NFL Pick’em Pool Strategy: Four Things You Need To Know In 2023
This article was written by PoolGenius.
NFL pick'em pool strategy requires much deeper analysis than simply picking the most likely winners, and the 2023 season presents some unique dynamics to consider.
The good news is that whether you're playing in a game-winner or point-spread-based contest, a confidence pool, or a pool with weekly and/or season prizes, applying the optimal pick strategy can double, triple, or even quadruple your odds to win.
In this post, we first identify two insights that will impact NFL pick'em pools in 2023, then discuss a couple of key principles of winning pick'em pool strategy.
(To learn more about pick'em pool strategy, you can read our other article on 4for4 on mistakes to avoid in football pick'em pools.)
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#1 - Week 2 Could Feature Many Value Picks In NFL Pick'em Pools
At PoolGenius, we love Week 2 of the NFL season. It often provides a feast of high-value picks (i.e. opportunities to gain ground on your opponents while taking little to no additional risk) in pick’em pools, as many of your pool opponents overreact to what they just saw in Week 1.
A good NFL team will play poorly sometimes, and/or suffer some really bad luck (e.g. losing 3-of-3 fumbles in a game, while its opponent recovers all three of its fumbles). Nevertheless, nationwide pick rates in football pick'em pools almost always exhibit some recency bias based on how a team looked in its last game.
That phenomenon tends to be amplified in Week 2, when a single game result is the only thing on a team's resume.
Since we started tracking the data nine years ago, our subscribers have reported winning a weekly prize in pick'em contests nearly 16% of the time in NFL Week 2. Based on their pool sizes and payout spots, you'd expect a win rate of only around 6% for a typical player.
Last year, our subscriber weekly prize win rate was 19% in NFL Week 2, and two of our three biggest historical weekly win rates have also occurred during Week 2.
Week 2 of 2023 again sets up as a potentially high-leverage pick overreaction week. Based on our current projections, only three favorites have 70% or higher win odds that week. Meanwhile, nine games (over half the games on the Week 2 slate) are projected to have a favorite with less than 60% win odds, making them all pretty close to toss-ups.
In several of those closer matchups, the public will likely latch on to one side as its clear favorite pick, thanks to an upset or a poor performance in Week 1. Fading the public in the right spots can help you to get out to an early lead in your season-long standings, and potentially win a weekly prize too.
#2 - The 2023 NFL Schedule Could Enable Late Comebacks in Pick'em Contests
The 2023 NFL schedule is wildly imbalanced, and that fact has significant implications for pick'em pool strategy.
We have NFL preseason power ratings and strength of schedule ratings going back over a decade. For all the seasons during that time period, five of the six toughest schedules occur this year. The four easiest NFL schedules of the past decade-plus also occur this year.
In short, a lot of the expected top teams play each other in 2023, while teams projected to finish near the bottom of the NFL also face off frequently.
For instance, the AFC East looks like a tough division, and it draws the formidable AFC West and NFC East in non-conference action. Meanwhile, the NFC South, a division that was won by a Tampa Bay team that went 8-9 last year (before Tom Brady’s retirement), gets the relatively weak AFC South and NFC North.
The net impact of this scheduling phenomenon in 2023 is fewer projected mismatches than usual, and more games that look to be fairly even. In pick'em pools, how your picks perform in those toss-up type games will likely have a major impact on whether or not you cash.
The 2023 NFL schedule also features a lot of top contenders having their easier matchups concentrated early in the year. Right now, we project only 52 games where a team has win odds of 70% or higher, and nearly half of those games (24) come during the first six weeks of the season.
Sure, QB injuries will happen and some teams will defy preseason expectations for better or worse. That will cause point spreads and win odds to change over the course of the season, and perhaps it becomes more lopsided overall. But compared to past NFL seasons, 2023 looks like one that will feature more even matchups down the stretch.
Why does that matter in pick’em pools? In pools where you pick game winners, the highest leverage matchups are typically the close ones. If you're playing wisely and looking for smart contrarian picks, in many toss-up games, more than half of your pool will be on the other side of your pick. So there's a lot riding on you getting more of those picks right than you get wrong.
More close matchups coming late in the season in 2023 also means more opportunities for entries trailing the pool leaders to catch up, and more risk of losing the lead for those currently in front—especially as a result of weeks where there are big swings in the standings.
So don’t get discouraged if your pick'em contest picks have some down weeks early in 2023. Our research into what winning pick'em entries look like shows that over the long term, about half of all pick'em pool winners don't move into first place until Week 13 or later, and about a quarter of them don't take over first place until Week 15 or later.
