Week 3 Picks For NFL Pick’em Contests & Survivor Pools (2019)

by TeamRankings
Sep 19, 2019

After a relatively crazy week filled with modest upsets, NFL Week 3 has arrived.

Last week’s post on pick’em contests highlighted some solid value picks that came through, including big wins by Buffalo and Detroit. On the survivor side, it was a week where we cautioned our subscribers not to get too risky. Compared to national pick popularity, we were high on Baltimore and Cleveland and low on Carolina, and for the second week in a row our recommended subscriber picks out-survived the public.

With that, let’s get to some Week 3 pick analysis for NFL survivor pools and pick’em contests.

Note: This will be our last post this season on FantasyPros. Thanks for reading, and if you want to keep getting this analysis, please visit us at TeamRankings.com.

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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Week 3 NFL Survivor Picks: Ride The Dallas Train Or Not?

Last week started out with a significant survivor upset when Carolina, which had been picked by about 13% of survivor pool entries nationwide, lost on Thursday night. That result stole the crown from Tennessee over Cleveland in Week 1 as 2019’s biggest survivor elimination result so far. However, the week ended with another above-average survival rate overall (87%), as the majority of the public went with either Baltimore or New England, and both of those big favorites won.

Week 3 again features two very large favorites, the Patriots and Cowboys, marking the first NFL week ever to feature two 20+ point favorites in the betting markets. So for the second week in a row, the primary decision factor for most survivor players will be whether or not it makes sense to take a gamble and avoid the two safest picks of the week, when those teams also happen to be two of the safest picks you ever see in the NFL. Dallas in particular is the Week 3 public darling, and is currently being picked by nearly 60% of survivor pool entries nationwide, a huge percentage.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the five most popular Week 3 survivor picks.

Dallas Cowboys (vs. Miami Dolphins)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 59%

Point Spread: -21.5

Miami appears to be breaking the NFL. They’ve lost their first two games by a larger cumulative point differential than any team since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978.

But the other 12 teams since 1978 to lose their first two games by a combined 55 points or more? They went 8-4 straight up in Week 3, and 10-2 against the spread. Two of them won as underdogs of more than 16 points (Bills against Vikings last year, and Colts against the Patriots in 1978). But none of them were as big an underdog as these Dolphins are in Week 3.

So unless you get spooked by those numbers, the case to take Dallas is that they are rolling, the Dolphins look terrible, and you have extremely high win odds of 94% according to the betting markets. The Cowboys also don’t have super high future value, either, with a schedule that gets much tougher after this week. (Dallas isn’t currently projected to have win odds above 70% again until Week 17 at home against Washington.)

The argument to avoid Dallas? Similar to the Vikings in Week 3 last year, who lost to Buffalo as 16.5-point favorites, 60% pick popularity is an absolutely huge concentration of picks on one team. If you don’t pick Dallas, and by random chance the Cowboys have their worst game of the season, while Miami has its best, over half your pool could get knocked out while you survive. That chance is very slim but it’s not zero.

New England Patriots (vs. NY Jets)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 15%

Point Spread: -22.5

Only 10 NFL games since 1985 have had a point spread of 20 or more. We’ve never had a single season in which two different teams were favored by that much, let alone a single week where it has happened like this one. Those 20+ point favorites did go 10-0, but they were also 1-9 against the spread, and three of the ten games were decided by one score.

Provided that you still have them available, the case for taking the Patriots in Week 3 is that they are again an extremely large favorite, but now they are also relatively unpopular (especially considering their win odds), after nearly 30% of still-alive survivor entries picked them last week. The Patriots are the safest team of the week yet more than four times as many entries are on the Cowboys.

Of course, the other reason that so many entries are opting for Dallas and not New England is future value. The Patriots remain the most valuable team to save for the future by a significant margin, and will be useful in several other weeks if you save them now.

Green Bay Packers  (vs. Denver Broncos)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 7%

Point Spread: -7.5

Roughly 1-in-4 survivor entries this week isn’t picking Dallas or New England, and Green Bay is the top choice among that “avoiding both heavy favorites” crowd. Presumably the logic here is trying to fade the public by avoiding the hugely popular Cowboys, if you’ve either already used the Patriots or are just making a conscious decision to save New England for later use.

On the plus side, 7% pick popularity is quite low for an 7.5-point favorite in most weeks. The downside is that Week 3 isn’t most weeks, and even this spread is a huge drop in win odds from the Patriots and Cowboys. Compared to picking New England, you would be taking on a roughly 20% additional chance to get eliminated to pick a team that isn’t even that much less popular.

