Underdogs are Killing It in the NFL

Sportsbooks are in business to make money and, by and large, they are extremely successful. While the vig is a big part of their business, so too is setting excellent lines. Favorites and underdogs should win at about the same rate, making handicapping difficult. However, this year in the NFL, that simply isn’t the case.

Week 10 began with the Bills beating the Jets as roughly three-point road dogs. On Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals won at Seattle, 39-32, also as three-point dogs, making underdogs 10-3 ATS (and 9-4 SU) on the week. That includes Kansas City and Chicago both winning as touchdown underdogs, and the Lions getting by Green Bay despite laying double-digit points.

For the entire 2015 NFL season, underdogs are 80-60-4 against the spread according to numbers calculated using teamrankings.com. Home dogs are covering about 55-percent of the time and road underdogs are cashing tickets at a 58-percent clip.

In Week 10, three teams were getting at least seven points. All three covered and two won outright. In Week 9, big favorites covered two of three games, but Tennessee was an outright winner at New Orleans while getting more than a touchdown. Week 8 also brought three heavy favorites, and two covered, but the Bucs won in Atlanta.

For years, media and fans have joked about the NFL’s desire for parity. TV ratings are best when everyone is in contention and games go down to the wire. The league has, for the most part, achieved that. Only three teams (Cincinnati, Minnesota, and Carolina) are covering as a favorite more than 70-percent of the time, while 13 squads are cashing under 30-percent of the time as chalk.

Where does this leave us?

Not every underdog wins and it is not recommended you bet on every game. But it seems reasonable to take the points when and if you’re unsure about a contest.

Also, the number of dogs winning outright has made moneylines very intriguing. You can generally get between 3/2 and 4/1 value depending upon how many points they are receiving.

Finally, don’t be afraid to turn off your ears. There has been a lot of talk this season about the struggles of the Colts and how poorly Denver quarterback Peyton Manning has looked. Those two teams are a combined 6-0 against the spread as underdogs. The moral of the story is most teams in the NFL are pretty similar, more often than not taking the points provides value.

(Photo credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)