Christopher Hitchens had this advice for young people in his book Letters to a Young Contrarian: “Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence.” Sure, it’s poetic, but I think there’s a genuine nugget of wisdom in there for us sports bettors.

I’ve been called a contrarian, and I wear the label with pride. Over the past ten years, I’ve gone out of my way to bet in a method contrary to most people’s opinion. Becoming a contrarian bettor means looking for trends that give you a potentially profitable opportunity to bet against the grain. Contrarians zig where others zag, avoid betting with the public, and seek to find value in places other bettors would dare not go.

You can build a contrarian NFL betting strategy out of just about anything. With a little research, you can discover facts like this one – since the 2003 NFL season, visiting teams have a winning record against the spread – 1,511–1,452, for a winning percentage of 51%. A similar tale can be told about the underdogs, who’ve gone 1,490–1,483. The trouble with these numbers is – they aren’t consistent enough. 51% isn’t even close to a profitable point, considering the impact of juice, and underdogs are in a veritable tie with favorites.

When I say the phrase “contrarian betting,” I’m using a broad stroke. Do contrarians wager against the public? Yes. Do they have a generally oppositional perspective on publicly-held or popular opinions? Absolutely. Will a contrarian take a side that’s in the middle of a prolonged drought? I do it all the time. I also wager on non-playoff teams and tend to bet on the underdog in the face of evidence to the contrary. Hence the name.

Here is a guide to becoming a true NFL contrarian – the strategies below fly in the face on conventional football betting wisdom, and for good reason. Even if you disagree with every bit of advice I have to offer, it’s important that you understand how I develop these methods, and why I think they’ll work.

Backing After a Blowout Loss

When people ask me for an example of my counter-to-the-norm betting style, I’ll trot out this strategy.

One of the simplest ways to profit from fading the public is to back a team that just recently suffered a high-profile blowout loss. The reason this works is simple – sports analysts, journalists, and broadcasters have spent the past week insulting a team for its poor performance. This leads directly to inflated lines for the team’s next game. This is where a smart contrarian perks up his ears.

If a dog on the board is getting very little public attention, thanks in part to a blowout loss the week before, it’s time to back that side. Teams that have lost their previous contest by a touchdown or more are statistically more likely to win against the spread.

This kind of simple betting philosophy is a bit misleading. You’re not always going to find a trick that fits every keyhole, like this one. Most contrary NFL wagering tactics are more complex, like the ones below.

The 80/20 System

You’ll hear a lot of people say that they’re contrarians because they fade the public. I don’t think “fading the public” is all it takes to be a true NFL contrarian – I also don’t believe that simply betting against public opinion is enough to give you an edge against the book.

My version of the 80/20 system comes to me from an old-school sports bettor who never did explain the origin of the name. Basically, this method takes the phrase “fading the public” to a new level. I only consider fading the public when the underdog involved is receiving little or no public attention. That generally means making a bet on a total underdog playing one of the premiere teams in the league. This is more than betting against the general consensus – it means backing a team that almost no one thinks will cover.

Ready for the math to back it up? Since 2003, this situation has occurred during the NFL regular season 182 times. The underdog has covered 101 times, or 55.5% of the time. That’s an ROI of just over 8%.

In-Conference Underdogs

Historically speaking, heavy underdogs perform even better than slight underdogs. Underdogs of at least seven points were particularly profitable in conference games. I’m speaking here of underdogs against a spread of +7 or more. This rule works the other direction, too – underdogs at +6.5 or less actually have a losing record since 2003 – they’ve gone 53-54.

I’ve believed for years that in-conference familiarity between two teams tends to level the playing field, if you’ll pardon the pun. This familiarity traditionally benefits the underdog, because they’re the team getting points from the book. How can I combine the knowledge that in-conference play creates parity with my knowledge that long underdogs tend to be profitable?

It seems pretty simple to me – I bet on the side of long underdogs in conference play, and I do it consistently. Believe it or not, going back a decade, dogs of +7 or longer have gone 38-15 ATS, or about a 40% ROI. That’s the kind of number that will get you hooked on the contrarian philosophy.


As far as I’m concerned, no winning strategy should be considered contrarian. As soon as I tell a buddy or two about my new contrarian tactics, they start implementing them, and I can’t help but feel like the tactic has lost some of its novelty and therefore some of its power.

The purpose of this article is to show you that anyone can find this type of wager with a little research and some creative thinking. I believe that as many contrarian betting strategies exist as contrarians wagering on sports. The trick is to find a mathematical basis for your argument, regardless of how hard it goes against the betting grain.

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