Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

Jonathan Askew profile picture
Sports Editor Fact Checked by Nick Raffoul

What does every betting market in the world have in common?

They all have a favorite and an underdog.

Underdog betting can be one of the most profitable ways to make money from online betting. Knowing how and when to pick the play that, on paper at least, shouldn’t win, is a skill and we’re going to teach you how best to use this skill.

Throughout this article, we will look at how underdog betting works, along with underdog betting strategy and which sportsbooks are best for underdog markets.

What is Underdog Betting

Underdog betting is where you’re betting on a selection within a market that is not the favorite. There are lots of ways that you can class an “underdog”, but we think that as long as it’s not the shortest price on that market then it’s not expected to win.

If you’re new to sports betting, then you may be wondering why you would ever bet on anything other than the pick that is most likely to win. The answer is simply that, sport is highly unpredictable and betting odds are reflective of long-term head to heads as much as they are short-term.

For example, let’s take an NBA game between the Phoenix Suns and the San Antonio Spurs.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

We’ve two prices on the moneyline bet from Bovada which is the Suns at -220 and the Spurs at +180. The odds would suggest that the Suns are the favorites, and the Spurs are the underdogs.

The implied probability of each team winning would be:

  • Suns = 68.8%
  • Spurs = 35.7%

Please note that this creates an overround of 104.5%, which means that the juice charged by the sportsbook for this bet is 4.5%. You don’t need to worry too much about this for underdog betting, but we wanted to highlight just in case you were wondering why it was more than 100%.

Bovada are suggesting that 68.8% of the time the Suns win and 35.7% of the time the Spurs win. Whilst the Suns are favorites, there is no guarantee that they will win, meaning that the underdog bet is very much in play.

What Does “Underdog” Mean?

The term underdog dates to the late 19th Century and was a phrase linked to dogfighting. When two dogs were put head-to-head the winner was referred to as “top dog” and the loser the “underdog”.

Over the years there have been many stories that included an underdog winning, such as David and Goliath and Robin Hood and King Arthur. The moral of each story is following someone who should, by all accounts, lose their fight. However, they go on to defy the odds and win.

The underdog bet is one that many sports bettors like to track. The chance to get one over on the bigger, better team is highly satisfying and one of the main reasons why these bets are so popular with so many sports.

How to Bet the Underdog

There are two ways to define an underdog bet. One is to assume that any selection within that market that is not the favorite is the underdog. The second is to assume that the longest odds in the market can be the only underdog.

This may sound like the same thing, but they do differ, and we are going to look at how you bet on both.

First up, let’s look at how you bet on an underdog that is not the favorite. It’s incredibly easy to do and all you’re looking for is the bet that is not the shortest odds in that market.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

In the image above we’ve included two NFL games. One between the Chicago Bears and the Detroit Lions, and the other between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys.

We need to look at the moneyline market for this or in the case of Bovada, the “win” market. In the first game, the Bears are priced at -175 and the Lions at +150. The Lions are a longer price, so this makes them our underdog bet.

In the second game, the Raiders are priced at +260 and the Cowboys at -320. The Raiders are the longer odds for this game, which makes the underdog,

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

 

To place the bet, you need to click on the odds for each bet. This will add them to your bet slip where you can choose your stake. For this example, we’ve added both picks to our bet slip and placed a $10 bet on each. The bet slip then shows you the amount you will win (profit) from each bet.

Now let’s switch it up to a market where there are more than two picks. For this, we’ve moved across the NBA and are looking at the overall winner for the Atlantic Division.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

As you can see, there are now five teams to choose from. The Brooklyn Nets are the number one pick, priced at -450. They are unequivocally the favorite to take the division.

There is no right or wrong answer for who is the underdog here, as long as it’s not the Nets. Some might say that because the Raptors are the longest price at +6000, this would be the obvious pick. However, based on the underdog simply not being any pick other than the favorite, we are happy to take any team that is not the Nets.

