The first thing I do when making my weekly NFL Survivor Pool Picks is to look at the point spread of every game on that week’s schedule. The spread is not gospel – this is not the number the sportsbooks expect the game to be won by but more of a number that gives them the best chance for even betting handle on both teams, and oddsmakers make mistakes all the time, which is how professional sports bettors make a living — by finding these mistakes. But the spread is a pretty good indication of which teams are expected to win big on any given week.
I went through the entire NFL schedule from last year to see how many upsets there were from games with different point spreads. Of course, in Survivor Pools we are trying to avoid upsets by picking a team to win every week to advance in our pool, so I thought looking at how favorites of different levels did in their games would be able to help some readers understand the point spread more and use it to their advantage in their Survivor Pool.
For my research I made four different categories: Favorites of 2.5 or fewer points, favorites of between three and 6.5 points, favorites of seven through 9.5 points and huge favorites of 10 or more points. Here is what I found:
10 points or more
The biggest favorites, or course, did the best at avoiding upsets. There were 25 favorites of 10 or more points during the 2014-15 NFL season, and only two of those teams were upset. One of those games was in Week 6 when the Cowboys upset the Seahawks in Seattle, 30-23, as 10-point favorites on the closing line. The other was when St. Louis knocked off San Francisco as a 10.5-point underdog, 13-10, in Week 9. No doubt these upsets knocked a ton of players out of their Survivor Pools all across the country.
Favorites of 10 or more points won their games at a 92-percent success rate. That’s great and is the kind of success that will advance you far in your Survivor Pool. The problem is that most everybody in your pool will be on these same teams. And another issue is that the best teams in the NFL are normally the ones that are this big of favorites, so there is a good chance that by the time the game is played that you have already used the team that is laying the big chalk.
In the cases of those two upsets listed above, the Seahawks had the typical Super Bowl hangover, and teams that won it all the prior year usually go through a range of struggles the following year. Most are the Super Bowl betting favorites the next year, and they almost never go back to play in the big game in consecutive years (although the Seahawks did last year with some major luck in the playoffs); many often struggle to make the playoffs. I was wary of Seattle all year last season in my Survivor Pool for this reason and avoided playing them in that Dallas game, which knocked out a big portion of my pool. The Seahawks were victim to a couple decent upsets last year. San Francisco was an overrated team last season, and the Rams were better than people thought.
When you are playing big favorites for your Survivor Pool picks, be sure that big spread is warranted as not all big favorites should be considered equal. If you are 50-50 on two teams and one is likely to be a 10+-point favorite the following week then you should play the other team. Never “save” teams for down the road, but do look at future weeks of the schedule to see if there might be a better situation down the line. Handicap the games and make sure that this big line is legit.
Favorites of between seven and 9.5
These games where the point spread was between seven and 9.5 points avoided the upset at a 76-percent success rate. That’s pretty good, too, but requires you to do a little more work than just looking at the spread and blindly making the pick. However, favorites in this area are normally good teams that are at home facing inferior opponents. Spreads of 10+ are pretty uncommon, but spreads in this range are on display almost every week. Do your homework on these teams and don’t just pick them based on the spread, but always look for favorites in this area each week and add these teams to the pool of possible picks you have for the weekend. Then do your research on the teams and find out if that big spread is justified!
Favorites of between three and 6.5
This is by far the most common point spread range for NFL Games. This one involves the key NFL betting numbers of three and seven, and oddsmakers normally look to put their wagering numbers in this area in the parity-driven NFL. Out of well over 100 games lined in this area, approximately 61 percent of the favorites won their game while there were 39 percent upsets.
There are going to be weeks that you won’t have a big favorite available to you (six points is the biggest favorite on the board for Week 1 this year, according to early betting lines from BetOnline.ag for the 2015-16 season). So you are probably going to pick from games in this spread range quite a bit. That’s a challenge. This is where your NFL handicapping really has to come into play as there are no “gimmies” in this spread area, and most of these games involve evenly-matched teams, or when there is a mismatch the better team is normally a favorite on the road — we always recommend to stay away from using road teams for your NFL Survivor Pool picks whenever possible.
Favorites of 2.5 or less
These spreads are more common than favorites of between seven and 9.5 but way less common than favorites of between three and 6.5. These games are slightly better than a coin flip, and the favorite wins around 55 percent of these games. The bookies normally add three to four points to a team’s point spread for home-field advantage, so these are normally cases of worse teams (than their opponent) playing at home or slightly better teams playing on the road. You might want to look at games in this spread range later in the season when options are limited, but at the start of the season I won’t even consider a team under a three-point spread for my weekly Survivor Pool picks. These matchups are too close to call, even for the oddsmakers.
As always, it’s important to handicap the games like a bettor when you are making your weekly picks for Survivor Pools. But identifying the biggest favorites on the board is only going to help you achieve success in your pool.