Week 2 Picks for NFL Pick’em Contests & Survivor Pools (2019)

by TeamRankings
Sep 11, 2019

NFL Week 2 is here, a time when the public reacts — and often overreacts — to what happened during opening week. (No, the Browns probably aren’t that bad.)

As far as NFL pick’em and survivor pools are concerned, overreactions and recency bias on the part of the public often result in value picking opportunities that a smart player can exploit. Week 2 of 2019 is no exception.

Let’s take a look at the teams that every football pool player needs to have on their radar screen in Week 2, starting with pick’em contests and then moving on to survivor and knockout pools.

This is a guest post from TeamRankings, a site that applies advanced strategies and game theory to football pool picks. Since 2017, TeamRankings subscribers have reported nearly $1.5 million in survivor pool winnings, and 80% of their subscribers reported winning a prize in a football pick’em contest last year.

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Value Picks For NFL Week 2 Pick’em Pools

Using Vegas odds, data-driven predictions, and pick popularity data from national football pick’em contests, we’ve analyzed the entire NFL Week 2 slate and identified the best and worst value picking opportunities. Here are five teams with profiles you should know about.

Keep in mind that we are not saying you should make all of the picks below — the upset picks especially. The best Week 2 picks for your NFL pool depend on strategy factors such as its size, rules, and prize structure, plus situational factors like your current place in the standings and the number of weeks left in the pool.

(Our Football Pick’em Picks product customizes recommended weekly picks for you based on all those factors.)

What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post offer some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 2 picks from your pool opponents, or they serve as prime examples of when picking against the crowd is most likely a bad idea.

Note: Win odds and estimated national pick popularity data below may change between publication time and kickoff time. If you want to see the latest numbers, our product updates multiple times per day.

Favorites at a Reasonable Price

Most favorites are overrated by the public, but the two teams below are more fairly valued in Week 2. You should think twice about picking against them, not because we think they are a lock to win (we certainly don’t), but because other games offer more compelling upset pick opportunities.

Pittsburgh (vs. Seattle)

The Steelers lost by 30 in the prime time Sunday Night game against New England, while Seattle (at home) barely squeaked by Cincinnati. While the Steelers’ offense showcased their struggles to a national audience, the Seahawks did not embarrass themselves in front of quite so many people watching on TV.

Yes, Pittsburgh looked utterly awful. But going against the team that finished dead last in yards allowed last season, Seattle managed only 233 total yards (the 4th-lowest total of last week). The Bengals also out-gained the Seahawks by nearly 200 yards. In short, Seattle got significantly outplayed last week as well; the Seahawks just happened to survive with a lucky win.

In this battle of opening week disappointments, Pittsburgh was favored by 3.5 points in the betting markets at post time, with implied win odds a bit under 65%. Our models are a bit less optimistic, giving the Steelers about 58% win odds.

Still, with the public picking Pittsburgh at a very similar 59% clip, this is not the game where you want to think upset pick. By betting odds, Pittsburgh is actually being underrated by the public, which is rare for a favorite of this magnitude.

For comparison, the Dallas Cowboys, as 4.5-point favorites at Washington in Week 2, only have slightly higher win odds than Pittsburgh. Yet Dallas is being picked by a whopping 93% of the public. Compared to picking Seattle, picking Washington offers similar risk but a much higher reward if you’re right.

LA Rams (vs. New Orleans)

The Rams and Saints played in the NFC Championship Game a year ago, and apparently a good portion of the public expects the Saints to get revenge on the road this week. 56% of pick’em pool players are picking the Rams to win at home, a rate that is in line with LAR’s win odds as a 2.5-point favorite.

It’s always hard to decode the public’s view of a game, but there doesn’t seem to be any smoking gun coming out of last week that would lead the public to more fairly assess the Rams’ chances here, compared to how it typically overrates favorites. Los Angeles won on the road at Carolina by the exact margin expected by the 3-point closing spread. The Saints, meanwhile, as much larger 6.5-point home favorites, trailed Houston for much of Monday Night’s game and barely survived on a last-second 58-yard field goal.

