The Good (Dolphins and 49ers), the Bad (Vikings and Panthers), and the Ugly (Broncos and Bears)
NFL Week #3 was a mix of good, bad, and ugly.
The good part was – yours truly is still alive in the 2023 Circa Survivor contest. I’ll accept my
good fortune and have no complaints since 70 percent of the starting field has already been
The bad was that while one of my tickets survived, I also lost one of my two remaining entries.
The ugly was more than 3,400 other entries got burned, which was about 60 percent of the field
prior to this past week’s games.
WHAT HAPPENED IN WEEK #3
Seven out of 10 contestants who began in pursuit of a $9.4 million dream are now gone. Blame
a third consecutive week of chaotic results for doing most of the damage.
I was one of those casualties since I had a ticket on the Baltimore Ravens, which lost in
overtime to the Indianapolis Colts. That was a frustrating defeat. But I had a chance to win the
game in the end (and should have won it). Still, nothing compares to the carnage that
happened this past Sunday in Jacksonville and Phoenix where both the heavily-favored Jaguars
and Cowboys went down in flames by double digits. Nobody foresaw those two shockers
happening (there wasn’t even 1 contest ticket on the Colts, Texans, or Cardinals).
These three huge upsets alone accounted for 3,409 eliminations, constituting well over half of
the remaining field entering this past week.
“ANY GIVEN SUNDAY”
This has been a wildly unpredictable NFL season, once again proving once the old adage about
“Any Given Sunday.” That means any team can beat any other team at any time. Okay, so
perhaps it’s hard to foresee either Chicago or Denver winning a game based on what we’ve
seen from them so far. However, one of these upcoming weeks, the Bears or Broncos will get a
win. Actually, that’s guaranteed this coming weekend, since Denver plays at Chicago. Then,
maybe not – perhaps the game will end in a tie. Wouldn’t that be a fitting outcome?
Here’s the weekly chart showing the distribution number of contest picks by team heading into
So, how does this year’s results and pace of eliminations compare with Circa Survivor’s
previous years? Let’s take a look.
At first glance, it looks like this year might not be as much of an outlier as I first thought. We can
see from the chart that in past seasons, opening weeks did significant damage to the field.
About 70 percent of starting entrants were gone after Week #3 in the 2022 contest. However,
only about 30 percent were gone by this time in 2021. And, 40 percent of the starting field was
gone in 2020. Hence, the contest entrants have fared significantly worse the last two seasons.
Variance? Worse contestants? Increased parity in the NFL?
These things might explain what we’re seeing.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED
One thing we agreed on when I first began writing this series of articles here at
SurviverSweat.com was this was to be a public learning experience. I intended to use this
platform as a learning opportunity and then share with readers, presumably many of them my
So far, so good.
I keep telling my fellow handicappers I’m not really an “expert,” and have never professed to be,
even though I’ve been active as a sports gambler and writer for many years and am familiar with
most of the advanced concepts and methodologies used in wagering.
I’ve always considered myself a student of the game and gambling. By that, I mean there’s
always something to learn. To be successful, you must make adjustments along the way.
That’s because the tools and techniques that one uses in the past don’t always apply to the
present – and most likely will not apply to the future.
For instance, one lesson I’ve already learned is rethinking my strategy and philosophy on
picking crowd favorites in this contest. Last week in my response to Mike Buchmiller and Russ
Rosenblum, co-hosts of the weekly Circa Survivor podcast (and last season’s co-winners), I
questioned their strategy.
I noted that holding fewer tickets requires a more conservative approach. I argued that a
high-risk / high-reward strategy is a nice luxury that can be taken by those who have lots of
tickets in their portfolio. They can afford to be more aggressive, which means taking marginal
teams and hoping for big upsets (like what happened in Week #3). Then, they have fewer
competitors to weed through going forward. I also argued this is much tougher to do when you
have one (or just a few) tickets. You don’t have many bullets, so you better hit the target with
what you’ve got.
Well, I presume many Circa Survivor contestants followed the more conservative approach this
past week (doing what seemed safe) when they picked the Jacksonville Jaguars and Dallas
Cowboys. Those teams looked too easy.
There should be a lesson for all of us there in the future. Accordingly, I have to modify my
position (or at the very least to rethink it). Making a bold pick every now and then and hoping
the rest of the field implodes means advancing into a much less crowded field. So, the +EV is
probably to take some outlier chances along the way. I’m not going to dispute the
Buchmiller-Rosenblum strategy. After all, look at their record, and then look at mine.
Still, I want to be on the dance floor when the music’s playing in mid-season and beyond. It’s no
fun being tossed out of the party. So, my short-term thinking will continue being based on the
simple goal of survival. But my long-term thinking must be that I’ll have to take some fliers on
unpopular picks in the contest in upcoming weeks to put myself in a position to win.
I’ll discuss this more in future weeks (hopefully, still with a live entry).
AN EARLY LOOK AHEAD TO WEEK #4
This appears to be a tougher-than-average slate of games for survivor contestants. Ten of 16
games are lined at 3 points or less. Low pointspreads usually means close games. And close
games usually means higher than normal rates of elimination in survivor contests.
Nonetheless, there are some glaring mismatches. Based on the early lines, these are the four
teams many “survivors” are likely to be considering:
- Philadelphia -7 vs. Washington
- San Francisco -14 vs. Arizona
- Kansas City -10 vs. NY Jets
- Dallas -7 vs. New England
I can’t use Kansas City (already played them). I’m saving Dallas for later in the season (note my
previous articles about the limited weeks with just 3 and 4 games to pick from, respectively).
That leaves Philadelphia as a maybe. I hate to burn through San Francisco this early, but I’ll
also be looking at that possibility.
MY CIRCA SURVIVOR TICKETS
I have just one ticket alive going forward. Note that one of my entries was burned in Week #1.
Another entry was burned In Week #3
I’ve used the following teams so far, which means I cannot pick them again:
ENTRY 1: BALTIMORE, BUFFALO, KANSAS CITY….
ENTRY 2: WASHINGTON, BUFFALO, BALTIMORE (ELIMINATED)
ENTRY 3: MINNESOTA (ELIMINATED)
I’m not sure of my pick yet, as I have to weigh lots of factors. With just one ticket remaining I
have to make this one really count.
This year’s season-long 2023 Circa Survivor contest attracted a record 9,267 entrants. Each
entrant paid $1,000. Heading into the two Monday night games, only 2,481 entrants still
Later this week, I’ll have lots more to say about the Circa Survivor contest, including my strategy
and reasoning behind making my team selection.