This year, the number of late-charging entries who surge into prize-winning positions over the final few weeks could be even higher.
#3 - Use Different Pick Strategies To Win Weekly vs. Season Prizes
One of the most critical aspects of football pick'em pool strategy that most people don't understand involves optimizing picks for winning weekly vs. season-long prizes. In short, pick strategy for pools that only offer season prizes can be vastly different from how you should approach single-week picking contests that effectively reset each week.
In a season-long pool where you pick game winners, and particularly in pools with a smaller number of entries, your best approach (at least to start) is almost always to make more conservative picks that are focused on favorites. You can still create pick differentiation from your opponents by doing things like avoiding trendy upset picks, emphasizing less popular favorites in confidence pools, and fading the more popular public pick in toss-up games.
Slow and steady wins the race in season-long pools, and there will be lots of opportunities to make lower-risk, modest-reward types of picks across 18 weeks of play and over 200 games.
In contrast, optimal pick strategy for weekly pick'em contests can look quite wild. When you only have a total of 13 to 16 games to pick, your best approach usually isn't to play it safe, but to take a few big calculated risks and hope that they go your way. The downside of that sort of boom-or-bust strategy is far lower if scores don't carry over from week to week.
Sometimes, only one or two wins that most of your opponents miss can end up giving you the best score of a particular week. So identifying key upset plays, when an underdog is extremely unpopular yet isn't a huge longshot, can provide a huge boost. It may not be the most likely outcome, but when those dogs hit, you can skyrocket up the weekly standings.
Here's another way to think about the weekly vs. season prize strategy differences. You can easily win a season-long pick'em pool without ever having the highest score of any given week. Consistently getting 9, 10, or 11 picks correct week in and week out will often do it. But that same outcome will yield zero weekly prizes.
So if your pool offers both season and weekly prizes, maximizing your expected winnings requires you to figure out the prize-chasing strategy with the highest expected value. Given the prize structures used in most pools, that often means chasing a season prize, at least at first.
However, pools with disproportionately large weekly prizes may not fit that mold, and you may be better off forgetting about the season prize and taking 18 swings at the weeklies. Additionally, if your pool is entering the later stages of the season and you find yourself well behind the leaders for a season prize, switching up your approach to focus on taking shots at weekly prizes over the closing weeks may be your better option.
(Our Football Pick'em Picks product does these expected value calculations for you, and recommends which approach you should take each week.)
#4 - In Point Spread Based Pick'em Pools, Stay on Top of Betting Line Movement
We can’t sit here and tell you before the 2023 NFL season begins what picks you should make against the spread in Week 6 or Week 9 or Week 14. What we can tell you is that several strategy principles for winning point spread based football pools remain consistent from year to year.
In spread-based pick'em pools, one of the biggest sources of competitive edge simply involves staying on top of the latest news, odds, and betting line movement throughout each NFL week.
Most pools release point spread values for all weekly games that are locked in place before the Thursday night game kicks off. Although injury news or sharp betting action later in the week can cause point spreads at sportsbooks to change over time, the point spread in most pick'em contests remains frozen.
(For instance, the 49ers may end up as a 7.5-point favorite against the Raiders as of Sunday game day morning, but they may be listed as only a 6-point favorite in your pool, which reflects what the point spread actually was earlier in the week.)
That difference (often referred to as "free points" or "line value" or "stale line value") provides a consistent source of edge in pick'em pools for many sharper players. Contestants who don't closely follow line movement will be more prone to pick the Raiders +6, which is no longer a fair price and immediately puts them at a disadvantage.
At PoolGenius, our products import the latest betting line information multiple times per day, and automatically adjust subscriber pick recommendations based on available line value.
Get The NFL Pick’em Pool Strategy Edge
The insights discussed above help explain why NFL pick'em pool strategy is much more complex than most people think. To give yourself the best chance to win, you need to consider your pool's size, rules, and prize structure; your current place in the standings; how you expect your opponents to make their picks; and all the latest data on betting lines and injuries.
The Football Pick'em Picks product from PoolGenius does all that and more:
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- Optimizes picks for both spread and game-winner-based pools
- Provides picks designed to win weekly and season-long prizes
- Recommends when to target weekly vs. season prizes
- Supports fixed point pools, confidence pools, and "Pick X" pools
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- Just like you rely on 4for4 to give you an edge in fantasy, PoolGenius is your secret weapon for winning more football pick'em pools.