Prepping for Survivor Leagues - Footballguys

Survivor Pool Strategy - Outwit, Outplay, Outlast - Planning Out 17 Weeks of Victories

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.

I've done some prep work each year in getting ready for the coming NFL season. I have outlined in the past my strategy for the general planning for Survivor Pools, and I will continue to review and refine that process. I like to read plenty of other people's thoughts on football and strategy, but one article caught my eye last season and sparked a new idea. 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 landmine 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.

Let us start the breakdown for the 2018 season by looking at the expected wins set by Las Vegas. Sometimes these numbers can be challenging to find, but Betonline.ag offered up a very good option this year for Over/Under totals for team wins. Table 1 summarizes these numbers:

Team
Expected Wins
Team
Expected Wins
New England
11.5
Baltimore
8
Philadelphia
10.5
Oakland
8
Pittsburgh
10.5
Seattle
8
Green Bay
10
Tennessee
8
LA Rams
10
Denver
7.5
Minnesota
10
Detroit
7.5
LA Chargers
9.5
NY Giants
7.5
New Orleans
9.5
Indianapolis
7
Atlanta
9
Washington
7
Jacksonville
9
Chicago
6.5
Carolina
8.5
Cincinnati
6.5
Dallas
8.5
Miami
6.5
Houston
8.5
Tampa Bay
6.5
Kansas City
8.5
Arizona
6
San Francisco
8.5
NY Jets
6
Buffalo
5.5
Cleveland
5.5

Table 1: Expected Wins for All 32 NFL Franchises in 2018

Next comes the math part, where I take one team's expected wins and compare it to their opponent's number. Table 2 presents the results:

Team
Wk01
Wk02
Wk03
Wk04
Wk05
Wk06
Wk07
Wk08
Wk09
Wk10
Wk11
Wk12
Wk13
Wk14
Wk15
Wk16
Wk17
ARI
-1
-4.5
-0.5
-2
-3
-4.5
-1.5
-2.5
BYE
-3
-2
-4
-4.5
-1.5
-3.5
-4
-2.5
ATL
-2
0.5
-0.5
2.5
-2
2.5
1.5
BYE
0.5
3
0.5
-1
1
-1.5
3
0
2
BAL
2.5
1
0.5
-3
2
-0.5
-1.5
-1
-2.5
BYE
1.5
0
-1.5
-1
1.5
-2
2.5
BUF
-3
-4
-5
-5
-2.5
-3.5
-2
-6
-1
-1
BYE
-3.5
-1.5
-0.5
-2
-6.5
-1
CAR
0
-1
2
BYE
1
0
-2.5
0.5
2
-2.5
0.5
0.5
1.5
2.5
-1
-0.5
-1.5
CHI
-4
-1.5
0
0
BYE
-0.5
-5
0.5
0.5
-1
-3.5
-1.5
-1.5
-3.5
-3.5
-2.5
-4
CIN
-1
-1.5
-2.5
-3
0
-4
-2.5
0
BYE
-3
-2
1
-1
-3.5
-1.5
0.5
-4.5
CLE
-5
-4.5
-0.5
-3
-2.5
-4
-1.5
-5.5
-3
-3.5
BYE
-1.5
-3.5
-3
-2.5
-1
-3
DAL
-0.5
1
0
1
-0.5
-0.5
0
BYE
0.5
-2.5
-1
1.5
-1
-2
1
2
0.5
DEN
-0.5
-0.5
-1
-1
1
-2.5
1
-1.5
-1
BYE
-2.5
-3
0.5
-1.5
2
-1
-2
DET
1.5
-1.5
-4
-1.5
-2.5
BYE
0.5
-0.5
-3
0.5
-1
1
-2.5
1
1.5
-2.5
-3
GB
3.5
0
1.5
4.5
2
1.5
BYE
-0.5
-2
3.5
1.5
-0.5
4
1
3
3.5
2.5
HOU
-3.5
0
1
1
0
3
-1
2
0.5
BYE
0
0.5
3
1.5
2
-2.5
-0.5
IND
0.5
-1.5
-4
-1.5
-5
0.5
1.5
-1.5
BYE
-2
-1
0.5
-2.5
-2
-1.5
-0.5
-1.5
JAX
1
-2.5
1
3
0
0
0.5
-1.5
BYE
1.5
-1.5
3
2
0.5
2
2
0
KC
-1.5
-2.5
0
0.5
-0.5
-3.5
2
1
2.5
2.5
-1.5
BYE
0
0.5
-1
0
0.5
LAC
1
3.5
-1
1
1.5
3.5
1.5
BYE
1
1
2
3.5
-1.5
3
0.5
1.5
1.5
LAR
1.5
4
0.5
0
1.5
2
1
0
0
2
1.5
BYE
2
3
-0.5
3.5
1.5
MIA
-1.5
0
-1.5
-5.5
-0.5
0
-1
-2.5
0.5
-4
BYE
-1
1
-5
-4
-2.5
0.5
MIN
1.5
-0.5
4.5
-0.5
-1
4
3.5
0.5
2.5
BYE
3
0
-2
1.5
3.5
2
3.5
NE
3
2
3.5
5
4.5
3
4.5
5.5
1.5
3
BYE
5
1.5
4.5
0.5
6
5.5
NO
3
4
0
1.5
2.5
BYE
1
-1
-0.5
2.5
-1
0.5
0.5
2.5
0.5
-1
1
NYG
-1.5
-1.5
-1.5
-2
-1.5
-3
-2
0.5
BYE
-1.5
1
-3.5
1
-1
-0.5
0
-1
NYJ
-2
-0.5
0
-3.5
-1.5
-1
-4
-1
-1
0.5
BYE
-5.5
-2.5
0
-2.5
-4
-6
OAK
-2
0
1
2.5
-2
0
BYE
1
-1
-1.5
1.5
-0.5
-0.5
-2.5
1
0.5
-1
PHI
1.5
3.5
3.5
2
0.5
2.5
2
1.5
BYE
2
0.5
3
3.5
1.5
0
2
2
PIT
4.5
2
3.5
2.5
1.5
3.5
BYE
5
2
2
1
2.5
1
2
-1
0.5
4
SEA
0
1
-0.5
1.5
-2
0
BYE
0
-1.5
-2.5
-2
-1
-0.5
-2
-1
-0.5
2
SF
-2
1
-0.5
-1.5
2.5
-2
-1.5
2
0.5
1
BYE
1.5
0
1
0.5
2
-2
TB
-3.5
-4
-4
-0.5
BYE
-3
1
-0.5
-2.5
-0.5
-1.5
-2
-2
-3
-2
-2.5
-2.5
TEN
1
-0.5
-1.5
-2.5
2
0
-1.5
BYE
-1
-3.5
0.5
-1
2
-1
0
1
1
WAS
1.5
1
-2
BYE
-2
-0.5
-0.5
0
-1
1
-0.5
-1
-3
0.5
-1.5
-0.5
-2.5
Diff
Wk01
Wk02
Wk03
Wk04
Wk05
Wk06
Wk07
Wk08
Wk09
Wk10
Wk11
Wk12
Wk13
Wk14
Wk15
Wk16
Wk17
4+
1
2
1
2
1
1
1
2
0
0
0
1
1
1
0
1
2
3.5
1
2
3
0
0
2
1
0
0
2
0
1
1
0
1
2
1
3
2
0
0
1
0
2
0
0
0
2
1
2
1
2
2
0
0
2.5
1
0
0
3
2
2
0
0
2
1
0
1
0
2
0
0
2
Total
5
4
4
6
3
7
2
2
2
5
1
5
3
5
3
3
5

