Top Week 1 NFL survivor pool picks

By Adam Burke  ( 


More than 3,000 people have signed up for Circa Survivor and thousands more have signed up for the DraftKings Survivor Contest. Millions around the world will be participating in other NFL survivor pools during the 2021 season.

The rules of a survivor contest are about as cut-and-dried as it gets: Pick one team to win each week. You can only use that team once. Some survivor pools likely have mild rule variances or will force that team to cover the spread as well. While your rules may vary, the majority of NFL survivor pools are going to be pretty boilerplate.

Planning and strategy are the two most important factors when it comes to a survivor contest. You have to win each week to keep playing, but you also want to try to forecast the weeks that you want to take certain teams.

For example, nobody will laugh at you for taking Los Angeles Rams against the Fightin’ Andy Daltons this week as the Chicago Bears head west for “Sunday Night Football,” but it may be in your best interest to hold off on the Rams until Week 7 when they host the Detroit Lions in a bigger favorite role than this week’s 7.5-point spread. It doesn’t always go according to plan, but the bigger the spread, the higher the probability of an outright win.

While picking a winner is the most important thing so that you survive, there is added equity in being able to pick a winner that isn’t the most popular pick of the week. If that team loses, it can amount to a two-game swing. We don’t often see major upsets in the NFL, but if a team like the Lions were to beat the 49ers this week, that would knock out a pretty big percentage of entrants before the season even really gets going.

Stealing a win with a mediocre or even bad team can leave a lot of good opportunities in the weeks ahead, but obviously carries additional risk. Weighing the risk-reward is something bettors and handicappers have to do every day. Just because the rules are pretty straightforward for an NFL survivor pool, that does not mean it’s easy to string wins together.

Each season brings uncertainty. Teams have handled the preseason differently in hopes of keeping everybody healthy. There are some new starting quarterbacks who haven’t even gotten reps with their new teams in an actual game. There are some players coming back from injury who haven’t gone full speed in a game. Some teams projected to be good are going to fall short and some teams projected to be bad will exceed expectations.

In a lot of ways, Week 1 is the hardest. Every team will play its worst game and its best game at some point, and if you catch the wrong side of that in Week 1, the Monday (or Tuesday) walk of shame will be painful.

One annual wrinkle is the NFL kickoff game. Sometimes we get a really good game with a tight line; sometimes we get Cowboys vs. Buccaneers and a line north of a touchdown. If the entry cut-off isn’t until Saturday or Sunday morning, it makes a ton of sense to try to steal a winner with Tampa Bay and then just buy back into your contest if the Buccaneers lose. Tampa Bay is the biggest favorite of Week 1 and, therefore, the team with the highest probability of winning.

On the other hand, Tampa Bay could be a bigger favorite next week against Atlanta, will be a bigger favorite in Week 7 against Chicago, in Week 11 against the Giants and in Week 17 against the Jets, if the Bucs have anything to play for on Jan. 2.

The caveat is that Tom Brady could get hurt and that would throw the Bucs’ lines for a loop in those games. We know he’s starting this week.

Those are the decisions that survivor contestants face every week. Throughout the season, we’ll do our best to make it easier for you with this article and with input from our other experts on VSiN and at


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8) over Dallas Cowboys

There are a lot of reasons to take this game. As mentioned, if your survivor pool has an entry deadline after this game has been played, you have an insurance policy if the worst-case scenario happens and the Buccaneers lose.

It is hard to see Tampa Bay losing in this spot, though. The Cowboys played four preseason games because of the Hall of Fame Game, but Dak Prescott did not throw a pass in any of them. The Cowboys also wre dealt a tough blow with guard Zack Martin going on the COVID-19 list, so a potent Buccaneers pass rush may have an easier time getting to Prescott.

Most of the Cowboys’ first-team offense was sidelined during the preseason. There are sure to be a lot of kinks to work out and rust to shake off. The Buccaneers are not the team to do that against.

San Francisco 49ers (-7.5) over Detroit Lions

The 49ers have the long trip and an early kickoff in Week 1, but it is much easier to deal with one of those early in the season instead of later. This is not a particularly compromising spot for the better team.

From a planning standpoint, finding a spot to use the 49ers down the line is not easy, so this could be a good time to save a team for future use and take San Francisco in a big favorite role. The 49ers will be favored again next week at Philadelphia. That means back-to-back road games, though they have already announced plans to stay out east and practice at The Greenbrier in West Virginia.

After that, the Niners play Green Bay, Seattle, at Arizona, have a week off, host Indianapolis and then play at Chicago. This is going to be the best spot of the bunch.

New Lions coach Dan Campbell is not on Kyle Shanahan’s level. Jared Goff did not play in the preseason and D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson were limited. Fading the Lions is never a bad idea.


Los Angeles Rams (-7.5) over Chicago Bears

The best time to take a team like the Rams in a survivor contest is right now. Los Angeles is something of a stars-and-scrubs team. This is a team with a solid first unit on the offensive line, but the backups get a little dicey. Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald are studs on defense. The wide receiver group is solid and Matthew Stafford should be as healthy as he is going to be.

Depth could be an issue down the line for the Rams, which may limit the opportunities to take them in future weeks. You could wait and take the Rams over the Lions at home in Week 7, but this looks like a pretty strong spot, especially with Los Angeles healthy and ready to go.

The Bears beat only one team with a winning record last season. It was a Buccaneers team in a compromising spot, having to travel on a short week to play on Thursday night. The Rams allowed only 4.6 yards per play last season, and the offense should be upgraded with Stafford over Goff. 

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