Again, if you are dead-set on picking an underdog in this risk range this week, it’s better to go with a different one such as the Colts over the Titans. Tennessee is coming off a big win fueled by late turnovers, while Indianapolis looked like a capable team in forcing the Chargers to overtime in Week 1. Indy is a 3-point underdog in the betting markets, yet almost three times as many pick’em players (44%) have the similarly risky Saints pulling the upset compared to the Colts (15%).

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Value Favorite

Week 2 features several teams that the public is picking at a lower rate than their chance to win. These type of teams are as close as you can get to “no brainer picks” in NFL pick’em contests, since both win odds and value is on your side. Here’s one of them:

Buffalo (at NY Giants)

The Bills played at the Meadowlands this past Sunday, beating the Jets 17-16 on the road. They return to the same stadium, shared by the Jets and Giants, in Week 2.

Buffalo was able to win its first road game despite four first-half turnovers, and came back in the fourth quarter from two scores down. The Bills also soundly won the yardage battle against the Jets. As a result, it looks like bad luck played a role in the slim 1-point win margin.

The Giants, meanwhile, gave up five straight long touchdown drives to the Dallas Cowboys to effectively end the game by the middle of the third quarter, and eventually lost 35-17. New York has been in the bottom quarter of the league in total defense the last two seasons, and at least for Week 1, that trend did not change. The Giants allowed 470 yards to Dallas, and New York is now 31st in our NFL power ratings.

The public is siding with New York in this one, picking the Giants 62% of the time. By our current ratings, Buffalo is 3.6 points better than New York on a neutral field and should still be the favorite even after home field advantage is included. The betting markets agree, making Buffalo a 2-point favorite. Pick the Bills, and you’re getting a favorite at an underdog price.

Value Gambles

All upset picks are not created equal. If you’re going to make a gamble on an underdog, you need to make sure that the potential reward — that is, how much your odds to win your pool will increase if your gamble pays off — is as big as possible. Take a bunch of extra risk on a super trendy upset pick, and the joke is on you.

The two picks below are definitely not appropriate for all pools. If you’re in a smaller, season-long pool with lots of games left, they’re probably not worth the risk.

However, if you’re in a single-week pool with a larger number of entries, or if you only care about winning weekly prizes in your season-long pool, or if you’re just feeling lucky, these highly unpopular underdogs with decent chances to win offer compelling profiles.

Detroit (vs. LA Chargers)

Detroit was an up-and-down team a year ago, putting up some highs (dominating the Patriots at home) and lows (getting blown out by the Jets). The Lions managed to showcase both sides of that split personality in the 2019 opener.

For most of the game, they dominated but did not put away Arizona. The Cardinals only had 100 total yards in the first three quarters, and Detroit built a 24-6 lead. But then, the Arizona offense got going in the fourth quarter and came all the way back. It ended in an overtime tie.

Similarly, the Chargers were unable to close out the Colts in regulation despite having a 24-9 fourth quarter lead. That game also went to overtime, but LAC was able to win the coin toss and drive for a touchdown to win the game. It could have just as easily gone the other way.

The Chargers are the slight favorite in this game, by 2.5 points in the betting markets, but the public is picking them at an extremely high rate (89%) for a less-than-field-goal favorite. That gives Detroit the biggest differential between win odds and pick popularity in all of Week 2.

To put the relative value in perspective, Detroit is only slightly less likely to pull off an upset than the Giants are this week, but the Giants are over five times as popular an upset pick. If you want to take a moderate gamble to differentiate your picks from the crowd, Detroit is a great choice.

Denver (vs. Chicago)

Denver, also a strong value pick last week, closed out Week 1 with a dud of a Monday Night performance against Oakland on the road, losing 24-16. A closer look at the numbers, though, shows a game that was virtually even in yards and first downs for both teams. The Raiders went an unsustainable 10 of 14 on third downs, including a 3rd-and-8 conversion at the two-minute warning that sealed the victory.

Meanwhile, Chicago opened the week with an offensive thud, managing only three points in a home loss to Green Bay. QB Mitch Trubisky struggled in the opener, and the Bears finished with more than twice as many penalty yards as rushing yards. But that game was on Thursday night, so perhaps the Bears’ struggles are not quite so fresh in the public’s mind.

