How to Win NFL Playoffs Pick’em Pools

We break down some strategies for winning your NFL playoff pools, whether they involve pools that continue from the season or start fresh.

To win a playoff pool, you need both Griddy and gritty strategy (Bailey Hillesheim/Icon Sportswire)

Welcome to our NFL Playoffs Pick’em Pool Strategy Guide, where we specifically provide advice and insights on how to win contests that involve picking the NFL playoff games.

This article will go over general strategy principles and things to consider when playing in an NFL playoff pool. If you want to see our specific advice for this year’s playoffs, check out our 2022-23 NFL Playoffs Pick’em Pool Picks Strategy, News, and Analysis article, which will update throughout the playoffs as we progress through each round.

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How NFL Playoffs Pick’em Pools Differ From the Regular Season

At PoolGenius, we have given advice to thousands of subscribers over the years, and have generated excellent returns in winning NFL Pick’em Pools, including Game Winner, Confidence Point Pools, and Spread Pools.

Playoff pools can differ quite a bit from season-long pools.

  • Fewer Games (13, to be exact)
  • More close matchups, fewer mismatches
  • Only a few games each week, allowing quicker strategy adjustment

As a result, Playoff pools are a lot more like weekly contests, where you have to take more risks to differentiate your entry quickly.

Game Winner Pools

If you’re in a traditional pick’em pool that continues into the playoffs, your strategy depends on your current position in the pool and your goals. With only 13 games left to play in the season, there are a limited number of opportunities left to move up or down in the standings. That’s basically the equivalent of one more NFL Week of games.

If You Are Leading Your Pool Entering the Playoffs

If you’re defending a prize position in your pool, in general the best approach will be to remain conservative in the playoffs and pick the favorites to win. Keep the odds in your favor and force your opponents to pick the riskier teams if they want to have a chance to catch you.

However, when games are close to 50/50 tossups, strategy changes. The difference in expected points between picking a 52% favorite and a 48% dog is minimal. In these close games, if the underdog is being picked by your opponents at a decently higher rate than the favorite, the best strategy (again, when defending a lead) is to pick that popular underdog. That way, regardless of what happens in the game, the majority of your opponents won’t have a chance to gain ground on you.

One other note here — if you are winning a pool and only two (or three, or some other small number) of your opponents have a legitimate chance of catching you and knocking you out of prize contention, those are the only two opponents you care about. If for whatever reason you know they are both going to pick a small underdog to pull off an upset — maybe they’re both from New England and will be backing the Patriots — then you should make that same pick too. We assume that in most cases you won’t know who your opponents are picking in these near toss-up games, and so instead you need to rely on the public pick data to make a guess.

If You Are Trailing in Your Pool Entering the Playoffs

If you’re currently out of the money and trying to catch up, your strategy is basically the opposite of the above strategy for protecting a lead.

Your goal is to make different picks than the players ahead of you in the standings, without taking on too much additional risk.

The level of risk you take will depend on the amount of ground you need to make up to get into a prize position, and how many entries you have to pass.

If You Are Starting Fresh in a New Playoff Pool

If you are starting fresh in a playoff pool, you also need to find value picks, and treat the playoff pool very much like a one-week regular season NFL pick’em contest. There are 13 playoff games that will decide the outcome; in regular season weekly contests, there are usually between 14-16 games that determine the winner.

That means generally picking the bigger favorites early, but looking for some value opportunities to pick a few value upsets where the underdog has decent win odds and low popularity.

The level of risk you want to take is also dependent on pool size. In smaller pools under 20 entries, you can be more conservative. To win a large contest, you may need to leverage a few big, unpopular upsets hoping for them to hit and move you around most of the pool.

Point Spread Pools

Spread pools are the great equalizer, where everyone theoretically has a 50% chance of getting the pick right. In a point spread contest with only 13 games, you need to look for value plays based on pick popularity and line value to differentiate your entry and improve your odds of winning.

NFL playoff games and betting odds are some of the most highly scrutinized in the sports betting world. With the exception of Super Bowls, where huge public money can create some inefficiencies, we often see a lot of spreads on these games that look efficient to our models. Having two stronger sides (yes, 54% is relatively strong for a spread pick) is a bit of a surprise.

It’s important to keep in mind that some pools will lock their spreads at lines that are different from the current lines. For example, if a pool locks its number at -3 and then there’s key injury news that comes out and the line jumps to -5, there’s value in taking the stale line. You’ve increased your chances of covering (though you have to balance that with popularity, especially after you start to see your place in the standings.)

If You are Leading a Spread Pool

From a strategy perspective, for the very close picks, the advice tends to be simple. If you’re defending a lead in your pool, it benefits you to make the picks that you think will be MORE popular among the opponents who are still in striking position to knock you out of the money. Whenever your opponents make the same pick as you, it nullifies the chance for them to gain ground on you.

For stronger picks, you can generally stick with the model pick unless the public pick rates are very skewed.

If You are Trailing in a Spread Pool or Starting New

On the other hand, if you’re currently out of the money, or if you’re starting anew for the playoffs (tied at zero points) it benefits you to make the picks that you think will be LESS popular among the players currently tied or ahead of you in the standings. The only way you can make up ground (or set yourself apart from the crowd, if tied) is to get a pick right, while most or all of the people ahead of you get it wrong, and that can only happen if you pick different sides of the coin to start with.

Other Types Of Playoff Pools

If you’re in a pick’em pool where you make decisions about drafting teams or assigning confidence points to teams at the beginning of the playoffs, and then you’re stuck with your choices (e.g. you don’t make any decisions round-to-round), then it’s important to understand each team’s odds to advance to each successive playoff round.

We will update these odds for this playoff season in our 2022-23 NFL Playoffs Pick’em Pool Picks Strategy, News, and Analysis article

Total Expected Playoff Wins

In this type of pool, you rank order teams and get multipliers based on their wins and how you rank them.

All-Playoffs Confidence Points (13 Through 1)

Some pools ask you to use the point values 13 through 1 only once each during the playoffs. This is tricky, since you don’t know future matchups. However, we can make some guesses about future matchups using our advancement odds, and use those to map out a confidence point strategy.

Bracket Pools

In these type of pools, you have to pick who you think will advance to each round, and get points for correctly picking a team to advance, with increasing point values. This usually makes getting the Super Bowl champion a necessity. Again, our advancement odds above can be used to make a conservative bracket that could perform well in small pools. In larger pools, you’ll want to make some picks to try to differentiate yourself from the crowd.

You ideally want to pick an undervalued champion, but one who still has decent odds to win the whole thing. There’s not a lot of data on pick rates in these type of pools, but you can use other popularity measures (public discourse, pick’em data for the Wild Card Round games) to estimate who might be undervalued.