2021 NFL Survivor Pool Full-Season Strategy Guide: How to Plan Weeks 1-18

2021 NFL Survivor Pool Full-Season Strategy Guide: How to Plan Weeks 1-18 article feature image
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Steph Chambers/Getty Images. Pictured: Russell Wilson

The 2021 NFL season is in full swing. Hopefully you fared well in Week 1 and have already locked in your pick for Week 2. If you’re serious about trying to win, you probably should’ve thought about a longer-term strategy as we look toward the rest of the season.

But if you haven’t, don’t sweat it. You’ve come to the right place.

You can approach a survivor pool in many different ways. Some will just wing it on a week-to-week basis. I wish those of you who do this well, but I like to at least come up with a preliminary plan of which teams I will use throughout the season.

A simple planning exercise will highlight a week like Week 12 this season in which the Chiefs have a bye and two of the worst teams (Jets and Texans) face each other. You also have six teams playing on a short week on Thanksgiving. I don’t have a single projected spread over six points that week. If you’re lucky enough to still be alive after Week 11, you could end up in a tough spot if you didn’t plan ahead.

My initial process involves looking at my projected spreads each week after adjusting for other factors (travel, bye weeks, etc.) while starting to build preliminary survivor picks for all 17 weeks. I then play around with different scenarios before finalizing my plan, which is obviously not static. Things can and will change drastically throughout the season. There will be impactful injuries, and some teams will just be much better or worse than projected. Flexibility will always be key.

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I personally like to take gambles early on in the season with teams that many others won’t take. That’s the best way to increase your equity each week. It also allows you to preserve some of the league’s best teams for later in the year when hopefully many others have already used them. You then can use the best teams and/or fade the worst teams without riding with the masses.

I don’t care if I go out early on with a riskier pick since I don’t expect to win a survival pool. They aren’t easy! So, I’d rather go out on an island early in the year with a chance of increasing my odds later in the year than to ride with the most popular pick each week. However, there are certainly weeks where I will ride with the masses.

Also, it does depend on the format and size of the specific pool. Many different survivor pool types exist with features such as buy-backs. Make sure to familiarize yourself with all of the rules/nuances and adjust accordingly.

2021 NFL Survivor Pool Preliminary Plan

Again, this will likely change based on power rating adjustments throughout the year and the popularity of picks each given week. But it’s a good starting point.

2021 NFL Survivor Pool Summary

  • As you can see, I’m taking a few risks early in the season. Per my power ratings, my average projected spread for the teams I picked over the first four weeks is 6.1. That’s almost a field goal below the 8.7-point average over the final 14 weeks.
  • For Week 1, I used a potentially semi-popular pick in my biggest survivor pool with the Rams, but who knows how many other chances we’ll get to fade Andy Dalton? I will say that in one of my other pools, I used the Panthers at home against the Jets. I can’t see many going that route.
  • Per my power ratings, the Texans are the worst team in the league and could be historically bad. I’m fading them in five of the 18 weeks. (Other teams I’m fading multiple times: Lions and Bears.)
  • My ultimate goal is to get to Week 12 without picking the Chiefs, Ravens, Bucs and Packers. Those are four of the best teams in the league that I assume many will have already used.
  • While I want to wait to use the elite teams, I usually almost always use them prior to the final week in case they rest starters. As of now, I have the Bucs listed for Week 18, but it’s impossible to project which teams will have what locked up in the playoff race by that point. I will likely end up using the Bucs at some other point in the season, but not too soon. I’m hoping the Bucs suffer a bit of a Super Bowl hangover and get upset a few times early in the year to knock people out. They are certainly an option (at Indianapolis) for the tricky Week 12. Currently, I have the Ravens penciled in against the Browns, who don’t have a bye until Week 13.
  • I used 18 of the top 20 teams in my power ratings. I’ll still have the Saints and Cowboys in my back pocket to use at some point. Although, the high-variance game of Jameis Winston will make the Saints a scary favorite. In regards to Dallas, I will have to monitor the health of Dak Prescott.

I will examine this each week to see if I need to alter my plan based on performance and injury news. It takes some luck to win a survivor pool, but having a process and going against the crowd (especially early) will help increase your chances of being the last person standing.

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