Week 1 Survivor Pick Strategy & Advice (2023)
The Week 1 survivor picks for 2023 will be challenging, with only five teams favored by five or more points.
The Baltimore Ravens are likely to be the most popular Week 1 survivor pick (Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire)
We have launched our NFL Survivor Picks product for 2023, along with this initial pick strategy and advice column for Week 1 of the 2023 NFL season.
In these weekly columns, we explore strategies to maximize your edge in NFL survivor pools, also known as knockout pools or eliminator pools. We also provide some of the rationale behind picks potentially recommended by our product.
We plan to periodically update this post until Sunday of Week 1 arrives, so check back by throughout the preseason, and during the week leading into the first games, for more news and info. Here’s what’s available now:
- 9/10: Week 1 Sunday AM Pick Overview
- 9/8: Friday Strategy Rundown: Minnesota and Seattle Lead
- 9/7: Baltimore Line Drops a Half-Point
- 9/6: Model Odds and Impact on Week 1 EVs
- 9/5: Travis Kelce Injury News Impacts Chiefs Line
- 9/1: About Washington
- 8/30: Popularity Data for Week 1
- 8/25: Two Big Line Shifts for Key Survivor Games
- 8/10: Early Week 1 Survivor Outlook
- FYI: Survivor Strategy Articles
- FYI: About Our Survivor Pool Advice
Week 1 Sunday AM Pick Overview
Here’s where things stand as of Sunday morning at 9:15 a.m. ET, comparing public picking trends to the percentage of picks we’re recommending to PoolGenius subscribers (the “PoolGenius” column).
The last five columns in the table show how our recommended picks vary by subscriber pool format/rules. The table shows every team with at least 2% public popularity and/or is drawing at least one recommendation from PoolGenius to one of your pool entries.
Entries can fall under more than one category. For example, a pool that requires multiple picks in future weeks and also allows a strike would be separately included in the percentages for each.
As we detailed on Friday, Minnesota and Seattle lead the way in our picks, and not much has changed (yet) since Friday. Meanwhile, the public is heavily concentrated on Baltimore and Washington. Atlanta has solidified as the fifth option and appearing most frequently in portfolios, relative to Jacksonville and Denver. The only team with any popularity that we are completely fading is Philadelphia, and we mostly faded Kansas City.
Week 1 Expectations
Based on our model projections, we would expect 69.4% of our pick recommendations to advance. Based on market odds, it is very similar, at 69.2%. That is not a particularly comfortable place to be, knowing that your expectations are under 70% in a given week.
So this is a riskier week.
But that rationale is also why the public is heavily concentrated on Baltimore and Washington, also presenting an opportunity.
Our average expectation would have been below the public, prior to Thursday. But Kansas City already lost, an impact on the public outcomes.
So entering today, based on our model projections, the public is expected to advance 66.7%, and based on market odds, 68.8%. So the public is also in a riskier spot. It’s a high variance type of risk. There’s close to a 40-45% chance that Baltimore or Washington (or both) lose, pushing that elimination rate down with one outcome.
So we are taking on a decent amount of risk this week, because of upside. You don’t get a lot of chances each year to play against a team favored by only 7 points, who is drawing 25% or more of public picks, like Washington is. We are also preserving future value with Seattle and Minnesota, relative to Jacksonville, a team with a similar risk profile but more value going forward.
Friday Strategy Rundown: Minnesota and Seattle Lead
Let’s take a look at how our pick recommendation strategy is shaping up as we head toward the weekend. You can also check back in Sunday morning, where I will have a specific breakdown of pick recommendations and pool types.
Minnesota and Seattle Lead the Way
Our top two graded options across most pool types are Minnesota and Seattle. The primary reasons for this is that both have good expected value, and also save future value relative to the most popular pick, Baltimore.
The presence of two highly popular teams in Baltimore and Washington increases the potential payoffs for taking slightly riskier teams by win odds, who are far less popular.
Right now, these two are making up about 57% of all our pick recommendations, and are about equal as the current co-favorites, so subtle shifts in odds or popularity could shift which one appears at the top in a particular pool.
Five Options as the Next Alternatives
Outside of Minnesota and Seattle, we currently have a logjam of options that have roughly similar grades. So you may see some, but not all of these, appearing in your pick recommendations.
