Walks for Phillies during 4-1 win over Brewers on Saturday

Survivor Pool: Guidelines and Week 1 picks

Posted by Josh Landsburg On September 6

LandsburgAh, Week 1 of the NFL season is finally here. It’s music to my ears.

The 7-month offseason is finally over, practice games are over, and Thursday, when the Chiefs take the field in New England, as the Patriots embark on defending their Super Bowl title, the season will officially start.

The NFL season starting means a lot of things, but one thing that I am looking forward to is doing my survivor pool blog for the second year in a row. Last year, in my inaugural year doing it, I picked five “survivors” for you every week, and I never went worse than 3-2. Most weeks I went 4-1 or 5-0, so my track record last year was pretty good. I will be doing the blog in similar fashion this year by picking five teams to choose from each week, but I will be adding a couple new wrinkles as well. For starters, I will be doing my own survivor pool, and I will give you my pick or picks – I have multiple picks in my pool – each week.

In addition to the five “winners” each week, I will also give you at least two games to stay away from if you can avoid it. Therefore, you will have the choice of either picking from the five I give you or just selecting my team I choose each week.

Full disclosure: I have been doing these pools on my own for about 10 years, and I have had a good deal of success. As you know these are very hard to win, but I did win a big pool in one of those years, and I would say my average finish is somewhere in the neighborhood of Week 10 on the low side to Week 13 on the high side. Take that for what you will and good luck!

Before I get to the picks for Week 1, (this won’t be included in every piece, so take in this information, and pay attention), I want to go over some of my guidelines for doing picks on a weekly basis.

Here are a few rules that I try to follow every week, but, to be honest, I am already going to be breaking a lot of these rules in Week 1 because most of the good teams are on the road this week. Nevertheless, here are some rules:

  1. Try your best to pick home teams and stay away from road teams
  2. Stay away from divisional matchups, especially road divisional matchups
  3. Stay away from picking “bad teams.” Now, there are 17 weeks in a season, and only 12 playoff teams, (traditionally thought of as good teams), which means you must pick five non-playoff teams if you’re going to survive the entire season. Well, try to pick the best five teams not to make the playoffs if you can help it, which means a bunch of 9-7 or 8-8 teams, or even 10-6, which in some years misses the playoffs.
  4. Stay away from “saving teams” and looking ahead. I believe in picking the best matchup available every week, and just because it’s the Patriots or the Steelers or the Packers, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick them and try to save them for a later week. People who try to save teams and make “smart” picks early in the season are the ones who get eliminated early. However, I’m not against this strategy later in the season. Here’s what I would recommend: For weeks 1- 8 (or even through Week 10), pick the best available matchup every week that you think will get you to the next week. In weeks 9-11, you can start strategizing for the future and looking ahead at matchups. If you wouldn’t pick a certain team again until Week 17, then picking them Week 9 is okay, but, if they have a favorable matchup in Week 10, and you like someone else in week 9, then do that. In any given week, there should be at least two or three strong choices, but I’m going out on a limb and giving you five! The NFL is very unpredictable, and you will see about a quarter of most pools knocked out in weeks 1 and 2, with some major upsets, so, if you can avoid the big upset in the first few weeks, you have a real chance to go far in your pool.
  5. When deciding between a couple of matchups, determine how good is the team that you’re picking verses how bad is its opponent.

6. Lastly, feast on teams that are notoriously bad by picking against them most weeks, such as the Browns, the Jets, the 49ers, etc.

It’s Week 1, so you haven’t picked anyone yet. That means every team is available as an option. Okay, without further ado, here are my Week 1 picks in order of my confidence in them, with a little analysis on each one and the point spreads.

