If you’re a serious football fan, you're probably planning to enter an NFL or college football picks pool in 2020. In the most popular type of football pick 'em contest, you have to predict the winners (or point spread winners) of every NFL game over the course of the season. You also may need to assign confidence points to each of your picks.
In this post, we explore four data-driven strategies that will give you a much better chance to win your 2020 football pick ’em pool or confidence pool. These are the secrets the pros use to defy the odds and contend for prizes in football picks pools year after year.
This analysis is brought to you by TeamRankings, the only site that provides customized picks that maximize your edge in football pick'em and NFL survivor pools. Since 2017, TeamRankings subscribers have reported winning over $3 million in football pool prizes using their NFL Pick 'em Pool Picks and NFL Survivor Pool Picks. They also offer NFL Betting Picks.
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NFL Picks Advice: Pick 'em pool strategy
Maximizing your odds to win an NFL pool is much more complicated than just figuring out the most likely teams to win each week.
In traditional sports betting, for example, the payout calculus is simple -- if you don't win at least 52.4 percent of your point spread bets (assuming the typical -110 payout odds), then you lose money. If you bet all 16 games of NFL Week 1 and only pick eight winners, you're in the red.
In football pools, though, that's not the case. If a bunch of crazy upsets happen in NFL Week 1 and you only get eight of 16 picks correct in your pick 'em contest, you can still end up with the best score of the week and win a prize. You just need your next-best opponent to only get seven picks correct.
So, the goal in football pick 'em pools isn't necessarily to maximize your chance to get the most picks right. The goal is to maximize your chance to score more points than the rest of your opponents, and achieving that goal may require taking some calculated risks.
The Proof: This Football Pick Advice Works
At TeamRankings, we’ve been studying the dynamics of sports pools for over two decades. In 2005, after realizing that optimal pool pick strategy required a much deeper level of analysis than scratch-pad math or even Excel spreadsheets, we started building technology to identify and exploit the inefficiencies in popular types of football pools.
We've now built several products that help people win more football pools, including our Football Pick 'em Picks and NFL Survivor Picks, and so far the results have been very strong. Since we started surveying our customers in '14, every year an average of 72 percent of our subscribers have reported winning a prize in a football pick 'em pool. (We publish all subscriber performance data we collect.)
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NFL Pick 'em Pool Strategy: 4 Proven Tips For Winning Pools In 2020
If we had to sum up all of the research we've done into how to win football pools in two words, they would be the following: Context matters.
It doesn't take a genius to recognize that how likely an NFL team is to win a game (or to cover a point spread) is critical information for playing in football pools. Making accurate NFL predictions is the foundation for competing successfully, but if you want to compete for a top prize year after year, your pick strategy needs to incorporate much more than just good predictions.
Here are some examples of what we mean. If you’re not considering the four factors below when you make your NFL pick 'em pool picks this year, then you are almost certainly not making the best possible picks.
1. The Number Of Entries In Your Pool
The more entries there are in your NFL pool, the more likely it is that at least one person get very lucky with their picks this year. Maybe they pick mostly favorites and a few upsets and get all their upset picks right. That's a problem because you still need to beat these lucky players in order to win.
Big Football Pools
If you pick too conservatively in a large football pool, you’re going to lower your odds of winning a prize. You may end up with a solid score that puts you in the top 10 or 20 percent of the final standings, but you probably never had a great chance to actually win the thing.
In short, you need to take some risks in large pools. In most years, this strategy won't yield a prize and may even lead to a finish in the bottom half of the pool. But so what? From the beginning, your odds of winning a big football pool are very low given the number of people competing. Even the best pick strategy in the world is only going to win a big pool once in a great while.
Still, that doesn't mean it's not worth it to play in big pools. Winning a huge pool once every 20 or 25 years could still generate an amazing return on your overall investment in pool entry fees. You just need to be committed to playing for the long term and sticking to a sound strategy that embraces calculated risks with your picks.
