When you come to a fork in the road, take it.
— Yogi Berra
I’ve reached a fork on the road.
Which strategy path do I take?
- OPTION A. Play it safe, pick a heavy favorite, and most likely advance — but at a possible cost later in the season
- OPTION B. Take a gamble now, pick a marginal team, and risk elimination — with the upside of conserving elite teams for later in the season
This appears to be one of those weeks on the schedule that will test survivors as to their real objectives. Am I playing just to survive? Or, am I really playing to win?
My answer is — both. I’m playing to survive. But, I’m also playing to win. Some weeks, it’s better to play things safe. Other weeks, it’s best to take a chance.
Now, facing a fork in the road, I’ve reached my decision.
I’m going to take it.
Yogi would approve.
WHY NOT JUST PICK ONE OF THE BIG FAVORITES THIS WEEK?
This is a fair question. I expect many survivors will do the obvious. That means picking one of the heavily-favored teams playing versus bad opponents.
The most obvious example is the Miami Dolphins (3-1) hosting the New York Giants (1-3). Circa sportsbook odds list Miami as an 11-point favorite. I expect the Dolphins will get heavy action in the CircaSurvivor pool this week. Miami remains a top team despite coming off a blowout loss in Buffalo last week. The Dolphins will be eager to avenge that loss and are likely to go all out at home against a team that’s looked horrific in 14 of 16 quarters this season, which includes three losses by a combined 79 points. We watched the Giants surrender 11 sacks versus Seattle on Monday night. This team might be even worse than the winless teams, including Chicago and Carolina. Hence, it’s easy to understand why many CircaSurvivor contestants will pick Miami.
The Detroit Lions (3-1) are likely to attract significant support, as well. The Lions hosts the Panthers in the battle of the cats. Carolina (0-4) has played more like kittens this season. Their offense has looked terrible. Detroit will be well-rested off a 10-day rest and should have no problem with an outclassed opponent. Circa sportsbook odds list Detroit as a 9-point favorite. Hence picking the Lions looks easy to “just win the game.”
After those two lopsided matchups (according to the pointspreads), there’s quite a big dropoff. All the remaining games are lined at less than a touchdown.
So, the question becomes — is the optimal strategy to use up one of the good teams now, or save them for later in the season?
A RISKIER PICK, BUT THE OPTIMAL PLAY
Think of ourselves as castaways stuck on a deserted island. We possess 32 servings of food and water. Some of those meals are big feasts. Others are snacks and small meals. To survive, we must last on this deserted island until we’re rescued.
Obviously, it would be foolish to eat all the good food in the first few days. If possible, we should try and conserve the most nutritious meals for later. In fact, if we can somehow keep the big feasts without consuming them early, we’ll be in a much better position later on.
I suspect many CircaSurvivor contestants are eating all the good food now, and they’ll be close to the starving point later on. That’s the problem with using up teams like Miami and Detroit right now. Chances are, good teams like Miami and Detroit will be more useful later when the basket of teams isn’t as full. In a winner-take-all format, I’m not thinking so much about Week #5. I’m thinking about Week #15, and beyond, right now.
WHY THINK SO FAR AHEAD, SINCE WE MIGHT NOT GET THAT FAR?
My guess is, this contest goes at least to Week 16B (which is the 18th “week”). I’ll explain my reasoning as follows:
Week 12A has four Thanksgiving and Friday games. This limited schedule, especially of there’s an upset or two will probably carve the field down significantly. Then, Week 16A with just 3 games (all on Christmas Eve) probably does the remaining damage. It is essential to have as many of those teams that play on those days alive, giving us more picking options. This must factor into decisions made now. Example: What if a star quarterback gets injured? How might that impact the good teams? Weather could also be a neutralizer later on. We want options.
Moreover, at some point the real long-term survivors will have to use some of the .500 teams, and perhaps even some teams with losing records. There’s no other way around this. Accordingly, the optimal strategy seems to be picking those marginal teams now rather than later, especially when they’re facing very weak opponents.
WEEK #5 STRATEGY OPTIONS
I’m down to just one entry in the CircaSurvivor contest. I have used the following teams so far, which means I cannot pick them again for the remainder of the season:
ENTRY (NOLANDALLA): BALTIMORE, BUFFALO, KANSAS CITY, SAN FRANCISCO…..
As you can see, I can’t keep picking elite teams. This is the ideal time to depart from the field and pick a marginal team playing a bad opponent. This situation is even more ideal since many contestants may not consider the Thursday night game (or may simply forget about it). If I make a pick on this game, I prefer less people to be on it (so why am I sharing it here — good question). If somehow one of the heavy favorites is upset, that puts me in terrific shape going forward.
Of course, my pick could lose, too. But let’s not think about that.
MY FINAL PICK
With only one live entry, I’m picking the Washington Commanders on my remaining ticket.
- The line has bounced between 5.5 and 6.5 and will probably settle at 6. However, I could see late public money thinking Chicago sucks so bad, and if the volume is high enough, perhaps some books shift back to -6.5.
- I do worry about overreacting to the disarray in Chicago. Typically, sports media reporting blows these issues out of proportion. That said, it’s probably applicable to the Bears as the W-L record doesn’t lie. QB J. Fields played exceptionally well last week, accounting for 5 touchdowns. He’s obviously the Bears’ game plan, and we’ve seen flashes of brilliance when he’s carried the offense by himself. However, the Chicago defense is dreadful, allowing massive yards and points.
- The Bears are in the midst of a horrid losing streak. Not only is Chicago 0-4 SU on the 2023 season (0-3-1 ATS), but they also lost their final 10 games of 2022 as well, with 14 of their last 15 games overall ending in a loss.
- Washington embodies the meaning of a mediocre team. But the Commanders can point to two victories (2-2 SU and 2-2 ATS), plus the fact they played their best game of the season last week, taking defending NFC champ Philadelphia into overtime on the road. That was impressive. Obviously, Washington’s mental state might be a serious concern, coming off such a huge emotional disappointment to a division rival. Nonetheless, I expect that since both teams lost close games they could have won, that will favor Washington as the home team on a short week, and with a defense that seems due to step up and finally play a game reminiscent of the unit what was #7 overall in the NFL last season (Chicago was dead last at #32).
In an ideal week, Washington would win, and Miami and Detroit would lose, and none of you in the contest would read this and follow along, and you missed making the Thursday night pick in time. Shhh….please don’t tell anybody, okay? Let everyone else in the contest take that other path at their fork in the road.
The Washington Commanders are my final selection in CircaSurvivor Week #5.
COMING NEXT: NFL WEEK #5 IN REVIEW (COMING MONDAY, OCT. 9)