Eliminator and survivor pools continue to present a season-long dilemma for NFL fans. The guidelines are simple — every week you pick a team to win its matchup. If you choose correctly, you advance to the next week. Choose poorly and you’re out for the season. There is a catch: You can use each team only once.
That’s where strategy comes in. Do you make a rock-solid choice, such as the Green Bay Packers to beat the Chicago Bears in Week 1, and risk not having the Packers for the rest of the season, or do you take more of a risk and target a team such as the Baltimore Ravens — a team you’re unlikely to use as the schedule progresses — against the Buffalo Bills, an opponent that gives them a good chance for victory, considering Vegas sees the Ravens as 7.5-point favorites?
The key is a balance of the two, using aggressive but logical plays each week in an effort to win the pool, not merely survive week to week. For example, if you want the sure thing this week, the Packers are the best bet (73 percent win probability). But the Packers are favored in 13 of 16 games this season with matchups against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 13 (78 percent), Miami Dolphins in Week 10 (76 percent) and Bills in Week 4 (74 percent) all providing a better win scenario later in the season.
A better value play for Week 1 is the New Orleans Saints. Owners of one of the more difficult schedules this season, it makes sense to select them early when they have the beatable Tampa Bay Buccaneers in town.
New Orleans Saints, 68 percent win probability
The Buccaneers’ run defense should improve in 2018 — the game charters at Pro Football Focus project the team’s run-stopping unit as the seventh-best in the NFL — but their secondary ranks second-to-last, making it difficult to stop Saints quarterback Drew Brees from marching down the field.
Brees had down years in passing yardage (4,334 yards, lowest since 2005) and passing touchdowns (23, lowest since 2003) but set a league record for completion percentage, connecting on 72 percent of throws with only eight interceptions, a career-low. And that high completion rate wasn’t because Brees dinked and dunked his way toward the end zone — the soon-to-be 40-year-old completed more than 53 percent of his passes that were targeted at least 20 yards down field, a league high in 2017. Alex Smith was second among quarterbacks with at least 50 deep passes thrown, with a completion rate of 49 percent.
The Saints could be one of the better teams again this season, but getting a vulnerable Bucs secondary at the Super Dome seems like the best time to cash in that chip.
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