NFL survivor contests seem very easy because of the rules, but they’re actually much more challenging when you get below the surface. The goal is simple: Pick a team to win its game. Contestants attempt to do that for the entire season, while not being able to repeat teams that they have already selected. It isn’t as elementary as it sounds, as I outlined in my Survivor strategy article earlier this week.
Week 1 of the NFL season has arrived, and it features some very tough Survivor decisions. Most of this week’s big favorites are road teams, which seems to enhance the degree of difficulty for those teams and creates a little more hesitance for contestants.
One of the more interesting Week 1 angles from last season was taking the Buccaneers as a heavy Thursday favorite and then being able to buy back into a Survivor contest if Tampa Bay failed to win. We don’t really have that this week with Bills vs. Rams, a game that an extremely high percentage of entrants will avoid.
I’ll be playing the game in this weekly article until I lose a pick. After that, I’ll make all teams available, but try to keep in mind that most readers have already used the more popular teams when sharing my advice. We did this article through Week 14 last season and I never duplicated a team.
Let’s evaluate the Week 1 choices:
GAMES TO CONSIDER
Indianapolis Colts (-8) over Houston Texans
Expectations are really high for the Colts with Offensive Player of the Year runner-up Jonathan Taylor and the addition of veteran signal-caller Matt Ryan. Expectations aren’t high for the Texans, as they elevated Lovie Smith from defensive coordinator to head coach. There is a section of NFL analysts out there that really likes Davis Mills, but the Texans still have a low offensive projection with Pep Hamilton calling plays.
I’m not sure much has really changed between these two teams after the Colts won 31-3 and 31-0 last season. Houston had one of the worst run defenses in the league last season and Smith didn’t hire a new defensive coordinator. The Texans have dropped seven of their last eight to the Colts -- and will probably make it eight of the last nine.
The Colts host the Texans in Week 18, so their biggest favorite role of the season is a long time away. Indy does host Jacksonville in Week 6, so that may be an option, depending on how the Jaguars look between then and now.
Baltimore Ravens (-7) over New York Jets
The Ravens face old friend Joe Flacco as they try to erase the memory of how last season ended. Baltimore was 8-3, but lost six straight games to finish the season, including five games by three or fewer points. The unbelievably bad injury luck that afflicted players at virtually all positions, including QB Lamar Jackson, had an enormous impact on the season.
Baltimore is largely healthy going into the Week 1 opener off yet another unbeaten preseason. The Jets, meanwhile, are missing QB Zach Wilson, who will return this month, but remains on a fluid timetable. Flacco hasn’t played much the last three seasons, posting a 15:8 TD-to-INT ratio in 13 starts and two relief outings. It’s hard to see him having success against a buttoned-up and healthy Ravens defense.
The Jets have an exciting roster of young players, but Baltimore is a veteran unit that has been a consistent performer for the better part of two decades. Since John Harbaugh took over in 2008, the Ravens are 10-4 in season openers. It should come as no surprise that one of the league’s best coaches has his team ready with lots of time to prepare.
San Francisco 49ers (-7) over Chicago Bears
The risk is pretty obvious here: Do you put your Week 1 Survivor hopes on Trey Lance going on the road? The 49ers are superior to the Bears in every other facet and, frankly, Lance has more upside than Justin Fields, especially given the team around him. It may be an understatement to say that the Bears enter this season with zero expectations.
Chicago’s defense was far and away better than the offense last year, but still ranked in the bottom half of the league in yards per carry allowed. That seems to be a very important statistic here with San Francisco’s rushing prowess. New head coach Matt Eberflus is a defensive guy, so maybe things improve, but there are severe personnel deficiencies on this roster on defense.
There are even more of them on offense. Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has a big job ahead of him as a first-time NFL playcaller. Fields is one of the NFL’s more mobile QBs and was still sacked 36 times in just 12 games with one of the highest sack rates in the league. Overall, the Bears surrendered 58 sacks and still have one of the worst offensive lines in the league. The 49ers had 48 sacks last season and get a ton of pressure with the front four without sacrificing guys in coverage. This looks like an all-around awful matchup for the Bears and a good way for Lance to get his feet wet as the unquestioned starter.
The 49ers play road games at Carolina and Atlanta in Weeks 5 and 6. However, the Panthers game is on a short week after hosting the Rams on Monday Night Football and the Falcons game immediately follows the Panthers game (in advance of facing the Chiefs and Rams before the bye). In other words, this is probably the best spot to get San Francisco in the near future, so I’ll take the 49ers as this week’s pick, with the Ravens as a close second.