Former Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio is making his home head coaching debut with Denver against his old team. It will be interesting to see how he game plans against Trubisky, and what surprises Chicago head coach Matt Nagy throws in against his former coordinator.

Chicago is a very popular pick here, with 76% of pick’em entries nationwide taking the Bears. But they are only a slight favorite, and both the betting lines (Denver is +2.5) and our models put the Broncos’ win odds in the 44-45% range. That’s solid differentiation potential for a team with close to a 50/50 chance to win.

Since the 1985 NFL season, Denver has the highest home winning percentage of any franchise (70.6% winning percentage at home). Denver’s storied home field advantage is almost certainly priced into the betting lines in an accurate way, but perhaps the Monday Night Football loss is causing the public to underweight it.

The TeamRankings Solution For Pick’em Pools

Our solution to winning more pick’em pools was to build technology to do all the heavy lifting. We’ve developed a product that algorithmically optimizes your weekly NFL pick’em pool picks based on many different strategy dynamics. To see our recommended picks for every game for your pool, we invite you to try it out:

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Week 2 NFL Survivor Picks: Patriots, Ravens or the Field?

Your survivor pick in Week 2 comes down to a pretty clear decision: Patriots, Ravens, or some other team.

After impressive victories last week, both New England and Baltimore are double-digit favorites against weak teams in Week 2. As an 18.5-point favorite at post time, New England in particular offers a level of safety rarely seen in the NFL — especially for a road team.

However, those with good survivor memory will surely recall the fate of a team favored by almost as much in Week 3 of last season: the Minnesota Vikings, whose upset loss to Buffalo knocked out nearly 60% of still-alive entries in survivor pools.

Does that mean you should avoid New England? Let’s break down the pros and cons of the most popular Week 2 survivor pick options.

New England Patriots (at Miami Dolphins)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 32%

Point Spread: -18.5

New England is a massive favorite this week against Miami. The argument for of using the Patriots this week is that you are almost certain to advance, and that’s not a phrase we throw around lightly. Our models have New England’s win odds at 91%; the betting markets are slightly more optimistic at 92%.

Since 1985, NFL favorites of between 16.5 and 20.5 points have a 51-3 win-loss record (94.4% winning percentage).

One argument against using New England this week is that the Patriots have tremendous future value. New England is currently one of the top three teams in projected win odds in 9 of 15 future weeks, and the projected most likely winner in three future weeks. If you can get through Week 2 without using New England, you will have those lethal bullets still in your survivor clip.

In fact, New England and Baltimore are currently projected as the two most likely winners in Week 6 as well, when the Patriots host the Giants and the Ravens are home against the Bengals.

New England’s pick popularity, while very high at 32%, isn’t actually that high for a team favored by as much as they are. Going back to 2010, according to historical data from SurvivorGrid.com, the 20 biggest favorites (by win odds) during the first four weeks of a season averaged 39% pick popularity. And New England is tied for the second-highest win odds during that first-four-weeks time period.

(As mentioned above, in comparison, Minnesota’s pick popularity in Week 3 last year was closer to 60%, and the Vikings had a lower chance to win than the Patriots do this week.)

So the primary concern with the Patriots is burning future value, plus the fact that there is another very likely winner on the Week 2 slate in Baltimore. That dynamic means that compared to the next-safest option this week, the relative safety of New England isn’t as big as it would have been if this game was in most other weeks.

Baltimore Ravens (vs. Arizona Cardinals)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 26%

Point Spread: -13

Baltimore is the second-most popular pick for NFL survivor entries in Week 2. The Ravens’ popularity is held down at least somewhat because they were also a top five most popular pick last week, and just under 15% of currently alive survivor entries already have used them.

Baltimore’s win odds are lower than New England’s, but are still over 85%, which is significantly higher than most survivor picks you need to make. Like New England, the Ravens’ pick popularity is also high, but not prohibitively so, as they are effectively splitting the vote with New England.

