Sep 13, 2023 | Circa Survivor Information, Featured, Nolan Dalla, Weekly Analysis

By Nolan Dalla

It’s been a strange season.


That seems like an odd thing to say just one week into the NFL schedule.


However, it’s true.  Just look at the Week #1 scores and the early contest results.  Incredibly, there were 1,992 of this year’s Circa Survivor contest entrants who have already been eliminated.  That leaves 7,275 of the 9,267 opening day total entries who survived into Week #2


I’m glad to be one of them after my pick last week (Washington) won.  Barely.




What Happened?


Opening week included shocking upsets and several supposedly elite teams underperforming.  Most notably this group of teams included — Kansas City, Buffalo, and Cincinnati.  Many playoff contenders stank as well, including NY Giants, Minnesota, Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Denver.  


We also witnessed multiple undervalued teams who were expected to struggle outperforming market expectations.  Tis group included — Tampa Bay, LA Rams, Arizona, Las Vegas, and Cleveland.  All of those teams covered in Week #1.  Four of those five underdogs even won the game outright. 


Then, there was the epic Jets-Bills overtime game on MNF — including future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers’ season-ending injury on his opening series — which capped off a wacky start to the 2023 season. 


I didn’t expect this much uncertainty so early.  No one did.  


In years past, most survivor contests tend to follow fairly predictable outcomes for several weeks.  Then, when it’s least expected, a stunning upset happens sometime in midseason.  Every game can potentially be a trap.  It’s like stepping on a hidden land mine, which blows up the field.  Typically, the most conventional strategy considerations involve conserving the best possible teams for later in the season and then making the stretch run with (supposedly) superior picks.  However, traditional methodology doesn’t always apply, that is, if we look at compelling evidence of the last two seasons in the prestigious Circa Survivor contest.


The bottom line is as follows — in 2022, 30 percent of the field was knocked out in Week #1.  In 2023, about 20 percent suffered the same dismal fate.  So, is it time to re-think conventional survivor contest methodology?


Is It Too Early to Adjust Our Strategy?


The answer to this question is “yes.”  However, note that I said (and emphasize) “adjust” and “re-think.”  That doesn’t mean “re-do.”  Nor does that mean disregarding proven optimal methodologies to surviving in these pick-the-winning-team-to-advance contests.  Indeed, re-thinking and re-evaluating should always be inside of one’s football handicapping toolbox.


Outlier thinking is usually a good thing.


Yes, I’m rethinking my methodology.  I’m making adjustments.  All the time.  However, I’m not abandoning conventional and predictable methods to survive for another week, and then another, and then another.  


Confused yet?


Thinking Way Ahead


Is it Thanksgiving and Christmas time already?


No.  But if you’re entered into the Circa Survivor contest, you’d better be thinking about those two holidays and the special slate of early games played on those NFL weekends.  Yes, I know it’s only mid-September.  However, the decisions you make now could have a huge impact on the chances of surviving later in the season then, assuming we get that far.


What am I talking about?  Fact: Many contest entrants may not be aware that Circa Survivor has a couple of kinks at the end of the season that must be taken into account if we’re serious about winning the big prize. I also guarantee you that some percentage of this year’s field is completely unaware of these kinks, so please pay attention.


Because Circa wants to avoid any possibility of ties at season’s end they created separate weeks out of the Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday slate of games and the Christmas-Saturday slate of games. What this means is there’s TWO additional weeks of games crammed in there which must be analyzed and overcome in order to advance.  This includes only four games in the Thanksgiving bracket and three games on the Christmas bracket. Those are treated as separate weeks.  So, this 18 week NFL season really has 20 weeks.  The Sunday games played those holiday weeks are their own weeks, which also must include a survivor pick.  Ideally, we want to have good teams that are live playing on these days.  We don’t want to be stuck with garbage teams, or what could be a nightmare scenario, which is using up all your teams in advance, in which case you’d disqualify yourself. So, when looking at these games we cannot burn through the good teams that are playing on these weeks.


Translation and Strategy:  Try to conserve Kansas City and San Francisco (especially since they play on both of the limited slates), and perhaps also conserve Detroit and Dallas.



Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

Washington Commanders vs. Dallas Cowboys

San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks 

NY Jets vs. Miami Dolphins (Black Friday)



Kansas City Chiefs vs. Las Vegas Raiders

Philadelphia Eagles vs. NY Giants

Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers


This Week’s Survivor Team Candidates


Let’s compile a list of the possible survivor picks in Week #2 based on the pointspreads.  Note that higher pointspreads isn’t always the best method of picking a survivor team, but it’s a reliable starting point.