Baltimore, Washington, Atlanta, Denver, and Jacksonville are all between 5% and 12% of current Week 1 recommendations.
For Baltimore and Washington, these rates are below the public average, as they are making up 21% of our recommendations as a duo, compared to nearly 58% of the public picks. The popularity and the potential value of being off these teams in case of upset is attractive, but both do still appear in portfolios, and aren’t a complete fade, because they each offer strategic value.
Baltimore is the safest pick on the board, and that’s something we don’t want to completely be out on. Washington has no future value, so if they win, those entries are going to be in better shape than most right away.
Jacksonville is in the middle, they have future value, and arguably better EV than Baltimore, but not the same safety level.
Finally, the Atlanta and Denver picks are the contrarian plays at low popularity, low future value, and are rising as public picks get concentrated. They are at a combined 16% of all recommendations now, and we could see one become the more preferred option based on weekend line moves.
Outside of those seven, there were only a few pick recommendations out on Kansas City (less than 2 of every 1000 entries) and honestly those were probably some people that didn’t update picks as the line moved downward in that game. We show about 5% of the public as picking Kansas City.
Our overall position has us taking on a little more risk relative to the public, in exchange for potentially higher EV payoffs now, and future value savings (mostly EV, since we are gaining future value on Baltimore pickers but losing it to the heavier public position on Washington).
Even with the Kansas City loss, where the public is already down 5%, we are projecting our survival odds about even with the public, with both at around 70%. Being in a situation where the average expectation is that 30% of your entries will be gone isn’t comfortable, but it’s a function of a risky Week 1. We also don’t want to miss an early strategic opportunity where the public is somewhat heavily concentrated on two teams. These chances, while not unprecedented, don’t come up every week, particularly early in the season.
Baltimore Line Drops a Half-Point
The Baltimore Ravens dropped from -10 to -9.5 at most sports books on Thursday afternoon. Of the 12 sports books we have an updated line from in the last three hours, 11 of them changed their line on this game downward. While that may not seem like that big a deal, when you are dealing with the biggest favorite and most popular team of the week, any downward shift in win odds has an impact on the overall value proposition for the entire slate. (We’ll also note that Baltimore star TE Mark Andrews has been limited in practice with a quad injury.)
Our model win odds adjusted downward from 79% to 77%. We talked about the model odds and the impact on EVs in yesterday’s update. Baltimore is now down to 1.02 in EV, a number that makes using a team with reasonable future value less attractive. (1.00 EV is neutral, so using a top team in a spot where they aren’t clearly +EV is not ideal.)
Our models being lower on the two most popular teams is also creating some interesting dynamics.
We now have two reasonably popular teams, and neither has win odds well above 80%. That presents the following scenarios:
- By our model odds, there’s a 45% that at least one of Baltimore and Washington loses, knocking out at least 24% of a pool;
- By market odds, there’s still a 40% chance that at least one of them loses;
- The chances that both lose and wipe out well over half of a survivor pool with those two week 1 results is now up to 7% (our models) and 5% (market).
Those are fairly attractive “reward” payoffs, which is why you will see some “risk” options start to move up the board and show EVs above 1.00, as long as those win odds on the two popular favorites hold.
We will have a deeper review of the pick recommendation landscape tomorrow as we head toward the weekend.
Model Odds and Impact on Week 1 EVs
Our model odds are having an impact on the Expected Values for Week 1, especially because our models (71%) are lower on Washington than the betting market average (74%), and that matters for a team that is now up to 23% popularity.
So first, you might ask about our models. We are not always going to get it right, by any means, but our models have performed well in identifying favorites to play against/underdogs to back.
Here’s how our playable model picks on underdogs (i.e., picking against the favorite and their perceived value) has done:
- In 2022, playable model spread picks on underdogs were 32-22-2 (58.9%)
- In 2021, playable model spread picks on underdogs were 38-25-1 (60.0%)
- In 2022, playable moneyline underdog picks went 36-43-1 (45.6%) for +22.7 units
- In 2021, playable moneyline underdog picks went 34-44-1 (43.7%) for +19.4 units
So identifying favorites to fade and underdogs to back has been a relative strength in our model performance in recent years.
