Week 1 Picks For NFL Pick'em Contests

Sep 04, 2019
Week 1 Picks For NFL Pick'em Contests

This article was written by TeamRankings

The 2019 NFL season is finally here, and we're excited to share data-driven advice for NFL pick'em contests and office pools with all of 4for4’s dedicated readership.

If you're into fantasy football or DFS, you probably also enjoy playing in an NFL office pool or two. That's where we come in. We've been studying football pool strategy for the better part of a decade, and last year 80% of our subscribers reported winning a prize in a football pick'em.

In this post, we identify some of the top value picking opportunities in 2019 Week 1 of NFL pick'em contests. Of course, trying to pick lots of winners in your NFL pool every week is important — but that's not all you need to do to maximize your edge.

FREE TRIAL: 4for4 readers can get free premium access to TeamRankings for NFL Week 1, including all game predictions plus picks for your NFL survivor pools and pick'em contests: Get Free Week 1 Picks.

The Components Of Value: Win Odds And Pick Popularity

To give yourself the best chance to win an NFL pick'em contest, you need to identify smart gambles on underrated teams, and avoid trendy upset picks that aren't worth the risk.

Remember that winning a pool isn't about picking some arbitrary number of winners each week. Picking winners is great, but you only rise in the standings if you get picks right that your opponents get wrong. So knowing which teams your opponents are picking is just as important.

Expected Value In NFL Office Pools

Imagine a five-person pool in which all five people picked Oakland to beat Denver in Week 1. The result of that game, whether Oakland wins or loses, will have no impact on the expected winner of the pool. Everyone is going to score a point, or no one is.

However, what happens if one of those five people picked Denver instead? Presuming that game remains a 50/50 proposition (as it was at post time, with a "Pick'em" point spread), the one player that picked Denver has increased their odds to win the pool.

The risk of picking Denver or Oakland is equal, but in this case, the reward of picking Denver is higher. If Denver wins, the sole Broncos picker will gain ground on 80% of the pool. If Oakland wins, the four Raiders pickers only gain ground on 20% of the pool. So the Denver picker comes out ahead from an expected value standpoint.

Picking for Value in NFL Office Pools

Putting together your Week 1 pick sheet for NFL pick'em pools requires understanding these kinds of risk vs. reward tradeoffs for every game.

(Our Football Pick'em Picks product applies sophisticated math to weekly pick optimization, and also bases its pick recommendations on other key strategy factors like the size of your pool, its rules and prize structure, and your current place in the standings. But for the purposes of giving high-level pick advice in this post, we can apply a much simpler approach.)

Using betting lines, game predictions from our algorithmic models, and pick popularity data we've aggregated from multiple national sites like Yahoo! And RunYourPool, we've ranked every team this week on the basis of win odds and pick popularity in office pools:

  • A No. 1 ranking in win odds means the most likely team to win in Week 1 (higher win odds is good).
  • A No. 1 ranking in pick popularity means the least popular Week 1 pick in pick'em contests (lower pick popularity is good).

Of course, you would expect those two rankings usually to be at odds. The biggest favorites of the week are usually the most popular picks, and vice versa.

And just because Cincinnati ranks No. 1 in pick popularity this week, with only 3% of pick'em entries nationwide going with the 10-point underdog Bengals to beat Seattle, that fact alone certainly doesn't make Cincinnati a great pick.

However, summing the ranks to get a composite metric that reflects both win odds and pick popularity is good enough to start separating the wheat from the chaff.

Week 1 High-Value Picks For NFL Pick'ems

What we are saying is the teams above have some of the most compelling risk vs. reward profiles this week. You should certainly think twice about picking against the ones that are favorites. And if your pool's format rewards taking more risk (e.g. a one-week pool, or even a season-long pool with disproportionately large weekly prizes), then the underdogs deserve strong consideration as well.Keep in mind that we are not blindly recommending that you make all of the picks above — the upset picks especially. The best Week 1 picks for your specific NFL pool depend on several different dynamics, and you can find those picks here.

Team Win Odds Win Odds Rank Pick % Pick % Rank Combined Rank
JAX vs KC 37% 23 6% 3 26
DAL vs NYG 75% 3 89% 25 28
DEN at OAK 53% 13 33% 14 29
CAR vs LAR 43% 20 13% 9 29
MIN vs ATL 65% 9 73% 21 30

Note: Win odds and estimated national pick popularity data below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.

