Week 2 Picks for NFL Survivor Contests

Sep 11, 2019
Week 2 Picks for NFL Survivor Contests

This article was written by TeamRankings

This year, we're excited to share data-driven advice for NFL survivor contests and knockout-style pools with 4for4’s dedicated readership.

Our subscribers have reported winning over $1.5 million in survivor pools in the last two seasons, and that success is the result of a strategy and technology that analyzes survivor picks at a far deeper level than most players do.

In this post, we'll review some key survivor strategy concepts, then dig into the five highest-ranking teams across three important survivor pick metrics.

FREE TRIAL: 4for4 readers can get free premium access to TeamRankings for NFL Week 2, including all game predictions plus customized picks for your NFL survivor pools and pick'em contests: Get Free Week 2 Picks

Survivor Pool Definition

A survivor pool (also known as an eliminator pool, knockout pool, or suicide pool) is an NFL picking contest where you pick one team each week. That team has to win its game, or you are eliminated from the pool.

However, in most survivor pools, you can only select each NFL team once during the season, so you can't just sit back and pick the Patriots or Chiefs every time they are a heavy favorite.

That restriction turns what appears to be a simple contest into a game of complexity and strategy. Complexity, though, means opportunity for those with the analytical edge.

How NOT To Make Survivor Picks

Many survivor players act as if the primary goal of a survivor pool is to get through the first several weeks. Their pick decisions, especially in the early weeks, are more geared toward minimizing the chance of getting eliminated, rather than maximizing their odds to win the pool.

They completely lose sight of the fact the only way to win a survivor pool is to pick different teams than your opponents, and have those teams win while your opponents' picks lose. And they also tend to underestimate just how risky even picking the "safest" team is.

If you want to give yourself the greatest edge to win, you need to be ready to take calculated gambles on smart picks right from the start, even if they involve some extra risk.

The Holy Trinity Of Survivor Pick Strategy

To maximize your edge in an NFL survivor contest, you need to focus your attention on identifying the pick opportunities that give you the best chance to beat your opponents. That means you need to evaluate pick decisions through a value lens (by understanding the relative risks and benefits of picking against the crowd) as well as a survival lens.

You also need to have an accurate assessment of how long your survivor pool is expected to last and plan accordingly for future week picks.

To do this level of analysis, you must have the Holy Trinity of survivor data—three metrics about every team required to identify your best possible survivor pick:

  • Win Odds (how safe each team is)
  • Pick Popularity (what percentage of your pool is picking each team)
  • Future Value (the relative benefit of saving a team for later use)

To make your best Week 2 survivor pick, you need to evaluate all of these metrics and decide which team presents the combination of all three that best suits your pool situation.

For example, in bigger pools you need to place more emphasis on future value since you'll most likely need to survive the entire season in order to win. (Our NFL Survivor Picks product, free for Week 2, gives you customized pick recommendations for your specific pool.)

Week 2 NFL Survivor Pick Analysis

For basic analysis, though, let's identify the top five Week 2 survivor teams according to these three metrics. If you're making survivor picks on your own, the data below should serve as the foundation of your decision-making process.

For purposes of this article, we will assume a 100-entry "standard rules" survivor pool (one loss and you're out, you can only pick each team once) with no strikes, buy-backs or double picks late in the season, etc.

Note: Data referenced below was current as of Wednesday morning, and could change between posting time and kickoff time. Our product updates multiple times per day with the latest information.

Win Odds: Top Five Week 2 Picks

When it comes to win odds, higher is obviously better. All else being equal (granted, it pretty much never is), you want to pick the team with the best likelihood of surviving.

Here are the five safest teams for Week 2, according to the betting markets, as measured by their money line odds, which we translate into win odds (in parentheses):

  1. New England Patriots (91%) at Miami
  2. Baltimore Ravens (87%) vs. Arizona
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (77%) at Oakland
  4. Houston Texans (76%) vs. Jacksonville
  5. Carolina Panthers (74%) vs. Tampa Bay

Win Odds Analysis

Your Week 2 survivor pick basically comes down to this question: Patriots, Ravens, or some other team? If you only think about survival odds, New England is a massive favorite at -18.5 in the betting markets—a number very rarely seen in the NFL.

The twist is that Baltimore isn’t too far behind at -13, so we've also got a rare situation where there are not one but two giant favorites significantly ahead of the pack in terms of safety.

The next three leaders in terms of win odds (Chiefs, Texans, Panthers) would have been right in line with the top win odds options from Week 1, but are a step back from the two safest plays this week. That's a key consideration, especially once you consider the next factor...

Pick Popularity

If you ignore win odds and future value, it's always better to pick a less popular team in a survivor pool. Diversifying your picks from the crowd sets up a scenario where your expected pool winnings can increase significantly if your pick wins and the one or two most popular picks of the week lose.

A great example was Week 3 of last season when nearly 60% of still-alive survivor pool nationwide entries picked the Minnesota Vikings, who were 16.5-point favorites over the Buffalo Bills. When Buffalo won, the expected pot share of the 40% of survivor entries that didn't pick Minnesota skyrocketed.

In addition, a more subtle aspect of pick popularity is its impact on the relative attractiveness of picks in future weeks. A pick that is highly popular this week, and wins, will have lower pick popularity as the season progresses because tons of entries in the pool have already burned that team. If you save that same team, it might set you up very well for the future.