Figure 1 - The 2018 NFL Schedule Using Team Win Differentials

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.

Finally here is Table 3, where I summarize each week by matchup category, where 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.

Viewing Tables 2 and 3, quite a few things jump out for me for this year. First, only 17 of 256 games (6.6%) have a margin of four or higher. That is VERY different than the number in both 2017 (41) and 2016 (42), which is the first sign that 2018 might be a very difficult year in Survivor Pools. As you might expect, the high margin games are the matchups 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" (17 contests),"3" (15 matchups) and "2.5" (16 more games) add up to a total of 65, or just over 25% of the total schedule, and now we have eliminated nearly 75% of the games in the regular season. This is another sign that 2018 will be tough, as in the past two seasons the games at "3" or better were 28% (2017) and 31% (2016), while this year's schedule only gives 49 games in these three best categories, or just over 19%. That is why we have to dip down to those "2.5" games. The big takeaway so far - 2018 is going to be a very difficult year for Surivor pools, and planning is paramount for success in the coming season.

Visually I like Table 2 because I can easily see which weeks are going to be tough to navigate. For example, Weeks 9, 10, 11 and 15 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 these are both weeks with six teams getting the week off. Knowing that these four 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 six games where the point spreads are 6 points or more, the correlation to the first chart is very strong - Pittsburgh has the highest green score for Week 1 (4.5) and was originally favored to beat Cleveland on the road by seven points (the line has since moved down to either 5.5 or 6). Green Bay (-8.5) comes in next with a blue "3.5" on the chart as they host the Bears and are expected to beat Chicago by more than a touchdown. New England and New Orleans are tied for third and fourth for the best matchups in Week 1, as both appear with a "3" on Table 2. The Patriots are home favorites (-6.5) against Houston while the Saints are the biggest Week 1 favorite, listed as a -9.5 favorite as they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers without Jameis Winston. Baltimore barely makes the list at "2.5", but the Ravens are 6-point favorites at home against Buffalo. Lastly, Detroit (-7) hosts the Jets on opening weekend, and the Lions are the sixth and last team favored by 6 points or more for Week 1. Table 2 only gives the Lions a "1.5", and I tend to lean towards that recommendation to avoid that game as both teams are full of uncertainty coming into this year. Overall this is quite a result and an endorsement for Table 2 and this method, as 5 of 6 bigger favorites are directly pointed out in the chart as teams to focus on for Eliminator selections. 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.