The beginning of the NFL season means the start of survivor pool season. That’s a very good thing in my eyes. I love survivor pools because they are a good test of your football insight, and because the stakes are high — one mistake and you are out. They are also a great place to find value if you can find pools with relatively few seasoned bettors in them. The public often approaches these pools unwisely, so if you take the time to play them properly you can have a nice edge. Fun AND profitable — the perfect combination.
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Each week of this season — or at least for as long as it is relevant depending on how the year turns out — we’ll offer survivor pool strategy, advice and predictions to help you find the promised land and avoid the costly mistakes. Let’s get started:
The heavy favorites
There are five teams in this opening week of the season that are favored by at least a touchdown, so it’s not necessarily the most competitive week we have ever seen. As a general rule those games are attractive in survivor pools because there is relatively low risk picking the favorites. There are no guarantees in the NFL, though, so you need to be sure that the favorites are legitimate, and that the underdogs aren’t getting less respect than they deserve.
The first strong favorite is the Bears at home against the Colts. Andrew Luck is going to be great, and he’ll be very good this year. However, Chicago is dramatically better, and Luck doesn’t have the weapons to compete here. The Bears would be a sound pick.
New Orleans draws another high-profile rookie QB, Robert Griffin III, and his Redskins at home. Like Luck, Griffin is going to be good, but he lacks the tools to succeed now against a very good New Orleans team. There is some risk about how the Saints will respond to their offseason issues, but they would still be worth picking.
Houston is at home against the Dolphins, and they are very deservedly the biggest favorite of the week. Miami has all sorts of issues, and they are definitely rebuilding. Houston is a serious contender this year. This game shouldn’t be competitive, and Houston is the most comfortable pick of the week.
The trick when dealing with heavy favorites is to avoid taking more risk than you have to. Unless I am forced to pick a tem because I have picked the better choices already, I really like to avoid heavy favorites that make me uneasy for any reason. Two fit in that category this week: Detroit should be able to easily handle the Rams, but the Lions to prove that they have their focus dialed in, and St. Louis should be poised to take a big step forward this year. I would take the Lions if I had to, but since I am not forced to this year I’d pass.
The other favorite I don’t like is Philadelphia. Frankly, I just don’t trust them. They have plenty of issues, Michael Vick is ridiculously fragile, and coach Andy Reid is on the hot seat for the first time ever. I could justify picking them if they were at home, but with the game on the road against a Cleveland team that has troubles but is on the rise, I don’t think the Eagles are worth the risk.
Other games of interest
There are seven games that are way too close to consider here. They are essentially coin flips, and that’s not what you want here.
Dallas and New York are both going to compete in the NFC East, and either team could win here.
Jacksonville and Minnesota both have far too many issues to be trusted.
Atlanta is a tough team, but Kansas City is at home. The Chiefs should be much improved, and this isn’t an easy game for either team.
The Niners and Packers are both elite teams and anything can happen when they meet.
Carolina and Tampa Bay both need to take a big step forward, and both are capable of doing so. At this point, though, it’s hard to know which one will be further ahead.
Pittsburgh and Denver both have problems all over the field, and the presence of Peyton Manning after his forced year off makes this one all but impossible to accurately assess.
San Diego over Oakland would be a solid pick if it was later in the season and the Chargers were in form. They are so hard to trust in September, though, and there is a chance that the Raiders could be much improved this year now that the Al Davis era has mercifully ended.
That does leave four games that could potentially be interesting if the three attractive heavy favorites don’t do it for you, or if you want to gamble a bit more:
Buffalo at New York Jets - The Jets have had serious issues at QB. They scored just one TD in the preseason, and that was by the third stringer. It’s a mess, and the Bills have spent their offseason finding ways to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. I’d really like Buffalo at home, but I wouldn’t have a problem with picking them here on the road.
New England at Tennessee - Tennessee isn’t a bad team, and it has the potential to make the playoffs. New England, though, is the class of the AFC, and the Pats should be in good shape here.
Seattle at Arizona - There is always a risk trusting a rookie QB in his first start, and that’s especially true when it’s a guy like Russell Wilson who was not expected to be the starter when training camp started. The Seahawks have confidence, though, Wilson is a very good player, and the Cardinals are a mess at quarterback. The Seahawks wouldn’t be my first choice, but there are certainly worse picks.
Cincinnati at Baltimore - I have absolutely no respect for Marvin Lewis, so I would be hard-pressed to take the Bengals here. Baltimore gets the home game, and they should be ready for it.
Editor’s Note: Matt Severance will release his official NFL Survivor Pool picks on Doc’s Sports homepage on Thursday this week. He will not have a pick in the Dallas/NY Giants season opener.
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