Last year, we had a similar note, and the Week 1 team our models were lowest on, relative to the market, was Tennessee agains the Giants, a team that rose to third in popularity for the week, because they were the “team not playing on the road or against a division opponent.”
That said, you may be curious how much our model odds are impacting EV relative to using market odds and the same expected pick popularities. This would be the top 10 teams in Expected Value and market odds (our EV with our model odds in parentheses).
- Baltimore 1.05 (1.05)
- Seattle 1.03 (1.05)
- Washington 1.00 (0.96)
- Jacksonville 0.99 (1.03)
- Kansas City 0.98 (1.01)
- Minnesota 0.97 (1.02)
- Philadelphia 0.96 (0.95)
- Denver 0.96 (1.00)
- Atlanta 0.95 (1.00)
- New Orleans 0.93 (0.89)
Travis Kelce Injury News Impacts Chiefs Line
Travis Kelce is questionable for Thursday’s opener after hyperextending his knee in practice on Tuesday. That news has already shifted the line, with Kansas City dropping from -6.5 down to -5.5. If he’s ruled out, expect a little more downward adjustment.
The Chiefs had some popularity in Week 1 due to being one of the bigger favorites, but this news probably causes a downward shift in that category as well that we should see by Thursday. Kansas City is currently at 8% in survivor pools, but if that drops further, those picks will most likely shift to other popular options.
Given Kansas City’s already high future value, added to the uncertainty of Kelce’s status, they are not attractive in survivor pools.
The Washington Commanders are steaming up in popularity, as they face an Arizona team expected to be worst in the NFL. As we check in today, they are up to 19%, and that’s up +2% from what we were seeing, which was already consistently moving upward. We expect that it may continue to rise as more survivor players check in over the next week.
So we thought we would break down Washington, as they are a likely key flash point decision in Week 1.
Our models are lower on Washington (71%) than the market win odds (74%). This line has been at -6.5 to -6 for most of the summer. It shifted on August 24th, the same day that Arizona traded for Dobbs, as that was a further indicator to confirm Kyler Murray was out to start the year (which was largely assumed but not 100% baked in as certain in the line in the summer).
But it’s held steady at Washington -7 since that day, as public popularity has ramped up on Washington not only in survivor pools but in other pool formats as well.
Washington Riskier as a Big Favorite?
We have Week 1 data going back over 20 years, and also have coach and QB info in our database. Since 2003, there have been 137 games where a Week 1 team was favored by 4.5 or more points.
Among that group, only 13 of them featured a favorite starting a QB who had started fewer than four games for the franchise. This could include cases like Trey Lance starting last year in San Francisco’s opener, and also cases where a team had a veteran (acquired in the offseason via free agency or trade) who was the starter.
That group went 7-5-1 SU. All other bigger Week 1 favorites (with QBs who had played more for the franchise) were 94-30.
Washington will be starting Sam Howell, who started the Week 18 finale for Washington last year for his only NFL start prior to this game.
Arizona also has a new coach, and the market is very down on Jonathan Gannon and the Cardinals. In the same data set, favorites going against new head coaches are 29-9-1 SU, but only 15-24 ATS. The favorites in those games won 80% of the one-score games, and but for that extreme close game record, would also look much worse.
And finally, there are only five games in the data set, in 20 years, where a big underdog started a backup, because the starting QB was injured or suspended. (This is different than situations starting a journeyman QB over the highly drafted rookie we eventually expect to become the starter.)
The favorites going against backups went 2-3 SU. Yes, they lost more than they won.
We have small sample sizes here, but all of these things seem like high-variance factors for bettors: the risk of a new QB for the favorite, the variance associated with new head coaches for the underdog, and going against a backup QB.
In survivor, variance and unknowns are not your friend, because you are typically taking bigger favorites.
Future Value and Washington
Obviously, the attraction for Washington, in addition to being one of the bigger favorites for the week, is that they have no future value. We project them to be favored in only one other game all season. So even if you do buy that they have a little more risk compared to some other touchdown favorites, the logic behind picking them is still that they are the kind of pick you need to get through to win a survivor pool expected to go deep into the year.
So if their EV is close enough, they still might make sense, especially in a week where we have little separation in Expected Value for the top options.
