I Will Survive: Managing Survivor Leagues

Becoming the "Ultimate Surivor"- Planning out 17 weeks of victories

There are all kinds of games that you can play with football as the backdrop. Fantasy football is the king of the hill, but it is not the only game in town. Office pools are all over the place with varying formats -- picking every game-winner either against the spread or by ranking each game on a point scale (also known as a confidence pool). Another favorite game that is not quite as common but that has been around for quite a while is the Eliminator or Survivor pool.

The reality television show Survivor has been on 30+ seasons (believe it or not, the anniversary of the first Survivor season finale just passed, on August 23 - way back in 2000), and the premise has been the same since the beginning -- Outwit, Outplay, Outlast. The concept is pretty simple and has been around for ages -- last man (or woman) standing wins. That is the idea behind Eliminator or Survivor pools -- everyone is on the same footing when the season starts, and all you have to do is to pick one team to win their game that given week. If you are right, you move on to the next week, but if they lose -- you are eliminated from the pool. The other trick is that once you pick a given team, you cannot use them again the rest of the way, making it progressively harder to find that winning team each week.

Variations on this theme do exist, including pools where you can buy back in after one misstep and also the inverted method where you have to pick a team that will lose that week instead of win. All of them are valid ways to play, but for simplicity, let's focus on the simplest version here -- win or go home every week. Also for ease of description, simply call this contest a "Survivor pool".

Earlier this year, I wrote an article on these types of leagues (Survivor Pool Strategy), and back then I promised readers that I would follow up that article with a Master Plan prior to Week 1 for this coming NFL regular season. This is that article. It would be a good idea to refresh your minds as to the Rules of Engagement I have learned over the years when it comes to playing in these types of contests, and I will refer back to those rules when I outline this plan. In addition, I also produced a handy-dandy chart to refer to that can be found in my other survivor article from the preseason (Prepping for Survivor Leagues), which took two years to finally get to a chart that I was happy with and ready to share. All of this information, along with the latest news, is what led to this plan. So here we go.

THE PRESEASON MASTER PLAN

As I mentioned earlier, I have learned a lot of lessons on what to do (and what not to do) when it comes to being competitive in Survivor pools. Having played in these types of contests for nearly two decades, I have come up with a number of rules that I try to adhere to when it comes to developing my plan to be both competitive and keep my entry alive in these contests, year after year. That was the main subject for the first part of this series, but now it is time to apply some of those rules to develop my first take at a master plan. Keep in mind, all good plans have some wiggle room and ability to change, so nothing is set in stone – but if I was forced to pick 17 winners in a row before the league kicks off after Labor Day, this would be my best attempt. Here we go:

Applying the first rule:

The first rule of Survivor pools -- pick good teams. Yes, this is the kind of deep analysis you can expect from this article. Seriously though, this sounds simple, but it is important to start with your list of teams that you want to use this season. I tend to start by looking at the teams that made it to the playoffs from the year before and also any team that had at least nine wins a year ago. I am also not only just looking at who was good last year. If anything rings true in the NFL, it is that the prior season does not always indicate how a team will do next year. Rather, I am going to use Las Vegas against itself (like I always like to do) and just take a hard look at every team that is favored to win at least 8.5 games.

This takes me back to the Prepping for Survivor Leagues article, where I first introduced this Table:

Team
Expected Wins
Team
Expected Wins
New England
11.5
Carolina
8
Philadelphia
10.5
Houston
8.5 (up 0.5)
Kansas City
10.5
NY Jets
7.5
LA Rams
10
Buffalo
7.5
LA Chargers
10
Jacksonville
7.5
New Orleans
10
Denver
7
Indianapolis
7 (down 3)
Detroit
7
Pittsburgh
9
Tennessee
7.5 (up 1)
Green Bay
9
Washington
6.5
Minnesota
9
Tampa Bay
6.5
Dallas
9
Oakland
6
Baltimore
8 (down 1)
NY Giants
6
Chicago
9
Cincinnati
5.5
Cleveland
9
Arizona
5.5
Atlanta
8.5
Miami
4.5
San Francisco
8.5
Seattle
8.5

Table 1: Expected Wins for All 32 NFL Franchises in 2019

Here is where taking a few weeks between prepping and planning can really change things up (the NFL is Not For Long, after all) - four teams' win totals changed in Table 1 since first publication, most notably Indianapolis. With Andrew Luck's retirement, the Colts are now expected to teeter around seven wins, turning a run at the playoffs into a tough season ahead. The news on Luck coupled with Lamar Miller's torn ACL impacted the win totals for two other AFC South teams (Houston, Tennessee), while Baltimore inexplicably came down from nine to only eight wins. Even with the changes above, we can focus almost exclusively on the left side of that table, as there are 17 teams that are expected to win at least 8.5 games (now 16 thanks to the Colts). Comparing that list to the 15 teams that won at least nine games last season and there is nearly direct overlap - only Houston (projected to win 8.5 games in 2019 despite going 11-5 last year) and Tennessee (expected to win only 7.5 games, 7-9 in 2018) failed to appear on the left side of Table 1. That leaves four teams in Table 1 that project for winning seasons that did not go 8-8 or better last year - Atlanta (7-9), Cleveland (7-8-1), Green Bay and San Francisco (4-12). Starting with a plan that includes the 14 teams that fit both categories (projecting for 8+ wins this year and 8+ wins last season) [Update - keeping the Colts for now, but adding Houston] seems like a very good list as a starting point for the 2019 Survivor Plan, while the other six teams in either category should help to finalize the general strategy for this season.

Now let’s look at Rule #2:

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