No. 1: Jacksonville Jaguars (26 points)

The public is treating Patrick Mahomes-powered Kansas City like one of the biggest locks of the week, which is far from the truth. In fact, the Chiefs are only a 3.5-point favorite at Jacksonville. The Jaguars held Mahomes without a touchdown pass a year ago, but lost largely because of four interceptions and an inept offense.

The Jags hope to have upgraded at QB with Nick Foles this year, and both the betting markets and our preseason projections project them to bounce back from last year's free fall. Remember that Jacksonville's defense had them in the AFC title game just two years ago.

With 94% of pick'em entries nationwide on the Chiefs, it means that a team with a very realistic chance of an upset (37% win odds) is the third-least popular pick of Week 1. KC will probably win this one, but Jacksonville has great contrarian value.

No. 2: Dallas Cowboys (28 points)

Relative to other top favorites of the week, at post time, Dallas' pick popularity was lower than teams like Baltimore and New Orleans (both 6.5-point favorites), which are less likely to win than the Cowboys (a 7.5-point favorite).

It's a game worth continuing to monitor, to see if the news of Ezekiel Elliott's return causes Dallas' pick popularity to float upward in the days ahead. But especially if these numbers hold, if you have the relentless urge to pick a big upset in Week 1, you'd do yourself a favor to pick one of the more overrated favorites to lose and not Dallas.

Better yet, forget the high risk of picking against a big favorite altogether, and pick against a team that is even more popular yet significantly less likely to win like Kansas City.

FREE TRIAL: Win Odds & PIck Popularity For All Week 1 Games

No. 3: Denver Broncos

Apparently, there are lots of Hard Knocks fans out there who think the Antonio Brown era in Oakland is going to go off without any helmet malfunctions. Around two-thirds of the public is picking the Raiders to win their season opener at home against Denver.

Our models disagree, making Denver the slight favorite to win this contest. And the game was an even Pick'em in the betting markets at post time, with the point spread having moved significantly in Denver's favor after opening with the Raiders favored by 2.5 points.

Thus, Denver is the only game on this week’s slate where the (slight) favorite according to our models is also significantly unpopular (only 33% picked). Even if you go with the betting markets and call it a 50/50 proposition, with rare exceptions, picking the less popular team in a toss-up game carries higher expected value.

No. 4: Carolina Panthers

It’s easy to see why the Rams are such a popular pick in this game. LA played in the Super Bowl and Carolina collapsed down the stretch, losing seven of its last eight games. Cam Newton playing with a bad shoulder played a big part in that decline, though, and he appears healthier (though not perfectly healthy) to start the 2019 season.

But this is a road game for LA, and according to our preseason predictions the Rams are expected to decline this year while the Panthers are expected to at least slightly improve. In short, this matchup is likely to be tougher for LA than most people think, a fact reflected in the point spread of Rams -2.5, which has also moved against LA in recent days.

The public's irrational Rams love isn't quite as strong as its irrational Chiefs love in Week 1, but Carolina is also slightly more likely to win than Jacksonville is. If you're in the market for a value upset pick in your pool, this one offers a bit less risk and a bit less reward than the Jaguars.

No. 5: Minnesota Vikings

Starting from the biggest favorite this week (Seattle) and working your way down, Minnesota is the first favorite you hit that has less than a 10% difference between pick popularity and win odds. As a 4-point favorite in the betting markets, the Vikings have just over a 65% chance to beat Atlanta, and 73% of the public is picking Minnesota. That’s a reasonable premium for a favorite of more than a field goal.

In comparison, a whopping 92% percent of the public is picking Cleveland to beat Tennessee. The Browns, at 68% win odds, aren’t much more likely to win than Minnesota.

Which Of These NFL Week 1 Picks Should You Make?

Once you know the best value opportunities of Week 1, you can usually increase your odds to win your pool by making some educated gambles on them.

Perhaps you bump up the number of confidence points you assign to a solid value pick like Denver, or maybe you take even more risk on an upset pick like Jacksonville or Carolina.

There are a lot of potential decisions to make, though, and not all of them will make sense for your specific pool. It takes a lot of data and math to get to the right answer.

Fortunately, we've built technology to do all the heavy lifting. Our Football Pick'em Picks product recommends the best weekly picks for your pool based on all the strategy factors that matter. You answer a few questions about your pool, and it constructs a recommended Week 1 pick sheet that will maximize your edge.

We invite you to give it (and all our other premium NFL tools) a try for free:

FREE TRIAL: 4for4 readers can get free premium access to TeamRankings for NFL Week 1, including all game predictions plus picks for your NFL survivor pools and pick'em contests: Get Free Week 1 Picks.

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