The strategy of NFL survivor pools can get complicated but our NFL experts at TheLines have broken down a detailed guide on how to approach your survivor picks. This includes data-driven analysis and tools to help guide your NFL survivor picks.
Read on for a primer on survivor pool picks. In this survivor guide, we’ll go over some of the basic strategies you’ll want to employ when making survivor picks and outline some of the tools and thought processes that will enable you to make the best survivor pool picks possible.
Survivor Pool Picks
Here are some popular NFL Survivor Pool picks for this week. Shown are the win odds, pick popularity, expected value and future value of each pick. You can also compare teams below.
What are Survivor Pools?
NFL survivor pools are generally simple in principle. Each week of the NFL season, you make a survivor pick for your contest. That team must win its game. If it does, your survivor pool entry advances to the following week. If the selected team loses, your survivor entry is finished.
Oh, and the big twist: you can only select each team once.
The last survivor contest entry standing will win all of the money in the pool.
Different survivor pools may have slightly altered rules that can change things. For example, some pools only let you pick against a team once. Some pools require extra survivor picks later in the season, either during holiday weeks or once the pool reaches a certain point of the season. Some pools may let losing players rebuy for the first X number of weeks (usually around four). And while most pools end with the conclusion of the regular season, some may continue into the playoffs to break ties.
But the general, that’s the gist of survivor pools. Pick a team, advance if they win, and the last player standing wins the entire prize pool.
While it sounds simple enough, remember that decent-sized survivor pools will encompass the entire NFL season. That means you’ll need to pick 18 winning NFL teams in a row. Even if you can find a -400 favorite every week (80% implied probability), an 18-way parlay of such favorites pays out more than 50-1. That’s about a 2% implied probability your survivor picks would see the end of the season, and you’ll almost certainly need some teams with much longer odds to make it through.
So, how can you give yourself the best chance to survive? Or, more accurately, how can you give yourself the best chance to win? As you’ll see in this survivor guide, those aren’t necessarily the same.
Survivor Pool Picks Strategy
As mentioned, survivor pool picks strategy involves many layers and can sometimes get deeply mathematical. This survivor goes over the most important things to keep in mind.
Projected Win Percentages
The chance that a team will win its game in any given week is the most important surface-level consideration when making survivor pool picks.
Thankfully for contest players, the sports betting market takes any unnecessary guesswork out of the equation with moneyline prices. By plugging both sides of a game into a no-vig calculator, one can determine the win probability of any given team.
For example, Week 7 featured the Seattle Seahawks hosting the Arizona Cardinals. BetMGM Sportsbook had odds of Seahawks -350/Cardinals +280 for this game. Taking out the sportsbook hold from the probabilities, we had a roughly 75% win probability for the Seahawks and 25% for the Cardinals. That means using a survivor pick on the Seahawks gives the contestant about a 75% chance of advancing to Week 8.
On the surface, win probability would seem to rule regarding survivor picks. Pick the team with the highest chance to win, and you’ll have the best chance of getting to the end, right?
Well, it’s not that simple because some game theory and other factors also come into play.
Only being allowed to select each team once means you’ll need to pick (at least) 18 unique winners to make it through the whole season. OK, so your survivor pool may end before then, but let’s say, for argument’s sake, it’s one of the large national pools.
If you plan to pick the biggest favorite every week, here’s how your 2023 survivor season path looked through six weeks:
- Baltimore (vs. Houston)
- Buffalo (vs. Las Vegas)
- Kansas City (vs. Chicago)
- San Francisco (vs. Arizona)
- Cincinnati (at Arizona)
- Miami (vs. Carolina)
Congratulations, you made it to Week 7! But, uh, now what? You’ve used six of the top 10 teams in preseason Super Bowl odds, including three of the top four. That’s like sprinting at the start of a marathon. Sure, you’ve got a lead, but nobody gives out any prizes for the runner in first at the 100-meter mark.
