Sports Gambling Lessons In Inane Rankings Versus Point Spread Statements

One of my pet peeves as a professional gambler is when sportscasters give a score and call a game an “upset” when the favorite covers. Generally it is when an unranked team beats a ranked team.

The announcer, oblivious to home court and home field advantages assumes the ranked team was expected to win.

Similarly, I follow several sportsbook directors via Twitter. An every growing type of comment was uttered by well-respected former Vegas Sportsbook Director Todd Fuhrman (@ToddFuhrman), “I’m not a bracketologist but to hear the talk of Georgetown as a potential #1 seed is laughable. They’d be dogs to at least 15 teams.”

I saw very similar comments in reference to Gonzaga being No. 1.  It is all irrelevant. Rankings and seedings are based on past performance. Point spreads are based on future projections. 

The financial markets disclaimer of, “Past performance may not be indicative of future results” certainly explains the differences between seeding/rankings and point spreads.

Harangues about pet peeves aside, there are gambling lessons to be learned. One of our Golden Rules we’ve stated on our sports betting podcast is to use the oddsmakers knowledge against them.

When an oddsmaker is making an emphatic statement—the kind that squares may think are counterintuitive—gravy train what they are saying.

A good example would be the better looking sisters of the “Bet on unranked favorites to ranked teams” age-old adage. Much like the NBA zig-zag, blindly betting it is not wise. But there is a modified version.

All of our angles are weighted. The “louder” or the more seemingly contrary the statement is, the stronger we assess it.  For example, an unranked team that is a one-point favorite to the No. 23 squad is barely a blip on our radar.

But if such team is laying three-points to a Top 10 squad, that is an example of where we use an oddsmakers knowledge against them and bet the unranked team to win and cover against the highly ranked squad.

Probably unprecedented, in a four-day period in 2013, four times a Top 12 team was an underdog to an unranked team: Jan. 30 No. 12 Oregon to Stanford, Jan. 31 No. 10 Butler to St. Louis, and Feb. 2 No. 6 Syracuse to Pittsburgh and the same day No. 12 Oregon to Stanford. All four times the unranked favorites covered.

When teams have elongated winning streaks and are posted as underdogs, again we almost always bet the favorite.  Two of our biggest bowl picks in 2012-13 were Florida State over Northern Illinois and Alabama over Notre Dame (our Game of the Year). Why? NIU and Notre Dame entered the postseason with the longest winning streaks in the country.  Both were substantial underdogs.

In both cases, the winning streaks were snapped in blowout routs in which the favorite covered.

In summation: put a checkmark in the column of betting on unranked favorites to ranked teams, but most importantly weighing much more heavily the larger the point spread and/or the higher ranked the underdog is.

Other examples are betting on favorites in long losing streaks or betting against underdogs that are in large winning streaks. How large is “large?” Again, the bigger the favorite and/or the longer the winning streak, the more heavily we consider.

The next time the sports radio update guy calls a game an “upset” when it’s not, laugh at him—all the way to the bank.


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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