The Packers have moderate future value, including four future weeks where they look like they could be one of the top three considerations, but none where they appear to be a clear-cut choice.

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Oakland Raiders)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 5%

Point Spread: -9.5

Minnesota is the other option in the “second tier” of safety this week, if you don’t trust Green Bay. The Vikings’ pick popularity is slightly lower than the Packers and their win odds are slightly higher, both relative pluses. Minnesota’s future value is also minimal, though they look like one of the best options in Week 8 when they host Washington.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)

Survival Pool Pick Popularity: 4%

Point Spread: -6.5

San Francisco is a riskier pick than either Green Bay or Minnesota, and only slightly less popular than those teams. With Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph making his first career start, you can also read our analysis on what happens when first-time starting quarterbacks play, relative to the spread.

Worth noting is that the 49ers actually have a little more future value than the Packers or Vikings, mainly because they look like they could be one of the best options in Week 12, when they host Arizona. That week, the Patriots play the Ravens, the Chiefs play the Chargers, and the Rams go against the Chicago Bears.

Get Our NFL Survivor Pick Recommendation For Week 3

The teams mentioned in this post 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.

We built our NFL Survivor Picks product to do all of the number crunching required to make the best survivor pick decisions. You answer a few questions about your pool’s size and rules, and it provides customized pick recommendations for all of your still-alive survivor pool entries, using the latest matchup data, betting market odds, and public picking trends from national survivor pool sites.

We invite you to give the product a try with our free 3-day trial for new TeamRankings users, or you can sign up for the season at the links below. Otherwise, scroll down for our analysis of Week 3 picks for NFL pick’em contests and office pools.

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Value Picks For NFL Week 3 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 3 slate and identified the best value picking opportunities. Here are five teams with profiles you should know about.

Keep in mind that we are not saying that you should make all of the picks below, especially the upset pick(s). Depending on the size and rules of your pick’em pool, sometimes it’s just not worth the risk to pick an underdog, even if it’s being significantly underrated by the public.

(Our Football Pick’em Picks product recommends weekly picks for you based on all of the strategy factors that matter.)

What we are saying is that the teams mentioned in this post offer some of the best opportunities to differentiate your Week 3 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 three teams below look more fairly valued in Week 3. 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.

San Francisco 49ers (vs. Pittsburgh Steelers)

THURSDAY UPDATE: San Francisco’s pick popularity has risen significantly over the course of the week, and they are no longer worth mentioning from a relative value perspective. Instead, focus on:

Minnesota Vikings (vs. Oakland)

When you get past the Cowboys and Patriots in Week 3, there are a group of teams favored by around a touchdown. The pick popularity is not wildly different on any of them this week, as the public consistently tends to pick bigger favorites at a very high rate. However, there are some modest differences.

Minnesota, now a 9.5-point favorite coming off a loss to Green Bay, is being selected by 91% of pick’em contest entries this week. That may seem like a lot, but it’s less than teams like Green Bay (97% picked as a 7.5-point favorite) and only a shade more than Buffalo (90% picked as a 6-point favorite) and even Seattle (90% picked as only a 4-point favorite). All of those teams are coming off wins, so recency bias is likely impacting the public’s thinking.

That means that despite Oakland having a lower chance to upset Minnesota than Denver has to upset Green Bay, about three times as many people are picking Oakland than Denver. So if you get the itch to pick a big upset in either of these games, don’t make it Oakland. 

Tennessee Titans (vs. Jacksonville)

THURSDAY UPDATE: Since Tuesday, Tennessee’s pick popularity has risen from 55% all the way to 72%, and the Titans are no longer worth mentioning as a value pick. This is why it’s so important to keep eye on key data as the week goes on, which our Football Pick’em Picks product does for you. Instead, think about:

Carolina Panthers (at Arizona)

After a fluky looking loss to the Bucs on Thursday night, the 0-2 Panthers now face Arizona and No. 1 overall pick QB Kyler Murray. Carolina opened a 2.5-point favorite in the betting markets this week before being taken off the board, yet they are only being picked by 43% of pick’em entries.

That difference almost certainly reflects the status of QB Cam Newton, whose availability in Week 3 still wasn’t clear at post time. However, even if Cam is eventually declared out, there is a decent chance that the line won’t move so much that Carolina actually becomes an underdog in this one.

Keep an eye on this one, but if Carolina ends up at an even Pick’em or better in the betting markets, and less than half of the public is picking them, that’s a good profile.

Thankfully, the next three teams have held steady since Tuesday!

