In Season - Articles will come out on Thursday with possible updates on Saturday as necessary...

Survivor Pools. Eliminator Pools. Knockout Pools.  Whatever you call them, they have become a staple of the NFL season.  Pick one team a week to win.  No point spreads.  Just the winner.  What’s the catch? You can only pick each team once over the whole season so there are strategies that you need to follow.  Sounds easy, right?  Not so fast! If you follow these basics, you may last longer than if you were on that little blue pill.

Navigating through a 17-week NFL season takes a little planning and each week we’ll break it down and offer our thoughts on what we think will get you to the next one. In most pools, the winner is usually declared before week 17 as there are always surprises and there is no perfect metric to predict every winner.  So what are the steps you need to follow in order to be successful in a survivor pool? 

Step 1: Hit HOMERS

Last year home favorites were 122-55, that’s a .689 winning percentage.  Just playing at home yielded a .689 clip.  Why hang your hat on a team that has to travel, sleep in a hotel, etc when a home favorite is winning almost 70% of the time?  Home field advantage in football is real. In 2018, Weeks 7 and 9 were the only weeks where the road team won more often than the home team. Combine this with paying attention to….

Step 2: VEGAS

Since 2003, favorites of ten points or more have compiled a record of 459-76 (.858).  There have only been two teams that have lost a game when they were favored by more than 14 points with one of them being last year’s Bills upset of the 17-point favorite Vikings.  Looking for home favorites of ten or more points will greatly enhance your chances of advancing to the next week.  Looking at 7-to-9.5 point favorites the record is 585-184 (.761).  Not too shabby. So if you take all games with a point spread of 7.0 or more, the favorite won 80% of the time. Remember this is straight up winning and not against the spread. 

Step 3: Pick Against BAD Teams

Each year there are a handful of teams that end up being awful. Picking against these teams goes hand in hand with picking the large favorites.  Use the opportunity when a non-elite team plays at home against one the dregs to help you save some of the better teams for later in the season. 

Step 4: Go AGAINST the Grain

In order to win, you can’t just follow the herd and pick the same teams everyone else chooses each week. At some point you have to play it relatively safe, but not take the extreme favorite and hope that there’s an upset in the game you didn’t pick.  Last year when the Vikings lost, I happened to take the Eagles who won.  I got lucky as if you followed steps 1 and 2, you would have been eliminated like many were that week although the Vikings were the right pick.

Step 5: Don’t Pick the THURSDAY Night Game

With a short practice week, teams have limited time to get ready for this game.  On top of that, minor injuries may not have healed yet and the play of some of the players will not be up to par. Why take the chance on a Thursday night debacle by a beat up team that would have benefitted from a few more days rest?  Stick with Sunday or Monday.  You’ll have more time to research and get it right.

Step 6: Wait Until the LAST Minute

If you have a few games to choose from, especially early in the season, wait until the last minute to make your pick final.  Injury updates and weather changes can affect the game and Vegas’ opinion.  Watch the line as it will be an indicator of last second changes that may cause you to reconsider your choice that week.

Step 7: Don’t Map Out a PLAN

It’s easy to look at the schedule and try to map out a plan for the season, trying to save some good teams for later in the season.  In week 3 you see the Chiefs as an 11-point favorite at home.  This is a high probability win, but you are trying to save them for one of the bye weeks when the pickings appear slim.  There are a few other games on the docket that are somewhat attractive but their win probabilities are considerably less. Don’t get caught up in taking one of these less attractive games so that you can save the Chiefs for later.  You have to get to later and you have the best chance at doing that by taking the Chiefs. The other factor in this equation is that let’s say you save the Chiefs so that you can use them in week 9. What happens if Mahomes gets injured and misses that game? The Chiefs may go from favorites to underdogs and leave you scrambling. It’s not unreasonable to look at the schedule in short intervals, especially if you’re deciding between teams.  If a tasty matchup is available for one of them a week or two later, it helps make the decision, but don’t hold back for one more than a few weeks later.  Injuries and the weather, as it gets later in the season, can greatly impact a game.

These pools can add interest to the NFL season beyond playing in your fantasy football leagues.  So join a pool, read my article each week, and hopefully we’ll get you deep into the year and possibly win it all!  Follow me on twitter @gasdoc_spit if you have questions