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Fists pumping into the air as the triumph of slaughtering all your opponents into oblivion in your annual office football survivor pool, while maybe also bringing home a little extra scratch is the wisp of the dream that is starting to rekindle in the minds of NFL fans everywhere. While we all start to formulate our strategies for mass annihilation of our inferior family and friends, coworkers, classmates and casual acquaintances you only talk to once a year to gather their entry fees, there are a few things to keep in mind that the regular survivor pool contestants may not have come to realize.

Most NFL survivor pools consist of a weekly submission of one team by a predetermined deadline of your pool’s choosing that you think will reign supreme on that given weekend. Each team can only be chosen once during the course of the season and once your entry fails to gain you a glorious victory, you are effectively eliminated from contention and you may proceed to weep softly into a willing or unsuspecting partner’s comforting or awkward embrace.

The Four Strategies to Success:

  1. What mascot/symbol would win in a battle
  2. Which team’s color scheme is better
  3. Going against the grain to maximize win potential
  4. Safest pick on the board based on spread and other factors

Obviously we will focus more on the last two, and mostly on the last one there; but doesn’t that seem to be the case sometimes that the least likely participant in your football pools end up doing quite well? Very frustrating but kudos to those that dare to be different.

Taking a look at trends in the NFL from 2014 and going back many years, it is easy to see certain patterns arise and they can help guide us to more informed decisions in 2015. I’m looking at you Tom Brady. Oh, right. You wanted advice on how to win a football pool, not another look back at all the scandals plaguing the NFL over the last half decade. Onward ho!

The first place you want to begin your weekly research is to take a look at home teams. Home teams in 2014 went a combined 145-110-1, which includes the abysmal 0-8 Tampa Bucs and 1-7 Tennessee Titans, yikes. That is a 57 percent chance of getting your pick correct without accounting for any other factors.

The next step in your preparation is taking a Vegas vacation with the Griswold family and checking out who the sportsbooks favor. Including the playoffs, all favored teams (home or away) went a combined 179-87-1 which is just over 67 percent, even if only favored by a point or less. Excellent! You shout in your best Bill and Ted voice. But not so fast; let’s dig a little deeper shall we? For those of you connecting the dots and drawing the line to the next logical question, I’m proud of you, but I’ll get to how Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure shaped the landscape of cinematic history in a bit. First let me tell you how home team favorites performed in 2014. Favored home teams actually only performed incrementally better than favored teams in general with a record of 123-58 or 68 percent victorious.

So how can we enhance our chances to choose a winner to survive each week against those ruthless mascot and team color pickers? This is where we consult Vegas even further and look at the point spreads. Since 2010, teams that were favored by slightly more than a field goal, 3.5 points, went an aggregate 634-210-3 giving us a combined 74.9 win percentage. That’s a pretty impressive increase in expected win percentage from choosing any random favored team.

How about teams favored by a whole handful of points? Well not a Jason Pierre-Paul hand, but you know what I mean. Teams favored by five points since 2010 have gone 460-136-3, or won 76.8 percent of the time. Still not comfortable with that expected win percent? How about teams spotting their opponents a touchdown plus a not-so-gimme-anymore extra-point? NFL squads have a combined record of 328-80-2 (80 percent) since 2010 when favored by seven points. The ultimate benchmark to key in on is when teams are favored by ten points or more, aka teams playing the Titans and Buccaneers. Since 2010, teams favored by 10 points have a record of 144-19-1 (87.8 percent). So while not invincible, certainly a safer bet than walking into a sharknado without the assistance of one Ian Ziering.

Surviving the first few weeks by making safe picks is key to going deep in your pool. As much as you may want to make a sneaky pick that you think you have some sort of inside information on that no one else is going to be on, please exercise restraint and play it safe. Save those gut feeling picks and the Uncle Tony says he knows a guy who’s cousin had access to a training room and saw video footage of a game plan and fed it to the line painter from the other team picks for later weeks.

Yes, we saw the Patriots lose to Arizona in Week 2 in 2013 (hopefully you were in a double elimination pool). Yes, we saw the Eagles down by 17 at home to the Jaguars in Week 1 in 2014 (much to my chagrin they came back and pulled it out for those 44 percent of all pickers that were on them). But you know the odds and you have to play them. Later in the season we will find out more about who is the real deal and which teams have a better defense or offense than we thought going in. We have to let the chips fall first, then navigate the season as best we can playing the matchup game.

There is some merit to going against the grain though. If you want to maximize your win potential, you can give more thought to going against the chalk picks of the week and hope for mass destruction to ensue. When more than a handful of participants in your pool drown when their pick belly flops, it obviously puts you in a prime position to cannonball your way to victory. I like to make a splash with pool references because they never flounder, after all this is a sink or swim type of contest we’re talking about diving into.

One other thing to pay attention to when picking home teams that are clear favorites is the divisional games. By rule these teams know more about each other than any other teams in the league as they always play each other twice. These games are often played closer than the casual fan would think and result in a greater amount of upsets than other matchups. If you stick to this rule, you also won’t be picking many of the Thursday games, which are also more unpredictable because of the short schedule afforded the two teams to prepare and heal from the previous game. This is a fine strategy to employ.

Maybe most crucial to winning your pool is to submit your weekly pick as late as possible. How many times do we see random events occur over the course of the week with the humans that play this game we are counting on them to be playing in? And what about sudden weather changes that crop up late in the week? Waiting to submit a pick, while risky because you may find yourself trapped in an 11 day traffic jam with a drained cell phone battery, or your brain melted when Twitter exploded trying to figure out if the Mets made a trade, is ideal because it minimizes your risk of extrinsic factors affecting the results of the game.

So looking ahead to Week one in the 2015 NFL season, Dallas is the heaviest home favorite according to the Vegas sports books at 5.5 points over the Giants. The Broncos are the next in line as four point favorites over the Ravens, and the rest of the more heavily favored teams are away teams, Packers by 5.5 over Bears, and the Panthers by four over the Jaguars. Clearly lines will change as camps and preseason games play out, but if we had to lock into picks right now for Week 1, they’d look something like this:

  1. Safe: Broncos (home team, larger spread, non-divisional game)
  2. Against Grain: Buccaneers (favored home team, nobody will be on them because of 2014 performance)
  3. Color scheme: Jets (clearly anything is better than brown and orange, right?)
  4. Mascot: Bears (duh)

Good luck in your survivor pools this year, as they will hopefully be lucrative enough to turn yours from a sun-beaten cracked-plastic kiddie-size one to an Olympic-size oasis.

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