An increasingly popular way to bet on the NFL and stay involved for most of the season is a survivor pool (pick one winner of an NFL game each win, but you cannot use the same team twice). Some pools with a hefty entry fee or many participants can have prize pools in the tens of thousands.
Depending on the size of the pool, one may employ different strategies. For example, if a pool does not have many contestants, one may use a less risky strategy and pick a big favorite each week. On the other hand, if one is trying to best a pool of thousands of people, they may employ a contrarian style. A way to be contrarian is to pick teams that are less likely to be selected by others and save the better teams for later in the season while others may already have used them.
Each week I will be providing advice for which teams are best to select in survivor pools. Bettors that don’t enter these types of pools can still use this information from a betting perspective if they are comfortable laying big odds on money lines.
Here is a list of odds for all the favorites to win their matchups in Week 1 (odds courtesy of FanDuel).
San Francisco 49ers (-375), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-360), Los Angeles Rams (-350)
Despite playing on the road, the San Francisco 49ers are the biggest favorites of the Week 1 slate. Many survivor pool contestants will be scared off by the 49ers traveling to Detroit in Week 1, but they are the biggest favorites for a reason. The 49ers are just two years removed from a Super Bowl appearance and had a talented enough roster to make it back there last year before injuries derailed their season. Nick Bosa is back to lead a defense that should be one of the league’s best and one that should have little difficulty shutting down a Lions offense that is still getting used to new quarterback Jared Goff. Add in the fact that running back D’Andre Swift’s status is very much in question for the opener, and it is hard to see a scenario where Detroit musters enough offense to pull the upset.
The defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the most challenging opponent of any of our three “safest picks.” Still, they are catching the Dallas Cowboys at the right time due to injuries and illnesses. All-pro guard Nick Martin is out for the Cowboys after testing positive for COVID-19, and Tyron Smith and La’el Collins will be active but may not be 100% as they recover from injuries. The last time the Buccaneers defense faced a banged-up offensive line, they held the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-powered offense without a touchdown in the Super Bowl. Tampa Bay returns all 22 starters from their Super Bowl victory and is not in jeopardy of losing this game. There are certainly better opportunities to use the Buccaneers, especially since they look like the clear class of the NFC South. However, it is also nice to survive Week 1 with a win on a Thursday night while the rest of your opponents sweat out Sunday results.
The Los Angeles Rams are many people’s pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, especially since their offense got more explosive with the addition of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Stafford should help receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp have better years, as neither reached the 1,000-yard plateau with Jared Goff as their quarterback a year ago. The Rams face a Chicago Bears team that may be much better by the end of the season if and when they make the quarterback switch to Justin Fields. However, for now, Aaron Donald and company can tee off on the immobile Andy Dalton, who is not good enough to lead the Bears to a road upset over a team as good as the Rams at this stage of his career.
Riskier Plays That Will Be Popular
Buffalo Bills (-290), Baltimore Ravens (-215), Minnesota Vikings (-166), Jacksonville Jaguars (-146)
The Buffalo Bills return 21 starters after appearing in their first AFC Championship since 1993. However, they face a Pittsburgh Steelers team that started 11-0 before losing five of their last six games. The Steelers have a lot of turnover on their roster, specifically on offense, where they replace three offensive linemen and their starting running back. However, they have a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and head coach, and that combination makes it too risky to use the Bills this week.
The Baltimore Ravens may stake claim to the title of “most injured team in football” at the moment. They are down two running backs with season-ending injuries to J.K. Dobbins and Justice Hill, and two of their best receivers (Miles Boykin and Rashod Bateman) are in injured reserve. It is possible the Ravens do not miss a beat by relying on a stout defense and with Lamar Jackson handling more of the running duties. However, I want no part of a banged-up Baltimore team playing on Monday night in front of a fired-up Las Vegas Raiders crowd for the first time.
The Jacksonville Jaguars will be a popular play in survivor pools, not because people genuinely believe in their ability to be a good football team, but will use them to fade the Houston Texans. Ever since quarterback Deshaun Watson’s legal troubles surfaced, many have penciled in Houston to be the worst team in the league and the team that will assuredly select first in next year’s draft. However, risking your survivor pool in Week 1 on a rookie quarterback making his first start on the road is a risky proposition. I want to see how Trevor Lawrence and head coach Urban Meyer adjust to life in the NFL before using them.
Contrarian Play To Beat a Large Pool
Carolina Panthers (-230)
Will Panthers quarterback Sam Darnold get revenge on his old team, who let him go after three seasons to draft his heir apparent, Zach Wilson? Panthers head coach Matt Rhule is one of the hottest names in coaching nowadays, and it looks like he will get Carolina turned around more quickly than expected. A healthy Christian McCaffrey is ready to run wild after being limited to three games last year. While you may be hard-pressed to find opportunities to use the Panthers at other points in the season, they are a solid contrarian play with the more trusted roster and head coach at home in the season opener.
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