Learn to Bet on Sports – What is an Underdog?

It is one of the most fundamental principles in all of sports betting. Two teams or two individuals square off against each other. In most every game, one is expected to win and the other is expected to lose.

During the decade of domination by the New England Patriots when they went to eight straight AFC championship games, the Tom Brady-led team was favored in nearly every regular season game.

Imagine Cleveland going up against Brady and the Patriots. Most would never expect the Browns to be the favorite in that matchup.



Underdog Defined

If you understand the New England-Cleveland example, you should understand the concept of the underdog. In simple terms, the underdog is the team (or individual) that is expected to lose to a game, match, or event.

In our example, New England is the favorite. Cleveland is the underdog. How big of an underdog a team (or individual) is expressed by oddsmakers in two ways: the point spread and the moneyline.

How to Identify an Underdog

You can easily identify an underdog in sports betting. Whether its point spread betting or on the moneyline, the underdog is always designated with a plus sing (+).

Let’s use the following example.

            New England    -7.5

            Cleveland          +7.5

Notice, the Browns are the underdog as they are designated with the plus sign. How much of an underdog is seen by the number associated with the Browns. In this case, the Browns are a 7.5-point underdog.

That means if you bet on the Browns, they need to either win outright or lose by less than a touchdown. If Cleveland loses by eight or more points, bettors on the Browns would lose.

In moneyline betting, remember you are simply betting on a team (or individual) to win regardless of the margin of victory. Using the same example, we would find Cleveland to be the underdog again.

            New England     -350

            Cleveland         +260

If you bet $100 on Cleveland and the Browns win by any margin, you win $260.


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Betting on Underdogs

Underdogs have the potential for some large payouts. Does it pay to simply bet on the underdog all the time? That is not an easy question to answer.

By nature, underdogs lose more games than the favorite. Despite losing more games, bettors can still win when betting on the underdog. Take the NFL as an example.

Over the past five seasons, underdogs in the NFL have won just 34.2 percent of all games. But, since 2003, the underdog in NFL games has covered the spread 50.6 percent of the time.

Baseball is another sport where taking calculated risks on underdogs can pay off. Since 2005, MLB underdogs are just 15,683-21,231 overall, but over the past five seasons those MLB dogs have won 41.6 percent of the time.

Because baseball is such a low-scoring game, you do not see as many underdogs of +300 or more as you do in other sports. The same is true of hockey. In the past five seasons, MLB and NHL have combined for just 93 underdogs of +300 or more. The NBA alone had 1,532 in the same time span.

Just last season, Detroit was a +445 underdog to Houston. The Tigers beat the Astros 2-1.

For bettors, there is money to be made betting on underdogs, but remember winning bettors take advantage of every value bet they can find.

About the Author

A native of Western Pennsylvania, Rick, a Generation X-er, who now lives just north of the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan. A former high school, college, and professional football player, Rick now spends his time as a high school coach and as a personal quarterback trainer. An all-state high school quarterback, he went on to become an Academic All-American at Division II Indiana University of PA. He later coached at his alma mater helping lead the program to the 1990 NCAA Division II national championship game. Rick has also served as a high school head coach and as an assistant in Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan.

His passion for sports writing started when he was the sports editor for his high school newspaper and continued when he worked as a sportswriter for the Jamestown (New York) Post-Journal in the early 1990s. A true sports fanatic, Rick enjoys all things Pittsburgh: Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins. The Immaculate Reception, the 1979 We Are Family Pirates, and the ’91-’92 Penguins are among his favorites. After working as an educator and athletic director for several years, he again took up sports writing and has contributed to several websites and publications, including Coach & Player magazine, X & O Labs, American Football Monthly, and many others.

When not consumed with coaching, watching, thinking about, or writing about football and other seasonal sports, he finds himself working out like he was still in college and reading everything from military history to Brad Thor novels. Rick has also been chasing rock god stardom as a drummer who has played with bands that have opened for the likes of Fuel, Days of the New, and Alien Ant Farm. He continues to play with his church worship group. Most importantly, Rick is married to the love of his life, Lisa, and has two beautiful daughters.