At first blush, the NFL survivor pool appears to be an elementary challenge.
Pick one guaranteed winner each week. Last the longest without suffering defeat or a tie, and collect major cash.
OK, here's the catch: You can only pick a team once all season. If any week you don't make a pick, you're eliminated.
There’s bound to be some lopsided scores posted against the likes of the lowly Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans this season. Maybe, just pick on them each week.
Just in time to fully analyze the NFL schedule in advance of Week 1 kickoffs — beginning Sept. 8 with the Super Bowl favorite Buffalo Bills visiting the reigning-champion Los Angeles Rams — USA TODAY Sports introduced its own Survivor Pool. The potential payoff is rich: $25,000, awarded to the unbeaten who lasts the longest and has the highest point differential.
Don't underestimate the game
Truth is, Survivor Pool enthusiasts have come to understand this challenge is not as easy as it sounds.
I spoke with a circle of 12 NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers who double as devout fantasy football owners and gathered last fall to flex their NFL wisdom in Orange County, California. it only took nine weeks of action to slap each with their fatal loss.
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Consider some unlikely scores that emerged during the campaign:
The Jacksonville Jaguars, coached by the soon-to-be-fired Urban Meyer, upset the Bills, 9-6, with the Jaguars becoming the biggest home underdog in history (+16) to win a game outright.
The long-unbeaten Arizona Cardinals were 13-point favorites against the Detroit Lions before getting trounced, 30-12, in the most obvious indication the team was collapsing into the playoffs.
Quarterback Mike White directed his New York Jets to a stunning triumph over the Super Bowl-bound Cincinnati Bengals.
And the aforementioned Texans defeated both the AFC No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Chargers.
Pace your picks
It’s a season-long marathon, not a sprint. The plan must be focused on shrewd matchups early with an eye on greater value as weeks progress.
So let’s size up the Week 1 matchups and rank the Top 5 Survivor Pool selections. (All point spreads provided by Tipico Sportsbook, although the Survivor Pool requires only a straight-up victory.)
Thursday, Sept. 8
Bills -2.5 at Rams
Saturday, Sept. 11
Ravens -6.5 at Jets
Steelers +6.5 at Bengals
Saints -5.5 at Falcons
Eagles -3.5 at Lions
49ers -7.5 at Bears
Browns +2.5 at Panthers
Colts -7.5 at Texans
Jaguars +3.5 at Commanders
Patriots +3.5 at Dolphins
Giants +5.5 at Titans
Chiefs -3.5 at Cardinals
Packers -1.5 at Vikings
Raiders +3.5 at Chargers
Buccaneers -1.5 at Cowboys
Monday, Sept. 12
Broncos -5.5 at Seahawks
Top 5 Picks
5. Bengals over Steelers: The defending AFC champions return with a fully revived offensive line and they’re primed to exploit the Steelers’ vulnerability at quarterback.
4. 49ers over Bears: If you’re the cautious sort, this is a favorable way to go, choosing Trey Lance in a position to succeed against a franchise that appears doomed for a season of frustration.
3. Panthers over Browns: Baker Mayfield reunites with his former team, accompanied by fantasy favorite Christian McCaffrey to help ease the burden on the quarterback’s arm.
2. Eagles over Lions: Jalen Hurts led his team to the playoffs last season, and his offense is fortified by the addition of receiver A.J. Brown for its pursuit of the NFC East title.
1. Broncos over Seahawks: The perfect setup for a national television audience, Seattle’s vocal “12th man” crowd should enjoy the return of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson against his replacement, veteran Geno Smith.
How it works
So let's recap:
2. Survive the longest with the highest points differential, and you'll been the running to win a $25,000 cash prize. (must meet eligibility requirements)
Rules to remember: Pick one team to win each week of the NFL regular season. If your pick loses or ties, you're eliminated. If they win, you survive and earn points equal to that game's point differential. Choose carefully -- you can select each team only once the entire season. If you fail to make a pick in any week, you're eliminated.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFL Survivor Pool rules, tips, expert advice for Week 1