Win. Your. League.

Receive 3 Free Downloads More Details

Prepping for Survivor Leagues

Using Las Vegas to Find Survivor Strategies

For the past several years, I have been running several staff Survivor Pools.  For those who are not familiar with the concept, it is pretty simple - pick a winning NFL team each week.  The catch is that you cannot use a team more than once all season.  Lose and you are out.  Hence - "Survivor", or "Eliminator" pools.

Please note - this is not a recording.  I've received some great feedback on this brand new article, and as a result, I've changed (and hopefully improved) the chart for 2016 Survivor League preparation.

I've done some prep work each year in getting ready for the coming NFL season.  I have outlined in the past my strategy, and I will be revamping it once again this year with new ideas.  I like to read plenty of other people's thoughts on football and strategy, but one article caught my eye and sparked an idea for this year.  Dave Larkin (right here at Footballguys) wrote an interesting article about the win totals that are published each year for NFL teams, and that gave me a few thoughts.  What if I took those numbers and tried to forecast the best matchups throughout the season?  Could I find the easy games to pick, forecast the land mine weeks and maybe find a few diamonds in the rough?  I think so, so this is my first attempt at doing just that.  Stick with me as I go through this because I think the chart at the end of the article could be worth the price of the Insider Pro membership all by itself (yes, I'm boasting, but I think it is really, really valuable).

So here was my plan - break down the entire NFL schedule and use Las Vegas to help me out.  We do this all the time in fantasy, daily or season long.  The guys that run the sportsbooks in Las Vegas are sharpest of the sharps, so why not use their numbers to start our analysis?  I assigned every NFL team a number equal to their Over/Under line for wins for the coming season, and then I just compared each matchup for all 256 games.  Now, there are a few wrinkles, mostly due to suspensions and changes since the numbers came out, but this is a reasonable start of a baseline to figuring out a plan for the Survivor season.  

A few questions arose as I looked at the numbers - what is a "good" matchup?  If a team expected to win 10 games faces a team expected to win only three, of course, that is a good one - but what about "9 vs. 7" or "8 vs. 6"?  Great questions, so the first thing I did was to just see what the numbers came out to be, and then tried to draw a few lines in the sand.  After looking at all 256 matchups, I did make one adjustment for each team's number, and that was to add 1/2 to their total if they were the home team.  You can make an argument as to what that number should be (and I encourage you to play with it and see if there is a better number), but 1/2 a win seemed reasonable.  Below is the first version of the chart that resulted, with some highlights to point out the big disparities.  

Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
ARI 0 -0.5 -1 4 -0.5 0 3 BYE 3.5 -2 -0.5 2 3 -0.5 0.5 -0.5 -2.5
ATL 3.5 -1 1 3 BYE 2 -3.5 4.5 0 0 -1.5 1 1 1 0.5 0.5 0.5
BAL -0.5 4 2 -2 -1.5 3 -0.5 1 -1 BYE -2.5 0 0.5 -2.5 3.5 0 0
BUF 2 -3 -2 -3.5 -2.5 BYE -2 -3 1.5 -2 -1.5 -3 -6 -2 -1 -6.5 -1.5
CAR 4 2.5 0.5 -4 0.5 0.5 3 0 -0.5 1.5 BYE 4 0 0.5 -1.5 0.5 -1
CHI -4 -3.5 -5 -5.5 -3 -3.5 -3.5 -3.5 BYE -5 -2.5 -3.5 1 -3.5 -3 1 -3.5
CIN 0 0 -2.5 3.5 2 BYE -2.5 0 1.5 -1 -0.5 4 -2 3 -0.5 0.5 -0.5
CLE -6 -4.5 -4.5 -4 0 -4.5 -4.5 -4 BYE -4 -2 -4.5 -3.5 -6 -4 -1.5 -6.5
DAL 0.5 0.5 0.5 4 -1 BYE 4.5 1.5 0.5 -0.5 1 2 2 0 -0.5 -1 0.5
DEN 1 -1 1.5 -1 BYE -0.5 0.5 -1 -0.5 -4 0 -1.5 0.5 4 -0.5 0.5 -0.5
DET -0.5 -1.5 -1.5 -1 -1 -1 BYE -2.5 -3 3.5 2 -0.5 -1 -1 2.5 -1 -2.5
GB 0 0.5 2 5 0.5 1.5 2 BYE 2.5 4.5 2 -0.5 2 5.5 1 2 2
HOU 2 -0.5 -4.5 -0.5 -0.5 4 BYE -2.5 0 2.5 0 -0.5 -1 4 1.5 -2 -0.5
IND 2.5 0 4 -2.5 4 -1 2 -0.5 -0.5 -2 BYE -0.5 1.5 1.5 0 -0.5 0
JAX -2.5 -2.5 -2 1.5 -4.5 1 -2.5 BYE -2 -1 1.5 -2.5 -2 -4 -2 1.5 -3
KC -4 0.5 1 1.5 0 -1.5 -1 0.5 -1 BYE -0.5 2.5 4 -0.5 1.5 1.5 0
LAC -1.5 0 -1.5 -1 -2 -2.5 -1 -5.5 BYE 0.5 1 -2.5 3 0 -2 2.5 -2
LAR -3 -2 0.5 -4.5 -5 -1.5 -3 BYE -4 -3 -3.5 -3 -3.5 -3 -5.5 -4 1
MIA -1 -0.5 2.5 -1 -1.5 -2.5 3 -1.5 -2 -2 BYE -5.5 -1 -5 0.5 -2 1
MIN 0 -2.5 0 0.5 2.5 -2 0 4 BYE 0.5 3 0 -1.5 -1 0 -2.5 3
NE 3.5 3.5 4 3.5 3.5 7.5 3 5 BYE 3.5 3 5 5.5 4.5 1.5 6 8
NO -0.5 -4 -1 1 BYE 0.5 -2.5 3 0 1.5 1 2.5 -0.5 -1.5 4 -1 -0.5
NYG -1 1 0 0 1.5 0 -1.5 BYE 3.5 4 0 1 -1 -0.5 0.5 0 1.5
NYJ -2.5 -5.5 -3 -2 -0.5 -8 -3.5 -5 -2 -4.5 BYE -4.5 -4.5 -4.5 -4.5 -3 -8.5
OAK 0 5 1.5 0.5 1 2 0.5 2.5 1.5 BYE -3 1 0.5 0 0 0.5 1.5
PHI 0.5 -1 -0.5 0.5 0 -1 1 4 0 BYE -1.5 3 -2.5 2.5 -1 -1 -1
PIT 5.5 2 4.5 1.5 4 1 2 2 BYE 1.5 1.5 0 1.5 2 -2 1.5 6
SEA -0.5 6 1 2 4.5 BYE 1 2 3 1.5 1 5.5 2 3.5 5 0.5 2
SF -4.5 -6.5 -1 -4.5 -4.5 -3.5 -5 -4.5 -4 -4.5 BYE -6 -1.5 -4.5 -4.5 -2 -1.5
TB 0.5 3 -0.5 -0.5 -4 -0.5 1.5 -0.5 -0.5 4 BYE -1.5 -2.5 0.5 -1 -1 0
TEN -0.5 2 -1.5 0 1 0.5 4 BYE 0.5 0.5 -2 0 0.5 0 4 3.5 2.5
WAS -1 1.5 -2 -2 BYE 3 -1.5 -2 -3.5 -1 -1.5 -1.5 -2.5 -0.5 -1 -1 -2
Week-by-week Summary
Week 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
4+ 2 3 3 3 3 2 2 4 0 3 0 4 2 4 3 1 2
3.5 4 4 3 5 4 2 2 4 2 5 0 4 2 5 4 2 2
3 4 5 3 6 4 4 6 5 3 5 2 5 4 6 4 2 3
2.5 5 6 4 6 5 4 6 6 4 6 2 7 4 7 5 3 4

