Should I bet on the underdog?


4 min read

Underdog betting can be a legitimate strategy, but it does require discipline and careful analysis. What you want to avoid is blindly betting on underdogs, since that can lead to significant losses. In this article, we’ll discuss the strategies behind underdog betting, and some of the actions you can take to help mitigate risk.

What is an underdog bet?

In sports betting, the underdog is the team that is expected to lose, or has lower odds of winning as determined by the sportsbook or online betting site. Since the underdog is expected to lose the game, placing an underdog bet potentially means more significant winnings. The idea behind an underdog bet is believing the underdog has a better chance of winning than the odds suggest. Factors you may want to consider include recent injuries, weather conditions, or other circumstances that you believe will have a major impact on the game. By identifying those scenarios where it’s possible the underdog has a higher chance of winning than the odds indicate, an underdog bet can prove fruitful.

Typically however, underdog betting carries a higher risk since that team is expected to lose. But it’s not so cut and dry, since there are different types of bets and some are more favorable than others. Let’s take a look at some of the different types of bets.

Moneyline bets on the underdog

Moneyline bets are one of the simplest types of bets available. In a moneyline bet, there is typically a favorite and an underdog, and the bettor is choosing who will win the game. Let’s take a look at three hypothetical wagers with purposely made-up numbers to fit this situation — that means this scenario is very unlikely, but it illustrates what can be possible with underdog betting.

Let’s say there are three NFL games this Sunday with the following moneyline odds:

  • New England Patriots (-300) vs. Miami Dolphins (+250)
  • Los Angeles Rams (-400) vs. Arizona Cardinals (+350)
  • Green Bay Packers (-500) vs. Chicago Bears (+450)

You decide you want to wager $100 on the underdog for each of the three games, for $300 total. That means $100 at +250 odds on the Dolphins, $100 at +350 odds on the Cardinals, and $100 on the Bears at +450 odds.

Since it’s “any given Sunday,” the Bears inexplicably pull off the upset against the Packers, but the Dolphins and the Cardinals lose their games. The result is $450 profit from the Packers/Bears bet, and $200 loss from the Dolphins ($100 loss) and the Cardinals ($100 loss) games. So even though two of the three bets were lost, this round of underdog betting was a net-positive.

Point spread bets on the underdog

Some believe betting on the underdog in point spread bets is safer than betting on the underdog in moneyline bets. That’s because in point spread bets, the underdog doesn’t have to outright win the game, it just has to cover the spread. This makes the gamble a little more enticing, because at the end of the day, a team is trying to just win. It couldn’t care less about covering the spread, which means an underdog bet is more likely to succeed. Again, let’s use an example to better illustrate a point spread bet where wagering on the underdog results in a win.

The New York Giants are playing the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are favored to win by 7.5, and the Giants are the underdogs at +7.5. You would see the following point spread at a sportsbook or online betting site:

  • New York Giants: +7.5
  • Dallas Cowboys: -7.5

You decide to do an underdog bet, wagering $100 on the New York Giants. At the end of the game, the final score was 24-20 in favor of the Cowboys. The Giants ended up losing, but the Cowboys didn’t cover the 7.5-point spread. That means the underdog bet was a win.

When does it make sense to bet on the underdog?

Feeling confident when placing an underdog bet largely depends on the information you have and the analysis you have performed. For example, the general public might overvalue the favorite team and that results in the underdog’s odds to be way more favorable than it should be. You notice this discrepancy because you’re paying attention to the general public’s perception of a team, but you also observed that the underdog team has been improving week after week, despite still losing their games. Take the Jacksonville Jaguars during the 2022 season as an example. It would make sense to bet on the underdog because the public has overvalued the favorite team.

Knowing about key injuries or suspensions on the favorite team might mean the underdog has a better chance of winning or covering the spread. There are also rivalry games — especially in college football — where the underdog rises to the occasion because that’s the only game that matters for their season. Many times, underdogs with losing records have come out of a rivalry game with a win because they’re motivated to ruin their rival’s season.

Just remember that betting on the underdog is higher risk and there is never a guarantee of success. Do your research and shop around at all the various sportsbooks and online betting sites that are available. This way, you have a better picture of all the odds out there, and which ones may be more favorable for the underdog.

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