-- by @Josh_Suchon
This is my second annual post on how to win your Survivor Pool, aka an Eliminator Pool, or World's Simplest Pool, or Last Man Standing Pool.
The basic rules of the Pool: you pick one NFL game each week, point spreads don’t matter. If you win, you advance to the next week. If you lose, you’re done. In most of these pools, once you pick a team once, you can’t pick them again. I’m in a pool where you can pick the same team three times. I don’t like that rule, but I’m not the Commissioner. But in most pools, you can only pick a team once.
Follow my advice and you've got a good shot at winning your Survivor Pool.
1. Never save a pick for later in the season. Depending on the participants in your pool, very few last 17 weeks. A lot of them don’t last 10 weeks. Don’t plan ahead. It’s all about winning each week. Don’t save New England for Week 5. Tom Brady can blow out a knee in Week 3 and you wouldn’t want to take the Patriots in Week 5 if Brady isn't starting.
2. Look at the point spread to decide on your candidates. The oddsmakers in Vegas are the smartest people in the room. No matter how much you think you know about football, the oddsmakers know more. Look at the five biggest point spreads each week. You should be picking one of those five teams. That team doesn’t have to cover. They just have to win. It goes without saying you shouldn’t ever take an underdog.
3. Take the home team on Thursday night games, if the visiting team is in a short week. Road teams face a massive challenge. Play a game on Sunday, heal on Monday, prepare on Tuesday, fly on Wednesday, and play on Thursday. Unless the visiting team is dramatically better, and it’s a short flight (like Oakland to San Diego), take the home team. Not only will they win, they will win easily. If a team is traveling three time zones on a short week, they’re toast. Note: this does not apply in Week 1. Teams aren’t in their usual routine yet.
4. Avoid taking the road team in general. The deeper you get into your Survivor Pool, you might have to break this rule. This rule can be broken in extreme circumstances, like a 9-1 team playing on the road against a 1-9 team. Even then, I get nervous. The double-extra detail on this rule is don’t ever take an East Coast team playing on the West Coast. Recent studies on the effect of time-zone change on a body suggest it’s harder to go West and perform at an optimal level than it is to travel East.
5. Ride the worst team(s) in the league. Once you get to around Week 5-6, it’s clear which teams are the worst. You can’t pick the best team to win every week. But you can pick the worst team to lose every week. Personally, I get nervous taking a winless team, like an 0-7, because they have so much pride, they’ll try extra hard to avoid the embarrassment of a winless season. But once they’ve lost, I love riding the opponent of that hopeless team week after week.
6. Don’t pick a team with a rookie quarterback in September. Most of the time, a rookie will only start at quarterback if the team was lousy the year before, so this is usually a moot point. But it’s such a huge adjustment from college to the NFL, it’s hard to win. The deeper you get into the season, say October, then it’s not as risky to pick a team with a rookie quarterback. The secondary rule is be wary of picking against the rookie quarterback early in the year. We just don’t know how the rookies will respond. Be patient.
7. Avoid rivalry games. You know that cliché “throw out the records” when these rivals meet? Remember it. Avoid a Giants-Cowboys, or Raiders-Chiefs, or any other type of strong rivalry game. Crazy things happen when rivals meet.
8. Never select a team that’s using a backup quarterback. It’s the most important position on the field, and affects the outcome more than any other. If the starter is definitely out, don’t select that team. If the quarterback is doubtful or even questionable, avoid that team if possible. You’re only picking one game a week, you can find a healthy quarterback.
9. Don't use the same team on multiple entries. I'm actually not a fan of multiple entries in Survivor Pools. If you do it, then you start thinking about the two best locks, instead of just one lock. Now you have to be correct twice each week. I know a lot of people use multiple entries. I know a lot of people used both picks on the New England Patriots in Week 2 last year -- and lost both. If you are going to double-up on multiple entries, only do it late in the season when you're options are thin.
10. Don't brag about your expertise in making picks. Stay humble. The NFL Survivor Gods don't like it when you act like you have this game figured out. Put another way, don't write a blog post pretending like you have all the answers.
11. Don't make your decision when you're drunk. If it's Saturday night and you still haven't decided your pick, it's OK to discuss this with your friends over drinks. It's a great topic. Just don't send in your pick when you're drunk. Wait until the next morning and make sure it's still a good idea.
12. Don't change your mind. Once your pick is in, never second-guess yourself. Don't change your pick. Ever.
13. Don’t take your favorite to win or lose. You have enough emotions going through your body when your favorite team plays. Don’t compound that anxiety by picking them to win, and don’t do something that will make you feel OK about your favorite team losing. Not to mention, you’re not very objective about your favorite team. They’re not as good as you think they are. They’re not as bad as you think they are. Just avoid your team.
13b. Unless your favorite team is the Raiders, they're on the road in Week 1, using a questionable quarterback, against a solid team, facing a huge point spread, and notorious for playing terrible in Week 1. Raider Nation kicked me out for making this pick. I'm counting on the Nation forgetting this by Week 2. If I lose in Week 1, it's the most deserved loss ever, and it's proof this should be always be Rule #1 forever and ever.
14. If you win, tip the Commissioner. It's hard work being a Commissioner. It's very time consuming. Depending on the size of your pool, it should be between 5-15 percent.
15. Don’t save a pick. Can’t stress this enough. That’s why it’s listed twice. Don’t. Ever. Save. A. Pick.
Most of the time, you can’t follow all 15 of these rules. You want to follow as many of these as possible each week.
When it comes to Week 1, know in advance that it’s the hardest week. It’s the most unpredictable week. There’s not much information you can use. Don’t get fooled by exhibition game results. When in doubt, follow the rules to eliminate potential obstacles.
Good luck in your Survivor Pool.
And, don’t forget, never save a pick.