Smaller Football Pools
On the other hand, in a small pool, it could be the case that no player gets particularly lucky this year. So, if you pick too aggressively in a small pool and take tons of upsets, your odds to win a prize can plummet.
You may think that you "need" to make one or two bold upset calls every week to differentiate your picks from your opponents, but in a smaller pool, that approach can actually be counterproductive. Our research clearly shows that picking all the favorites in a small pool — especially in the early going — often maximizes your expected prize winnings.
In the end, the trick is figuring out what level of aggressive vs. conservative pick making makes the most sense for your particular pool. Unfortunately, there's no simple rule of thumb. In order to figure it out, we built software that simulates millions of football pools, and tested how various combinations of picks fared in pools of different sizes.
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2. Your Pool’s Rules And Scoring System
It goes without saying that you should know all the rules of your pool. Nevertheless, few NFL pool players appreciate just how significantly their pool's rules or format should impact their week-to-week pick decisions.
If your NFL pick 'em pool offers big rewards for picking upsets, for example, take the time to fully understand the scoring implications. It may turn out that making lots of risky picks and only getting a couple of them right would still be expected to generate a higher score than picking a mix of favorites and underdogs.
Things like whether the games are picked against the spread or straight up, whether confidence points are used, and whether you have to pick every game on the NFL weekly schedule or just a subset of games of your choosing all call for different approaches to pick strategy.
3. Your Pool’s Prize Structure
A pool’s payout structure is a third factor you need to think about when you make your picks each week.
For example, assume you're playing in a 200-entry NFL pick ’em pool and the prize structure is winner-take-all. You’re in fourth place with two weeks to go. In that scenario, you probably have no chance of catching the leader and cashing in the pool unless you start more aggressively picking unpopular teams and hope for the best.
The most likely outcome of that strategy? You drop in the standings, maybe not even finishing in the top 50 by the end. But it's still the right decision, and here's why.
Some Chance Is Better Than No Chance
If you're out of the money and time is running out in your pick 'em pool, making more aggressive upset picks over the final weeks is often your only option to actually catch the leaders and still win a prize. If you assume the pool leaders are going to act rationally, then you would expect them to pick mostly favorites (or all favorites) down the home stretch, since that strategy gives them the best chance to defend their lead.
If the leaders pick favorites, you have literally zero chance of catching them if you pick favorites, too. The only way to potentially make up ground in the final weeks is to pick the opposite way on multiple games, and hope for some unlikely events to play out.
Many players don't understand this concept. They may be in a position where they have some chance of placing in the money toward the end of a pool, even if it's just a slim chance, but they squander that opportunity by picking too conservatively over the final weeks.
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4. Opponent Picking Trends
The "endgame strategy" we just described is an example of how important it is to think about the concept of game theory when it comes to maximizing your edge in football pools. In short, unless you're defending a lead with time running out, getting a pick right that almost everyone else also gets right won't significantly boost your odds to win the pool.
On the other hand, there are often cases where you can take just a little bit of extra risk on a team that will be a highly unpopular pick in your pool. You'll also find cases where the public is underrating a team that is actually a favorite with a solid chance to win.
Knowing when to fade the crowd and make these types of "value picks" is a critical part of winning football pool strategy. It's why we gather and publish pick popularity estimates in our Football Pick 'em Picks product, and why that data plays a big role in our pick recommendations.
Expert Picks From The Football Pool Pros
To maximize your edge in a football picks pool, you need to consider the four strategy factors we reviewed in this post. Many players either don't understand how important these factors are or simply don't have what it takes to incorporate them into their pick strategy.
In their defense, it's not easy to do. Making the pool picks that give you the best chance to win requires a lot of data and a lot of math — all of which takes a lot of time. If you want an edge but prefer to outsource all the research, please check out our site using the links below.
Whether you go it alone in 2020 or enlist our help, good luck in your football pick 'em contests this season, and we hope you learned something from this article. It always takes some luck to win a football pool, but the more skill you have, the less luck you need.
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