NFL Sundays make me feel the same way "Game of Thrones" Sundays did: excited for the action but nervous that this might be the week of a surprise bloodbath that knocks out my favorite characters. We've seen a lot of survivor pool Red Weddings in previous Week 1's and this season may not be any different.
Before you go into battle, you need to have a plan, so let's first talk about optimal survivor pool strategy.
Know your pool rules
Some survivor pools are one-and-done, some are double elimination, some make you pick two games per week after a certain point in the season. You need different strategies for each of these types of pools, so familiarize yourself with the rules before the season starts.
Maximize your chances
Whatever the maximum number of entries are for your pool, that's how many you should buy. Other people in your pool are maxing out, so starting the season with fewer entries is an unnecessary handicap. The more entries you have, the more possibilities you have, and the better your chances are of winning.
Every year before the season starts, I go through the entire NFL schedule and write down potential survivor picks for each week. I'm not married to those picks, it just helps to have a general idea of which weeks might be the toughest (Week 12 is a doozy this year) and which teams I may want to save.
Use Yahoo's Survivor Pick Distribution as a tool
I'm not just saying this as a company man. I've won over $30k in survivor pools the past few years and Yahoo's Survivor Pick Distribution has been instrumental. It shows you what survivor picks millions of people are making on Yahoo. With such a large sample size, it gives a pretty accurate reflection of what you're likely to see in your own survivor pool. Using this information, we can pick spots where it's advantageous to fade the top picks. For example, let's say that 70% of all entries take the Browns against the Texans in Week 2. If you took a team other than the Browns and then Cleveland lost while your pick won, you've just gained massive equity in your pool.
Okay, on to the Week 1 picks!
Los Angeles Rams (-7.5 vs. Chicago Bears)
The Rams get to face Bears quarterback Andy Dalton on Sunday night. Dalton is 6-19-1 in primetime games and will be operating behind a suspect offensive line against a top-four defensive line, while Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford look to carve up a weak Chicago secondary.
Nineteen percent of survivor picks are on Los Angeles. They have great future value (Week 7 vs. Detroit, W8 @ Houston, W9 vs. Jacksonville), so I'm not putting too many entries on them.
New England Patriots (-3 vs. Miami Dolphins)
This is probably my favorite play in Week 1, both as a spread bet on BetMGM and in survivor. Aggressive, contrarian picks are how you win large survivor pools. Take a game that everyone is afraid to touch because of its low spread and root for one of those bloodbath weeks where the top two or three picks lose and more than half of the pool is knocked out.
The Patriots match up perfectly against the Dolphins. Miami's strength on defense is their secondary, but New England has made it clear through offseason additions that it wants to be a smashmouth running team. On the other side of the ball, Belichick's stout new defense should feast on an awful offensive line that may be without left tackle Austin Jackson.
Only .56% of survivor entries have taken New England, whose future value lies mainly in a Week 5 matchup in Houston.
Minnesota Vikings (-3 at Cincinnati Bengals)
The Bengals secondary was already severely outmatched coming into this game and now starting cornerback Trae Waynes is going to miss it with a hamstring injury. Yikes. Cincinnati's offensive line and front seven both rank in the bottom five of the league, and Minnesota's defense is a lot better than last year's injury-ravaged unit. There's a chance this one gets ugly.
The Vikings account for 3% of pool entries. They play against the Lions in Week 5 and that's about it for their future value. This could be a decent play.
San Francisco 49ers (-7.5 at Detroit Lions)
San Francisco should be able to run all over this Lions "defense," but they have a lot of future value in home games against the Falcons in Week 15 and the Texans in Week 17. Also, as dreamy as he may look, I'm not crazy about putting my survivor life in the hands of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Nearly a third of all survivor entries are on the Niners this week.
TRAPS TO AVOID
Carolina Panthers (-5 vs. New York Jets)
This is the third-most popular survivor pick, with just over 12% of entries on the Panthers. I believe that Sam Darnold is going to be a good quarterback this year, but I'd like to see it first before placing my chips on him in a survivor pool. If he balls out for the first couple weeks, great, we can use him against the Texans in Week 3.
Jacksonville Jaguars (-3 at Houston Texans)
Doesn't this line seem like Vegas is just begging you to take the Jags? And if you like them against the Texans, then why not take them in Week 15 when they're playing in Jacksonville? I'll let the 4% of entries already locked in take the bullet on this one.
Baltimore Ravens (-4.5 at Las Vegas Raiders)
The Raiders have won their last three Monday night home games and are one of the teams I'm just never comfortable betting against at home. Baltimore should win, but I'd rather take them against Detroit in Week 3 or at home against Cincinnati in Week 7 when they have a healthy Rashod Bateman. A shade more than two percent of people are on the Ravens.
Stats provided by PFF and SharpFootball