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Should You Bet on the Public Underdog?

Written by: Richard Janvrin
10 min read

Should you bet on the favorite or the underdog? It’s an important question.

Even though it’s naturally more appealing to bet on the better team, knowing when it’s better to back the underdog is actually a crucial part of sports betting.

An underdog is the side of the bet that the sportsbook thinks is less likely to win. The most important part to understand is that since they’re less likely to win, the payouts are way bigger compared to betting on the favorite.

So, should you bet on the public underdog? The answer is a resounding yes, but the conditions have to be right. Just like all the best sports betting strategies, betting on the underdog can be profitable but it has to be done in the correct situation.

More good news is that the same concepts for betting the underdog apply to all major sports including NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, and more.

On this page, you can find everything you need to know about betting on the public underdog, including:

  • An in-depth definition of exactly what the term “underdog” means in sports betting.
  • How odds work in regards to underdogs and favorites.
  • The different kinds of underdog bets and how they work.
  • Example scenarios to show how you can profit more with underdog bets.
  • Practical strategy tips to put everything on this page into action.

Betting on the public underdog is a great way to find value so keep reading to find out how it works.

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What Is an Underdog in Sports Betting?

Simply put, the underdog is the side in a bet that is considered less likely to win.

  • The underdog can be a team. For example, if the Golden State Warriors were playing the Phoenix Suns, the Suns would more than likely be the underdog since the Warriors are currently the better team.
  • An underdog can also be a person. For example, if Roger Federer were playing in a US Open first-round match against an unknown player, his opponent would probably be the underdog.

How do you know which side of the bet is the underdog? Just look at the odds.

Since underdogs are considered less likely to win, the sportsbooks offer bigger, more attractive payouts for betting on them. This means that if you bet on them and win, you stand to make substantially more money than if you win a bet on the favorite.

If you’re not familiar with American odds, check out our easy guide to reading odds and betting lines before going any further.

For example, take a look at the following line you might want to bet on in the NFL:

  • New England Patriots -130
  • Kansas City Chiefs +150

In this example, betting on the Chiefs give you a way bigger payout than betting on the Pats. That means the Chiefs are the underdog. If you bet $100 on the Chiefs, you would win $150 in profit if they win. The Patriots are the favorite in this example and you would have to bet $130 to win just $100 in profit.

Betting on the underdog comes down to a balance between two key ideas:

  • The underdog is less likely to win
  • If the underdog does win, the payout is much more attractive.

When the sportsbook offers a payout that’s too big compared to the actual odds of the underdog winning, it’s a good bet to take. There are different strategies to spot these moments, which we will talk about in more detail later.

The most important concept to understand is that even though underdogs statistically lose more often than they win, betting on them can still be profitable due to their odds.

For example, you could easily place three separate $100 bets on the underdog in three different games, and still, end up making a profit if you win just one. If you made three $100 bets on the favorites and won just one, you would never make a profit.

Advantages of Betting on the Underdog

The biggest advantages to betting on the underdog include:

  • Bigger payouts compared to how much you bet.
  • More opportunities for favorable odds and betting lines.
  • You can make a profit even when you lose more bets than you win.

Disadvantages of Betting on the Underdog

Key downsides to betting on the underdog include:

  • You will lose more bets than you win.
  • Can be less exciting, since it is more enjoyable to support favorites.
  • Requires more monitoring and research to be successful.

Basics of Underdog Odds

The underdog is always the side of the bet with the biggest, most attractive odds. If you win a bet on an underdog, you will always win more money than if you had bet the same amount on the favorite.

Being the underdog does not necessarily mean the outcome is extremely unlikely, only that it is considered less likely than the alternative. You can have very slight underdogs, where the odds on the two sides are similar, and you can also have huge underdogs, where one side is considered way more likely to win

The bigger the underdog, the bigger the potential payout if you win.

The basic function of odds is to make up the difference between the favorite and the underdog but there’s more to the story than that. An important thing to remember is that the sportsbook controls the odds and their priority is to make money.

One way they do this is by trying to balance the action on both sides of most bets. In other words, they try to set odds that entice people to bet on both sides equally. Since the sportsbook charges a commission, equal action on both sides of a bet guaranteed the sportsbook a profit regardless of the bet’s outcome.

That’s one reason you see sportsbooks adjusting betting lines. If too many people are betting on the favorite, the sportsbook can make the odds for the underdog more attractive.

We’ll go into more detail about how to use this information to your advantage later. For now, make sure you understand these two key points:

  • The underdog is the side of the bet with the most attractive odds.
  • Winning a bet on the underdog results in a bigger payout than winning a bet on the favorite.

When Should You Bet on the Underdog?

