You can only pick a team to win once in survival football.
But you can definitely pick a team to lose on more weekends than not.
And therein lies one of the worst-kept secrets about survival football. If you can identify and build a good plan around a handful of consistently putrid teams, you can feast on their incompetence all the way to the end of your pool.
To wit: Four teams (the Browns, 49ers, Bears and Jaguars) finished with 13 or more losses in 2016, compared to only two 13+ win teams (Patriots and Cowboys). The 12-loss Rams, meanwhile, lost 11 of their last 12 games including seven straight to finish the year. There were no shortage of places for survival players to find refuge late in the season.
Following around a bad team and picking their opponents each week is an inherent design flaw in survival football and it’s even caused a few pools to reverse their rules. Instead of picking a winner each week, some pools require you to pick a loser once — and only once — instead.
The good news is that a lion’s share of survival pools, including the one featured in Yahoo Sports’ $100K contest, still requires you to pick a winner. So it’s going to behoove you to figure out which teams to pile on again and again.
Here are six suspects:
New York Jets: The Jets were 5-11 a season ago, but most experts project they’ll be the worst team in 2017. They’re competing in the Sam Darnold sweepstakes with a stripped-down roster and 38-year-old Josh McCown starting under center with Christian Hackenberg as a backup. They’re so bad that the Buffalo Bills are trending to be the most-picked survival team in Week 1. The Jets will be a particularly popular pick if you make it all the way to December: Three of their last four contests come on the road and their games are against Denver, New Orleans and New England.
San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers also figure to be eager suitors for Sam Darnold in Kyle Shanahan’s first year and look to be early prime pickings in survival. Starting in Week 2, they’ll play five of their seven games on the road with trips to Seattle, Arizona, Indianapolis, Washington and Philadelphia.
Cleveland Browns: A lot of people are coming off a successful survivor season thanks to the Browns. Cleveland went 1-15 and all you had to do was step around their lone win, a Christmas Eve victory at home against the Chargers. NumberFire doesn’t project the Browns as a favorite in any of their 16 games this season and there are bound to be plenty of growing pains under rookie QB DeShone Kizer.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The 2016 Jags came into the season as a trendy playoff pick but soon reverted to their status as the picked upon. A nine-game losing streak paid dividends to those who were paying attention. The 2017 Jags don’t figure to put things together, but they’ll be a little bit harder to pick against than last season’s team. The 2017 schedule holds games against four teams profiled in this column: the Browns, Jets, 49ers and Rams. (The only home game of those four comes against Los Angeles.)
Los Angeles Rams: Can new head coach Sean McVay steer Jared Goff and the Rams into respectability? If he does, hopefully it will come after we’re able to profit. The Rams will play on the road against the Cowboys, Giants, Vikings, Cardinals, Seahawks and Titans. All six are playoff contenders and will have the Rams circled as one of the games they can’t afford to lose. Ironically, they’re a sneaky play for Week 1 as the Luck-less Colts come to the Coliseum.
Chicago Bears: The Bears went 3-13 last year as uneven quarterback play, a weak secondary and injuries took their toll in almost every game. While the drafting of Mitch Trubisky has provided the Bears hope, they should again suffer from all three maladies mentioned above. In a twist, though, they could be the only team on this list that you might actually pick to win: San Francisco and Cleveland come calling in Weeks 13 and 16 and you might be forced to pick them in a two-pick scenario.
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