Figure 1 - The 2017 NFL Schedule Using Team Win Differentials

The chart above highlights quite a few things for me.  First, only 41 of 256 games (16%) have a margin of four or higher (note that last year it was 42, so there is some consistency).  Those are the games we really want to target, if possible - but we cannot pick against Cleveland every week.  After all, the Browns will win a few games, and we would very likely be reusing several teams if we did just that.  The games at "3.5" (13 contests) and "3" (17 matchups) account for 71 games, or just shy of 28% of the schedule, so we have eliminated over half of the games in the regular season.  For another comparison to the forecast for last year, this number was close to 31%.  Combining the chart above and the rules I outlined for Survivor pools should result in a very solid list for the coming season. 

Based on feedback that I received last season when I debuted the first version of this article and chart, I have updated the 2017 version to remove the absolute values.  The net effect of the change is to really highlight which teams to target each week.  Once again, green (4+ difference) is better than blue (3.5), which is better than yellow (3) and orange (2.5).  Targeting teams in that color order can really help out a successful Survivor weekly plan in the preseason.    

Visually I like this revised chart because I can easily see which weeks are going to be tough to navigate.  For example, Weeks 9 and 11 have zero green squares, so these are going to require more planning and homework.  The weeks with a lot of teams on a bye should be pitfalls since there are fewer teams to consider, and this correlates well with the two weeks I just mentioned (Week 9 and Week 11) as both are two of the three weeks with six teams getting the week off (Week 8 is the other).  Week 16 also looks tricky with just one team in the green, and it is New England, who seems to have a very favorable schedule (combined with a high projected win total) - so the Patriots could easily be used by the second-to-last week of the season.  Knowing that these three weeks are going to be challenging gives us a great head start on picking key teams to reserve for those tougher slates of games.

One last point about the numbers that I chose to highlight (game differentials of 2.5 or more) and the 0.5 margin for a home team - there are more algebraic equations that can be used from Las Vegas to see if these numbers really do make sense.  We have several unknowns here in August, but we do know what the sportsbooks have told us about the season-long aspect of teams via the win totals and also the opening lines for Week 1 matchups.  By taking those 16 games for Week 1, I was able to compare the current spread of each game for all of the 16 contests.  Focusing on the five games with point spreads of 5.5 points, the correlation to the first chart is very strong - Pittsburgh has the highest green score for Week 1 (5.5) and is favored to beat Cleveland by nine points.  New England is second (3.5 on the chart, -8 over Kansas City), while Atlanta comes in as a touchdown favorite against the Bears and the other blue square (3.5) for Week 1.  The Carolina Panthers (-5.5 over San Francisco) are the only other green square that is not a favorite by at least a touchdown.  As for other opening week contests, Buffalo (2) is favored by six over the Jets, who may be even worse than projected.  Indianapolis is the only other team in color (2.5, orange) on the chart, but they are favored by a field goal against the Rams.  So overall the chart looks like a great start for preparing for Survivor planning for the regular season and targeting blue or green squares should lead to finding favorites in the range of a touchdown or more.  By using another conversion table, again supplied by our friends in Las Vegas, an NFL game with a point spread of 6 or 7 points implies a money line of -300 to -360 towards the favored team.  That translates to a likelihood of winning the game around 70-75% of the time.  That's exactly what we were looking for - games with high probabilities of winning for the targeted team.

I hope that you found this analysis and table useful, and I welcome all comments and feedback on the results.

Good luck this year. 

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to pasquino@footballguys.com.