Which Sports do Underdogs win more in?

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As a sports bettor, there’s nothing more satisfying than cashing in on a big moneyline underdog bet. Whether you’re a hard-core handicapper who’s crunching every possible number or more of a recreational bettor who relies on your gut more than anything, the thrill and greed of going after that plus-money action is perhaps the most competitive aspect of sports betting.

Be careful, though, because we all know some jackass who beat the book big that one time on some ridiculous parlay bet (I have been that jackass a time or two). It’s likely a story they bring up often, but the truth is, these big multi-leg parlay bets rarely win and the best course of action when betting underdogs is to limit your risk and make individual game bets. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a comprehensive breakdown of how underdogs perform in the big four North American pro sports leagues.

Here’s the win percentage of underdogs for the last five full regular seasons of the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB:

League Underdog Win %
National Football League 32.60%
National Basketball Association 30.26%
National Hockey League 40.08%
Major League Baseball 42.06%

These numbers shouldn’t come as much of a shock, although I would have expected the NHL to be higher than MLB since hockey is a lower-scoring, more random sport.

The predictability of the NBA in recent seasons appears to extend to the betting window for individual games while there’s also less parity in the NFL, which is why we see a greater number of games with larger moneyline underdogs in each league. While MLB and the NHL have only seen a combined 55 teams close as a +300 or more underdog in the five-year span, the NBA has had 1,645 and the NFL has had 190.

Here’s how underdogs performed in each league in five separate odds ranges. Profits (or lack thereof) are based on $100 bets:

Odds Range Win % Profit
+100 to +150 45% -$8,333
+151 to +200 35.7% -$10,111
+201 to +250 30.5% -$1,031
+251 to +300 23.8% -$1,055
+301 and more 17.4% -$641
Odds Range Win % Profit
+100 to +150 42.7% -$20,890
+151 to +200 35.9% -$4,158
+201 to +250 30.6% -$504
+251 to +300 21.3% -$1,327
+301 and more 18.8% -$535
Odds Range Win % Profit
+100 to +150 43% -$1,317
+151 to +200 34.6% -$1,347
+201 to +250 30% -$497
+251 to +300 18% -$3,736
+301 and more 19.5% -$1,176
Odds Range Win % Profit
+100 to +150 42.1% -$8,541
+151 to +200 37.4% $1,468
+201 to +250 28.6% -$4,421
+251 to +300 25.8% -$1,028
+301 and more 16.6% -$8,241

What jumps off the page is that just one of these ranges  — NBA dogs of +151 to +200 — was profitable. This is hardly a surprise, though, as blindly betting every single underdog is a godawful betting strategy.

Ultimately, the bottom line for betting underdogs is to dig deep and do your homework. Sportsbooks hit the jackpot year after year based on people simply betting on instincts and chasing those sexy +600 parlays. However, by limiting your risk, and putting some time in, you’ll be able to pick some winning spots and burn the books no matter what sport you like betting on the most.

Underdog betting tips:

MLB: Analyze starting pitcher splits. Some starters are dramatically different in home/away situations. Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees, for example, had a 6.48 ERA on the road in 2017, which was double his home ERA. Tanaka was a favorite on the road 11 times in 2017. There’s many examples like this across the sport.

Masahiro Tanaka was a favorite in 11 road games in 2017 despite having a 6.48 road ERA.

NFL: Injuries to key offensive linemen often go unnoticed by casual fans, but when a team is forced to use a backup, it can leave a gigantic hole (both figuratively and literally) in a team’s offense. This leads to more pressure on the quarterback and a less effective run game.

Bettors should also use net yards per play to handicap NFL games and try to take advantage of teams who are having lots of success benefiting from the randomness of turnovers and special teams touchdowns. When a team is favored but ranks worse in net yards per play than its opponent, this might be a spot to jump on if other factors also line up.

NHL and NBA: Many target teams that are on the second half of a back-to-back, but you should also be on the lookout for situations when teams are playing three games in four nights, four games in six nights, etc. Fatigue plus extra travel can result in reduced performance. Also, keep tabs on starting goaltenders in hockey.


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