The only season-long NFL picks contest offered by a regulated online sportsbook in Pennsylvania, the $500k Pennsylvania Pick ’Em hosted by sister properties Play SugarHouse and BetRivers, is officially underway.
And for two entrants, it’s off to a perfect start.
Players going by the screen names “ff504” and “GNLLNG” both picked all 15 games on the Sunday/Monday NFL slate correctly. (Well, technically, they both went 14-0-1, since the Detroit-Arizona game ended in a tie, but the PA Pick ’Em rules dictate that a tie counts as a win for everyone.) The ff504 entry won the $2,500 prize for the best score of the week, however, as ff504’s guess of 42 total points in the Raiders-Broncos Monday night game came closer to the 24-16 final score than GNLLNG’s 46 points.
Rush Street Interactive has not released an exact number of entries in the contest but did tell Penn Bets it’s “right around 3,500.” So barely 1/20th of 1% percent of entries nailed Week 1 exactly.
Prize pool as advertised
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely how many combined entries SugarHouse and BetRivers needed to push beyond the promised $500k prize pool, but with the top prize still listed on the site as $125k now that the enrollment period has closed and the Week 1 leaderboard is up, it’s apparent that they didn’t exceed the guarantee.
At a full price of $150 for each entry, Rush Street needed 3,334 entries to increase the payouts in this rake-free contest. But many of the entries were discounted early-bird signups ($125), while others were acquired during a brief buy-one-get-one promotion.
In addition to the two perfect submissions out of roughly 3,500, another 46 entries tallied 14 points. To get to those scores, entrants couldn’t go entirely chalky in a Week 1 that offered a handful of surprises.
Unlike the famed Las Vegas SuperContest, in which entrants pick five games of their choosing each week against the spread, this is a straight-up winner-picking competition in which every game that begins at 1 p.m. ET Sunday or later is included. There were four games last week — not counting Thursday’s Packers-Bears season opener — in which betting underdogs prevailed, so a 100% chalk submission would have tallied 11 points.
Who were the most popular picks?
As both the biggest favorite of the week in terms of point spread and the hometown team to a sizable chunk of the entrants, it’s no surprise that the Eagles were tied for the most popular pick on the board. Here’s a listing of the top five:
- Eagles: 97.5%
- Seahawks: 97.5%
- Ravens: 92.8%
- Saints: 90%
- Browns: 88%
Seattle and New Orleans managed narrow escapes, while Philadelphia rallied from an ugly first-half deficit to preserve its share of Survivor pools. Baltimore was the only team among the top five to avoid a sweat (and to cover the point spread).
Then there are the Cleveland Browns, who collapsed late, giving up 28 unanswered points in the final 17 minutes to lose 43-13 to Tennessee. Only 12% of entries saw that upset coming.
There were three other games in which less than half the field made the correct pick:
- Bills: 29%
- Raiders: 38%
- 49ers: 43%
As for the Lions-Cardinals game that saw Arizona rally from a 24-6 fourth quarter deficit to pull out the tie, 64% in the PA Pick ’Em took Detroit and 36% were thrilled by rookie quarterback Kyler Murray’s late heroics.
Looking ahead to Week 2
With nine of the 15 Sunday/Monday games currently showing spreads of three points or fewer at the Rush Street sportsbooks, we can expect picks and scores to be all over the place in Week 2.
Of particular interest will be the Eagles-Falcons game, which opened as a pick-’em and has moved to Philly -2 on the road. It will be fascinating to see how many entrants are willing to pick against the team they root for when, from a game theory perspective, taking Atlanta comes with contrarian upside.
It will also be fascinating to see whether anyone picks the Dolphins, a 19-point underdog, to upset the Patriots outright.
On second thought, you can be sure some entries will indeed pick Miami — because some entries are trying to lose.
In Week 1, four entries got 13 games wrong, even with the automatic point for Lions-Cardinals. Those people — and the nine who got 12 wrong and the 20 who got 11 wrong — probably did so intentionally, trying to win the $2,500 prize for having the most picks wrong over the course of the season. It’s a curious move, even if you multi-entered, because only one place at the bottom pays out, whereas 500 places at the top cash.
But after one week, if you already have 11, 12, or 13 games wrong, whether you got them wrong intentionally or not, the correct strategy is probably to focus on that booby prize. And that means at least 1-2% of entries will be on the Miami side.