First off, we're adding some video segments to this feature - Jeff Erickson and I give our picks on camera (as of last week). If you'd rather just read the article in its prior form, just scroll down.
Let me just preface this by saying, nothing in my job terrifies me more than picking in Survivor for Week 1. Is there anything worse than handing over money to your pool, hoping for a season's worth of entertainment, drama and horror, only to see your hopes dashed after one week? When you're writing the Survivor advice column, you can multiply that by a thousand.
That said, it's kind of like being seated in an emergency exit row on an airplane. The thought that I'd have to be the one on whom everyone's life depends as I figure out how to open the door is terrifying, but it's better than depending on some random nut-job to do instead.
To that end, let's take a look at this week's slate:
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines
These are the only five teams I'd consider. Vegas gives the Texans an 86 percent chance to win, but 32 percent of pools are on them. Let's compare that to the other strong play, the Bears (82 percent) while 17 percent of pools on them.
In a hypothetical $10-entry-fee, 100-person pool, if the Texans win and Bears lose, you'd be one of 83 people left. Your pool equity goes from $10 to $12.05. Should the Texans lose and Bears win, there would be 68 people left, and your pool equity goes from $10 to $14.70. So the respective payouts are $12.05 for the Texans and $14.70 for the Bears. But what are the odds of each happening?
The Texans will win (according to Vegas) 86 percent of the time, and the Bears will lose 18 percent. Both events (Texans win, Bears lose) will happen 15.5 percent of the time.
On the other hand, the Bears will win 82 percent of the time, and the Texans will lose 14 percent. Both events (Bears win, Texans lose) will happen 11.5 percent of the time.
Let's compare the two ratios to see which team offers a better payout for the risk. The Bears win in expected equity $14.70 to $12.05, a ratio of 1.22 to 1. But the Texans win in reduced risk, by a ratio of 1.35.
So you can see that according to the Vegas odds, and taking the officefootballpools data as representative of your pool, the Texans offer the best bang for the risk. To the extent you differ on a team's chances of winning, or you believe your pool's choices will differ from the public's, you should modify this calculation accordingly.
Week 1 Picks:
1. Houston Texans - Vegas has them as the biggest favorite on the board for a few reasons. For one, Matt Schaub is a reliable veteran quarterback, running a balanced attack with the best ground game in the league. The defense was stout last year even without Mario Williams, so his loss will not be felt. The Dolphins might be better than people expect, but Ryan Tannehill is not nearly as pro-ready as Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, and his weapons are among the worst in the league. I give the Texans an 87 percent chance to win this game.
2. Chicago Bears - Fewer people are on the Bears, so they're nearly as good a play as the Texans when you take expected pool equity into account, but as the math above demonstrates, they fall just short. Still, Chicago, like Houston, is stout on both sides of the ball, and the addition of Brandon Marshall and the subtraction of Mike Martz should do wonders for the passing game. For Indy, Luck scares me a good deal more than Tannehill, but a road game in Chicago is a stiff test for a first start, and the Bears offense should have its way with Indy's defense. I give the Bears an 82 percent chance to win this game.
3. New Orleans Saints - "Bountygate" might have defanged the defense, but it's not like the Saints defense stopped anyone last year, either. And yet, they were still the toughest team in the NFL in their home venue. That shouldn't change much even with Sean Payton and Carl Nicks gone as Drew Brees and the other veteran skill players know the system cold. Griffin scares me a little bit, but it would be a tall order for him to keep pace with the Saints well-oiled machine in his first game as a pro. I give the Saints an 81 percent chance to win this game.
4. Philadelphia Eagles - Like most people, I don't like taking road teams, but given the distribution of picks above, I'll bump them up over the Lions by a narrow margin. The Eagles are strong on both sides of the ball, while the Browns are starting a rookie quarterback and unpolished receivers. Cleveland's defense is stout enough to ugly this up if the Eagles get off to a slow start, though. I give the Eagles a 78 percent chance to win this game.
5. Detroit Lions - a home game against the Rams is about as good as it gets, but this might not be the same Rams team as in recent seasons, with a new coach, a healthy Sam Bradford and an ostensibly improved defense. Moreover, the Lions defense got torched by Matt Flynn for six scores in its second-to-last game and didn't fare much better against the Saints in the Wild Card round the following week. We give the Lions a 79 percent chance to win this game.