Los Angeles Chargers (vs. Houston)

The Chargers return home to face the Texans after getting upset by the Detroit Lions. The Texans, meanwhile, have had two of the most exciting finishes in the NFL this year, losing in dramatic fashion at New Orleans and holding on against Jacksonville at home in the final minute.

The Chargers are a moderate 3.5-point favorite at home, and 65% of the public is selecting them. That’s almost in line with their win odds, which are around 62%. In comparison, the next three closest favorites to Los Angeles are Seattle, Chicago, and the Rams, and those teams are being selected by the public 90%,  85%, and 90% of the time, respectively.

So the Chargers aren’t nearly as overvalued now, after being selected by 90%+ of entries in each of the first two weeks. That’s probably due to what the public perceives as a highly underwhelming 1-1 start, including an OT victory against Arizona and an upset loss at Detroit. But it’s dangerous to rely too heavily on just a couple games worth of results.

Unpopular Toss-Up Pick

When a matchup is pretty much a 50/50 proposition, it usually makes sense to pick the less popular team. To win an NFL pick’em pool, you’re probably going to need some luck in these “coin flip” games, and when you get it, you want to maximize the upside by scoring points the majority of your opponents miss.

Indianapolis Colts (vs. Atlanta)

So far this year, the public has had a love-hate relationship with the Falcons, while generally underrating the Colts. We highlighted Atlanta as being on overvalued underdog in Week 1, then last week, Atlanta closed as an unpopular toss-up against the Eagles at home. Only 23% of the public sided with Atlanta in Week 2, though the point spread never favored Philadelphia by more than two points.

Indianapolis, meanwhile, has been very unpopular with the public so far with Jacoby Brissett playing quarterback in place of the retired Andrew Luck. The Colts were selected only 8% of the time in Week 1 (and lost in overtime to the Chargers) and were picked 13% of the time last week while winning at Tennessee.

Relatively, then, the public is coming around on the Colts, picking them 27% of the time this week. However, Indianapolis is the betting favorite and is now favored by 1 point at home over the Falcons, after opening as a 2.5-point favorite. Our models are a little less optimistic, putting Indy’s win odds at around 46%.

On balance, it looks like this is basically a toss-up game, but the public is effectively valuing the Colts more like they are a 6.5-point underdog.

Value Gamble

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.

Cleveland Browns (vs. LA Rams)

The Los Angeles Rams are off to a 2-0 start, though they did beat the Saints in a matchup where Drew Brees left the game because of a thumb injury, and the New Orleans offense struggled in the immediate aftermath of the injury. The Browns, meanwhile, rebounded on Monday night against the woeful Jets, and now face a key swing game at home.

For the second time in three weeks, the Rams travel east as a slight road favorite and are hugely popular with the public. In Week 1, they won by three points at Carolina. In Week 3 they are again favored by three points, and the public is selecting them a whopping 90% of the time. Last week’s biggest value underdog, Detroit, won when the public was similarly down on them, and the Browns will try to make it two weeks in a row in which an extremely unpopular value underdog pulls off a win.

Our models like the Browns’ chances even more than the implied win odds from the betting market, giving Cleveland a 43% chance of winning outright at home. When you can get that kind of value in a situation where 90% of the public is likely going the other way, it deserves consideration, primarily in pools where fading the crowd has bigger benefits (e.g. single-week pools, or if you only care about winning weekly prizes in season-long pool).

The TeamRankings Solution For Pick’em Pools

Once you know the best value opportunities of NFL Week 3, you can typically increase your odds to win your pool by making educated gambles on them. Perhaps you bump up the number of confidence points you assign to a pick like Minnesota or Indianapolis, or maybe you take more risk and pick a team like Cleveland to win. There are a lot of decisions to make, and not all of them make sense for your specific pool.

Our solution to winning more pick’em pools was to build technology to do all the number crunching required to maximize your edge. Our Football Pick’em Picks product uses advanced algorithms to optimize your weekly NFL pick’em contest picks based on all the strategy dynamics that matter. To see our recommended picks for your pool, we invite you to try it out with our free 3-day trial, or sign up for the season at the links below.

Note: This will be our last post this season on FantasyPros. Thanks for reading, and if you want to keep getting this analysis, please visit us at TeamRankings.com.

FREE TRIAL OFFER
FantasyPros readers can get a free 3-day premium trial to TeamRankings, including all football pick’em contest, survivor pool, and betting picks:
Get Picks Now

More From TeamRankings:
Football Pick’em Picks | NFL Survivor Picks | Betting Picks

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