For those unfamiliar with the format, a survivor pool is a fantasy game in which you pick one team each week. If your team loses, you’re out. If your team wins, you get to pick another team in Week 2, and so on. The cycle continues until there’s one person left standing.
While the rules are simple enough, the amount of strategy involved in selecting your teams cannot be understated. In almost all pools, you’re only allowed to select a particular team once all season (so you can’t just pick the Patriots every single week). You have to be frugal with your use of stronger teams, and aware of each matchup on a week-to-week basis — making for a challenging process.
Fret not however, as I’ve compiled the perfect step-by-step guide to picking a winner for all 17 weeks of regular season football ahead of us.
Week 1: Los Angeles Rams @ Oakland Raiders
Winning Week 1 is imperative. While a majority of your pool will play it smart and go with the safe pick, you’re going to have some stragglers latching onto high-risk picks from the get go. The first week isn’t the time to get cute, lean on the perceived strong teams, and watch as a chunk of your league instills blind faith in the Bengals’ and the 49ers’ of the world.
The Rams travel to Oakland in what should be a rude awakening for new/old Raiders head coach Jon Gruden. Gruden has been out of the game for over a decade, and will be reintroduced to modern NFL offenses by the Rams’ wunderkind Sean McVay. Los Angeles’ offense will trounce a Khalil Mack-less Raiders, and have the game wrapped up before the final quarter.
Week 2: New Orleans Saints vs. Cleveland Browns
Going against the Browns is never a bad idea. Although Cleveland saw improvements across the board, they’re still poorly coached and aren’t anywhere near contending with the top teams in the league. Teams that have been featured in HBO’s Hard Knocks typically don’t fare well in the subsequent season. The Saints’ pass rush will get to Tyrod Taylor early, and New Orleans possesses a secondary filled with opportunists. Drew Brees and company take care of business in the Superdome.
Week 3: Minnesota Vikings vs. Buffalo Bills
Keeping up with the trend, we go with another 2017 NFC Playoff team to take home a victory early in the season. The Bills have no answers at quarterback, and appear to be leaning towards Nathan Peterman (yes, the guy that threw five interceptions in one half last season) as the starter to begin the year. Shaky QB play isn’t a good problem to have against a stacked Minnesota front-seven. Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr will ruin Peterman’s (or Josh Allen’s) day, and the Vikes will roll to an easy victory.
Week 4: Green Bay Packers vs. Buffalo Bills
The Bills weren’t projected to be great this upcoming season, but the schedule makers clearly didn’t do them any favors. Three of Buffalo’s first four games are on the road. If Baltimore’s stingy defense in Week 1, and the Vikes in Week 3 weren’t enough, the Bills get to travel to Green Bay to face off with MVP-favorite Aaron Rodgers in the last week of September.
A healthy Rodgers should lead the Packers to 10+ wins. Green Bay’s competitors in the NFC North all got better this offseason, making their games against a weak AFC East all the more important to win.
Week 5: Los Angeles Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders
This is where it can get a bit tricky. If you don’t plan on holding onto the Panthers for later, they’re in a good spot here coming off a bye and taking on the Giants at home. The Ravens are an intriguing pick on the road against the Browns, but at that point you’d rather just wait it out until Baltimore meets Cleveland at M&T Bank Stadium (more on that in a bit).
The Raiders are going to struggle mightily. There’s a road map for them to go 1-5 or 0-6 in divisional games. LA is a favorite to take home the division, and Philip Rivers absolutely lit up this Oakland defense in two wins last season. Facing the easiest portion of their schedule, the Chargers come out victorious — even if the final score is a bit too close for comfort.
Week 6: Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I really wanted to sneak in a Tampa Bay opponent in the first three weeks of the season when they will be without Jameis Winston. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m still not sold on an underachieving Bucs squad to suddenly be galvanized by Winston’s presence. The Falcons are too fast and deep on defense, and feature a former MVP and one of the best receivers of the generation on the other side of the ball.
Week 7: Detroit Lions @ Miami Dolphins
Florida football could be in for a tough year. The Bucs will be without Winston for a chunk of the season, and the Dolphins will be with Ryan Tannehill for most of the season which is unfortunate for all parties involved.
Picking the Lions to win any football game — regardless of their opponent — is always going to be nerve-racking. It feels like Matthew Stafford is always in the two-minute drill with his team trailing. With new coach Matt Patricia in tow, the Lions hope to be better prepared going into each week. With a week to prepare for Tannehill and an underwhelming Miami offense, the Lions get it done.
