to take Dallas is that they are rolling, the Dolphins are terrible, and you have extremely high win odds of 94%. The Cowboys also don’t have extremely high future value, with a schedule that gets much tougher after this week. (Dallas isn’t currently projected to have win odds above 70% again until Week 17 at home against Washington.)
The argument to avoid Dallas? Just like the Vikings last year, 60% pick popularity is an absolutely huge concentration of picks on one team. If you don’t pick Dallas, and by random chance the Cowboys have their worst game of the season, while Miami has its best, over half your pool could get knocked out while you survive. That chance is very slim but it’s not zero.
Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 15%
Point Spread: -23
Using our custom NFL betting trends search tool, you can also see that only 10 NFL games since 1985 have had a point spread of 20 or more. We’ve never had a single season in which two different teams were favored by that much, let alone a single week where it has happened like this one. History in the making.
Those 20+ point favorites did go 10-0, but they were also 1-9 against the spread, and three of the ten games were decided by one score.
Provided that you still have them available, the case for taking the Patriots in Week 3 is that they are again an extremely large favorite, but now they are also relatively unpopular (especially considering their win odds), after nearly 30% of still-alive survivor entries picked them last week. The Patriots are the safest team of the week yet more than four times as many entries are on the Cowboys.
Of course, the other reason that so many entries are opting for Dallas and not New England is future value. The Patriots remain the most valuable team to save for the future by a significant margin, and will be useful in several other weeks if you save them now.
Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 7%
Point Spread: -8
Roughly 1-in-4 survivor entries this week isn’t picking Dallas or New England, and Green Bay is the top choice among that “avoiding both heavy favorites” crowd. Presumably the logic here is trying to fade the public by avoiding the hugely popular Cowboys, if you’ve either already used the Patriots or are just making a conscious decision to save New England for later use.
On the plus side, 7% pick popularity is ridiculously low for an 8-point favorite in most weeks. The downside is that Week 3 isn’t most weeks, and even an 8-point spread is a huge drop in win odds from the Patriots and Cowboys. Compared to picking New England, you would be taking on a roughly 20% additional chance to get eliminated to pick a team that isn’t even that much less popular.
The Packers have moderate future value, including four future weeks where they look like they could be one of the top three considerations, but none where they appear to be a clear-cut choice.
Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 5%
Point Spread: -8.5
Minnesota is the other option in the “second tier” of safety this week, if you don’t trust Green Bay. The Vikings’ pick popularity is slightly lower than the Packers and their win odds are slightly higher, both relative pluses. Their future value is also minimal, though they look like one of the best options in Week 8 when they host Washington.
Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 4%
Point Spread: -6.5
San Francisco is a riskier pick than either Green Bay or Minnesota, and only slightly less popular. With Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph making his first career start, you will also want to read our analysis on what happens when first-time starting quarterbacks play, relative to the spread.
Worth noting is that the 49ers actually have a little more future value than the Packers or Vikings, mainly because they look like they could be one of the best options in Week 12, when they host Arizona. That week, the Patriots play the Ravens, the Chiefs play the Chargers, and the Rams go against the Chicago Bears.
The teams mentioned in this post are the most popular picks this week, but that doesn’t mean one of them is the best pick for you. Every possible survivor pick has an expected value and future value associated with it, and those values vary based on the characteristics of your pool.
As a result, it takes a lot of data and math to figure out which pick (or combination of picks, if you’re playing multiple entries) gives the biggest boost to your expected survivor pool winnings.
We built our NFL Survivor Picks product to do all of this analytical work for you. You answer a few questions about your pool’s size and rules, and it provides customized pick recommendations for your pool using the latest matchup data, betting market odds, and public picking trends from national survivor pool sites.
The product even does a second layer of optimization if you are playing multiple survivor entries, recommending exactly how you should split a “portfolio” of survivor pool entries across one, two, or more teams.
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