Optimal NFL Pick’Em Pool Strategy: How To Approach Your Pool for 2022-23 Season
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In addition to the immense following of Survivor Pools, NFL Pick’Em contests are growing in popularity. This year, DraftKings is offering a free pool as part of its “Dynasty Rewards” program, with various prizes depending on your VIP status.
The concept exists in many variations, most famously the Westgate SuperContest. The premise is simple: Make picks (usually five) against the spread all season, with huge prizes going to top finishers.
The Action Network’s own Sean Koerner has you covered in Week 1 — and will every week with his best picks. I’m here to discuss macro-level strategy. The focus will be on the DraftKings contests in particular, with nods to other contest types when applicable.
Getting the Best Number
Timing is by far the biggest edge. With the proliferation of online versions of the pool, players usually have the opportunity to switch picks throughout the week.
DraftKings has an interesting format. They’ll be releasing lines on Wednesdays most weeks, then holding them steady until kickoff. That means there will be big edges as lines move, especially in Week 1 with lines coming out earlier.
The strategy is simple: Using our NFL Odds page, identify games where the line has moved from what’s listed in the contest. For Week 1, there’s already four games where the line in the pools is off by at least a full point from the best available line.
Other operators have different methods, including allowing users to “lock in” picks early in the week at the given line. In pools with that ruleset, making five picks as early as possible — ideally in games where the spread is likely to move based on injury news — is optimal.
Then, if the line moves against you, simply pivot that pick to another team — again, as early as possible. If done correctly, and if there’s enough variance in lines throughout the week, you should be able to have five picks better than the closing line.
For DraftKings though, waiting as long as possible to make your selections is ideal. Outside of Week 1, Thursday Night Football will be a poor choice throughout the year, since the line is only one day old.
Conversely, picking from Sunday and Monday Night Football games will be optimal, since those have the greatest chance of shifting between the release of lines and kickoff.
Maximizing Expected Value
The final consideration as we move through the year is how to maximize expected value. Outside of picking the right teams, strategy will play a major role late in the season.
Picking off stale numbers will be a somewhat common strategy, particularly among players at the top of the leaderboard. This is where we need to apply some DFS game theory to our selections.
If the goal is to hold on to your spot — or framed another way, raise your odds of a top X finish — then continuing the strategy above is suggested. However, if you’re trying to move up in the standings, the worst-case scenario is having the exact same picks as somebody ahead of you.
This is where going against the grain could pay off. If you’re within a point or two of the top spot, simply making the best selections possible without beating the closing line is ideal.
However, if you need to cover major ground, picking teams with worse current odds than offered in the contest has some merit. Koerner’s projections are an awesome resource for this — if the market goes against his thoughts, sticking with his picks gives you a chance to get back a point on the popular pick.
Of course, given the prize structure of many of these contests, it might make more sense to aim for 10th, or 50th, etc. That comes down to personal preference and the payout structure of the contest.
Hopefully, though, you’ll be in a position to cash using Koerner’s projections and the strategies outlined.
See you at the top of the leaderboards.