Here are the five most popular survivor picks of Week 2 2019:

  1. New England Patriots (32%) at Miami
  2. Baltimore Ravens (26%) vs. Arizona
  3. Houston Texans (15%) vs. Jacksonville
  4. Carolina Panthers (11%) vs. Tampa Bay
  5. Kansas City Chiefs (5%) at Oakland

Pick Popularity Analysis

It’s no surprise the Patriots and Ravens are also the two most popular selections given their win odds. It is possible those pick popularity numbers rise, but the rank order of teams here will probably stay the same.

What is interesting is that the pick popularity for both New England and Baltimore is high, but not as high as what other very large favorites have typically drawn early in a season. Of the 20 largest win odds options since 2010 in the first month of the season, half of them had a pick popularity of 40% or more, and the Patriots are massive favorites this week.

So at least to some degree, New England and Baltimore are "splitting the vote" this week and neither pick is climbing insanely high in terms of popularity. Compare that to 2018 Week 3, when the Vikings sucked up nearly 60% of the public's picks.

That's a critical distinction because it means if you fade the crowd and avoid New England and Baltimore, you will need not one but two gigantic upsets to happen in order for 60% or more of your pool to get eliminated this week.

In addition, you need to recognize the majority of your survivor opponents will have at least an 85% chance to survive Week 2, so safety is at a high premium this week. Generally, it's a more attractive proposition to go with a contrarian pick when the safest pick of the week actually isn't all that safe, and this week does not fit that criterion.

Week 2 is also an interesting week in that the top five teams by win odds are also the top five in pick popularity (though the order is slightly different), which is not always the case. Probably because the Ravens and Patriots are such safe picks, relatively, fewer entries appear to be willing to venture deeper into the well to pick a very contrarian team this week.

Future Value

The final element to consider when making a pick is future value. A survivor pool is often a marathon, not a sprint where just getting through the first few weeks is enough.

If you burn a great team this week, you don’t have that team for the future, and even smaller sized survivor pools have a realistic chance of lasting deep into the season. All else being equal, you want to pick a team that has less future value, so that in future weeks you're not stuck having to pick teams in highly unfavorable spots relative to your opponents' picks.

Of course, the teams with high future value also tend to be the better teams, at least until later in the season when even great teams may not have many very juicy matchups left.

According to our numbers, here are the top five ranked teams in future value this week for a 100-entry standard rules pool:

  1. New England Patriots (6.3)
  2. Kansas City Chiefs (3.5)
  3. New Orleans Saints (2.9)
  4. Baltimore Ravens (2.8)
  5. Los Angeles Chargers (2.8)

(Note: The numbers in parentheses are not easily described; they are a proprietary rating of future value that we created, which is also impacted by contextual factors such as pool size. Still, comparing future value ratings gives you an idea of the tiers of teams, e.g. how much greater the future value of the Patriots and Chiefs is compared to even other top teams.)

Future Value Analysis

Now you can see the case for potentially avoiding the Patriots or Ravens this week. Both teams are in the Top 5 for future value (and the Patriots are way ahead in the top spot), and we're just one week into a 17-week season. If you're in a larger pool especially, you need to plan to survive the whole season to win it, and New England and Baltimore are key assets.

Looking ahead, New England is currently one of the top three teams in projected win odds in a whopping nine out of the 15 remaining future weeks, and the projected most likely winner of the week in three future weeks. If you can get through Week 2 without using New England, you will have those lethal bullets still in your survivor clip, when a large chunk of your pool has already used them.

In addition, New England and Baltimore are currently projected as the two most likely winners in Week 6 as well, when the Patriots host the Giants and the Ravens are home against the Bengals.

The Chiefs have the second-highest future value, which probably helps explain why they are below Carolina and Houston in pick popularity. Carolina's future value is especially low, and this could be the last potentially interesting spot of the season to use the Panthers.

Get Our Week 2 Survivor Pick Recommendation

It's easy to just make a broad claim that "Team X is the best survivor pick of Week 2." In fact, most survivor advice articles out there do that every week, without even a hint of shame.

The reality is it's nowhere near that easy. If you want to maximize your edge in survivor pools, 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.

Last week, for example, Dallas was our most frequent recommendation to our subscribers based on its combination of top-three win odds, low pick popularity, and only modest future value. However, Dallas was still only our recommendation in around 40% of subscriber pools (compared to 7% national pick popularity). We also made plenty of other recommendations based on the specific characteristics of each subscriber pool.

We built our NFL Survivor Picks tools to do all the 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. (Our product optimizes picks for up to 30 unique survivor pool entries.)

In addition to presenting recommended picks, it also has many other analysis tools if you're really into the data, including:

  • A Data Grid with odds, model predictions and pick popularity for every team
  • A Season Planner tool to help you plan out your future picks
  • An Optimal Path tool that shows you the currently ideal pick for every future week
  • An Expected Value Calculator that customizes EV calculations for your specific pool

We invite you to check it out:

FREE TRIAL: 4for4 readers can get free premium access to TeamRankings for NFL Week 2, including all game predictions plus customized picks for your NFL survivor pools and pick'em contests: Get Free Week 2 Picks

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