Six Reasons Why Underdogs Are the Smart Bet in the NFL

Oct 19 21:00 2004 Wunderdog Print This Article

Underdog or favorite? It’s a choice we make 16 times per week during the NFL regular season. While there are certainly times when favorites warrant our attention, my experience tells me that betting underdogs is the best way to make money in the NFL. Here are six reasons why you should pay special attention the dogs this NFL season.

1. NFL Parity
The NFL has made great strides to achieve rough equality among teams. It has succeeded. Just look at these SuperBowl teams from the past several years: St. Louis in 2000,Guest Posting Baltimore in 2001, New England in 2002, Tampa Bay in 2003, and Carolina last year. None of these teams were supposed to make it that far but they all did and many won, despite losing records the year before. Unlike the college game, any given team can win on Sunday in the NFL. Why not get some points to boot?

2. A Win is a Win
Again, unlike in College, there is no need to blow-out a team. Favorites that get up early don't typically run up the score in the NFL. It doesn’t serve a purpose and in most cases, coaches would rather not embarrass their opponent and/or risk injury to their stars. In the NFL, big leads often dwindle, with underdogs covering late in the game.

3. The Rodney Dangerfield Effect
Underdogs don't get any respect! They don't get it from the public, sometimes leading to higher than deserved spreads. More importantly, they don't get it from their opposition. Good teams can sometimes take bad teams lightly (especially if players and coaches minds are on other things, like next week's tougher opponent). Research and an understanding of historical trends can reveal great situations in which underdogs are poised for an upset.

4. The Public Can't Help Itself
The average bettor loves the popular teams (favorites), oftentimes pushing lines unreasonably high. We saw it during the 90’s with Dallas and San Francisco. In fact, almost every week, with the right research, you can spot teams that should be favorites but are getting points against a popular team that has been installed as a favorite due to the public "bandwagon effect.” For example, last year Kansas City visited Cincinnati in week 10. The Chiefs had won nine straight and seemed invincible. In hindsight, Cincinnati was the easy underdog pick. Kansas City’s defense was ranked 25th in the league at the time. Cincinnati was on a roll having won 3 of their last four games and Rudi Johnson was coming into his own. Cincinnati had the emotional edge and nothing to lose by taking a shot at an undefeated team they knew they could beat. However, the public couldn’t get over Kansas City’s success and spot this situation.

5. Got Courage?
Most bettors don't have the courage to go with certain underdogs. They see a (perceived) good team versus a (perceived) bad team and assume it won't be a contest. They have formed an opinion about how horrible some teams are based on a recent blowout or past personal gambling loss. Again, with the right combination of statistical and situational research, some undervalued dogs can be spotted each week. There are also certain situations in which bad teams have historically and reliably outperformed their average. Match that with a historically-proven situation in which favorites under-perform and you have yourself a reliable upset scenario.

6. The Point-spread Matters Less than You Think
Historically, the point-spread matters in the NFL only about 16% of the time. In other words, 84% of the time, the team that covers the spread also wins. With this knowledge, if you have underdogs that you really like (based on the right research, not a hunch), you can take them to win straight-up (money line), collecting anywhere from 1.2 to 4 times your original bet. Usually a three-point dog will pay around 140 for 100 for a straight-up win versus 100 for 110 wagered on a regular spread-based pick. Seven point underdogs pay around 250 for 100 for a straight-up win.

What It All Means
Obviously just playing all underdogs is not the answer (that would yield you approximately 50% wins and a negative account balance). However, with the right research, you can spot some very high-value underdog winners each week.

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The Wunderdog has been handicapping NFL games for over 15 years and specializes in picking underdogs (with the occasional underrated favorite). He publishes a free weekly newsletter, available on his website, with an underdog pick each week of the NFL season.
The Wunderdog

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