The 2022 NFL season has arrived, and with it comes the opportunity to win big prizes if you use the right survivor pool strategy. The good news is most players don’t understand what it takes to profit from survivor pools over the long term. In this post, we’ll review four survivor pool strategy tips that will increase your odds to be the last entry standing.
NFL survivor pools are high-risk ventures. The most likely outcome (by far) is that you lose. In fact, in each of the past 10 years, at least 50 percent of survivor pool entries nationwide have been eliminated by the end of Week 4. However, there is a way to make smarter survivor picks that greatly improve your chances to win. Our subscribers prove it.
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Note: This analysis is brought to you by PoolGenius, the only site that provides customized pick advice that maximizes your edge in survivor pools. Since 2017, PoolGenius subscribers have reported over $3.7 million in survivor pool winnings using their NFL Survivor Picks.
PoolGenius also offers picks for football pick ’em contests and NFL betting picks. In addition, for the beginning of the 2022 season, Sporting News readers can get a free trial of all football pool picks and betting picks.
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1. You can’t always play it safe in an NFL survivor pool
Lots of survivor players just try to pick the team that’s most likely to win, especially in the early weeks. Unfortunately for them, giving yourself the best chance to survive a single week can sometimes be a bad decision. Ironically, that strategy can actually reduce your odds to win a survivor pool because it often entails picking a team that many of your opponents also pick.
To understand optimal survivor strategy, you must recognize that a survivor pool is a zero-sum game. You can only beat an opponent if (a) you pick a different team than they do, (b) your pick wins, and (c) their pick loses. As a result, just making the safest picks in order to maximize your chance to survive the opening weeks can provide only the mirage of success because surviving the opening weeks is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to win the pool, and to do that, you need to survive as long as it takes to be the last entry standing. Even in smaller pools, achieving that goal often requires you to go deep into the season.
If you start out automatically taking the safest pick each week, you will most probably run out of good teams to pick later in the year and be at a big disadvantage. In addition, you may miss a zinger of an opportunity to pick against the crowd in the early going.
Smart survivor pool players know that you have to be willing to take some risks earlier in the season to set up a strong endgame. That strategy does usually increase your odds of getting eliminated early, but it also gives you a better chance to eventually win the pool. Below is an example of how we currently project out winning percentages for each team each week.
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2. Your picks need to balance safety and value
The perfect survivor pick has three defining features:
Of course, good luck finding a survivor pick like that in the real world because conflicts abound across those three traits.
First, the teams most likely to win each week are usually the best teams in the NFL and therefore also the most likely teams to be big favorites in future weeks. Second, teams with the highest win odds are usually very popular picks because everyone wants to pick a winner.
Finally, if a team is mediocre and doesn’t have much value as a potential future pick but just so happens to have a particularly juicy matchup in the current week (e.g. at home against the worst team in the NFL), that team will probably be a very popular pick.
As a result, your calculus for making weekly survivor picks needs to evaluate the balance between these three key factors (safety, pick popularity, and future value) for every team. We explore this topic in much more detail in our Survivor Pool Strategy book, at the link below.
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3. Pick popularity matters, so pay attention to it
The number of opponent entries picking a specific team matters a lot to survivor strategy. When beating an opponent requires picking a different team than they do, anticipating how your opponents are likely to act is the first step in getting an edge.
Imagine that you play a simple game in Week 1 of 2022 with 99 other people. There’s a $100 prize, and all you need to do is correctly pick the winner of Saints at Falcons to win the prize. If multiple people pick the winner, they all get put in a raffle to win the $100 prize.
Looking at betting odds, you see that the Saints have about a 70-percent chance of beating the Falcons, making the Saints clearly the better pick in a vacuum. However, what happens if you talk to your 99 opponents and find out that 90 of them plan to pick the Saints?
In that case, picking the underdog Falcons will maximize your expected winnings from the game. The bad news is you will only pick the winner correctly 30 percent of the time. But if the Falcons do win, you will have a much higher chance of winning the $100 prize since you’ll only be in a tiebreaker raffle against nine opponents as opposed to 90. In this scenario, picking the Falcons gives you over four times the expected winnings of picking the Saints, on average.
That simple example illustrates why you need to be mindful of pick popularity in order to make profit-maximizing picks in survivor pools. To win more pools, you need to understand the Expected Value (or “EV”) of every possible pick. It’s a calculation that considers both risk (i.e. how likely a team is to win) and reward (e.g. the benefit to you if you avoid picking a team that loses). You can’t measure the reward side of that equation without knowing pick popularity.
We gather national pick popularity data from multiple survivor pool hosting sites and make EV calculations for every team in our NFL Survivor Picks product. (It even includes a customizable EV calculator where you can enter your best guesses for how your opponents will pick.)
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4. It pays to make contrarian picks (but not always)
If a large number of entries are picking the same team as you, it reduces your Expected Value. In that scenario, either you and lots of your opponents will all survive together (in which case you haven’t gained much benefit), or you will all be eliminated together.
Still, there’s no hard rule about when you should avoid very popular picks. In some weeks, the most popular pick is still the best option. (For example, maybe it’s the last opportunity to use a team that will have no future value after the current week.) In other weeks, taking an unpopular (but nearly as safe) team instead of a popular big favorite may provide far higher EV.
In recent years, some major upsets resulted in large chunks of survivor pools being wiped out when very popular picks lost. Many players that ended up winning pools avoided picking those teams and benefited greatly from the upsets.
However, great opportunities to fade the crowd don’t pop up every week. The sharpest survivor pool players use data to understand when it makes more sense to take or avoid a very popular big favorite, and our customized survivor pick rankings take all of the necessary factors into account.
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More NFL survivor pool advice to keep in mind
In addition to pick popularity and Expected Value, other strategy considerations factor into making the best survivor pick each week. The most important thing to recognize is that there is no universal “best pick” for all types of survivor pools. Optimal strategy depends on your pool’s size, rules, and other circumstances, too.
For instance, from a rules perspective, consider strike pools. (Strike pools are survivor pools in which your second incorrect pick, and not your first, eliminates you from the pool. Your first incorrect pick is just called a “strike.”) In those pools, picking a more popular team can make more sense if you don’t have a strike but most of your opponents do. If the pick loses, a bunch of your opponents will be eliminated, while you simply take your strike and soldier on.
However, if you have a strike but most of your opponents don’t, the opposite strategy applies. Even more so than usual, you need to avoid popular teams because you cannot make up ground on players that don’t yet have a strike by simply following their lead.
Another example: The bigger your pool is, the more entries you need to beat, and the longer the pool is expected to last. So in larger survivor pools, you generally need to take more calculated risks to differentiate your picks from the masses. There’s also a higher premium for saving good teams to use in the future, rather than burning them early.
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Ready to get an edge in your 2022 NFL survivor pool?
The strategy tips we covered in this post provide examples of what it takes to maximize your edge in NFL survivor pools. Most survivor players either don’t think about them or don’t understand how to apply them. If you can incorporate next-level strategy into your pick making process, you will win NFL survivor pools much more often in the long run. Granted, it’s not easy, and the level of analysis required takes a lot of math and a lot of time. If you’d prefer to outsource all the necessary data collection and number crunching to the experts, we invite you to check out our NFL Survivor Picks product.
At the beginning of the season, you can even try it out for free using the link below.
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