Why are Sports Hard to Predict

Why are sports hard to predict? It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future. If that sounds familiar, it’s because baseball legend Yogi Berra said it years ago. It still holds true today in sports betting.

It is extremely difficult to predict the outcome of any sporting event. If it were easy, betting would probably lose all its appeal.

While picking in winners in some sports is easier than others, on the whole predicting sports outcomes is difficult. But why?


Picking Sports Favorites – Hard to Predict

Bettors always have the opportunity to pick winners in both team and individual sports. Bets can be placed on an NFL team to win or a specific golfer to win a certain tournament. Some are easier to pick than others.

When oddsmakers establish lines and odds and give a favorite and underdog, bettors can go the route of the favorite and win about 50 percent of the time in soccer and 60 percent of the time in baseball.

If you simply bet on moneyline winners in football and basketball, you could win roughly 70 percent of the time. But, winning bettors know that betting on favorites all the time can end up losing you money.

Making Predictions

When a bettor or handicapper makes a prediction on a sporting event outcome, he essentially makes one of two types of predictions (or a combination of both). There is the intuitive prediction which relies on experience and intuition. 

For example, Pitcher A always does well against Team B. He has never given up more than two runs in any start against Team B and he usually lasts at least seven innings. Placing a bet on Team A is an intuitive prediction.

Then, there is the statistical prediction which, of course, is based on data and possibly even an algorithm. Pitcher A’s ERA against Team B is 0.96 and Team B bats just .184 against him. 

A bettor could combine his intuition and the raw data to make a more accurate prediction. The problem is that even that more accurate prediction is still subject to other factors.

Even More Betting Strategy: Choosing What to Bet


It’s a factor that sports bettors have to take into account. In the NFL, west coast teams like the San Francisco 49ers do not do so well when they travel to the east coast. In fact, between 2003 and 2020, west coast teams were just 95-138 straight up in such games.

Why is that? It’s hard to determine. Part of it may have something to do with the time difference. It might also be an interruption of a team’s routine. Regardless of what it is, travel is a factor that makes predicting sporting events difficult.

Injuries – Make Sports Hard to Predict

How many times do you place a bet and then, in the middle of the game, a star player goes down with an injury. In the 2020-21 NBA season, the Lakers were bouncing between second- and third-place in the Western Conference. That’s why online sportsbooks sharpened their lines.

After LeBron James went down with a sprained ankle, the Lakers wound up having to play in the NBA’s play-in tournament as the seventh-place team. Injuries happen and they have a real impact on the quality of play and, ultimately, on predicting what will happen in a game.

The Rest Factor

Football is a brutal game. It’s tough on the body and players need time to recuperate from the previous week’s game. There are times though where one NFL team will get more rest than its next opponent.

The Detroit Lions usually play on a Sunday and then play just four days later on Thanksgiving Day each year. That’s not a lot of rest in between games. There are times when the Lions’ opponent may have played the preceding Thursday night. Fair or not, it is reality. That reality is one more thing that makes sports hard to predict.

There are times when the Lions have had a hard time with the limited rest and got blown out on Thanksgiving Day. There are others where the Lions rose up to face the adversity of a lack of rest and won. Again, how much rest teams have between games is a factor bettors need to take into account and it’s a factor that makes predicting outcomes hard.

Magnitude of the Game Also Makes Sports Hard to Predict

Sticking with the NFL, a division game has much more meaning than any other. Winning a division game can go a long way in determining a tiebreaker for a potential playoff spot. 

In NCAA football, rivalry games always tend to bring out the best in teams. In the NBA or NHL, a game that can result in a playoff berth is of greater magnitude than a game played early in the season. 

How much a game means to a certain team or player can go a long way in helping to predict its outcome. But, the meaning behind a game is subjective and that makes predictions difficult.

Like Berra said, it’s hard to make predictions. It makes  betting on sports hard to predict. It will continue to be, but that’s the beauty of sports betting – trying to make more correct predictions than bad ones.