Betting on NFL Favorites Early and Underdogs Late

Posted by Aaron . on August 2, 2016 in

For a long time now, there has been a betting rule that you should take the favorites early but wait for the underdogs. The rationale behind this is that who bet for a hobby like to take the winning teams and will put down their cash on the side of the favorites, time and time again. The oddsmakers know this, so oftentimes they will adjust the NFL lines a bit so that these hobby bettors will pick bad lines just so they can stay popular.

The books know that the profits will come from the favorite side in just about every game. This is why a lot of bettors think that you should wait until the last minute before you put down money on a game’s underdog. The log is that the bettors get the most favorable line possible, which is really important when the game starts near a crucial number.

Betting on NFL Favorites Early and Underdogs Late

So what does the research indicate? According to a study by Sports Insights, between the start of the 2003 season and the end of the 2015 season, more than half of the spread bettors took the favorite in 2,576 of the 3,218 regular season contests. So in over four out of five regular season games, the public supported the favorite with their betting.

What good does waiting do? Well, if you track point spreads, you will see that they can shift significantly from opening until game time. There are a lot of different reasons. Some include injuries, weather conditions and the referee crew that will work the game. Others include balancing against the action that comes out. It’s not like books want the action to square up to exactly 50/50 on each side, but they will often shift a line slightly to cut down the amount of risk they are facing.

Now let’s look at whether it makes sense to wait to bet your underdog. The folks at Sports Insights analyzed each regular season and playoff contest from the beginning of the 2003 season. If the line moved toward the favorite (so if the Patriots went from -3 to -5, for example), that means that the favorite has to win by more in order for bettors to carry home the cash with the bet at that time. If you put your bet down at -3, even if the line moves to -11, you still get the win as long as the line you bet on (-3) works out for you.

During that time period (2003 to now), the line moved toward the favorite in about 43.8% of the games, meaning that the favorite had to win by more points as time moved from opening of the bet to game time. It moved toward the underdog about 31.8% of the time. The rest of the games (about 24.4%) featured a line that had the closing and opening lines identically the same. Since the most common trend is for the line to move toward the favorite, that indicates that, on the average, it is better to take the favorite early, because you’d rather have the Patriots at -3 than at -5. Why? Because the fewer points you have to cover, the better off you are if you’re taking the favorite. If you’re looking at the underdog, it makes sense to wait because the line is likely to become more favorable for you.