The fact is, your survivor picks will very likely need wins out of some subpar teams to get through. Sure, you can skip over the absolute dregs of the league for the most part. But, taking out the 15 best teams and the five worst teams, here’s a look at the approximate middle class of the NFL for 2023:
- Tampa Bay
- LA Rams
- Las Vegas
- New York Jets
Naturally, these teams are difficult to trust. That’s why survivor is hard! But if you can find the right spots, your survivor picks have a better chance of getting through. Pay attention to injuries, motivation, and spots where travel and rest make teams more likely to overperform and underperform.
If you have a close choice between a team like the Chiefs, who will be a big favorite many times, and a team like the Seahawks, who will only have a couple of layups on the schedule, your default instinct early in the season should be to select the team with lower future value.
Unless that is, you think everyone else will pick that same team.
Remember our earlier example of the 18-way parlay? Let’s say you plot out this course through the survivor season. It just so happens you can find a path that includes a unique -400 favorite every week. And, lo and behold, the 50-1 shot comes home. You’ve made it to the end.
I’d congratulate you on your win, but get in line. I have a few hundred others to congratulate as well. You earned a fraction of the prize pool instead of the whole thing.
If you can find an 18-way path of nothing but 80% favorites, I guarantee someone else has also found that path. That means you’re playing for half of the prize pool at best and possibly quite a bit less.
Pick popularity is the approximate percentage of a given survivor pool that selects a certain team. For example, if 100 entries remain in a pool and 38 select the Chiefs, KC has a 38% pick popularity.
So, what makes for a popular pick? Anything above 20% ownership for a survivor pool pick is pretty popular. Selecting nothing but the most popular sides is a great way to split the prize pool with many others.
Now, if you’re playing for a share of $8 million in the big Circa Sports contest, maybe you don’t mind. I wish you good luck, but adjust your dreams accordingly. Picture yourself cashing a check for $150,000 instead of seven figures.
The rub, of course, is that your pool won’t list pick popularity until the selections lock. In other words, you won’t know your pick’s popularity until it’s too late to change. You’ll have to make your best guess, but many survivor picks pools feature a tool that lists the availability of teams for the remaining players. Reference those if possible.
Expected value is a correlated concept to pick popularity and expected win percentage. At a base level, the expected value is simple. Flip a coin for $100, and your expected value is $50. The prize is $100, and you have a 50% chance of winning. Hence, $50 in EV.
The math with survivor picks expected value can get a little more involved. If you want to learn more, check out PoolGenius (a TeamRankings product).
The key takeaway is this: counterintuitively, there can be times when picking an underdog brings a higher expected value than a favorite. This happens when a team projects to be so overwhelmingly popular, that an upset (eliminating a huge chunk of the competition) has a high enough chance of happening to justify selecting the underdog side.
For an example, look no further than Week 7 of the 2023 NFL season. In most pools, Seattle (hosting Arizona) is nearly universally available. They have the second-highest market win probability, and the only other teams likely to win are Buffalo, San Francisco, and Kansas City. Many entries have used most, if not all, of those teams. Therefore, Seattle projects to carry enormous ownership, likely above 50% in most pools.
Sorting the expected value from PoolGenius tells us that picking Seattle has an EV of 0.86, 18th of 26 available teams in Week 7. Since that number is below 1, picking Seattle reduces your EV in most survivor pools.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, rank 10th with 1.04 EV. That’s right: even though the Cardinals have only about a 25% chance of beating the Seahawks, you’re much better off selecting the Cardinals in most pools.
Keep this survivor strategy in mind when bottleneck weeks happen, as they inevitably do.
Tools For Survivor Picks
Market-projected win probabilities, perhaps the most important tool for survivor picks, are easy to find. But, again, if everyone uses the same tools, they might wind up on the same path.
What if you could derive your own expected win probabilities? They’d be theoretically unique and perhaps help you find a unique approach to survivor pool picks since your competitors wouldn’t have access to them.
That’s where personal power ratings come in. Note that these differ from power rankings, which seek to rank the NFL teams from first to 32nd.
