The 5 Five Biggest Strategy Mistakes in NFL Survivor Pools

Sep 09, 2020
The 5 Five Biggest Strategy Mistakes in NFL Survivor Pools

This article was written by TeamRankings.

At TeamRankings, we've spent years analyzing what it takes to win survivor pools:

  • We’ve built technology to deliver the smartest survivor picks, customized on a pool-by-pool basis and delivered in seconds.
  • Last year alone, we provided survivor picks and advice for subscribers in nearly 8,000 different survivor pools.
  • Our subscribers reported winning over $1 million in prize money in those pools.

A big part of winning survivor pools involved avoiding the types of decisions that sink the chances of unskilled players year in and year out. On that note, here are some critical mistakes to avoid as you chase the dream of winning a big pot in a 2020 NFL survivor pool.


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#1. Playing Only to Survive Now

The temptation to play only for immediate survival is strong. After all, you won’t win a survivor pool if you pick loses. But because of the survivor pool rule that you can pick each team only once, it's often smart to make a choice to trade a little safety now, for a big advantage in the future.

There is no prize given out for just surviving the first four weeks of the season. Nevertheless, many survivor players act like there is, and make choices that increase their odds of surviving to an arbitrary point in the season, while reducing their odds of winning the ultimate prize.

Sometimes, in survivor pools, the best opportunities involve taking on a little extra risk to preserve a team, or to avoid the crowd, so that if the most popular team gets eliminated, you benefit.

#2. Not Paying Attention to Pick Popularity

In survivor, you not only need to worry about your own entry, but you also need to think about what your opponents are likely to do. You ultimately win survivor pools by getting some teams to advance, while your opponents get eliminated. Just following the most popular choice every week is going to keep you with the crowd (or sent home along with the rest of it).

Pick popularity is a key element of calculating the Expected Value of making each pick. Expected Value basically represents the value that picking each team represents, given the likelihood it wins, and the number of other entries that will survive if it advances, combined with all the other potential outcomes that week.

Thus, as more people pick a team, the relative expected value of picking that team goes down. That’s because a positive result for you is less likely to eliminate more entries.

That doesn’t mean you should always avoid popular teams. Popular teams tend to be popular for a reason: they often have a higher chance of winning than other teams. But it does mean you should consider pick popularity, and know when a team has become too popular, based on the other available options and the value of making other picks instead.

#3. Overestimating the Safety Drop-Off Between Teams

A big mistake survivor players make is to overestimate the safety difference between picking two teams. Often, an option that is just a few percentage points lower in win probability, but is far less popular, can be a great pick.

Not all top win odds options are the same from week-to-week. Consider a case where a team has a 90% chance of winning, and the next best team has an 80% chance. In that case, the safer team is half as likely to lose. That’s a pretty big premium to give up by not picking the heavier favorite.

Compare that to another week, where the largest favorite has an 80% chance of winning, and another option is at 73%. The biggest favorite is still going to get eliminated 20% of the time, compared to 27% for the other option. If that big fave is very popular, taking on that extra risk may make sense.

Survivor pool participants may look at point spreads, but it’s better to look at the actual win odds (which can be converted from the betting money line). That’s because the gain in win odds isn’t linear as the point spread increases. For example:

  • 1-point favorites have won 52% of their games over the last decade
  • 4-point favorites have won 66% of their games over the last decade (+14%)
  • 7-point favorites have won 76% of the time over the last decade (+10%)
  • 10-point favorites have won 84% of the time over the last decade (+8%)

And if you don’t look at win odds at all, you are likely to overestimate the advantage gained by going with a particular large favorite. There is no such thing as a truly safe pick in the NFL. It’s all a matter of degrees. The best survivor players know how to properly consider the risk versus reward of taking certain teams with slightly lower win odds.

#4. Disregarding Pool Size and Other Specific Pool Rules

In both fantasy football leagues and office pools, failing to fully consider the strategy related to specific rules and the size of the particular pool is a huge mistake that most players make. Survivor pools are no different. And there are a whole host of pool rules and variations that lead to different incentives when picking your team in survivor pools.

Some pools are small, while others are quite large. Small pools generally don’t last as long, but in a large pool, if you aren’t seriously giving thought to Future Value, and who you might need in the final month of the season, you will have a lower chance of winning.

Strike pools, pools that allow buy-backs, pools that require you to make multiple picks in the same week, create their own dynamics. The tiebreaker rules a pool has in place can impact the best strategy so you can win the tiebreaker. Some pools even extend into the playoffs, adding an additional layer of complexity when planning for the future.

For now, just know this: every pool variation could have its own optimal set of picks in survivor. There is no universal “best pick” when it comes to survivor. What may be the best pick for a pool with 2,000 entries that will require multiple picks in the last month may be very different from the best pick for a 20-entry pool with no strikes. Treating both the same way is a mistake many pool players make.

#5. Falling for Survivor Myths

Finally, there are a few survivor “myths” that have gained traction and that some survivor players swear by, despite the evidence. One of them is the myth that you should avoid division games. This is based on the belief that upsets are more likely when two division rivals get together. However, even though that may sound good, the evidence does not support it. Since 2002, among teams favored by 5 or more points, division favorites have actually won a higher percentage than non-division favorites.

Another popular myth is that you should not pick teams playing on the road. Now, it is true that home-field advantage is real, and home teams win more games than road teams. But that is already baked into the game win odds and point spreads. You shouldn’t avoid a road team who is a heavy favorite in favor of a home team, just because of the road factor. Most of your survivor picks will probably be home teams, but you should not rule out taking road teams.

You need to avoid the biggest mistakes to give yourself the best chance in survivor pools. These pools are hard enough to win as it is, and it requires both luck and skill. But handicapping yourself with a poor process will make things far tougher.

How To Avoid These Strategy Mistakes — Automatically

Our solution to winning more survivor pools was to design our NFL Survivor Picks product, which ensures that our subscribers never fall for the strategy traps outlined above.

Among other things, NFL Survivor Picks:

  • Aggregates betting market odds and objective game predictions.
  • Compiles national pick popularity data.
  • Projects both current week and future week pick popularity.
  • Calculates current week expected value and future value for all teams.
  • Customizes picks and data based on key factors like your pool’s rules and number of entries.
  • Takes into account the specific teams you’ve already picked.
  • Calculates the current “optimal path” of picks through the rest of the season.
  • Offers a configurable EV calculator tool based on your own pick popularity estimates
  • Supports coordinated pick optimization for up to 30 different survivor pool entries.
  • Optimizes picks for multiple entries either in a single pool or across multiple pools.
  • Updates multiple times per day with the latest data.

If you would like to check it out in 2020, we're offering a free trial through NFL Week 1, no credit card required.


Free Week 1 Survivor Picks From TeamRankings

Football picks from TeamRankings:

NFL Survivor Picks | Football Pick'em Picks | NFL Betting Picks

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