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Wrestling with Betting on Football Underdogs

I love betting football underdogs. If I am betting them on the moneyline then I love it because of the satisfaction of making better than even money on a bet – often much better. If it’s against the spread then there is the joy of spotting something that the betting public didn’t – since the public is almost always on the favorite. Underdog betting on football is not only a nice road to profit, but it’s an excellent metal exercise – a puzzle – that keeps things interesting and forces you to keep your skills sharp and constantly be improving. The downside is that betting underdogs can also be very expensive if you aren’t careful and effective. There is generally a reason why an underdog is not a favorite, and if you disregard that and bet the wrong underdogs then you can see your betting bankroll evaporate with frightening speed.

Here are five lines of thought that I like to pursue when I am looking for football underdogs that could be ready to deliver a payday for those football handicappers who back them.

Game where reputations don’t match performance – Every year the media gets very excited about a few football teams and can’t stop talking about them. Everywhere you turn you will hear or read about how amazing they are, how great their stars are, and how they are all but unbeatable. The public loves hearing about that stuff. Thankfully, the media is wrong far more often than they are right when they get excited about a team. A couple of  years ago it was the Browns that got all of the love heading into the season. Last year the Broncos were crowned as kings of the league after an early starts. In both cases they certainly didn’t have the fundamentals to back up the praise, and though the public was supporting them they were not successful. There are examples nearly every week of football teams that are inflated in the public view, and others where a team is much better than the public perception. When those teams meet up you have a golden opportunity to bet the underdog because the wagering public will flood the favorite.

Game where underdog has made quiet improvement – If a team loses a few games in a row then the betting public isn’t likely to look beyond the record when they are trying to assess the game. As you know if you have watched a lot of football, though, not all losses are created equal. It is possible for a team to lose a few games yet show real improvement in each game. Maybe injured star players are finding their health. Maybe a new offensive or defensive scheme is showing real signs of gaining traction, or a new quarterback is getting more comfortable. Perhaps a football team that has struggled with turnovers is getting a handle on the ball, or a weak secondary is growing a backbone. If you can spot improvements that the sports betting public won’t then you are essentially betting on a different and better team than they are, and that’s a good thing.

Off the radar but important injury for favorite – The public will freak out if a quarterback, a stud receiver, or a number one running back is injured. They may notice is a big pass rusher or a big name linebacker is missing. Beyond that they typically don’t care. If you are playing close attention to injuries then you may be able to spot a favorite that is missing a player that is important and under-appreciated – a blocking fullback, a center that gives his quarterback confidence, or a nose tackle that is ferocious against the run are all possible examples. This can payoff when making your bets.

Game where the underdog matches up well in style – The betting public will look first at how good the two offenses are, and then perhaps how strong the defenses are – though not in any real detail. What they aren’t likely to pay close attention to in most cases is how the teams actually match up. If a favorite that relies heavily on the run is up against a team that defends the run well then the underdog might be attractive. Similarly, an underdog that passes well could be attractive against a favorite with a vulnerable secondary. If you play close attention to matchups you’ll be surprised how often the action doesn’t match what you are seeing.

Statistical edge for underdogs – If you have a good handle on stats that actually matter – those that relate well to betting success – then you can often find nice underdogs ready to spring an upset. The football betting public can be blinded by well publicized by stats like QB ratings, passing touchdowns, or sacks, but those flashy numbers don’t always translate to success against the spread. If you are instead looking for things like an underdog with a yards per attempt average that is consistently higher than the starter, or an underdog that has a solidly positive turnover differential against a favorite with a negative differential then you’ll be able to spot edges. As a football handicapper, you risk getting too fancy here, but if you keep your analysis simple yet meaningful you can find some nice spots to bet.

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