There sadly was no NCAA tournament this year, but the concept of surviving and advancing in that tournament is the same as in NFL survivor pools. Survivor pools are a fall tradition, offering a low-risk/ high-reward way to getting action on the games.
The rules are simple: Pick a team to just win the game. There is no point spread involved; if you win, you survive another week. The beauty of this contest lies in its simplicity, as it expands the pool of players who can play, from the person in the office who doesn’t even watch football, yet challenging to even the sharpest of NFL bettors. Before we look at some candidates for Week 1, a little more on some basic strategy.
First, make sure you have a plan. This contest will not be won by just making it into the first week of October without a loss. It’s a long game, and you are better off mapping out a plan, week by week, and having an idea of which teams you are taking down the road. The novice approach is to simply take the week’s biggest favorite.
The lone wrinkle of this contest is you can’t choose the same team more than once. Picking the Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens right away is tempting, and will give you a good chance of avoiding an early exit, but hinders your chances at taking home the prize. The best way to win is to roll the dice early with some unconventional choices, and saving your heavy hitters for later in the season.
Here are my Week 1 NFL survivor pool picks:
New England Patriots (-6.5) over Miami Dolphins
Easy money right? The Dolphins haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years, and have only made the playoffs once since 2000. Since then, the Pats have been to nine Super Bowls, winning six. If you’re thinking “yes, but the Patriots always seem to struggle against the Fish”, then you’re instincts are on point, as six of the last seven years the Dolphins have won a game against the Patriots.
Miami's win last December as a 17-point 'dog stunned everyone, killed parlays and cancelled the Patriots bye-week plans, forcing them to play a wild-card game. Belichick’s teams, by design, usually peak late, but struggle early. With a new quarterback, no offseason, and a handful of opt-outs, let’s avoid this one.
Los Angeles Chargers (-3) over Cincinnati Bengals
I’m tempted by this one and I think it’s a good pick. The last quarterback to be picked first overall and win his debut in the opening week was David Carr in 2001. Joe Burrow will try to buck that trend, but he’ll be doing it against a couple of terrific pass-rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, and will not have the elite line he enjoyed at LSU. Simply put, there’s a reason this team had the chance to take Burrow first overall last April.
Detroit Lions (-3) over Chicago Bears
If there’s anyone you can trust with your money it’s the ever-dependable Lions. Sarcasm aside, although they have one playoff victory since the 1950s, and have never won the NFC North, this is a team that pro bettors are all over. They opened nearly 10-1 to win the division, but they’re mostly at 5-1 now. They were a 1-point dog against the Bears when the schedule was released in May, but they are now favored by a field goal. Matthew Stafford quietly put up his highest career passer rating in limited action last year, and his value may have never been more evident than during his absence; his team went winless without him.
The Lions played the Bears to two one-score games, with Jeff Driskel and David Blough at the helm in each contest, respectively. Both are huge underdogs to ever start again in the NFL, but both kept the Lions within striking distance against Chicago. Using the Lions early saves the heavy hitters for later in the season, and gives you a leg up on the competition. Detroit is the pick for Week 1.