Rather, power ratings approximate a point spread value for each team, which can then be compared to any other team. Once you have an estimated point spread between two teams, you can convert those numbers to moneylines via an online conversion tool or by comparing similar lines in the betting market.
Different bettors use different formulas and scales for creating power ratings. For example, some assign a value of 100 to the top team and adjust everyone else from there. Others start the scale at 0 (average team) and then calculate each team’s value above or below the average. For example, maybe the Saints are average, and the Jaguars are three points better. Adjust 1.5 for home field (if you so choose, maybe you value the home field differently), and your approximate spread would be Jaguars -1.5 in Week 7.
Personal power ratings can help differentiate your survivor pool picks from the crowd.
Many NFL bettors have seen league-wide schedule grids, which lay out each team’s NFL schedule in a 32×18 fashion. These help bettors quickly compare different schedules and find possible buy-low and sell-high spots for each team.
Survivor grids are much the same, except bettors use them to plot out their survivor picks paths throughout the NFL season. Essentially, the grids help ensure you don’t accidentally pick a team twice or make other mistakes.
When using survivor grids, it’s important not to adopt a “set it and forget it” attitude. While they’re a useful outline, survivor grids should be treated as such. Just as the published book copy may only vaguely recall the initial drafts, the final picks needn’t follow a rote formula laid out before Week 1.
NFL teams can change drastically throughout a season. Trades will happen. Difference-making players will emerge out of nowhere. Unforeseen circumstances like bad weather can dramatically alter the appeal of a given survivor pool pick. And perhaps most impactfully, quarterbacks will sustain injuries that drastically change team strength.
Revisit your survivor grids every few weeks, if not every week, and continually map out different options. You must remain dialed into the constant changes in the NFL, lest your grid become obsolete.
Third-Party Survivor Picks Tools
Serious survivor players often outsource some or all of the factors listed above. Third-party sites exist to help you with your survivor entry, with varying degrees of cost.
TheLines has an ongoing partnership with PoolGenius, which combines projections, including pick probability and future value, to develop expected value calculations.
Since every survivor pool is different, with its own rules, nuances, and size considerations, you may have to adjust the numbers to fit your needs. But PoolGenius and other products provide a solid base to help guide your survivor pool picks strategy while saving you time and effort.
Regardless of the tools you employ, be sure to select a survivor pool that fits your bankroll and provides a fun sweat to follow through the NFL season. Also be sure to check out the best sportsbook promos to get the most bang for your buck this season. Hopefully, you found this survivor strategy guide useful, and you’ll make it to the top of your pool of choice one day.
Survivor Picks FAQ
Yes, many legal, regulated NFL survivor pools exist. Circa Sports in Las Vegas runs one of the biggest and most popular, and DraftKings Sportsbook offers easily accessible pools in most states, featuring large prize pools.
Our survivor pools page has some of the most popular pools. In addition to the ones listed above, sites like ESPN offer free survivor pools (ESPN Eliminator), and you can even build your own and invite friends.
Survivor pool strategy is multi-layered and complex, particularly the larger the pool becomes. You’ll have to keep in mind win probability, pick popularity, and future value.
Yes, many sites, including DraftKings Sportsbook, offer “second chance” pools for those who got eliminated early or missed the deadline to enter the season-long ones. These second-chance contests offer a way to keep the fun alive even if you picked a losing team early on.
For a $1,000 entry fee, Circa Sports offered a mouth-watering $8 million prize pool in 2023. Unfortunately, regulations mandate that only those in Nevada can enter picks. So, out-of-state residents must sign up in person in Nevada and then nominate a proxy (usually for a fee) to enter their picks.
Generally speaking, most survivor pool rules dictate that all entries that made it the furthest split up the prize.
In some pools, your pick will default to the biggest favorite you haven’t selected. In many, however, you’re eliminated just as if you’d selected a losing pick.
Different survivor pools handle this differently. A tie is often the same as a loss, eliminating your entry. Some pools, however, do allow ties to advance.
Unfortunately, this usually means a loss as well, although some pools offer the chance at a backup pick in case some emergency forces the cancellation of a game.