Odds are a strange thing in sports. They don’t usually mean much by themselves, but when combined with other odds, they can indicate a lot about a particular matchup. For example, if you’re reading odds that the underdogs are 2.5-to-1, you know that the upset is very likely. But if you’re seeing odds of 7-to-1 that the underdogs will win, you know that this match has very little chance of going in the underdog’s favor.
While reading football odds can feel a little daunting at first, following a few simple steps can help you understand what the numbers mean and how they affect your decisions. Let’s take a look.
Step one: Know the different types of odds
In most cases, when you see odds written in the news or on sports books, they will be of the fractional or decimal type. For example, 1.5 points or 0.5 units are the most common odds used in North American sports. Decimal odds are easy to understand because they’re based on a fraction: one half (0.5) of a whole (1.0).
Fractional odds are used when there’s a need to subdivide a whole number into smaller units. One-half (0.5) of a whole (1.0) is a fractional odds example, but one-fourth (0.25) of a whole (0.5) is also considered a fractional odds match. When reading odds, you need to keep in mind whether they’re fractional or decimal.
Step two: Understand the different ways you can win
You can win cash by betting on either team to cover the spread (which is the total amount of money you bet minus the total amount of money you win if your team covers the spread). You can also win through an outright win or a push, which are both based on whether your team wins or loses the game. The amount you win or lose is determined by the score at the end of the game.
When reading odds, you need to understand that there are four basic types of winning opportunities: winning the game outright, covering the spread, winning through an outright win, and winning through a push. Each has different odds attached to it, so it’s important to look at the different combinations of these four outcomes and how they affect your overall winnings. Let’s take a look at a few examples.
In the early stages of the 2019 season, when it was clear that the New England Patriots would be among the undefeated teams, many sportsbooks adjusted their odds to make it easier for bettors to win.
In one of the AFC Championship games that year, the Patriots faced the Los Angeles Chargers. If you placed a winning bet on the Chargers before the game, you would have paid just $2 to win $100, and your $100 would be taxed at 40% (as any winnings over $60 are considered income).
If you bet on the Patriots, your odds of winning increased from 5.0 to 1.0 to 7.0 to 1. Since the Patriots were the clear-cut favorites in that game (score was 42-20 in favor of the Patriots), your chances of winning with that bet jumped up by a whole percent. As a result of the line movement, your winnings would have decreased from $100 to $60.
Even if you didn’t win, you’d have placed a successful bet since the over-under for that game was set at 59 points. In the grand scheme of things, those are pretty good odds considering you took the Patriots, who had been an even-money pick (even money means the price is the same for both teams) and went against the spread in earlier weeks.
Big Boy Pants
The Houston Astros are a bit of an enigma when it comes to odds. On one hand, they have the highest paid player in baseball, Gerrit Cole, and on the other, they have the lowest paid starting pitcher, Joe Musgrove. Regardless, both players are proven contributors to great success, and the Houston Astros are going to be good this year. They have a fairly high percentage of winning games (about 64% according to ESPN), so while the odds may be against them, it’s not impossible to bet on them and win. In other words, it’s all about the juice.
The Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers are the Houston Astros’ division rivals; they’ll both be competing for the 2018 World Series title. The Red Sox have a pretty high percentage of wins (they’ve only finished above water on the MLB rankings once in the last 10 years), but you may not want to bet on them if you’re looking for value. The Dodgers, on the other hand, are historically bad in the Red Sox’s division, so if you’re going to back the underdogs, it may be a good idea to do so with some leverage. Preferably, with cash.
Since the Houston Astros play in the American League, their odds of winning will vary from those of the National League teams (generally speaking, the National League teams are superior to the American League teams). For example, the odds of the Astros winning the World Series this year are 12-to-1, while the odds of the Dodgers winning the World Series are 16-to-1. This is something to keep in mind if you’re looking to place a wager on the World Series matchup.
To illustrate how different the odds can be for games played in different time zones, let’s take a brief look at the 2018 World Cup.
Most people will be aware of the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, which was a four-team group with the winners of each group qualifying for the semi-finals. Matches in the group stage were played across the globe, so the time difference impacted the odds in favor of some teams and against others. Let’s take a look at some of the notable odds shifts that occurred as a result of the time difference.
All four group stage games in the 2018 World Cup were held during the day in Central Time, so all teams benefited from this. France’s odds of winning the World Cup were 14-to-1 before the tournament, but after they opened up shop in the day, those odds decreased to 5.5-to-1. After their win over Russia, Franҫais’s odds jumped back up to 7-to-1, but after their 2-0 loss to Chile, those odds dropped again to 5-to-1.
Chile’s odds of winning also dropped after their loss to France, but they bounced back up after beating Germany 2-0, increasing their odds from 3-to-1 to 6-to-1. After their win over Germany, their odds went to 11-to-1, but they didn’t make the knock-out stage, so their odds dropped back down to 7-to-1.
Before the tournament, England’s odds of winning were 10-to-1 (down from 15-to-1 before the World Cup), but after their win over Japan in the group stage, they decreased to 5-to-1. While they made the knock-out stage, England failed to win the group, so their odds of winning decreased by another half percent to 4-to-1.
While the above odds changes are relatively straightforward (since all of the matches in the World Cup were played in Central Time), things start to get a little more complicated in the knockout stage.
Round of 16
The Round of 16 in the 2018 World Cup was another example of how the time difference between games had an impact on the odds. In this round, the 16 teams were split into four groups of four. Matches in the round were held in the early afternoon in France, so while most teams benefited from the time change (since the matches started at 11:00 local time), Germany and Argentina (who play in the same time zone) were on the wrong end of it. Let’s take a look at the impact the time difference had on Germany and Argentina’s odds of winning the round (and thus, advancing to the semi-finals).
Argentina’s odds of winning the Round of 16 were 5-to-1 before the tournament, but after their game against France was finished and the time difference was calculated (5 hours and 41 minutes), those odds decreased to 3-to-1. But even then, they didn’t make the semi-finals, so their odds declined again. In the end, they ended up losing the tournament (they were eliminated in the quarter-finals by England).