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In Which Sport do Underdogs Win 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 (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 most popular sports leagues in North America.

Underdog win percentages by sport:

Here’s the win percentage of underdogs for the last five full regular seasons of the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, NCAA Basketball and NCAA Football, along with the last five years of the UFC:

LeagueUnderdog Win %
Major League Baseball41.6%
National Hockey League41.4%
Ultimate Fighting Championship35%
National Football League34.2%
National Basketball Association32.1%
NCAA Basketball (all divisions)25.9%
NCAA Football (all divisions)21.9%

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 sport. As for the two college sports, we often see matches that are so lopsided that moneyline odds aren’t even on the board. Each college league offers some matchups with such drastic disparities in performance levels and ability, often on a nightly basis. We don’t see this in the pro leagues so the low underdog win percentages make sense.

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 93 teams close as an underdog of +300 or more in the five-year span, the NBA has had 1,532 and the NFL has had 212. Given that they have many more teams, the college numbers are in a completely different ballpark with NCAA Basketball seeing a whopping 7,487 underdogs of +300 or more, with NCAA Football having 1,677 underdogs in that range.

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

MLB
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15044.5%-$14,015
+151 to +20036.5%-$4,167
+201 to +25029.2%-$4,333
+251 to +30024%-$1,867
+301 and more20%-$916
NHL
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15043.2%-$17,757
+151 to +20035.1%-$7,058
+201 to +25030.8%-$376
+251 to +30030.6%+$877
+301 and more16.7%-$551
NFL
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15042.3%-$2,102
+151 to +20038.6%+$1,689
+201 to +25026.1%-$2,571
+251 to +30021.1%-$2,375
+301 and more19.3%+$696
NBA
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15045%+$447
+151 to +20035%-$4,613
+201 to +25027.5%-$6,662
+251 to +30027.4%+$1,350
+301 and more17.2%+$5,433
UFC
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15045.9%+$2,098
+151 to +20033.2%-$3,686
+201 to +25024.9%-$4,307
+251 to +30023.2%-$1,986
+301 and more12.5%-$8,652
NCAA Basketball (all divisions)
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15042.3%-$33,895
+151 to +20032.9%-$34,708
+201 to +25028.6%-$12,878
+251 to +30022.8%-$23,241
+301 and more12.2%-$160,403
NCAA football (all divisions)
Odds RangeWin %Profit
+100 to +15046.8%+$2,286
+151 to +20036.8%+$707
+201 to +25031.5%+$1,170
+251 to +30022.1%-$4,531
+301 and more11.4%-$32,055

What jumps off the page is that an overwhelming number of these ranges are unprofitable. This is hardly a surprise, though, as blindly betting every single underdog is a godawful betting strategy.

Over in the UFC, we’ve seen dogs of +100 to +150 cash in over the last five years. This is one of my favorite betting spots, as usually these matchups are tighter than the odds indicate. Setting lines for UFC fights can’t be easy as we often see matchups between fighters with drastically different fighting styles and experience levels. Keep those two things in mind when analyzing UFC odds.

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 underdog betting spots and burn the books no matter what sport you like betting on the most.

Biggest Underdog Wins per League:

Here’s the biggest upsets in each league over the five-year period:

MLB
GameOdds
Tigers over Astros in Houston - August 21, 2019+445
Orioles over Astros in Baltimore - August 11, 2019+410
Tigers over Astros in Houston - July 15, 2018+370
Royals over Yankees in New York - July 28, 2018+362
Rockies over Dodgers in LA - September 21, 2019+355
NHL
GameOdds
Red Wings over Sharks in San Jose - March 25, 2019+320
Red Wings over Knights in Las Vegas - March 23, 2019+320
Canucks over Rangers in New York - November 8, 2016+300
Rangers over Maple Leafs in Toronto - March 23, 2019+300
Sabres over Bruins in Boston - February 10, 2018+293
NFL
GameOdds
Bills over Vikings in Minnesota - September 23, 2018+1000
Dolphins over Patriots in New England - December 29, 2019+797
Dolphins over Falcons in Atlanta - October 15, 2017+635
Falcons over Saints in New Orleans - November 10, 2019+600
Eagles over Rams in LA - December 16, 2018+600
Cardinals over Packers in Green Bay - December 2, 2018+600
NBA
GameOdds
T-Wolves over Warriors in Golden State - April 5, 2016+1350
Kings over Warriors at home - February 4, 2017+1175
Suns over Warriors in Golden State - March 10, 2019+1125
Warriors over Nuggets in Denver - March 3, 2020+1100
Hawks over Cavs in Cleveland - April 4, 2017+1100
NCAA Basketball
GameOdds
Stephen F. Austin on the road over Duke - November 26, 2019+8500
Florida A&M on the road over Iowa State - December 31, 2019 +5000
Charleston Southern on the road over Missouri - December 3, 2018+4000
Evansville on the road over Kentucky - November 12, 2019+3750
Delaware State on the road over St. John’s - November 29, 2016+3250
NCAA Football
GameOdds
Illinois at home over Wisconsin - November 19, 2019+5000
South Alabama on the road over Mississippi State - September 3, 2016+3500
Eastern Washington on the road over Washington State - September 3, 2016+3237
Old Dominion at home over Virginia Tech - September 22, 2018+3000
The Citadel on the road over Georgia Tech- September 14, 2019+2500
UFC
GameOdds
Roxanne Modafferi over Maycee Barber - January 18, 2020+600
Paul Craig over Magomed Ankalaev - March 17, 2018+535
Ryan Janes over Andrew Sanchez - December 1, 2017+525
Rose Namajunas over Joanna Jedrzejczyk - November 4, 2017+525
Eric Spicely over Thiago Santos - September 24, 2016+525

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