With league parity at an all-time high, upsets in the NFL are more common these days.

Some of the greatest games in the history of the league involved a much-favorited team getting creamed by an underdog.

When we talk about upsets in NFL betting, we’re not just talking about point totals. When an underdog beats the spread, it’s an upset, even if they didn’t win the game outright. Unless you’re also a sports fan, you don’t care about the the W’s and L’s as much as a team’s record ATS.

Here are 4 tips to help you predict when a team is about to cover a spread or upset their opponent.

1. Bet on underdogs when they’re most likely to win.

Easier said than done, right? If you could somehow figure out when a ‘dog has the best statistical chance to win, you could predict “upsets” with regularity. Lucky for you, doing so is not just possible, it’s relatively easy. Finding trends, like the one I’m about to describe, should be a big part of your strategy for looking for value in NFL lines. Thanks to the internet, it’s not hard to find existing trends or use statistics to work out your own theory.

Here’s a powerful tool – since the beginning of the 2007 season, if you’d bet the moneyline on all underdog visitors with a point spread of between +2.5 and +6.5, you’d have turned some serious profit. In the 2010-2011 regular season, for example, teams in this position won 44% of the time. Taking the additional income from winning moneyline bets into account, your trends don’t have to win as often as trends for point spread bets.

Another underdog trend – you can find value in home underdogs ATS. Thirteen teams (that’s almost half the league) have covered more than 52.4% of the time over the past ten seasons. That means taking those teams ATS as home underdogs would have been profitable for a decade. The Seattle Seahawks are a remarkable 16-8 ATS when playing the underdog role at home – going back twelve seasons. The Houston Texans, not a remarkable team ATS, are 21-19 as home ‘dogs. That’s a good enough percentage to more than break even, going back to 2003.

2. Watch for away game upset specialists.

It’s easy to identify these teams – over the past three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks have performed remarkably well on the road ATS. America’s Team is 12-4 ATS when playing the road ‘dog role, and Seattle has a 6-2 record when in the same position. That’s two teams that cover 75% of the time that they play away as underdogs.

If that’s not a powerful trend, I don’t know what is.

What makes Dallas and Seattle so good at covering on the road?

You can credit both team’s QBs for some of those W’s – both Tony Romo and Russell Wilson seem to over-perform on the road. Dallas’ total away W-L record since 2012 is 17-8, so it’s not a huge surprise that the Cowboys play well on the road.

The same can’t be said for Seattle, who’ve gone 16-12 on the road overall. It’s safe to say that Wilson and company must play with a chip on their shoulder in situations where they’re not favorites to win.

I want to mention a surprise team as an upset specialist – the San Diego Chargers. San Diego has covered in 65% of their games they’ve played as road underdogs in the past three seasons, though the team has barely broken the .500 mark during the same period. It’s a bit riskier to back the Chargers in away underdog situations, but it could also be a profitable addition to your underdog strategy.

3. Be realistic about an underdog’s chances.

It’s great to fantasize about finding value in a long-shot underdog – it’s another thing to put together a plan that actually works. Picking an upset is hard work – you can’t just go wagering on every underdog on the board and wait to collect your cash.

Here’s an example:

You really shouldn’t back two-TD underdogs. The last time an upset happened with a line of +14 or higher was 2010, when the Minnesota Vikings beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-14. Five seasons later and it hasn’t happened again. It’s only happened four times in the last ten seasons. Backing a long underdog like that is just not a smart play.

You can look back at history for an idea of what ‘dogs to ignore – picking the Chicago Bears to cover when they’re the underdog is a historically-bad idea. Chicago is 44-60 ATS in that role since 2003, for a miserable 42% win rate. Over that same period, New England is 22-13 ATS, covering 63% of their games played in the underdog role. It’s pretty easy which team you should back, statistically, if you have both options available.

4. Get tips from sources you trust

You don’t have to be a genius to be a successful NFL bettor, you just have to know where the geniuses share what they know.

The trends and statistics I shared above aren’t entirely my own idea. I use tools like stat and team rankings as well as opinions from experts that I trust to form my own betting strategies. I’m no guru – I just know how to synthesize from a bunch of disparate sources.

How do you find trust-worthy sources?

Here’s a tip:

You have to read an awful lot of content to learn how to discern what’s good from what’s bad. Read everything you can find online about underdogs, upsets, trends, and betting strategy. If you read for an hour a day on the subject, you’ll be an expert at picking good content from bad content in just a few days.


Picking upsets is great fun, whether you’re doing it as a fan of the game or as a better with an eye toward profit. Using widely-available statistics and advice, you can put together your own strategy for selecting potential upset games. Read all you can, learn who to trust and who to ignore, and use statistics, and you’ll find yourself in a better position to place smart upset wagers.

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