Eliminator pools (suicide pools, survivor pools, minefield pools; I've heard many names for them) are a fun and stressful way to put stakes on a game you usually wouldn't care about each week. If you're not familiar, there's a full breakdown here, but I'll give you the main points:
Let's look at some of the best Eliminator options for Week 1. I will give the Safe Pick, the Risky Pick, and the Best Pick for the week with honorable mentions. Always remember, the point of this competition is to WIN each week, so don't get too cute, especially early in the season. Point spreads are from BetMGM and accurate as of Saturday 9/9/23.
Baltimore Ravens (-9.5) over Houston Texans, in Baltimore
The Ravens play in a tough division, and those six games are probably off the board for eliminator picks. They also play a lot of tough teams, like the 49ers, Lions, Jaguars, Seahawks, Dolphins, and Chargers; that's already 12 games in which you probably won't pick Baltimore.
They do play the Cardinals and Colts, but this is a hell of a schedule. I hadn't thought of betting on the Ravens' “under,” but that might be enticing (10.5 is their number; will they lose/tie seven of those games?).
Houston has a rookie quarterback and first-year head coach. They have a good chance to improve on their 3-13-1 record (second worst in the league), but they are still likely to be a bottom-10 team. C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson, the #2 and #3 picks in this year's Draft, respectively, would have to come out firing on all cylinders to life this Texans team above (or even to) league-average.
An experienced Baltimore team opening at home seems likely to dominate as the game progresses. This game is maybe the “Best Pick” this week also, but I'll name another game there with this one as an honorable mention.
Honorable Mention: Jacksonville Jaguars (-4.5) (ascending team with a young star quarterback) over Indianapolis Colts (rookie quarterback and head coach), in Indianapolis
Denver Broncos (-3) over Las Vegas Raiders, in Denver
The Broncos were a dumpster fire on offense last season, but they made one large move to fix that. Sean Payton is one of the best offensive coaches of this generation. He won a Super Bowl with the Saints; he won nine games the year after Drew Brees retired. The upgrade from Nathaniel Hackett could be the biggest upgrade any team made this offseason.
The Denver defense is very tough, but the Broncos are relying on Russell Wilson to bounce back from his worst season after giving up a king's ransom for him in last year's trade. Two of his top three receivers, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick (out for the season), are missing with injury. Running back Javonte Williams is returning from a major knee injury and might be limited early.
Vegas released long-time quarterback Derek Carr, a player with a relatively low ceiling but also a high floor. They replaced him with Jimmy Garoppolo, a player with a relatively low ceiling and a LOW floor.
Jimmy G has missed 31 games since taking over as San Francisco's starter in 2018 (37.8% of all possible regular season games). The backups are Brian Hoyer (38 in October) and fourth-round rookie Aidan O'Connell; the Raiders are not set up to survive life without their starting quarterback.
Garoppolo is healthy to start the season, but the Raiders have a weak roster outside of a couple stars. Davante Adams showed he doesn't need Aaron Rodgers, leading the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns last year. Josh Jacobs led the league in rushing yards with a career-high 1,653. The offensive line has holes, though, and Vegas gave up the fourth-most passing yards and 14th-most rushing yards in 2022.
The defense won't be any better this season, especially with Chandler Jones and the team at a weird stand-off, and I think Payton and Wilson can start the season by tearing through the Raider defense and putting the league on notice. The good times might not last, but I see the Broncos winning this one somewhat easily at home.
Cleveland Browns (+2) over Cincinnati Bengals, in Cleveland
This is my favorite pick this week if there was nothing on the line. Joe Burrow missed most of the preseason with a calf strain and just returned to practice this week. In three games against Cleveland between 2021-2022, Burrow failed to top 300 yards in any game and totaled four touchdowns, three interceptions, and 11 sacks(!!). The Browns won two of those three games.
Cleveland solidified a good defense by adding three defensive starters: safety Juan Thornhill and defensive linemen Za'Darius Smith and Dalvin Tomlinson. They have a star pass rusher in Myles Garrett, who recorded 16 sacks each of the last two years, and a Pro Bowl corner back in Denzel Ward. The Browns might have a top-five defense.
A great surrounding cast relies on quarterback Deshaun Watson to regain his form from 2018-2020 before missing almost two full seasons. Watson could bounce back in a big way after a full offseason with his team, and I see the Browns as a dark-horse contender.
This pick is too risky for Week 1, so choose one of the others listed here. It could just as easily end up the other way, but I'm watching with intrigue.
Honorable Mention: Buffalo Bills (-2.5) (one of the best teams in the league) over New York Jets (Aaron Rodgers declined last year, bringing important new pieces together), in New York/Jersey
Washington Commanders (-7) over Arizona Cardinals, in Washington
Two factors make this my pick of the week: first, the Cardinals look like the worst team in the league. There isn't much star power, especially at the most important positions. Second, Washington doesn't have another appealing matchup on their schedule other than MAYBE the Rams in Week 15, but that game is in LA and who knows what things will look like by then. Use Washington this week.
The Commanders have an uncertain offensive situation with second-year, fifth-round quarterback Sam Howell stepping in, but the skill players around him are very good, and the defense might be great, with six first-round picks in the starting lineup. (Chase Young is one of those first-round picks, and he will not play Week 1.)
Arizona is starting Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, a player they acquired two weeks ago, and the team around him is nowhere near as good as Washington. There are a few bright spots across the Cardinal roster, but the overall product is likely to be ugly this season.
Honorable Mention: New Orleans Saints (-3) (a good defense finally has a league-average quarterback and might be the class of the NFC South) over Tennessee Titans (a seemingly descending team with aging stars), in New Orleans; Seattle Seahawks (-4.5) (a playoff team last year who seems to have improved) over Los Angeles Rams (super young defense and Cooper Kupp is out), in Seattle; Baltimore Ravens over Houston Texans, in Baltimore