The seasonal depression I experience when a Hochuli isn't on my TV screen will magically vanish this week as NFL football returns. I'm excited for the games, but also for the games within the games, which heighten the experience, like fantasy football and survivor pools.
If you're looking for fantasy advice, Matt Harmon, Scott Pianowski and the rest of the superb Yahoo fantasy crew have you covered. If you're looking for survivor pool advice, it was very smart of you to click on the article with "survivor pool" in the title.
Before we delve into the Week 1 picks, let's quickly go over optimal survivor pool strategy.
Know your pool rules
Some survivor pools are one-and-done, some are double elimination, some make you pick two games per week after a certain point in the season. You need different strategies for each of these types of pools, so familiarize yourself with the rules before the season starts.
Maximize your chances
Whatever the maximum number of entries are for your pool, that's how many you should buy. Other people in your pool are maxing out, so starting the season with fewer entries is an unnecessary handicap. The more entries you have, the more possibilities you have, and the better your chances are of winning.
Every year before the season starts, I go through the entire NFL schedule and write down potential survivor picks for each week. I'm not married to those picks, it just helps to have a general idea of which weeks might be the toughest and which teams I may want to save.
Use Yahoo's Survivor Pick Distribution as a tool
I've profited a healthy five figures from survivor pools over the last few years, and Yahoo's Survivor Pick Distribution has been instrumental. It shows you what survivor picks millions of people are making on Yahoo. With such a large sample size, it gives a pretty accurate reflection of what you're likely to see in your own survivor pool. Using this information, we can pick spots where it's advantageous to fade the top picks. For example, let's say that 70% of all entries take the Rams against the Falcons in Week 2. If you took a team other than the Rams and then they lost while your pick won, you've just gained massive equity in your pool.
Pick distribution in multiple-entry pools
If you're in a pool with multiple entries and you're taking more than one team for the week, make sure you distribute the picks across your entries in a manner that doesn't lock yourself out of a team in future weeks.
For example, let's say you started with eight entries and you picked four Ravens and four Broncos in Week 1 and want to take four Bills and four Packers in Week 2. A common mistake is to just click the first four entries on the Bills and the next four on the Packers. So now you have four entries that are Ravens-Bills and four that are Broncos-Packers. If the Bills end up losing, you're completely locked out of taking the Broncos or Packers for the rest of the season. If the Packers lose, you can't ever pick the Ravens or the Bills again.
The correct way to distribute your picks would be two Bills on the Ravens entries and two on the Broncos entries. Same for the Packers. Now, if one of your teams lose, you'll still have every NFL team available to pick between your four remaining entries. The more options you have, the better your chances of winning your pool.
Alright, on to the Week 1 picks!
San Francisco 49ers (-6.5) at Chicago Bears
Chicago's offensive line needs have been neglected more than a Tamagotchi and they'll have to face the league's best front seven on Sunday. That's bad news, Bears, especially for Justin Fields, who ranked 33rd in turnover-worthy play percentage and 35th in accuracy when under pressure in 2021. The second-year quarterback will benefit from a new regime and scheme that highlights his strengths, but his supporting cast outside of Darnell Mooney is rougher than Dick Butkus.
As for the Niners, their sophomore QB Trey Lance has questions of his own to answer this year, but the Bears defense won't be much of a test.
San Francisco has a lot of future value, but they're a great play this week with only 7.7% of survivor entries locking them in.
Baltimore Ravens (-6.5) at New York Jets
With Zach Wilson sidelined, Joe Flacco will draw the start. It's arguably an upgrade for the Jets, but that says more about their QB room than it does about Flacco, who has lost all five of his starts with New York and seven straight going back to 2019. None of those defenses he faced are close to what he'll see from Baltimore, who boasts one of the best secondaries in the NFL with Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams.
The Jets had a solid draft, but this team is still subpar across the board and the Lamar Jackson 2022 MVP campaign will kick off on Sunday afternoon.
Baltimore is the fourth-most popular pick this week, at 11.5%. Like the Niners, they hold quite a bit of future value.
Miami Dolphins (-3.5) vs. New England Patriots
Am I a lunatic for putting entries on a battle between two mystery box teams? Maybe, but Bill Belichick is 2-7 in Miami since 2013, losing games to Joe Philbin, Dan Campbell, Adam Gase and Brian Flores (thanks, Bill).
Speed killed the Patriots last season and Tyreek Hill's arrival has given the Dolphins more speed than Sonic the Hedgehog. Hill may not win a ring this year, but I'm betting he'll run some around New England this weekend.
With only 1.4% of entries taking Miami, they're a solid contrarian pick for those who want to be aggressive and potentially pick up a ton of equity should all the top-owned teams lose in a classic survivor pool bloodbath. There are a couple more spots this season where you could take the Dolphins.
Denver Broncos (-6.5) at Seattle Seahawks
Russell Wilson is going to be laser-focused on beating Pete Carroll this Monday night, and I can't see a bottom-tier Seattle defense doing much to stop him. It's equally hard to envision Geno Smith having success against a very good Denver secondary. Broncos country, let's ride.
Denver is the third-most popular team in survivor pools this week, at 13.8%. There's some good future value on the Broncos.
TRAPS TO AVOID
Cincinnati Bengals (-6.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh went into Buffalo as 6.5-point underdogs to open the 2021 season and emerged with a 23-16 victory. It wouldn't shock me if they repeated that feat in Cincinnati, even if receiver Diontae Johnson doesn't suit up. The Steelers defense is legit and we may see some rust from Joe Burrow, who's six weeks removed from a ruptured appendix.
Cincinnati is the fifth-most popular pick, at just under 8%.
Tennessee Titans (-5.5) vs. New York Giants
I was down on the Titans before Harold Landry tore his ACL, and I'm really out on them now. Tennessee is going to lose more trench battles than the French. This is a great spot for Saquon Barkley to show that he's back. I'll pass on fading Brian Daboll until we get a clearer picture of who the Giants really are.
The Titans are the most popular survivor pick at 17.8%. Even more reason to not take them.
Indianapolis Colts (-7) at Houston Texans
The Colts have lost eight straight season openers. Frank Reich is 0-4 in openers, losing each game by at least a touchdown. One of those losses was to the Jaguars in 2020, which ended up being Jacksonville's lone win that season. I like Indy to win their division this year, but I think Houston is a little better than people are giving them credit for and I'd rather wait until the Colts play at home.
Just over 14% of entries are taking the Colts, making them the second-most popular pick.
Stats provided by Pro Football Reference and PFF.