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Survivor: Week 1

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Surviving Week 1

I say this every year because it's true: this is the column I dread writing more than any other - Week 1 Survivor. Any NFL team can lose to any other. Even if the Raiders were playing in Denver or San Francisco, they'd still have an eight or 10 percent chance to win. While that might not sound like much, consider that Babe Ruth hit a home run in 8.5 percent of his at-bats, and Aaron Rodgers throws a touchdown on 6.4 percent of his passing attempts. If you've ever seen anyone hit a homer or throw a long TD pass, that was a rarer per-trial event than a 14-point underdog pulling off an upset. So the possibility that any team - no matter how good or heavily favored - can lose is real, and that's as true in Week 1 as it is in Week 10.

The difference is when you lose in Week 1, not only are you out your entry fee, but you got zero entertainment value or satisfaction for your purchase. Now consider those feelings of failure, dissatisfaction and disgust and multiply them by a thousand if you're writing and publishing a survivor column.

All that said, the only alternative to risking a loss in Week 1 is not playing. And that's not even a serious consideration.

Before we dive into this week's slate, I'd strongly encourage you to check out my Survivor Strategy article after which what you read below will make far more sense.

Team Opponent %Taken Vegas ML** Vegas Odds
COLTS Raiders 42.20% 425 0.81
Patriots BILLS 18.20% 450 0.82
STEELERS Titans 11.20% 287.5 0.74
BRONCOS Ravens 6.00% 320 0.76
Buccaneers JETS 5.00% 160 0.62
Home team in CAPS
** Average of the two moneylines

Looking at the Vegas odds and the pick distribution, it would be between the Patriots (18% used, 82% to win) and the Broncos (6% used, 76% to win).

Personally, I think the Steelers are closer to 80 percent and Denver maybe 74 percent (see here for an explanation), so Pittsburgh's also in the mix. But let's compare New England to Denver first:

If you were in a $10-entry, 100-person pool, took Denver, and New England lost, there would be 82 people left. That means your equity would be $1,000 (total money in the pool) divided by 82 = $12.20. If you took New England, Denver lost, there would be 94 people left, and your equity would be $10.64. 12.20/10.64 = 1.15.

In other words, for New England to be worth taking over Denver, you'd have to believe the Patriots were 1.15 times as likely to win. According to Vegas, the Pats are 82 percent while Denver is 76. 82/76 = 1.08. So according to those numbers, Denver is the right pick. Even if you think the Broncos have only a 74 percent chance to win, the ratio is only 1.11, i.e., New England is only 11 percent more likely to win (not the 15 that you need to make up for the lesser payout).

But what about the Steelers? With the Vegas odds, the pick is Denver. But the Steelers are 11 percent taken and in my opinion are closer to 80 percent to win. How do they compare to Denver? If Pittsburgh loses, and you took Denver, there are 89 people left, and your equity would be $11.24. If Denver loses, the equity is $10.64. $11.24/10.64 = 1.06. And if you think Pittsburgh is 80 percent and Denver 74, then that ratio = 1.08. So Pittsburgh, if you buy my valuations, is the best play. According to the Vegas odds and the polling data, however, Denver is the best play. And that's the case even if you concede (and I do) that the Patriots are the most likely team to win this week.

Note Indianapolis is a terrible pot-odds play as there's a huge payout for avoiding them.

My Picks:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers - I don't feel great about taking a mere seven-point favorite in Week 1, but I trust Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and Ben Rothlisberger, and Jake Locker hasn't developed at all since he came into the league. I give the Steelers an 80 percent chance to win this game.

2. New England Patriots - The numbers favor Denver here, but I might like them even less than the 74-percent I gave them for the sake of argument. I would actually be more nervous about the Pats in Buffalo had EJ Manuel played all preseason, but I have a harder time seeing him come in cold off the knee surgery and keeping up with Tom Brady. I give the Patriots an 82-percent chance to win this game.

3. Denver Broncos - Denver's arguably the best team in the league, but without Von Miller and playing the Super Bowl champs who lost some name elder statesmen but gained Lardarius Webb and a healthy Terrell Suggs, I don't see this being an easy game. I give the Broncos a 72 percent chance to win this game.

4. Indianapolis Colts - I think Vegas has it right that the Colts are 81 percent likely to win this game, but should they lose, the payout is too good to pass up.

Notable omissions: None. (Tampa's on this list only because it's the fifth-most popular option. I wouldn't even consider using them on the road against a stout defense).