The Best & Worst Bets in These Major Sports

There’s the 4 sports have different things going for them:

  1. The NBA is young, fast-paced, urban, and mega-popular.
  2. The NFL is a high-impact league with lots of tradition.
  3. Baseball is the national pastime, a stately game with an equally-stately season length.
  4. The NHL has mostly regional appeal, but where it’s found, it’s viral.
    Each of the 4 sports has characteristics that make some forms of betting good and some forms bad. This post explains the best and worst bets for each of America’s 4 major sporting leagues.

If you’re a risk-taker and you like the thrill of high-risk/high-reward situations, you might have a different opinion.

The Best & Worst NFL Bets

Most NFL bettors bet against a point spread. It’s a big part of the hobby, and it’s popular now to the point where you’ll see coverage of the spread on major sports news networks during game broadcasts.

But I don’t think betting against the spread is the best NFL bet. I’d say the easiest bet to handicap, and the easiest bet to win is a straight-up bet on the money line.

Betting on the NFL money line just means picking the team that will win outright.

When you read NFL odds, the money line tells you the potential payout and the implied probability of your wager in one easy-to-read location.

If you want to make your life even easier, bet on a home favorite. NFL teams favored to win at home have won around 65% of the time going back to the 2016 season. You can build a profitable system by only backing home favorites on the money line.

What’s the worst NFL bet?

It’s tempting to say, “parlays and teasers,” but that’s a bit of a cliché; plus, I think there’s some value in small parlays and teasers when they’re used by people who know what they’re doing.

I’d say the worst (meaning hardest) NFL bet is any futures bet. In a league that prides itself on parity, implementing a draft system, salary cap, and free agency market designed to level the playing field, it’s harder than in other sports leagues to pick out playoff participants, much less a conference champion or Super Bowl winner.

Placing a future bet on something like MVP or Coach of the Year is probably best approached as a pure game of chance – fun for a distraction, but not part of any serious betting strategy.

The Best & Worst MLB Bets

New York Yankees Stadium

Baseball betting is a tough nut to crack. It comes down to the sport’s schedule (long, repetitive, with lots of meaningless games), the streaky nature of hitting and pitching, and the lack of a point spread system. Beating the book at baseball means winning consistently over a long period, wagering on a grumpy and streaky pool of players stuffed into ever-changing rotations.

The best bet in baseball, meaning by far the easiest to win, is a money line bet on an underdog team in April. Betting on the money line is straightforward – pick the winner, and you win.

Why do I pick underdogs in April?

It’s early in the season, and the books just don’t have a good sense of these underdog teams this early in the year.

Teams in this situation only win about 45% of the time, which isn’t profitable on its own. But because you’re backing underdogs, you’re getting better average odds than backing favorites, so it’s usually profitable, at least during the first three or 4 weeks of the year.

You can tweak this to meet your needs – if you see an underdog on a 2 game losing streak in a 3 game series, you’re likely to get reduced juice (+105 odds) on a team that’s very likely to pull off a face-saving series-ending W.

A really bad bet in baseball, a wager you’re not likely to win, is a bet for a home favorite to cover the run line. Remember that you’re backing a favorite, so you’re getting terrible odds.

It doesn’t help that only 4 teams covered the run line as home favorites enough to represent a profitable system. Home favorites are relaxed – they’re going to win, but they’re not going to press the runs.

The Best & Worst NBA Bets

The NBA shares more features with baseball than people recognize. Both sports can turn on a single play, much faster than in hockey or football. A well-time 3, or a poorly timed defensive move that draws a foul, can flip the game and up-end even the most precise handicapping.

The easiest NBA bet to win – the best NBA bet – is a money line wager on a road favorite to win outright.

Golden State, the LA Clippers, and the Milwaukee Bucks have all won at least 70% of their away favorite games, which is a stunning statistic considering they’ve each played in nearly 200 such situations.

The only 2 teams who missed the mark – the Knicks and Atlanta – both won more than 50% of the time they found themselves in this situation.

The worst NBA bet is the point spread. Some writers argue that beating the spread in the NBA is the single hardest thing in traditional sports betting. The margins are narrow, the books are sharp, and NBA teams are equal enough in talent that it’s a tough win.

Going back to the 2015 season, just 3 teams (Boston, Miami, and the LA Clippers) have beat the spread consistently enough to work as a profitable system, but only just so. Boston’s 54% record ATS is profitable by less than two percent.

The Best & Worst NHL Bets

Hockey Team Lined Up

Most sports bettors will tell you off-hand that the NHL is the toughest league to bet. I think that’s probably true, if for no other reason than it’s the sport that gets the least wall-to-wall coverage. The NHL is also the least forthright in terms of reporting rosters, injuries, and other information to the media.

There’s also some truth to the idea that NHL games are harder to handicap and NHL performances harder to predict than in other sports.

The best NHL bet is a wager on a rested road favorite. This works a lot like in the NBA, where the sportsbook is good enough at their job that a road team given favored status deserves a lot of respect.

Part of the reason road favorites do so well in the NHL is that home-ice advantage doesn’t seem to be worth much to NHL teams. Road teams win more often in hockey than in any other professional sport.

Rested teams have a huge advantage due to the physical nature of the game and the weight of its equipment.

The worst NHL bet is a weird one – backing home favorites, or even backing home teams ATS, appears to be particularly difficult, at least to do profitably. In most seasons, home favorites beat the spread less than 40% of the time. The trend is so striking that you can almost build a system around this, backing home and away underdogs blindly against the spread.

Conclusion

Understanding the characteristics of the sport you’re betting on is important.

You can’t bet on NHL hockey and NBA basketball in the same way, no more than you can play the two sports in the same style. If you want an easy path to betting success, match the sport you’re betting on to the bet that makes the most sense for that sport.

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