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Which Sport do Underdogs Win in the Most Often?

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. 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 full seasons of the NFL, NBA and NHL and for the first half of the 2017 MLB season:

LeagueUnderdog Win %
Major League Baseball43%
National Hockey League40.51%
National Football League34.12%
National Basketball Association33.96%

These numbers shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, although I would have expected the NHL to be higher than MLB since hockey is a lower-scoring, more random sport. This isn’t an anomaly, however, as MLB underdogs won at a 41.5 percent clip during the 2016 season which is still higher than the NHL’s mark. The boost in underdog wins during the first half this season can be attributed to underachieving teams such as the Cubs, Mets, Blue Jays and Giants. San Francisco, in particular, is a brutal 17-33 as a betting favorite so far this season.

The predictability of the entire NBA season appears to extend to the betting window for individual games while there’s also less parity in the NFL, which is why we tend to see a greater number of games with larger moneyline underdogs in each league. Despite the overall lack of parity in both leagues, the underdog numbers get more interesting when we break them into different ranges and an 'Any Given Sunday' betting approach can be taken in both the NFL and NBA if you know where to look.

Here’s how dogs performed in each sport in five separate odds ranges. Profits are based on $100 bets:

Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15046.5%$1795
+151 to +20035.7%-$1234
+201 to +25029.3%-$439
+251 to +30030%$98
+301 and more0%-$100
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15043.33%-$3577
+151 to +20030.04%-$4930
+201 to +25033.96%$519
+251 to +30017.65%-$596
+301 and more25%$9
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15038.98%-$1397
+151 to +20045.83%$1863
+201 to +25023.53%-$735
+251 to +30015%-$870
+301 and more14.29%-$1030
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15042.58%-$1505
+151 to +20041.92%$3857
+201 to +25026.57%-$1872
+251 to +30030.21%$1143
+301 and more18.55%$5830

What jumps off the page is how big underdogs performed in the NBA this past season. Had you blindly bet on every +301 or larger dog in the NBA, you would have absolutely cleaned up. Some 318 games featured dogs this big with 59 of them picking up wins, translating to a very tidy $5830 profit for $100 bettors. 

Looking at NFL underdogs in the +151 to +200 range, they cashed in 45.83% of games, a full 6.85 percentage points higher than dogs in the +100 to +150 range. Of the five ranges, this is the only spot where underdogs were profitable. As a reference point, most +151 to +200 NFL underdogs tend to fall into the 3- to 6-point dog range.

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 that sexy +600 parlay bet is what gets bettors into trouble. However, by limiting your risk, putting a little bit of time in and considering some of the numbers above, you’ll be able to pick some winning spots and burn the books no matter what sport you like betting on the most.

For more underdog betting coverage, be sure to check out my weekly Plus-Money Picks videos on our YouTube channel and follow me on Twitter.