Survivor Leagues present a stark contrast to traditional fantasy football. When you’re in a survivor league, you take a step back from rooting for individual players from different teams to accrue statistics, and return to cheering an entire NFL team to victory. While these types of leagues are loosely considered “fantasy football”, they’re more closely related to football handicapping. Your sole objective is to pick the team that’s sure to win – a difficult task in the topsy-turvy NFL, where a double-digit favorite seems to lose almost every week. Unlike a shorter season in a traditional head-to-head league, survivor leagues are played out through the end of the regular season, providing seventeen opportunities to slip up on the wrong pick. Choosing the right team is a tricky science, as you can only bask in the comfort of one of the elite teams once per season. Below is a checklist to run through before finally deciding which pick you’re going to make each week:
1. ALMOST ALWAYS PICK A HOME TEAM – Every week, you have an opportunity to pick from 13-16 home teams, depending on bye weeks. Any team can unexpectedly lose on the road to an inferior opponent, so I would avoid all road teams to be safe. The only exception would be if the Colts or Saints went to a city like Detroit, whose stadium didn’t carry a significant home field advantage.
2. TEAM OVERALL QUALITY – Before you select your home team for the week, check several factors to determine exactly how good they are. What’s their record? What are the records of teams they have beaten and teams they lost to? Have they beaten quality opponents? What are this team’s strengths and weaknesses? How do those strengths and weaknesses stack up against their upcoming opponent? If your team has a winning record, but ranks in the bottom 10 in pass defense, you may want to avoid matchups against teams that are able to launch a formidable aerial attack. This leads us to the next point…
3. WHO ARE THEY PLAYING? While checking the record of your team’s opponent is important, you should also look at other factors as well. Has this opponent been winning lately? Is momentum on their side? What is their injury situation? Does your team’s opponent play well on the road? Have these two teams had an extensive recent history? Do the head coaches know each other well? Are there players on either team that previously played for the opponent that might lend insight to the other team’s game plan?
4. BYE WEEK – Bye weeks are a welcome respite from the brutality of regular poundings that the NFL’s players dole out on each other. Teams tend to play better coming off a bye week, as they are not only well-rested, but have also had an extra seven days to prepare for their upcoming opponent.
5. CHECK THE POINT SPREAD OF THE GAME – While the point spread does not always prognosticate the outcome of a game, it can be an effective indicator that sums up the talent level of the competition. The spread also factors in a myriad of variables including injuries, team momentum, home field advantage, and game history of previous matchups. Underdogs will cover the spread in their fair share of games in the NFL, but more often than naught, you’re better off picking a favorite to win the game outright, which is the objective in Survivor League Football.
6. CHECK INJURY REPORTS – It is important to look at injuries to key skill players like quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. But sometimes a casual football fan will overlook critical injuries that fly under the radar, like lineman and impact defensive personnel. If you’re leaning toward selecting a home team that has a starting left tackle who is questionable or doubtful, and is scheduled to face a team with a strong pass rush, then you may want to consider making another choice. If a Pro Bowl shutdown corner is inactive, and his backup is a free-agent rookie that gets frequently burned by receivers, then that team should be avoided.
7. CHECK WEATHER REPORT – Unless you picked a team playing their game indoors, make sure to check the weather forecast before kickoff on Sunday morning. Teams that play in a pass-based offense will have less success in poor weather, and the scores in bad weather tend to be closer.
8. PLAY FOR THIS WEEK, DON’T LOOK AHEAD – Since you can only pick teams once, it can be tempting to check the coming weeks on the schedule. The Colts look great this week, but they may also look even better three weeks from now. Don’t get cute trying to line up your entire season of pick selections, as injuries and personnel moves can change the complexion of a team in the NFL from week to week. In other words, what may seem like a good pick three weeks from now may not be a great pick after the next two games take their toll. Play for now, because if you don’t, you may not make it to next week.
9. WHO’S GIVEN UP? – Towards the end of the regular season, you’ll notice that you already picked virtually every dominant team, and are no longer able to simply glance at the remaining teams, and find a winner. You might even be tempted to pick a team with a losing record. There comes a point in the season in Survivor Leagues where the worst teams who are awarded the highest draft picks appear to be playing without a competitive fire; as if they’re trying to lose! Not every team with a horrible record necessarily gives up on the season. But teams that bench established and experienced veterans in place of project rookies at key positions are the teams who are more concerned with developing young talent than winning ball games. These are the types of teams whose upcoming opponents you should target, even if the opponent isn’t playoff bound.