Understanding when to bet on the underdog comes down to one concept and even though there’s a bit of basic math involved, it’s actually pretty easy to understand.

Odds and Implied Probability

Odds tell you how much your bet will payout but they also show you how what the sportsbook thinks the chances of the underdog winning are. This is called implied probability.

Instead of explaining the math formula, we recommend using a free sports betting calculator to do the work for you. There are tons available on lots of different sites.

If you see an underdog listed with odds of +150, like in the example in the next section on money line bets, that works out to an implied probability of that team winning roughly 40% of the time.

If you think the underdog’s actual chances of winning are higher than that, it’s a good bet to take.

  • If you think the underdog’s ACTUAL chances of winning are higher than the implied probability of the odds, it’s a profitable bet in the long run.

Of course, in order for this to work, your estimation of the actual odds have to be accurate. That’s why so much of sports betting comes down to doing your homework and getting as much good information as possible to use in your decision making.

Are Odds for Underdogs Generally Better Than for Favorites?

There are good reasons that betting on underdogs can be more favorable than backing the favorite and we’ve touched on a few already.

  • In general, the majority of the betting public likes to bet on the favorite, sometimes without much regard for the value of the bet.

There are a number of reasons that people tend to bet on the favorite. The first is obvious: the favorite is, by definition, the most likely to win, so it can’t be that bad a bet right? This is true, but only if the value of the bet corresponds favorably to how likely they are to win.

There are many other factors that influence people to bet on the favorite, often without even considering the odds. They include the media narrative, big-name players on the favorite team, and the simple psychology of people preferring to predict popular winners.

For casual bettors, these factors can be more compelling than making a logical decision based on the odds or point spread.

All of these factors combined tend to create a lot of action on favorites. Since sportsbooks want to balance their action, this means they will push the line in favor of the underdog, creating more value.

  • In money line bets, this means that underdogs are more likely to have bigger payouts than they should.
  • In point spread bets, it means underdogs get more points on the spread than they should.

Betting Against the Public

Another concept at work here is called “betting against the public”. This strategy relies on the idea that when a significant majority of the betting public bets on the favorite, they’re wrong more often than they’re right. The stats from sports databases back this up.

Basically, the more action that is being put on the favorite from the general public, the more attention you should be paying to the underdog.

For more information, read our comprehensive guide to betting against the public.

There are lots of different bets where you can back the underdog but two common examples are money line and point spread bets.

Moneyline Bets on the Underdog

Betting on the money line is the simplest way of betting on sports. A money line bet is simply betting on one team or player to win the game. Let’s look at an example:

  • Golden State Warriors -135
  • Toronto Raptors +150

In a money line bet, the underdog is always the team with the plus (+) in front. The team with the minus (-) is the favorite. In this example, the Raptors are the underdogs and the Warriors are the favorites.

If you bet $100 on the Raptors you will win $150 in profit. A $135 bet on the Warriors, meanwhile, will earn you $100 in profit.

The difference in payouts is significant but how does that compare to each team’s actual chances of winning? Go back to the section on implied odds for tips on how to compare the odds and implied probability to see if it’s a good bet.

The bookmakers are good at predicting favorites but there’s more that goes into the odds than just how much better they think one team is compared to the other. Sometimes the skill difference between the underdog and the favorite is inflated thanks to media hype or one-star player.

Basically anytime the sportsbook thinks people are naturally going to bet on the favorite, they can get away with offering a slightly worse payout.

When the odds get worse for the favorite, it often means the odds get better for the underdog. This is a key concept in the next section where we talk about betting on the underdog with point spread bets.

Moneyline Underdog Example

Before we move on, let’s look at another example and compare three different NFL games to see how powerful betting on the underdog can be for your bottom line:

Game 1

  • Milwaukee Bucks -700
  • Atlanta Hawks +650

Game 2

  • Boston Celtics – 650
  • Chicago Bulls +600

Game 3

  • Houston Rockets -600
  • Minnesota Timberwolves +650

In this case, we have three bets where there is a clear favorite and a big underdog. With odds like this, it is clear that most people expect the favorite to win in each game.

Say you bet $100 on each of the underdogs only the Hawks managed to win. You lose $100 on two bets but win $650 in profit on the Hawks. That’s a net profit of $450 even though you lose two-thirds of your bets.

It’s a basic example but it clearly shows how betting on the underdog can be profitable. If you bet on the underdog regularly, you shouldn’t expect to win as many bets but overall you may win more profit.

Moneyline bets on the public underdog are pretty simple: if a lot of people are betting on the favorite, the odds of the underdog will become more attractive. This makes them a more valuable bet.

