NFL Week 1 Pick Advice: 3 Things to Consider in Survivor & Pick’em Pools (2023)

NFL Week 1 Pick Advice: 3 Things to Consider in Survivor & Pick’em Pools (2023) article feature image

Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images. Pictured: Sam Howell (Commanders)

It's officially Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season, which means it's time to make your picks in NFL survivor pools, office pools, and football pick'em contests.

In this article, we highlight three strategy considerations as you make your Week 1 picks, whether you need to choose the team on which you risk your survivor pool life, decide how to allocate points in a football confidence pool, or identify the upset picks that give you the best chance to win a weekly NFL picks contest.

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Week 1 NFL Survivor Picks: What To Do With Washington?

How you choose to handle the Washington Commanders is a key pivot point when it comes to NFL Week 1 survivor pool picks.

Washington draws Arizona, the team with the lowest 2023 expected win total in the betting markets, in Week 1. Arizona QB Kyler Murray is starting the season on the PUP list, so the starting QB for the Cardinals will either be rookie Clayton Tune or Joshua Dobbs, who was just acquired via trade in late August.

Washington is a potentially attractive Week 1 pick in survivor pools for a couple of reasons. One is the matchup, as the Commanders (-7) are currently the second-largest favorite of the week. The other big factor is that Washington projects to have essentially zero future value as a survivor pick in future weeks of the 2023 season, as they are likely to be underdogs in nearly all their remaining games.

There are also some clear downsides to picking the Commanders in Week 1, the biggest of which is their sizable pick popularity in survivor pools. We track and update each team's pick popularity on multiple pool hosting sites as part of our NFL Survivor Picks product, and Washington’s trendiness as a pick has steadily risen over the past week. 22% of survivor players were picking the Commanders as of Wednesday, September 6th, which is high.

As more survivor entries apparently become convinced that Washington is the best play, the Commanders in turn become more attractive to play against. Think back to last year, when lots of survivor pool players thought they had to take New England on Monday Night Football against Chicago, because it was the only "good" week of the season to use the Patriots.

The result? 25% of survivor pool entries nationwide got knocked out, and you would have been better off just never using the Patriots at all.

The history of NFL Week 1 is littered with upsets, some by really bad teams. Just last season, for example, the Bears got the No. 1 overall draft pick by the end of the year, despite beating playoff-bound San Francisco in Week 1. Three years ago, the Jaguars knocked out the Colts, a popular survivor pool pick, in Week 1. Then Jacksonville lost its last 15 games of the season. 

So you have to decide how you want to handle Washington. Save future value and be in great shape after one week if you get through, or play against them. 

The best answer on Washington will depend on where the pick popularity numbers end up, as well as the specifics of your survivor pool in terms of its size and other rules. But in general, the more popular Washington gets, the more +EV alternate Week 1 survivor picks like Baltimore (the safest pick of the week, though with decent future value) or Minnesota (somewhat similar profile to Washington, but much less popular) should become.

Week 1 NFL Pick'em & Confidence Pool Picks: Denver Looks Like a Relative Value

In 2023, the Denver Broncos have traded ex-head coach Nathaniel Hackett for former Saints coach Sean Payton. Hosting the Raiders in Week 1, Denver is one of nine teams favored by between 2.5 and 4.5 points as of Wednesday. That group of close games is your best hunting ground for contrarian value picks that can differentiate in your Week 1 entry in NFL pick'em and confidence pools.

Once we get deeper into an NFL season, we will often see the public overreact to the previous week's results or to prevailing media narratives about teams, and both of those scenarios can open up contrarian pick opportunities that increase your expected pool winnings. But that's not the case in Week 1 of 2023, as so far, public picking patterns are mostly mirroring betting odds. 

In a week of slim value pickings, Denver looks like the favorite you want to stick with among that large group of small to mid-sized favorites, because the Broncos have higher win odds than most of the group but similar pick popularity. Right now, Denver is tied for the seventh-largest favorite of Week 1 according to betting odds, but they are the least popular pick among all the favorites (65% pick popularity).

This is a subtle strategy, but in a confidence pool, one way to grab little chunks of value is to bump up the confidence points you assign to teams who are relatively under-picked by the public, compared to other teams with similar win odds. Denver fits the mold in Week 1.

Our customized pick logic will take into account the size of your pool and other factors to determine just how much you should adjust confidence points on Denver, so check out our Football Pick’em Picks product to see exactly what we recommend. 

Weekly Prize Strategy For Week 1 Pools: New England, Cleveland Are High Value Upset Picks

In picking contests where you are trying to win a weekly prize, it almost always pays to make one or a few contrarian picks with compelling risk-vs.-reward profiles. Often, those picks are highly unpopular teams that are only slight to moderate underdogs according to betting odds.

Two Week 1 upset picks that look like solid contrarian options at reasonable risk premiums are Cleveland and New England.

The Browns (+2.5) face Cincinnati after QB Joe Burrow was unable to practice all preseason due to a calf injury in early August. Cleveland has also matched up well with Cincinnati in recent years, including a Halloween game last year when they held Burrow and the Bengals to their lowest point and yardage output all season.

From a contrarian perspective, Cleveland is attractive because they are not that much riskier than taking the favorite here, but you are getting a nice potential payoff if the upset comes through, with the Bengals being picked 80% of the time in pick'em contests (a 4-to-1 ratio compared to Cleveland's 20% pick popularity).

New England (+4), meanwhile, is at home against the defending NFC Champion Eagles, and as you might expect, Philadelphia is a very popular pick. The Eagles are being picked by about 91% of pick'em pool entries nationwide, even though their betting market-based win odds are lower than all the other popular picks in Week 1. Even with the Eagles’ high popularity, the point spread for this game has mostly stayed constant at around -3.5 to -4 since early August, after being as high as -5 earlier in the summer.

Neither of these potential upsets would be shocking if they occurred. Based on betting market odds, there is greater than a 60% chance that at least one of them happens. There's almost a 16% chance that both upsets happen, but in your average pick'em pool, only 2% of opponent entries would be expected to pick both the Patriots and Browns.

Especially in larger pools where you need to beat hundreds or thousands of other entries, these are the types of calculated risks that can stack the odds in your favor and give you a much more realistic chance to win a weekly prize. It's obviously risky, but you want to set yourself up so that if your riskier key leverage picks hit, you'll gain a huge edge over the rest of the field.

Get Expert Football Pool Picks In 2023

Giving yourself the best chance to win more NFL survivor pools and football pick'em pools is all about stacking the odds in your favor. The challenge is that it takes a lot of data and math to do it, and most players don't have the will, the skill, or the time to compete at that level.

At PoolGenius, we do all the data collection and number crunching required for you to play like a pro in your 2023 football pools. And thanks to our partnership with Action Network, you can get a no-obligation free trial and exclusive season discounts using the links below:

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