Sports Betting Myths: Another Gambling Falsehood Exposed

Sports betting has more than its share of urban legends. The spread of such tomfoolery is precisely how lavish casinos are built. Among my favorites is the “if–then construct” when it comes to betting the side and total in the same game.

Let me quote directly from another handicapper whose identity shall be protected for his own protection. “If you’re a parlay type bettor that likes to bet the total and side of a game, here’s a piece of advice. If you bet on the favorite, take the over. If you like the underdog, take the under.” 

His justification is, “The logic behind this theory is simple. For example: when a team is favored by 7 points or more with an over of 44.5, all you need is for the underdog to get up ahead or stay in the game as long as they can. Because the favorite is more likely to catch up and put up some points on the board, the percentage is good to cover the over. As for the dog, if they can keep the favorite off the board, the percentage of the under and dog covering is on your side.”

The volume on this myth gets turned up more the larger the point spread. It becomes at higher decibel levels if the total is disproportionately high or low on top of the expected blowout.

Similarly, the most common (false) rationale is that the higher scoring the game is, the more likely a blowout will occur and hence the favorite is more likely to cover.  However, if the game is lower scoring, the myth perpetuates, the better for the underdog.

The overmatched team needs to, “control the pace and shorten the game.” Ah, talk about great sports clichés.

On the surface, it does make sense—but only in theory. It does not hold any water in real life betting.

I conducted the same study with NBA games, with mirror fallacy busting results. But let’s use the hard numbers from the most popular gambling sport: pro football. The database we use goes back to 1989. This includes regular and postseason games. Preseason NFL betting is not included.

Parameter: All NFL games

Presumed most common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and OVER 1326
Underdog and UNDER 1403
Presumed least common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and UNDER 1285
Underdog and OVER 1348

Conclusion: admittedly the theory shows some scintilla of potential as the favorite and the under happened only 91.5 as often as the underdog and the under. This is consistent with the theory.

But alas, the hypothesis falters as the underdog and the over proves to be more commonplace than the favorite and the over, disproving “conventional logic.”

Despite the above quote originating from a tout, personal experience dictates the would-be expert buys it hook, line, and sinker with a large point spread.

We report, you decide. Here are the results since 1989 on all games in which the line was at least double-digits.

Parameter: All NFL games with a point spread of at least 10.

Presumed most common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and OVER 171
Underdog and UNDER 177
Presumed least common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and UNDER 169
Underdog and OVER 194

Conclusion: not only does the sports betting old wives tale prove to be false, but also the results lean towards the opposite to be true. Counterintuitive, the underdog and the over are the most likely outcome in an expected blowout.

So how about large point spread and a game that is expected to be either high or low scoring—hence says the mythology, “controlling the pace” becomes a prominent factor?

Parameter: Double-digit spread and a total at 44.5 or higher in NFL games.

Presumed most common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and OVER 46
Underdog and UNDER 47
Presumed least common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and UNDER 43
Underdog and OVER 62

Conclusion: same as above. Not, repeat not statistically significant, but the only potential angle is to bet the underdog and over combo or parlay. Yet again, this is complete refutation of the gambling folklore.

Saving the best (or worst) for last, what if it’s a large point spread and low total? The grounds for this being my favorite myth within a myth is because I so often have heard squares whine of the trepidation of combining a large favorite with the under.

The apprehensiveness originates from anxiety over the fact a fluke early touchdown or two can relegate one into rooting for a split at best.

Example, if a point spread is (-14.5) with a total of 33.5, two touchdowns by the underdog early can make the favorite/under combination a mathematical impossibility.

So what? In many mismatches, the underdog isn’t likely to score multiple times. A good handicapper monetizes these opportunities.

But we report, you decide.

Parameter: Double-digit spread and a total at 34 or less.

Presumed most common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and OVER 9
Underdog and UNDER 7
Presumed least common combination Number of occurrences
Favorite and UNDER 10
Underdog and OVER 11

Conclusion: the sample size is small, but the results prove to be the polar opposite of “conventional logic.”

Unfortunately, it’s not an angle to directly monetize, but rather disproving a myth that has caused too many square players to bypass winning handicapping picks in lieu of believing fabrication.

A good handicapper analyzes the side and total as separate entities and the numbers justify why.

Free sports picks, the most informative sports betting podcasts, and the top sports handicappers are on the Network.



About the Author

Grandmaster Sports Handicapper Joe Duffy got his start in the sports handicapping industry with the Dial Sports (Communications Team) audiotext network. It was owned by sportswriter, broadcaster and handicapping pioneer Mickey Charles. Dial Sports was the sister company of the popular Sports Network Wire Service. Upon graduating California University of PA, where he was a play-by-play announcer on student radio station WVCS (now WCAL) and cable channel 29 (now CUTV), he became a full-time sports announcer and handicapper for the Sportsline scorephone network. He learned from NFL legends coach Hank Stram and broadcasting icon Ray Scott the ins and outs of the sports betting world. His Amazing Cadillac Club became the most successful 900-number in sports betting history. He left to become the first General Manager of the Freescoreboard scorephone network broadcast all over North America. His articles have appeared on several dozen websites and hard copy publications. He is now CEO of, the top sports betting site in the world. Email:

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