One caveat on the future value thing is this, though. This year, the schedules are imbalanced. Lots of teams have weeks where they could be usable. In our current projections, we have 23 different teams projected to have at least one game with 65% plus win odds, and three more with at least one game of 63% win odds. For perspective, you would need to hit 18 picks to get through a full season with one pick per week. So there is some potential wiggle room where you can save future value in several weeks, and don’t clearly have to use Washington now to do so and get to Week 18 with options left.
In fact, Minnesota presents that opportunity in Week 1, as this is the only week we currently project the Vikings above 65% win odds, and they have lower popularity and similar win odds to Washington. Denver also presents a slightly higher risk but potentially higher EV as a contrarian pick to Washington. The only other time we project Denver over 65% win odds is, ironically, next week when they host Washington.
Popularity and Line Moves Will Dictate Position on Washington
Right now, Washington grades similarly to several other options. In fact, in one sample pool I created, six different teams were graded as a “100” or “99” in the pool grade rankings. That’s pretty atypical, and which direction it goes will depend on slight shifts.
Washington is currently our fifth-most common recommendation, but when the week started, they were the most common. But all of those top five are between 15% and 24% of portfolio recommendations.
If the betting market moves up further on Washington, then we will move with it. They will become more attractive with higher win odds.
If the popularity for Washington continues to rise, they will become less attractive, and become a team it might make sense to take a harder fade position against, as the EVs of other options go up, due to having a team with a decent amount of risk at over 20% popularity.
All of this is yet to be determined, so continue to check in as our pick logic updates with new information all the way to kickoffs in Week 1.
Popularity Data for Week 1
The pick popularity numbers for Week 1 are starting to solidify as we head toward Labor Day weekend, with just over one week until the opening game.
As expected, Baltimore is leading the way, while Washington is starting to emerge as a popular pick as well. Here is every team that we see with at least 2% pick popularity right now:
- Baltimore (32%) vs. Houston
- Washington (17%) vs. Arizona
- Minnesota (14%) vs. Tampa Bay
- Kansas City (10%) vs. Detroit
- Jacksonville (5%) at Indianapolis
- Philadelphia (4%) at New England
- Seattle (3%) vs. LA Rams
- Denver (2%) vs. Las Vegas
- Atlanta (2%) vs. Carolina
Washington is the one to watch, as their popularity is starting to rise quite a bit over the last week, and we will have more on them tomorrow.
Two Big Line Shifts for Key Survivor Games
Two of the biggest favorites for Week 1 have seen line shifts, in different directions.
The Washington Commanders have moved up from a 6-point to a 7-point favorite, which is a fairly significant move to a key number. Washington’s market win odds are now 73%.
The primary drivers of that line move are likely the uncertainty of the Arizona QB situation, coupled with Washington’s Sam Howell looking good in the last preseason game against Baltimore after being named the starter.
Arizona still hasn’t named a starter with Kyler Murray out, and just traded for Joshua Dobbs in a trade with Cleveland. This could be an indication that veteran Colt McCoy won’t be on the roster. If it’s not McCoy, then the starter will be either rookie Clayton Tune or the just-acquired Dobbs.
Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks’ line has dropped from six points down to 4.5. Seattle’s star rookie WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba broke his wrist and is likely out for the first few weeks, so some of this line shift may have to do with injuries.
Early Week 1 Survivor Outlook
Week 1 point spreads are out for all games, so we are going to break down some very preliminary survivor thoughts with the first NFL Sunday exactly one month away. We also have very limited public popularity info, and that will be something that certainly changes as we approach the season. (Few people have thought about who they are taking yet in Week 1, and most aren’t as obsessed as us about thinking about this stuff.)
As of right now, there are only five teams favored by 5 or more points in Week 1. The sixth biggest favorite, Philadelphia, is playing on the road, at New England, and has a high amount of future value. So there’s a pretty good delineation, and it’s likely that the five teams below are the most popular survivor picks to start the year.
Baltimore (-9) vs. Houston
Baltimore is the biggest favorite of the week. They are also a clear favorite to be the most popular pick. But their value will hinge on just how popular they become. There is a path to them still being the highest EV play of the week, but only if they don’t get above 30% in popularity. It’s trending to be above that early on.
Kansas City (-6.5) vs. Detroit
The Chiefs are a high future value team, and thus you would likely need to get a much higher EV than other options to justify using them in Week 1. That will be dictated by their popularity, but if they have moderate popularity it might be best to look elsewhere.