Placing a bet works in the same way in that, you need to click the odds for your pick to add it to the bet slip.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

As you can see, we’ve taken the Raptors at +6000 and placed a $10 bet. Our bet slip shows the stake and the “Win” (profit).

Reading Underdog Betting Odds

Betting odds in the US are represented as a positive or a negative number. The positive number shows how much you win per $100 staked. The negative shows how much you need to stake to make a $100 profit.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

The example above shows a game between Miami Heat and Detroit Pistons. Let’s concentrate on the “win” bet, which is essentially just the moneyline and is the market for the outright winner and no handicaps applied.

Miami is priced at -460 to win. This means that you would need to stake $460 to make a $100 profit.

Detroit is priced at +340. This means that you would make a $340 profit for every $100 you staked.

Highlighting which bet is the underdog is as simple as seeing which is the positive number and which is negative. In these scenarios, the negative is always the favorite and the positive is always the underdog.

When you’re betting on markets that have just two possible outcomes, there will never be a case where you have two sets of odds that are positive. So, you wouldn’t have two bets that were +150 for example.

There will be times where you have games that are both negative odds.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

The example above is an NFL game between the LA Rams and the Green Bay Packers. As you can see, odds for this are both negative, with the Rams priced at -105 and the Packers at -115.

When this occurs the odds with the highest number is the underdog. So, given that -105 is higher than -115, it would mean that the Rams are underdogs for this game. The game is very close. Here are the implied probabilities from these odds.

  • Green Bay Packers implied probability to win = 53.5%
  • LA Rams implied probability to win = 51.2%

Payouts for different bets can differ from underdog sports betting. In the next section, we’re going to look at a couple of examples of this and how they might work in the real world.

Underdogs Sports Betting

There are underdog betting opportunities for all sports. Some are clearer cut than others, but each has its own merits and possibilities. Below we’re going to run through the major US sports and highlight a few examples in each of where underdog bets are possible.

Betting Underdogs NFL

The NFL is one of the best places to bet on the underdog. There are 32 teams that start each season and the difference between the top and the bottom is massive.

However, one thing that keeps the NFL relevant is the fact that the draft picks for the best college players are evenly spread between teams that are struggling to keep them competitive. This means that it’s possible to find some great underdog odds for teams that have improved significantly through good recruiting in the offseason.

There are two key markets that you want to target for underdog sports betting in the NFL. The first is the singles market that we’ve mentioned previously but will re-highlight now.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

The image above shows a game between the New York Jets and the Houston Texans. The moneyline bet is priced at +130 for the Jets and -150 for the Texans. This shows us that the Texans are favorites, and the Jets are underdogs.

What this game show is a typical NFL example of the difference between the odds for two single moneyline bets.

Another incredibly popular underdog bet comes from the futures market. There are no bigger futures bets than that of the Super Bowl and we wanted to look at underdog betting for this.

Who is the underdog in the Super Bowl? Well, in the image above we have the betting markets for all 32 teams to win Super Bowl 56. The favorite for the win is Tampa Bay priced at +600. Technically, this makes all other pick an underdog bet. You could argue that Kansas City Chiefs at +650 are joint favorites, but you get where we’re coming from.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

We now move into the realms of how big an underdog bet you want to make. For example, there would be a huge difference between picking a team like the LA Rams at +800 and the Houston Texans at +500000.

Other underdog markets on the NFL can include divisional bets, conference winners, team total wins, MVPs, and playoff winners.

NBA Underdogs Betting

The NBA is one of the best leagues to bet on underdog markets. The main reason for this is the sheer volume of games that are played, with each team playing 82 regular-season games, plus another potential 28 games for the overall winner when you include the playoffs.

It’s common for teams to go on streaks of winning or losing throughout the season, but even the most dominant teams are untouchable when it comes to underdog betting strategy.

