How to Master Underdog Betting

min read
Successful underdog handicapping is a key cornerstone ability in online sports betting.
(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Oct 16, 2022, 9:21 PM
  • Two-way betting markets often feature a favorite and an underdog.
  • Underdogs often carry inherent market value because they are overlooked.
  • Home underdogs are a traditionally wise betting spot.
  • Popular or trendy underdog bets should be treated with skepticism.

Whether you’re new to online sports betting or a grizzled veteran, there’s always value in betting on underdogs. 

Before you can capitalize on underdog betting, though, you have to understand how to spot a good underdog betting situation, and what makes them so valuable in the first place.

What Is An Underdog?

The most common two-way betting market is the one nearly every sports fan is familiar with: The favorite versus the underdog. 

In any market like this – which includes NFL spreads and moneylines, among many others – one side is deemed the favorite to win. The opposition to this is an underdog, which is “expected” to lose. (More on what this actually means in a bit.)

Definitionally, a favorite must give up some kind of advantage for the market to be efficient. 

In moneyline markets, favorite bettors earn reduced winnings in proportion to how much of a favorite the team they bet on was. In point spread markets, favorite bettors must win by a margin in order to cover a bet.

Underdogs bettors, by contrast, are the recipient of those advantages forfeited by favorite bettors.

Underdog bettors who take the points in a spread market can win a bet by covering the spread in a loss. 

As for the moneyline market, that’s where the big returns can be found. Bettors can multiple their winnings several times over in just one bet… assuming they have the right underdog to support.

Finding Value in Betting an Underdog 

There is a critical misconception in the online sports betting world. Casual bettors and sports fans often believe that point spreads and moneylines perfectly reflect the difference in quality between a bad team and a good team.

In practice, these differences would be impossible to reflect in one simple number. 

It’s more accurate to few odds – especially point spreads – as the market adjustment point where both sides might attract roughly equal action.

Consider a recent game between the Bills and Steelers. If you asked 100 NFL fans to pick a winner, an overwhelming majority would have picked the Bills to win.

If, on the other hand, you asked 100 people if Pittsburgh could keep the score within seven touchdowns, most people would choose Steelers +49.

There is a natural ebb and flow to sports betting markets, depending on the advantages assigned to one team or another. 

That’s why that particular game closed with the Bills as a 14-point favorite – the market decided that was the rough median point where both sides seemed attractive to various bettors.

Underdog betting becomes quite lucrative once you understand that odds are much more about markets and social palatability than pure mathematics. 

Because of the nature of odds, there is often extra value built into point spreads and moneyline odds attached to unpopular or downtrodden teams.

There is also value on “buying low” on an underdog after a bad or disappointing performance. Sometimes, a bad loss is indicative of a particular team’s spiral or downward trend; more often, a loss is just a singular data point that isn’t representative of a greater whole.

Seeing the market clearly for what it is and identifying these situations is the key to deriving great value from underdog betting.

Understanding the Different Types of Underdogs

Not all underdogs are created equally. Here, you can learn about some of the different situations that underdogs find themselves in, and how they may (or may not!) be beneficial to your betting approach.

Home Underdogs

Road games can be dangerous for every team – even the good ones. 

Road favorites are always subject to foreseeable upsets. That’s particularly true in college football and college basketball, where huge, intimidating crowds add extra pressure on top of the absence of a normal routine.

Home underdogs are considered traditionally wise betting positions, though they have fallen out of favor in certain markets like the NFL in recent years. In some sports leagues, talent gaps are now outstripping home advantages, which has led to a Renaissance of sorts for road teams.

Still, there are much worse tickets to hold than that of the home dog. Don’t shed too many tears on their behalf.

Road Underdogs

Public bettors love to bet home favorites because it feels like a conservative and traditionally safe spot.

This can lead to something of a surtax on home favorites, though, and a commensurate opportunity for anyone brave enough to back a road underdog. 

As mentioned in the previous section, certain sports – particularly the NFL – have seen huge dips in homefield advantage in the post-COVID era. Betting against that dwindling homefield advantage can be a powerful and effective strategy.

Underdogs Outright

Forget the spread – sometimes, you want to call for the outright upset.

Betting on underdogs to win outright on the moneyline is a risky-yet-invigorating position. But here’s the good news: You don’t even have to be right 50% of the time to end up with a net profit.

The nature of moneyline underdogs is that their plus-rated odds can deal big profits to winning bettors. A $20 bet can quickly turn into a $100 profit with just one ticket. 

When backing an underdog to win outright, many bettors like to target teams that have had historical success in spite of the odds. 

For example: In college football, unranked Purdue teams have notched 17 wins over teams ranked in the AP top 5 – far more than any other team in FBS.

Personally, I like to target underdogs whose odds are suspiciously small, as well as underdogs whose odds don’t move despite heavy betting action against them. 

These are spots I analyze routinely on my betting podcast, The Lion’s Edge. Both spots have been historically successful over time, regardless of what the teams or leagues actually are.

In-Play Underdogs

Live betting odds brings a whole new dimension to this conversation, but there’s still value to be found on the underdogs.

Live odds, or in-play odds, are often highly reactionary to what is happening (or what just happened) in any particular game. 

Here’s an easy example: Five minutes into a 60-minute football game, the pregame underdog might score a touchdown and become the in-play favorite. 

As an astute bettor, you’d now be able to bet the losing team – who was the favorite just a few minutes earlier – at an underdog price.

Underdog Parlays

There’s plenty of good information and strategies about parlays here at The Roar. If you’re looking to learn a little more about that, it’s kind of a whole topic unto itself. I would definitely recommend studying up on them.

Here, I’ll assume you understand the basics. If not, you can always bookmark this, visit that link from the previous paragraph, and revisit this later.

Underdog parlays are particularly valuable because their high odds quickly supercharge the payout on a parlay. A simple, two-team parlay with a pair of moneyline underdogs can quickly turn into an 8-to-1 return.

Underdog parlays are great tickets to take a shot with because you only have to hit one every once in a while to end up with a net profit. 

Beware of the Public Underdog

Earlier in the article, I wrote about how underdogs are often overlooked and undervalued by the betting market at large. 

But what about the cases when that’s not true? What about when a majority of bettors are backing the underdog?

Strangely enough, this is often one of the best times not to be the underdog. Whenever I see a beloved public dog – like the aforementioned Steelers +14 side, which attracted about 70% of market-wide tickets – I often run to bet the favorite with no additional research required. 

Underdog betting has a common saying: “Public dogs carry fleas.”

NFL Betting at BetMGM

Are you looking for more excitement during the football season? NFL betting is your ticket.

From the preseason through the postseason, you can build parlays with NFL betting odds. Whether you want to build parlays from moneyline favorites, player props, spreads, or over/under totals, there are options for everyone.

Visit the online sportsbook each week during the NFL season for parlay opportunities!

Jamie Foxx holding a mobile phone next to the BetMGM's risk-free bet offer.
About the Author

Chase Kiddy

Read More @chaseakiddy

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.

Chase Kiddy is a writer for BetMGM and co-host of The Lion's Edge, an NFL and college football podcast available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and everywhere else. He has also written for a number of print and online outlets, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Washington Post, Daily News-Record, and HERO Sports. His first novel, Cave Paintings, is in development.