The passing of Labor Day and the changing of the seasons mean we’ve arrived at one of the greatest moments of every year: the start of another football season. With that, survivor pools are back underway, and once again Pickswise is providing our best picks for your survivor pool each one of this season’s 18 weeks (it feels strange to write that, but that’s the reality we’re living in now).
How Does An NFL Survivor Pool Work?
For those of you who’ve never played survivor or are unfamiliar with how it works, the concept is simple: last as long as you can without incorrectly picking the outcome of a game. You just need to select one game per week, and if you pick the winner right, you move on to the next week. The ultimate goal is to be the last player standing in your pool.
There’s just one catch – you can only pick each team once per season. This is where strategy comes in – it would be easy enough to pick the Chiefs every week, but you’re only allowed to go with them once, and need to find 17 other winners throughout the season to finish a perfect 18-0.
In past years, we’ve given general recommendations for games to pick and ones to avoid each week. That said, survivor pools come in different sizes, and the strategy for outlasting your coworkers in an 8-person office pool is vastly different from that of a national pool that hundreds of thousands of Americans can enter before the season starts.
In a smaller pool, particularly early in the season, it’s important to last week-to-week and see if any of your competitors drop before making any risky moves. In a larger pool, it’s much more important to try and separate yourself from the pack to gain an edge, as it does you no good to pick the same team as everyone else whether that team wins or loses, so you’ll definitely need to take some more chances earlier on in order to make a move and better position yourself for the end.
Who to Pick Week 1 NFL Survivor Pool
SMALL POOL PICK: San Francisco 49ers (-365 ML) over Detroit Lions (+280).
The 49ers are arguably your best pick to start the season with both immediate survival and long-term strategy in mind. They’re not a team you’d even consider holding onto for a later week, but if Jimmy Garoppolo can stay healthy, which he hasn’t been able to do throughout most of his career, they’re a dangerous team capable of beating the best teams in the league – and blowing out the worst ones.
San Francisco plays in arguably the toughest division in football, and that division is even more difficult now that the Rams’ old burden of a quarterback is no longer in the West. Jared Goff held his team back for much of last year, and the former top pick is now widely considered to be one of the worst starters in the league. His first game with his new team comes against an old division rival, but Goff won’t be able to lead the Lions to victory. San Francisco will send you comfortably into the second week.
BIG POOL PICK: Jacksonville Jaguars (-180 ML) over Houston Texans (+155).
Last season, as it became clearer week-to-week which teams were playing for playoff spots and which were playing for draft picks, we tailored our survivor suggestions towards picking against losing teams, rather than looking specifically at contenders. Picking against the Jaguars was an excellent strategy in 2020, but the team from Duval County got the draft pick they were hoping for, and Trevor Lawrence makes his much-anticipated NFL debut this Sunday.
Lawrence starts against a Houston team that until recently hadn’t decided on a quarterback, as Deshaun Watson continues to sit out amidst both disputes within the organization and off-field issues. Veteran Tyrod Taylor, who’s bounced from team to team over the last few years after leading the Bills to just 3 points in the playoffs 4 seasons ago, will start for the Texans. Jacksonville is a good pick to make that should both distance yourself from the field and get you to next week.
GAME TO AVOID: Buffalo Bills (-320 ML) vs Pittsburgh Steelers (+250).
The Bills are one of the heaviest favorites in Week 1, and they’re certainly contenders to go all the way, but they shouldn’t be your pick out of the gate. They’ve got much easier opponents down the road, so let’s see how Josh Allen does in his first games since signing his huge contract extension that will keep him in Buffalo through 2028.
Ben Roethlisberger has always done well against the Bills, and even at the end of his career, he still throws for 350-plus yards a game, and will be a tough test out of the gate for a Bills secondary that was rock-solid over the past few years but faltered at times in 2020 despite the team’s 13-3 record. Save the Bills for further down the road, and they’ll come through for you when you need them most.