The Ravens were impressive in Week 1, but you always need to be careful about judging on a sample size of one game, especially if Miami turns out to be an even worse team than expected this year. As of now, our numbers show Baltimore with less future value than New England, especially since after Week 2, the Ravens will already be past two of their highest win odds games of the season.

Choosing the Ravens, then, comes down to settling for a slightly less popular entry (go0d), with less future value (good), in exchange for a bit more risk of elimination compared to the Patriots (bad).

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Houston Texans (vs. Jacksonville Jaguars)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 13%

Point Spread: -8.5

Houston shot up to third in pick popularity in the early going as the top alternative candidate to the Patriots or Ravens. This line appears to reflect a shift of several points compared to what it likely would have been if Jaguars QB Nick Foles had not gotten injured. If rookie Gardner Minshew wasn’t starting, Houston likely would not have made this list of most popular Week 2 survivor picks.

Picking a team like Houston — or really any team besides New England or Baltimore — demands an awareness of the risk context of Week 2. In many other weeks, a team like the Texans would be in the top tier of safest plays.

In Week 2, though, the Texans are a much bigger risk compared to one of the largest mismatches in recent NFL history.

It’s worth mentioning that Houston’s future value is fairly low for a team seen as a playoff contender, and this game projects as their best shot to win for the rest of the season, along with Week 8 when the Texans host Oakland.

That’s a relative plus, but when the majority of your pool will have an 85% chance or better to survive this week, and when it will take not one but two huge upsets to knock them all out if you fade the crowd, it may not be the best week for riskier contrarian gambles.

Carolina Panthers (vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 11%

Point Spread: -7

Carolina is a somewhat more risky, slightly less popular version of Houston this week. So just as the Ravens and Patriots may be splitting the survivor entries of players who are willing to burn a great team in Week 2, the Panthers and Texans appear to be splitting the vote for players zig-zagging the other way.

Carolina also has very low future value, and if you don’t use them in Week 2, you may not need to use them at all this year, depending on how long your survivor pool is expected to last.  At the very least, you may have plenty of other options that don’t make Carolina a clear pick in any future week.

Kansas City Chiefs (at Oakland Raiders)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 5%

Point Spread: -7.5

The Chiefs are the fifth most popular survivor choice of Week 2, registering about half the pick popularity (5%) of the Panthers and Texans.

Kansas City is similarly safe as Houston and Carolina, with a lower pick popularity to boot, which is good. However, the Chiefs have far more future value than either of those two teams. The Chiefs, in fact, have the second-highest future value of any team, behind only New England.

If you are in a pool that projects to go deeper into the season (again, read our post on how long survivor pools should be expected to last), the Chiefs are a highly valuable asset you’d ideally want to keep in your future survivor toolbox.

Add in that Kansas City is more likely to have WR and return specialist Tyreek Hill back with the offense later in the year, and the Chiefs appear to primarily be a potential contrarian Week 2 consideration in smaller pools that do not expect to get to the last five weeks of the season. With a roughly 15% higher elimination risk than the Patriots, though, that’s no small gamble.

Get Our Week 2 Survivor Pick For Your Pool

The teams above are the most popular picks this week, but that doesn’t mean one of them is the best pick for you. Every possible survivor pick has an expected value and future value associated with it, and those values vary based on the characteristics of your pool.

As a result, it takes a lot of data and math to figure out which pick (or combination of picks, if you’re playing multiple entries) gives the biggest boost to your expected survivor pool winnings.

We built our NFL Survivor Picks product to do all of this analytical work for you. You answer a few questions about your pool’s size and rules, and it provides customized pick recommendations for your pool using the latest matchup data, betting market odds, and public picking trends from national survivor pool sites.

The product even does a second layer of optimization if you are playing multiple survivor entries, recommending exactly how you should split a “portfolio” of survivor pool entries across one, two, or more teams. (Our product optimizes picks for up to 30 unique survivor pool entries.)

We invite you to try it out, and good luck in your survivor pools this week!

FREE TRIAL: Week 2 Pick’em and Survivor Picks

Pool Picks From TeamRankings:
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More On FantasyPros:
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