Philadelphia -7 vs. Minnesota (Thursday)

Detroit -5.5 vs. Seattle

Buffalo -9.5 vs. Las Vegas

NY Giants -6 vs. Arizona

San Francisco -8 vs. LA Rams

Dallas -9 vs. NY Jets


Five of the six big favorites are home teams.  San Francisco is a road team.


First, I’m omitting San Francisco from consideration for four reasons: (1) The 49ers are playing a second straight week on the road and going coast-to-coast, which is often a good fade situation.  (2) Stay away from divisional matchups, as rivals tend to know each other better and upsets are more common.  (3) San Francisco also plays Arizona twice later this season, which seems like a much better betting option.  (4) And, as previously mentioned, we want to conserve San Francisco for the weeks with limited selections and games (see reasoning above).


Second, I’m omitting Dallas for two reasons: (1) The Cowboys play Arizona and Carolina later in the season.  Those are likely to be better games to take Dallas if we make it that far.  (2)  And, as is the case with the 49ers, we want to conserve the Cowboys for the weeks with limited selections and games (see reasoning above).


Third, I’m omitting Philadelphia for three reasons: (1) Since this is a Thursday night game, the short week usually favors the home team.  However, the Eagles looked slopped in the opener after they led early and were significantly outgained by the Patriots.  Minnesota and it’s talented WRs can upset any opponent, and coming off a stunning loss are capable of the upset in my estimation. (2) The Eagles host Arizona late in the season, which should be an automatic win assuming both teams play according to form.  (3) Finally, I keep saying this but, as is the case with the 49ers and Cowboys, we want to conserve the Eagles for the weeks with limited selections and games (see reasoning above). 


Fourth, can anyone trust the NY Giants after getting throttled on SNF in a 40-0 ass whipping?  Taking the Giants on the road seems a bit risky so early in the season given how bad the team played.  Moreover, the Cardinals put up a surprisingly decent fight at Washington.  I wouldn’t touch the NY Giants in this game with play money.


Fifth, Detroit might be worth a look.  They’ve had 10 days to prepare since upsetting Kansas City in their debut.  The Lions should win it.  However, Detroit has three very soft opponents coming later in the season at home (Atlanta, Carolina, and Chicago).  This doesn’t seem like the week we need to panic and select them.  I’d also like to see Detroit win a few more games before I jump in the hype train.  Seattle, their opponent, can also be dangerous coming off a shocking loss.


One more comment:  I did consider Tampa Bay, which is more a fade against Chicago than a play on the Buccaneers.  However, the stats from the Bucs-Vikings game weren’t favorable to the victors.  Tampa Bay should be favored, but I’m not picking the Bucs this early in the season until they prove the upset win at Minnesota wasn’t a fluke.


Hence, by the process of elimination, this leaves me with this week’s pick.


My Final Pick


Buffalo will be my final selection in Circa Survivor Week #2.  My reasons are as follows:


  1. Buffalo led 13-3 at halftime in a sloppy game on MNF, then imploded in the second half, ultimately losing in OT.  I think that loss likely motivates a much better effort this week.  There’s no doubt about Buffalo’s talent.  The Bills were 7-1 at home in the regular season in 2022, and 8-2 including playoff games, winning games by an average margin by double digits.  Buffalo should rebound here.


  1. This spot seems like a perfect fade against Las Vegas, which played a gutsy game in Denver (winning 17-16) and now must play a second straight road game in the Eastern time zone with an early start.  


  1. Here’s a solid angle from VSiN: Teams that lost (or tied) as road favorites in Week 1 have bounced back with a record of 20-11 SU and ATS (64.5 pct.) in Week 2 over the last 11 seasons.  Buffalo was favored in Week #1 and lost.  So, the angle applies to the Bills this week.


  1. Looking at Buffalo’s schedule, they don’t have many “easy wins.”  In fact, it’s hard to find a game (based on current strength of opponents) where Buffalo will be a huge favorite.  The Bills’ home schedule is tough and this might be the game in which they’re favored by the most points.  Assuming we are likely to play good teams like Buffalo at some point, this might be the optimal week to select them as a survivor pick.  


I expect some contestants might be discouraged from picking Buffalo based on the sloppy effort in the MNF loss to the Jets.  Actually, I hope they do pass on the Bills and select one of the other teams.  That said, I think Buffalo is the obvious +EV play.


Coming Next: NFL Week #2 in Review (coming Monday, Sept. 18th)


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