  1. Steelers at Browns. Pittsburgh is a 9-point favorite, and the second biggest favorite of the week. This goes against two of my rules: stay away from road games and stay away from divisional matchups. Well, this is both! But, come on, it’s the Steelers vs. the Browns. I hope I don’t jinx myself, but I would be shocked if the Browns upset the Steelers here. The Steelers are a Super Bowl contender and the Browns will again be vying for a No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft. It’s basically one of the top four teams in the NFL this year. most likely, and my pick to make it to the AFC Championship Game, where they will lose to the Patriots, against most likely one of the four worst teams, if not the worst, in the league this year. The logic, therefore, is simple. Go with the Steelers. There are a bunch of good picks this week though, so if you have two teams in your survivor pool, I would recommend using just one of them on the Steelers and the other one on one of the other of my below recommendations. Therefore, if by some miracle the Browns win, you still have one pick left and a lot of other people will be knocked out.

2. Falcons at Bears. The defending NFC champions are a healthy 7-point favorite and they should win this game easily against a very bad Bears team. Even though I’m picking it as my second favorite pick, there are a couple of factors that make me somewhat nervous about this game. First, it’s another road game. Atlanta has traditionally been a much better home team than road team, although they disproved that fact last year being a good team all around. Then there is the whole Super Bowl hangover factor of teams that lose the Super Bowl frequently don’t even make the playoffs the next year. However, having said all that, I still think the Falcons win easily, and I think they are a playoff team again this year, and they will be motivated by that complete collapse last year to prove that last year wasn’t a one-year fluke. Go with the Falcons to survive.

3. Jets at Bills. The Bills opened at a 6½-point favorite, and now they are the biggest favorite of the week at 9½ points. Obviously, the “smart money” is coming in on the Bills. Week 1 is always tough, and as my first three picks prove it, I have abandoned a couple of my rules listed above. This is another divisional game, but at least the Bills are home. The Jets will once again be one of the worst teams in the league, and that follows one of my rules above, which is feasting on the bad teams, such as the Jets, Browns, and 49ers. I picked against the Browns with my top pick, the Jets with my No. 3 pick, and, spoiler alert, you guessed it, I’m going against the 49ers with my next pick. I don’t have the Bills as a playoff team, but I think they will be competitive in most games. The most likely will finish with 6-8 wins this year, with a ceiling of an 8-8 record,. It’s just impossible to be competitive in the AFC East as long as the Patriots are there. However, picking against the Jets is a good bet.

4. Panthers at 49ers. This game opened with the Panthers as a four-point favorite, and now they are a 5½-point favorite. I like the Panthers in this game. I think Carolina is due for a rebound year. They want to prove that them making the Super Bowl two years ago was not a fluke. I don’t have them as a playoff team, I have Tampa Bay and Atlanta coming out of that division for the playoffs, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Carolina made it instead of one of those two teams. I see the NFC South getting two playoff teams, though. The 49ers did not improve much in the offseason and will once again be one of the worst teams in the league this year. Go with the Panthers here if you don’t agree with me on the first three picks.

5. Jaguars at Texans. Houston is a 5½-point favorite, and, like a couple of the other games mentioned here, the line moved in their favor. The line opened at 4½ points. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a big believer in watching the lines. This is another divisional game, though, which I don’t like, but it is the fifth-best option on the board. I believe that Houston is still the class of this division, with a very strong defense and a capable quarterback in Tom Savage and maybe an even better QB in rookie Deshaun Watson, who might see playing time this season. Jacksonville should be improved, but they haven’t improved enough to win on the road in Houston. Go with the Texans.

My picks in my survivor pool for this week:

Pick 1: Pittsburgh

Pick 2: Atlanta

Games to avoid if you can help it:

1. Eagles at Redskins. I like the Eagles to win this game. The could could determine whether they make the playoffs. Yes, I believe this Week 1 matchup is that important, but the Eagles haven’t had much luck against Washington recently, so it’s a tough spot for them. Stay away from this game.

2. Cardinals at Lions. I could see either team winning this game.

3. Raiders at Titans. Ditto from the previous game.

Basically, try to avoid picking any of the other games I didn’t mention in my top five selections on any given week if you can help it, but I’ll give you a few games every week to stay away from. Here are some more games to avoid this week: Seahawks at Packers; Ravens at Bengals; Giants at Cowboys; and Chargers at Broncos. Okay, so I gave you more than three.

Good luck! Please feel free to leave comments at the end of the article with your thoughts about week one and questions for week two and I’ll get to all of them.

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