Tips and Strategies for FanDuel's NFL Survivor Contest
A good number of you have likely done an NFL survivor pool at some point in your life. You and your co-workers or family pitch in a couple bucks, pick one winner each week, and then the person who lasts the longest gets a free night out on the town, essentially. It always adds a bit extra juice to that week's games.
But what if the payout wasn't just getting you an extra entree at that fancy restaurant downtown?
What if you were instead competing against all sports fans, fighting for a share of $250,000?
If you win, you're not stuffing your wallet. You're stuffing your bank account.
That's what's on the line with FanDuel's new survivor contest. If you correctly pick a team to win in all 17 weeks, you're getting a share of that $250,000, splitting it with everybody else who makes it that far.
If nobody makes it all 17 weeks, then the contestants who tie for the longest run will still split the $250,000. Either way, somebody's getting paid. Why not give it a shot?
As with other survivor contests, there's obviously a catch here. You can pick each team only once throughout the season, meaning you can't just pick the Cleveland Browns to win all 17, clearly a fruitful strategy without that stipulation. That adds an element of strategy that we need to discuss a bit more in depth.
The other fun element here is that you're competing against a monster field of people. Winning six weeks ain't gonna cut it, and there's an added incentive to be a bit different.
So, with all of this in mind, what strategies should we be looking to roll out for Week 1 and beyond? And how should our strategies differ due to the size of this contest? Let's go step-by-step and iron out some thoughts as you try to stack that cash.
Don't Get Cute
As we'll discuss in just a second, with any format like this, there's a desire -- and a major incentive -- to be different. And there are plenty of upsides to doing so, especially in a contest this large.
But when you're striving for that, make sure you don't get too wild.
It's important to keep in mind that there are just 17 weeks to an NFL season. This means that even if you last the full time, you'll never touch 46.9% of the team's in the league. In theory, you could use as few as five non-playoff teams the entire year.
On top of that, if you're going to use 17 teams, you need to make it to Week 17 first. And as you know, that's no small task.
Because of this, you don't need to get too creative with your picks. You may love the offseason changes the Chicago Bears made, but you don't have to pick them before we have a bit more information about how they'll look under head coach Matt Nagy. It's possible the Bears will fail to live up to expectations and not warrant selection as one of our 17 teams. We don't need to go off the board until we're forced into it.
As such, it's okay to be conservative, especially early in the season. Go with the teams you feel best about, keep on advancing, and then adjust as other strong teams emerge throughout the season.
Try To Be Different
It may feel a bit contradictory to pair up not getting cute with a desire to be different. But you can balance the two, and it's important to try to do so.
In FanDuel's Survivor contest, you'll be competing against a large field of sports fans. This means a whole lotta bodies need to hit the floor before you can hoist that huge, fancy check.
But if a popular survivor pick takes a tumble in a given week, that opponent head count can get chopped in a hurry. This is why there is upside in being a bit different.
This means that even the best picks for survivor contests in Week 1 have more than a 20% chance of hitting the tubes. With that being the case, why would we follow the crowd?
Let's say that 40% of entries in Week 1 side with the New England Patriots to top the Houston Texans. If the Patriots lose, the field you're competing against suddenly gets 40% smaller. In a contest this large, that's a monster gain.
As such, there's a big incentive to be different. If a chalky pick busts, your odds of winning go up big time. That part should be obvious. But how do we deviate from the crowd without getting too cute?
An easy way to do so is just by not picking the top option each week. If the Atlanta Falcons are your top option, it's highly likely that other people are in the same boat. Instead, you may want to go with your second- or third-best option and hope that the Falcons tank. You're not losing a ton of ground from a win probability perspective, but the edge you gain by being slightly different from the crowd is big.
Be Mindful of Ambiguity Early
Season-to-season turnover is gigantic in the NFL. A team that made the playoffs last year may struggle to hit the six-win mark this year, and former bottom-feeders contend for division titles with regularity. It's a weird league.
We need to be mindful of this, especially early on.
We may think that we know what teams will do in 2018, but none of us is perfect, and things can change in an instant. Even if we love the aforementioned changes that the Bears made, we can't know for certain that they're going to go through a resurgence this year. We have to admit that our perceptions of teams are imperfect.
This is more true at the beginning of the season than it will be at any point for the rest of the year. Once we get a sample on what teams look like with their current rosters, then we can adjust the way we think about a team. But for right now, we need to tiptoe through these tulips.
As such, it's likely wise to avoid teams early on that had major changeover in the offseason. The Browns' entire roster is different from what it was when they went 0-16, so we shouldn't just assume we can safely target teams that are facing them. The Kansas City Chiefs went to the playoffs, but they've got a new quarterback in Patrick Mahomes at the helm. As impressive as Mahomes has been in college and in preseason games, we don't know how he will play this year.
That makes teams in this mold risky propositions early in the season. Instead, it's likely best to target teams early on with smaller turnover, specifically at pivotal positions like quarterback.
Try To Plan Ahead
Even though we don't want to focus too much on avoiding strong picks early in the season, we do still -- to a certain extent -- need to be mindful of having to complete the full 17 weeks. We don't want to waste one team when they'd be a far better selection two weeks down the road. This requires us to do a bit of planning.
There are tools that can help with this, of course. numberFire premium subscribers can use the survivor pool matrix to see each team's win probability in each game for the rest of the season. This way, if the Green Bay Packers have 75% win odds next week compared to 65% in the current slate of games, you can hold off and plug them in later.
Even if you're not a premium member, though, there are ways to plan ahead.
Once you zero in on a team, just check out their upcoming schedule. If they're facing some tough opponents, go ahead and pull the trigger and use them now. But if they have some easier games ahead, take a look at some other teams in the current week to see if any pique your interest. If not, then you can still go ahead and just take the team you originally planned to use. But if you can find a solid alternative, feel free to hold off and use that team later.
Again, we don't want to get too outlandish with this because that team's future easy schedule won't matter if we don't make it that far. But this can give us a bit extra leeway later in the season, which gives us long-term sustainability in the pool.
It can be a bit intimidating to think about all the factors you must weigh while playing in a survivor contest, especially when you add on the size of this one. But if you do take these steps, it should increase your odds of netting that bankroll bump.
The toughest part will absolutely be balancing how to be different without getting too wild. There will always be an incentive to deviate from the pack, but you have to do so in a way that does not expose your team to unnecessary risk. As long as you remind yourself that any team can lose in a given week and that you need to use just 17 teams for the full season, you should be able to properly weigh those competing mindsets.
Once you've done that, just have some fun. Your odds of snagging that top prize are certainly long, but they're far from being non-existent. Pick the team your gut tells you to, consider the things we've discussed above, and just sit back and enjoy some football. If you wind up banking a quarter of a million dollars in the process, that seems like some sweet icing on the cake.