Survival Football: Tips and tricks for making it to the end

We’re near the start of survival football season and everyone is still alive.

It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? From this point, you can still look at the schedule grid and fantasize about making it through to the end unscathed. You can still think about spending the $100K you might win in Yahoo Sports’ Survival Pool this fall or the co-workers you might taunt.

That crummy feeling you get when you’ve been eliminated isn’t even a consideration.

[Pick one winner a week. Play Survival Football for chance at $100K]

Or is it?  It’s hard to ever feel that optimistic about survival football because the margin for error is so small. One misstep and you’re done. You can’t pick great teams every week and even if you could, they still lose 3-4 times each season, don’t they?

Plus, just take a look at Week 1 of this 2017 season. Three of the top four biggest favorites are playing on the road. Are you ready to flaunt one of survival football’s biggest guidelines, right from the get-go? It’s a difficult choice to make and if you pick right the only thing you get is the chance to make a difficult choice the next week.

All of this might seem daunting if this is your first time playing survival football. It’s certainly daunting to those of us who are grizzled veterans of the game.

But fear not, there are a few guidelines you can follow to make sure you live to see another day.

Pick home teams in non-divisional games: This is an easy one to follow. Home teams win at almost a 60 percent clip in the NFL and that percentage obviously goes up when you’re talking about better teams. Divisional opponents play each other twice a year so the chance for an upset is greater when you factor in familiarity. There are players who expand their list of “no-nos” to West Coast teams traveling east, Thursday night games or teams who played the previous Monday night. All are valid viewpoints, but it’s really easiest to start with home teams and non-divisional games. Start adding more exclusions and pretty soon you’ll have a reason not to pick any game on the schedule, right?

And I should really stress the point that these should only be guidelines to help form your approach to a season, not hard and fast rules. By all accounts, the New York Jets should be terrible this season. Are you really going to eliminate all eight of their home games plus their three road contests against the rest of the AFC East just because of this rule? That’s 11 prime chances to pick against a team that could win two games all season if all goes well.

Hang out with the losers: Everyone says the “catch” to survival football is that you can only pick a team to win once. And that’s true. It’d be a lot easier if you could pick the Patriots to win each week.

But what people fail to mention is one of survival’s hidden advantages: Picking a team to win always means that you’re also picking a team to lose. And you can pick the same to lose multiple times over the course of a year. There were five different teams that lost 13 or more times in 2016 so people had a field day picking against the Browns, 49ers, Bears, Jags and Rams. There were undoubtedly be 3-4 objectively terrible teams in 2017 so go ahead and figure out which teams you can feast on.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Be prepared: Survival football is the easiest game to play in that only takes a second to record your pick for a single game. But if you’re serious about winning, you should be serious about putting some time into it. Do your research and weigh your options. Is the team you’re favoring completely healthy? Is their opponent returning a key piece that might swing the odds? Teams change over the course of the season and the squad you might consider to be a heavy favorite might be anything but.

Have a plan: I like to open a spreadsheet at the start of each season and load it with the entire schedule grid. I put aside some time to go through and color code it. Green is for games I’d definitely pick, yellow is for maybes, red for definitely not. Which teams have the most greens? Which teams have the least? It all helps me to determine the future value of teams. (If you want to take a shortcut, does a lot of the work for you.)

From there, I like to script a few possible plays, just like teams do going into their first drive of a game. I don’t script the entire season because that would be madness, but it never hurts to have a good grasp on your next 4-5 moves. As the weeks progress, I eliminate the teams I’ve already used and adjust some of my color coding due to injuries or teams being better or worse than expected. It’s important to stay flexible in survival football.

Don’t get cute: I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but it rarely pays to be a hero when making your pick for the week. Don’t pass up a sure thing just because you see 63 percent of the pool going with that team and figure you’ll clean up if you avoid the huge upset while “saving” that good team for later. But sometimes there is wisdom in crowds. Passing up a heavy favorite means going with a team with lesser odds to win. Your focus should always be on your entry advancing to the next week, not whether or not any other entries will too.

Trust your gut: Playing survival football means constantly changing your mind over the course of the week and even in the hour leading up to the picks being locked. But don’t overthink things. Do your work and then make peace with your pick. Upsets happen and you’re going to second-guess yourself no matter what once you’re eliminated. Just go with the selection that puts you in the best position to win, then hope the survival gods smile upon you.

So are you ready to start surviving? Make sure you’re signed up for our $100K contest if so.

I’ll be offering survival advice here on Roto Arcade all fall so make sure to keep checking back each week. You can also follow me on Twitter @KevinKaduk or on Facebook.

Above all else, be safe out there!