There are certain terms that are fundamental to understand before you start betting – and favorite is one of them.
Being able to identify the favorite from the underdog – and what that means when you bet – is the nursery slope for any sports bettor looking or learning to find their feet.
A favorite is the team or individual that the sportsbook expects to win.
In most sports, a clear result – a winner and a loser – is the outcome. Let’s start here.
Betting on the favorite
In this article we look at how to identify the favorite from the odds, and explore how to bet on the favorite in some of the more popular types of sports bets.
The two most common ways to bet on the favorite are via:
- The moneyline, and the
- The point spread
The odds work a little differently when we look at
We’ll take a look at each in turn.
How do I know who the Favorite is?
All we really need to say right now is that the favorite carries minus odds and the underdog carries plus odds. You will see illustrations of this below.
In terms of what this means for your bet, remember these two sports-betting truths:
- The value of America odds always relates back to $100.
- On minus odds, you must stake the odds quoted to win $100, while plus odds tell you the amount you win on a $100 bet.
Backing the favorite on a Moneyline
A moneyline bet is, in its most basic and common expression, a bet on the winner of an event. The sportsbook expects the favorite (with minus odds) to win.
Let’s use the Thanskgiving Weekend game between the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys to illustrate. Here’s how this NFL moneyline appeared on the Caesars online sportsbook.
The favorites, Dallas, are at -350. Las Vegas, are underdogs at +280.
Backing the favourite at -350 means you need to wager $350 to win $100. At +280, putting $100 on the underdog wins you $280 (for a total payout of $380 – your original stake + $280).
Three-way money lines
Some sports demand a three-way money line – usually those that are relatively low-scoring and where a tied match is a legitimate result and happens fairly frequently. Soccer is the best example.
Often the odds-implied favorite position is actually the draw, not a winner. In other words, you can place a moneyline bet on the ‘favorite’, although in this instance it isn’t, by the definition given above, actually the winning team.
Backing the favorite on a Point Spread
The second way to back a favorite is on a point spread – an ingenious creation by American sportsbooks that allows for the levelling of the betting field between two mis-matched sides.
A point spread handicaps the favorite and gives a helping hand to the underdog, so that a spread on the bet shifts from being a bet on the winner, to a bet on the margin of victory.
The spread identifies the favorite (-) and the underdog (+).
The size of the spread identifies the extent it is favored as it represents the expected margin of victory. The wider the spread, the greater the favorite.
In this game, the spread is 7.5 points, making the Cowboys moderate favorites. The odds on both sides are -110, meaning a winning bet on either side of the market pays out the same.
For a spread bet to win, your team needs to “cover the spread”.
In this case, the Cowboys need to win by 8 points or more. The Raiders cover the spread if they lose by no more than 7 – or indeed cause an upset and win.
Hidden value between the moneyline and spread?
Naturally, there is a correlation between moneyline odds and how wide the spread is. If there is any discrepancy, this can be a good way to find value in the odds.
You can use The AllStar’s Moneyline Converter to check if there might be any on offer.
Backing the favorite in an Outright
An outright bet is a bet on the winner of a competition or tournament, rather than an individual event.
As such, there is no favorite/underdog distinction in the sense that we have seen so far.
All odds on outrights are positive – and the favorite is simply the team or individual with the shortest odds.
Examples of outright bets
Here are a few examples of outright bets across some of the more popular sports to bet on:
- Atlanta Braves to go back to back in the World Series
- Patrick Cantlay to win The Masters
- Emma Raducanu to win Wimbledon
- Kansas City Chiefs to win Super Bowl LVI
Super Bowl LVI odds
A comparison across sportsbooks shows that the current Super Bowl LVI outright market lists the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at +550, the Chiefs at +700 and the LA Rams at +900.
Backing the Bucs to repeat is thus an example of backing the favorite in an outright.
What is a Pick’em?
There may be the rare and odd occasion when a sportsbook is unable to decide which of the two teams should be the favorite. When this happens, the moneyline doesn’t designate plus or minus odds.
These lines are called “pick’ems”, or “picks” (written as “PK”) because, well… just pick one.
The moneyline for each side will be the same, and the spread will be zero.
Picks, however, do still carry vig, or juice, so you’d still be placing odds of -110 ($110 wins $100) on the team you choose to win.
It’s important to note, however, that a pick’em doesn’t mean the sportsbook sees the teams as equals, but only that it sees both teams as having an equal chance to leave with the win.
To recap, here are the important things to remember about favorites:
- In American odds, they carry minus odds.
- You need to risk more on them to win less.
- A point spread, handicaps them. To cover the spread, they need to win by at least that many points.
- In an Outright, the favorite is the one with the shortest odds in the field.
Why does the favorite take minus odds?
We agree that this may seem counterintuitive if you’re new to sports betting – wouldn’t the better team have a positive signifier and the weaker team be negative?
Maybe it helps to think about it like this: A sportsbook’s goal is to have both sides of a market look as attractive as each other to potential bettors. That way it limits its potential liability on any one side of the market.
The favorite, being expected to win, has a head start – so the minus pulls it back towards the underdog.
The underdog, being expected to lose, lags behind – so the plus pushes it forward towards the favorite.
Can there be a plus-money favorite?
Yes, but not in a money line or spread bet.
In outright markets all members of the field receive plus odds – the favorite will be the one with the shortest odds.
Take, for example, The Masters golf tournament. At the start of the tournament, all players in the field will receive odds on them winning.
Jon Rahm, the current world No.1 would likely take the shortest odds, say +400, or be included in a group of players ranked at a similar level. No.2 Collin Morikawa, No.3 Dustin Johnson and No.4 Patrick Cantlay might conceivably all be put on +500, but even then, Morikawa and Johnson are major winners while Cantlay is not, so he could drop to +600.
However, once a tournament starts, the odds will be reset at the end of each round to account for scores posted.
What happens if the underdog wins?
If the underdog wins and you’ve backed the favorite in a straight moneyline bet, your bet loses.
In a spread bet, the favorite team that you have backed may win, but you might still lose your bet if they fail to cover to spread.