Minnesota (-6.5) vs. Tampa Bay
The Vikings catch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their first game without Tom Brady. It’s going to be either Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask at QB for Tampa Bay, and this line reflects that change.
It’s actually Minnesota’s highest projected win odds game of the year, so they have fairly low future value. They could be one to monitor.
Washington (-6) vs. Arizona
This one feels like it could fluctuate depending on the news we get as the season approaches. Kyler Murray is coming off a December knee injury, and this line more likely reflects Washington going against Arizona with either Colt McCoy or rookie Clayton Tune at QB in head coach Jonathan Gannon’s debut. We also don’t know who the Washington starting quarterback is for sure, though the expectation is that second-year QB Sam Howell has the upper hand over veteran Jacoby Brissett as we head toward the preseason.
Washington has basically no future value (we only project them as a slight favorite in one other game as of now), so the win odds shifts in this one will be something to monitor.
Seattle (-5.5) vs. LA Rams
The Seahawks are a home divisional favorite over the Rams to start the year. Seattle has some, but not a lot, of future value. They also are the lowest projected win odds out of this group, so their value as a contrarian pick will depend on their popularity staying low relative to the others.
Other Low Future Value Considerations
The following teams are toward the riskier end as Week 1 favorites, but at least have low future value, and may be in play as alternate picks: Denver (-4) vs. Las Vegas, New Orleans (-4) vs. Tennessee, Atlanta (-3) vs. Carolina, and Chicago (-2.5) vs. Green Bay.
If you want to see what the numbers say for your pool as we approach Week 1, go set it up in our NFL Survivor Picks product and get our customized pick recommendations.
Survivor Strategy Articles
If you’re serious about winning more survivor pools, it pays to learn the strategies that give you a long-term edge.
You can start with our free survivor strategy articles, which explain a number of the concepts we apply to our customized survivor pick recommendations:
- Don’t just try to survive the week
- The “Holy Trinity” of survivor strategy
- Expected Value: What it is, why it matters
- Future value: What it is, why it matters
- Why pool size should influence your picks
- How survivor pool rules affect strategy
- Playing multiple entries in survivor pools
About Our Survivor Pool Advice
We break down the pros and cons of various survivor pick options in this column, but none of our advice is ever absolute.
Why can’t we just tell you the “best” survivor pick of the week? Because there is no universal “best pick” for all NFL survivor pools.
The best weekly pick for your pool depends on a variety of factors, including the number of entries still alive and your pool’s rules. For example:
- Bigger survivor pools reward more risk-taking.
The more entries in your pool, the lower the chance you have to win it. In addition, you have a fixed number of weeks to send hundreds (or even thousands, in really big pools) of opponents to slaughter while you survive unscathed. As a result, your best strategy for bigger pools generally demands more of a focus on avoiding the most popular picks.
- Non-standard rules change optimal pick strategy.
If your pool requires double picks late in the season, or if it’s a strike pool (i.e. your first incorrect pick doesn’t eliminate you), you don’t want to use the exact same pick strategy that you’d use in a standard-rules survivor pool. Those rule variations significantly influence decision factors, such as whether you should be more inclined to save a good team for later vs. use it now.
And then there’s all this stuff:
- What if you’ve already picked the team (or teams) that some article says is the best pick this week?
- What if the point spread for that “best pick” has gotten several points worse since the article was published?
- How should you spread your picks across multiple teams if you’re playing more than one entry?
Technology to the rescue
As far as we know, we’re the only site that has built algorithms that evaluate all of the strategy factors that matter in survivor pools and provide you with customized survivor pick recommendations based on the data updated multiple times a day.
The result? Since 2017, our subscribers have reported over $5.7 million in survivor pool winnings using our data-driven picks and tools.
If you want to see all the picks we recommend for your pool, use our NFL Survivor Picks product.
Why we write this column
At the same time, we know our subscribers like to understand the rationale behind picks the product may recommend, especially when those picks go against the grain. So, over the years, we’ve started to write more about the “whys” behind our approach.
This column can also help educate our readers about survivor pool strategy. We highlight tactics proven to result in more survivor pool wins over the long term and point out common pitfalls to avoid.
We hope you enjoy reading, and we encourage you to check out more of our survivor pool strategy articles.