A good friend of mine once summed up the survivor pool experience by saying it is a great way to guarantee at least one Sunday of extreme sadness. The goal of this column will be to help you avoid the sadness that plagues my buddy every season.
If you're going to win a survivor pool, you'll need a nice mix of strategy, foresight and luck. You'll also need to have a healthy risk appetite. You'll probably have to make it to at least Week 12 or 13 to win a survivor pool, and no one is giving out participation ribbons for making it to Week 10. Even if they were, you're not interested in participation ribbons. You're interested in the big prize. We're here to help.
Each week in this space, we'll offer up the best survivor picks for the week. It could be three or it could be five, depending on the slate. We'll offer up a nice mix of safe picks and risky ones, along with analysis for each potential pick. And with that, let's talk about surviving Week 1.
1. Indianapolis Colts (vs. Oakland Raiders) -- The Colts are the biggest favorites on the board, laying 10 points against the lowly Raiders. They're probably the safest pick, and that will make them the most popular selection in most pools. You don't want to fall into the trap of looking too far ahead, but this might be your only chance to use them until the Rams visit Indianapolis in November. This comes down to how much risk you want to take Week 1. While I'd usually advocate adopting a riskier course, the fact that this looks like the best game on the Colts schedule makes them my favorite pick this week.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Tennessee Titans) -- The Steelers are currently a seven-point favorite over the Titans, the fourth-widest spread of the week (including the Broncos giving 7.5 against the Ravens last night). This figures to be one of the most popular picks as well, but isn't nearly as safe as Colts over Raiders. This may be a safe pick, but it's hard to justify going with the Steelers instead of the Colts. You're not getting great pot odds with either, and the Colts are a far superior straight-up bet. The Titans may not appear to be a playoff contender right now, but Chris Johnson had a strong preseason, and they could give the Steelers a bit of a game. They at least have a better chance of keeping this one close than the Raiders do in Indy.
3. Detroit Lions (vs. Minnesota Vikings) -- Sure, it may have been the Vikings in the playoffs last year, but they represent one of the most obvious regression cases we've seen in a long time. They needed nearly 2,100 rushing yards out of Adrian Peterson to sneak into the playoffs. History tells us that no matter how good Peterson is, he's going to have trouble repeating that. Meanwhile, the Lions upgraded on offense with Reggie Bush. Their pass-happy offense will present problems for Minnesota's questionable secondary, which said goodbye to Antoine Winfield during the offseason. The Lions are five-point favorites. They'll cover with relative ease.
4. Miami Dolphins (at Cleveland Browns) -- If you're trying to take a risk Week 1, look no further than the Dolphins. Let's start with the line. It has been at pick'em since opening at the end of August and hasn't moved despite nearly 62 percent of the public money being on Cleveland. That's more than a little curious. Both of these teams feature underappreciated defenses, but it's the Dolphins who are positioned to take advantage of the Browns' weaknesses, namely Brandon Weeden playing without the suspended Josh Gordon. This will be the first in a long line of 13-10 or 16-13 games the Browns play this season. The bet here is that it's the Dolphins who come out on top. If you're inclined to live dangerously right off the bat, the Fins are my favorite risky pick of the week.
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