Week 8: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns
Ben Roethlisberger has more wins in Cleveland’s stadium than every Browns QB combined since 1999. Even though this one will be in Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger is even more automatic at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh hasn’t had a losing home record since 1999, and Roethlisberger has won at least five games at home every year since he was drafted in 2004. This is a no-brainer, and the reason that you hold on to Pittsburgh for this portion of the season.
Week 9: Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sensing a trend here? The Bucs aren’t very good, and could be in play for being one of the worst teams in the league. Their quarterback is inconsistent, their defense is as barren as it has been in years, and Dirk Koetter’s coaching style hasn’t seemed to click with this roster. Carolina enters the season with the deepest trove of offensive weapons around Cam Newton that he’s had in his career. The Panthers look to be one of the top scoring teams in the league, and Tampa Bay simply can’t keep up on the offensive end.
Week 10: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Arizona Cardinals
The Chiefs have been a juggernaut in the second halves of seasons under Andy Reid. In 2014, Reid’s Chiefs ran off five straight victories following the bye week. Through 2015 and 2016, the Chiefs combined for an 18-2 record after the bye. Last season, they ended the year on a four-game winning streak before crumbling in the postseason.
The Cardinals could be a far different looking team by Week 10. Rookie QB Josh Rosen is one Sam Bradford back tweak away from being thrown into the starting lineup. Regardless of which Arizona QB lines up under center, they’re going to have a tough time navigating through Arrowhead in November.
Week 11: Arizona Cardinals vs. Oakland Raiders
In a shocking turn of events, we go from picking against the Cardinals to selecting them as our survivor pick. Arizona is a nightmare matchup for the Raiders. They boast a fast, turnover-centric defense that will coax Derek Carr into making mistakes. Going back to the warm weather in Phoenix will greatly help whichever QB is under center for the Cardinals. A healthy Sam Bradford would make this game a lock for Arizona. The Raiders allowed quarterbacks to complete 68.1 percent of pass attempts last season, and Bradford sports a ridiculous 71.8 completion percentage over the past two seasons. The former No. 1 pick should pick apart an Oakland team devoid of pass rushers and starting-caliber cornerbacks.
Week 12: Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
Squeezing in the defending Super Bowl champions feels necessary. We opted for the Saints in Week 2 against Cleveland over Philly taking on a Winston-less Tampa Bay team, and there really aren’t many other ‘gimmes’ on Philly’s schedule.
A home spat against the Giants seems like a winnable game for these Eagles. Carson Wentz will be totally settled in at that point, and Philly will feel a little pressed to rack up some wins after a rocky start to their schedule. It’s also worth nothing that Eli Manning has’t beaten the Eagles in Philadelphia since 2013.
Week 13: Houston Texans vs. Cleveland Browns
We’re really running thin on top teams at this point. Considering that you can pick a certain team to lose as many times as you want, selecting against a club that has gone 1-31 over the past two years doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
An interesting tidbit to add: Deshaun Watson was picked with a draft choice that at one point was owned by Cleveland. He’ll want to put on a show to remind the Browns’ organization and their fans what they missed out on.
Week 14: New England Patriots @ Miami Dolphins
You made it. It’s been 13 weeks, and you still haven’t used the Patriots as one of your teams. If you make it to this point, it’ll be enticing to hold off on picking New England until Week 16 or 17 when they get the Bills and Dolphins at Foxboro. However, we can’t always trust that New England will be playing for anything consequential in the closing weeks. The Patriots locomotive will be running full-force into Week 14, and will likely dismantle a division rival for the millionth time this decade.
Week 15: Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Washington Redskins
It’s not too bad to have an AFC Championship contender still available at our disposal. The Jaguars are certainly capable of taking a step back in 2017, but we like their chances against a Washington team that isn’t overly prolific on the offensive end. Jacksonville’s speed and length will bother the 34-year-old Alex Smith, as Doug Marrone’s Jags roll to a victory on their journey to a second consecutive playoff appearance.
Week 16: Dallas Cowboys vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
One of these teams will be one of the worst teams in the league by season’s end. Based on my previous picks, I’m obviously leaning towards the Bucs to struggle.
For as great as the Eagles were last year, I firmly believe the NFC East will be a tight race all year. Even if the Cowboys enter this game with a 6-8 record, they still might be in contention for the divisional title. Few teams have an answer for Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas’ run game, let alone this Tampa squad.
Week 17: Baltimore Ravens vs. Cleveland Browns
I don’t envision a repeat of Baltimore’s all-time blunder from Week 17 last year. The Ravens had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win over an already knocked-out Cincinnati team, and they ended up losing on the game’s final play. They take care of business this time around against the Browns and starting quarterback Baker Mayfield.