Betting Must Win Games

By Loot, Sports Handicapper,​

Sports Betting: Wagering on Must-Win Games

A lot of bettors relish the opportunity to bet on a team where the urgency level is through the roof. The seasons in all the various sports are long and most of the time, getting an accurate read on a team’s level of urgency is a guessing game. Then comes times in the season, usually late, where a team absolutely needs to win. Usually, it’s to get into the postseason.

Most teams will possess a higher sense of urgency in situations like this. They know they need to win this game to advance to the playoffs or even have a chance. We’re dealing with professionals here and if this doesn’t light a fire underneath them, nothing ever will. At the same time, blindly betting on teams facing must-win situations isn’t the slam-dunk sure bet some might think it is.

First of all, if you noticed a team needs to win a game, that is hardly what you would call exclusive information. Everyone knows about it–the betting public, the oddsmakers, and the bookies. They will adjust the odds to fit the situation and often times suck the value right out of it.

When the odds make the accommodation for a team in a must-win situation, we are now getting what usually amounts to exceptionally poor value. Sure, these teams might have such a big fire lit that they just go ahead and blow out the team anyway. It’s just that we will probably be up against it in the odds department.


Bad value is a major concern, but so is the fact that a lot of teams fail to perform with all the added pressure. We’ve seen it happen countless times. A team that needs to win the game to get into the playoffs is playing a team whose postseason hopes were dashed months ago. And they still lose! Some teams play well when utterly relaxed, as opposed to being tense. The teams that have nothing to play for are sometimes so relaxed, that they just play better. They might relish in the role of spoiler. They might have bad history with that team and will rejoice in ruining their season. A lot of different factors and head-spaces can surface in must-win games. Not all of them are good for the team that needs to win.

There will also be times where a team that is trying to make the playoffs is playing a team that already has its postseason placement locked up. In some sports, teams will sit their key starters to rest them, rather than have someone get hurt in a game that really doesn’t mean anything. But not always, and a team that might face another team in the postseason might want to make a statement. In other words, it is not quite the “gimme” that some might presume.

In the world of pro and big-time college athletics, there is pride at stake. We can’t just expect teams that have less to play for to simply roll over and die. Professional athletes didn’t get to that position by phoning in games and showing a poor effort, so why would they start now? And as far as lower-end teams who have no postseason in their future, they are still prideful athletes. Coaches may be fighting for their jobs and players are trying to make a good impression for their teams or other potential suitors. Playing for your career is a motivation and even though the playoffs are out of the picture doesn’t mean guys aren’t still trying hard.

It’s just that what seems like an easy layup can get sticky. A lot of us have been down this road before, as we bet in week 17 in the NFL and took all the teams that needed to win and went 2-5 against-the-spread. Las Vegas doesn’t build waterfalls and Eiffel Tower replicas because the book is giving away easy money at the sportsbook.

We need to approach must-win games with trepidation and not just plunge in and take all teams who need a win to advance to the playoffs. First of all, we’re almost never getting good value by picking those teams. If they won all or even a big majority of the time, that would be one thing. But they don’t. It will be tempting. You will see teams on the betting board having by far their most urgent game of the year and figure it’s easy money. In sports betting, we’re matching wits with same guys who thrive year after year. It’s never going to be easy.​

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