The singles market is the most common underdog bet and it’s here where you find a lot of extreme matchups given the quality between the top and bottom teams.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

In the image above you can see that Miami Heat are huge favorites against the Detroit Pistons, priced at -520 and +375 respectively. Backing the Pistons at +375 would be a huge underdog bet and a common one for NBA betting.

The NBA also offers options to back underdog bets from futures markets such as NBA Championship, divisional and regional winners.

MLB Underdog Betting System

If we had to pick a single sport for underdog betting it would probably be baseball and more specifically, the MLB. In the MLB each team will play a minimum of 162 games throughout the course of the season.

Given the sheer volume of games to bet on, means that underdog sports betting is way more common than almost all other sports. It’s also a much more competitive league.

To put this into some context, in 2021 the best team in the regular season was the Tampa Bay Rays, who had a 61.7% win rate. This means that they lost 62 games of their 162 total, which is a lot considering they are the best.

Underdog Betting – How to Perfect Your Underdog Betting Strategy

The image above highlights a random game week from the 2021 MLB season. You can see the average odds (taken from dozens of betting sites) for each team and then the winner has their odds highlighted in green.

What is most notable here is that just 4 of 10 games saw the favorite win, with 6 underdog bets coming in. This isn’t a one-off either and is quite common throughout the league.

Like most US-based sports, it’s not just single bets that you can place for underdog bets. Season-long bets like World Series winner and divisional winners will yield similar markets, often with odds are that much more inflated.

NHL Underdog Betting

NHL underdog betting works a little different from the others in that, the accumulation of points is not the same. You get 2 points for a win, then 1 point for any game that goes into overtime.

Depending on the betting site will depend on the market you can bet on. For example, some betting sites play three markets, which include regular time home win, away win or draw (tie). Other betting sites will have it so it’s just a home or away wins, with the result in overtime contributing to that result.

For underdog betting on the NHL, you’re still looking at bets that are longer priced than the favorite.

Explore Our Expert-Written Sports Betting Guides

Is it Worth Betting on the Underdog?

The short answer to this question is unequivocal, yes. Betting on the underdog can be one of the most lucrative bets that you can place with any sportsbook.

It does, however, have its downsides though and with that you need to be prepared to work a little harder to see long-term profits. Below we’ve included some pros and cons to betting on the underdog.

Pros for Betting on the Underdog

  • Large Payout – When you bet on the underdog, you’re taking the largest possible payout from that market. The odds are higher than the favorite so you maximize the amount of money that you can win.
  • Single Wins Cover Multiple Small Wins – A single underdog win can cover multiple wins on the favorite. For example, if you manage to pull off a single +500 win this returns $500 profit for a $100 stake. You would need to place 8 bets at odds of -150 to make the same return and this assumes that you win all 8 in a row.
  • Easier to Find Value Bets – The longer the odds, the bigger the difference between the price within betting sites. By doing a little line shopping you generally find that you can get a wider range of odds for underdog betting than you would for the favorite.

Cons for Betting on the Underdog

  • Less Chance of Winning – Underdogs are priced longer than the favorite for a reason. They are less likely to win, which means you’re taking a risk on losing more bets than you win.

Underdog Betting – Conclusion

There is no doubt that underdog betting has its place. You should never be put off a bet simply because of its price and it’s not always the case that a sportsbook has priced up the odds for a market correctly.

Underdog betting allows you to take long odds and win more money as a result. Make sure you use all the tools possible to find when the longer price offers more value than the favorite and then simply back your research for the bet.

Underdog Betting FAQs

What is it called when an underdog wins?

Who is the Underdog in Betting?

Do most people bet on the underdog or favorite?

Is the underdog plus or minus?

What is a +200 underdog?

Jonathan has been working within the iGaming sector since 2007. After graduating with a BA Hons in Marketing from Northumbria University, he's been able to set up his own online content business, working with some of the biggest brands in the iGaming sector. Outside of work he enjoys any type of sports, especially cricket, golf, football and darts.