Point Spread Bets on the Underdog

Point spread bets are another really popular way of betting and it can be a great way to cash in on the underdog. While a money line bet is simply betting on who will win, a point spread bet incorporates a certain margin of victory.

Essentially the spread awards points to the underdog’s final score and subtracts points from the favorite’s score. Another name for this is handicap betting. Here is an example of how a point spread line might look:

  • New England Patriots -3 (-110)
  • Philadelphia Eagles +3 (-110)

The first number next to each team is the point spread. Once again, the underdog is the team with the plus (+) value. In this case that’s the Eagles. The Pats have the negative sign which means they’re the favorite.

  • A bet on the Eagles wins is the Eagles either win the game outright or lose by two or fewer points.
  • If the Eagles lose by two points, for example, you still win the bet.
  • For a bet on the Patriots to win, the Pats must win by four or more points.
  • If the Patriots win by two points, for example, you lose the bet.
  • If the difference between the teams is exactly three points, it results in a push (a tie) and your bet is refunded.

The amount you win is determined by the odds. Those are the numbers in brackets next to the point spread. given beside the points, which are expressed in the same way as money line odds. -110 means you have to bet $110 to win $100 profit.

-110 is the most common odds used with point spread bets and when both teams have the same number, it means the sportsbook thinks the bet is roughly 50/50. The reason you have to bet $110 to win $100 is because of the sportsbook’s commission.

Sometimes you’ll find odds of -105 on point spreads which is favorable to the player since you can bet less and still win the same profit.

With a point spread, the goal of the sportsbook is to create a level playing field between the two sides of the bet, something close to a coin flip. Point spreads are one way they can do that.

Point spread bets are a little more complicated to understand, but they can be very effective for betting on the underdog. That’s because the point spread evens the playing field. The downside is that the odds are usually the same for the favorite and the underdog, so you won’t get a big return on your money betting the underdog like we saw with money lines.

Strategies and Tips for Betting on the Underdog

There are lots of ways you can profitably bet on the underdog in sports. Follow these tips and strategies to get started:

Be Patient and Wait for Lines to Move

A very important thing to be aware of when betting on the underdog is that betting lines change as the game gets closer and more people put down action.

Even if you think betting on the underdog is the smart play, it can be worthwhile to wait to see if their odds improve, especially if you are a long way out from the game.

This is even more true for underdogs against a strongly fancied favorite since the public loves to bet on the favorite. Don’t rush into betting on the underdog, wait to make sure you get the best price.

Don’t Believe the Hype

It’s easy for underdogs to fly under the radar. With the way sports media works, people are far more likely to pay attention to winning teams and big names.

When you notice that the media is over-hyping a team or a player, check out the odds on their opponents. There’s a good chance the underdog will be offered at a great price.

Do Your Research

Regardless of who you’re betting on, don’t forget the basics. There are an endless number of factors that can influence an underdog’s chances of winning. The more research you do, the better decisions you’ll be able to make.

Be aware of the history between the two teams, key players, and less obvious factors like stadium, weather, travel schedules, and more.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Betting on the underdog doesn’t always jump out to beginning sports bettors as a smart option. Even people who have been betting for a long time often focus on simple wagers, like money line bets on the favorite.

However, the more you understand about sports betting the more value you will begin to see in betting on the underdog. Remember, the underdog is the side of the bet with the bigger payouts. Underdogs are less likely to win but will result in a higher payout if they do.

The value in betting on the underdog is all about noticing when the public are getting too excited about one side of a bet, the favorite. This means that the odds or the points on the underdog will go up, making them a more valuable bet. Ultimately, the underdog is the dog for a reason: it is less likely to win the game. The question you should be asking yourself is: “is the dog really THAT much less likely to win the game?” or “are they really likely to lose by THAT many points?”

When the public is heavily backing the favorite, the answer to these questions is often no.

If you like straightforward bets and potentially big payouts, money lines are a great option to bet the underdog. Since the payouts are relatively big, you don’t need to win every underdog money line bet you make to be profitable.

Point spread betting gives you a way better chance of winning when you bet on the underdog but the payouts will be a lot smaller compared to money lines. Since the majority of people prefer betting on the favorite, sportsbooks often move the line in favor of the underdog to attract more action to that side of the bet and take a little extra edge against the people backing the favorite.

Next time you check out the latest odds and betting lines, instead of looking at the favorites and the biggest names, look at the teams they’re playing. When the conditions are correct it can pay off big.

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Richard Janvrin

550 Articles

After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Journalism, Richard Janvrin has been covering iGaming and sports betting since December 2018. Richard has covered betting at Bleacher Report, Gambling.com, The Game Day, Forbes, and more.

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