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Week 1 NFL Survivor Strategy: Looking Ahead in 2022 To Identify Early Picks

Week 1 NFL Survivor Strategy: Looking Ahead in 2022 To Identify Early Picks article feature image
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Dylan Buell/Getty Images. Pictured: Joe Burrow.

NFL Survivor Pools seem incredibly easy. All you have to do is pick one team each week to win straight-up each week. The catch, of course, is that once you use a team, they’re done for the season. That makes it an exercise in long-term planning.

Most larger pools, such as those offered by major sportsbooks, will have at least a few entries make it to the final week. Three to six out of every 1,000 entries make it according to this piece from TeamRankings.com. That data was (mostly) from before the NFL added an 18th week,  but the point still stands in large fields.

That means we need to plan to last all 18 weeks throughout the season. To do so, it helps to plan ahead. Below, I’ll discuss my top options for Week 1, using projected win probability for the whole season from our Director of Predictive Analytics Sean Koerner.

These will update each week throughout the year, so every week we’ll have up-to-date information.

Survivor pools aren’t just about lasting as long as possible, though. They’re about outlasting your opponents. That should change your strategy depending on the size of your pool. It’s plus-EV to be more contrarian in larger pools, where in a small office pool just advancing should be enough.

We’ll take a look at Yahoo! Survivor Pool Pick Data to identify chalky teams to consider fading. While picking the heaviest favorites gives you the best chance of advancing, sometimes avoiding them gives you the best chance of winning by yourself.

Let’s dig into the Week 1 Picks.

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Indianapolis Colts

The Colts are the second-chalkiest team (as of Monday Night), according to Yahoo!’s pick distribution. That’s acceptable in Week 1, when we aren’t expecting to eliminate big chunks of the field already.

Indianapolis has the slate’s best implied win probability in our model at 75.7%, which is enough to make them a worth play in Week 1.

More importantly, the next time the Colts are the slate’s heaviest implied favorite isn’t until Week 18. That means we won’t regret having burned the Colts early until the last week of the season as it stands now.

Of course, a lot can — and will — change before then. It’s likely that someone else will be a better play by the time we arrive at the end of the season, so I have no problems using the Colts early.

Cincinnati Bengals

For a more contrarian pick, the Bengals stand out. They’re at sub-10% usage according to Yahoo!, ranking fifth overall.  They’re the only team outside of the Colts with at least a 70% implied win chance.

The discrepancy between the Bengals’ No. 2 ranking in win probability and No. 5 in usage stands out, so they’re worth considering in extremely large field contests.

On the other hand, Cincinnati probably only pays off if two or three of the four more popular teams lose in Week 1. That’s somewhat unlikely, though Week 1 provides a better chance than usual thanks to all of the unknown factors.

The only other week in which the Bengals are a top choice is Week 7, when they host the Falcons and have a massive 87% implied win probability.  There’s four other teams with a 75% or higher probability that week though, so there’s strong choices even if you use the Bengals early.

The Data

Below is the full data for each week of the NFL season. The implied probability as of Week 1 is listed for each team, as well as their “future value” in survivor contests.

The future value is the percentile ranking of each team’s combined win probability the rest of the way, and doesn’t factor in which weeks are strong. It should be used as a rough guideline for which teams to save down the stretch.

For a downloadable sheet that covers the entire season, click here.

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