Pick’em in Sports Betting

Key points

  • A pick’em is a game that sportsbooks deem a complete toss-up.
  • There’s no spread to account for, and the odds are equal on both sides.
  • Pick’em bets can be challenging to handicap and win.

When you look at upcoming game listings at a sportsbook, the vast majority of those games will have a favorite and an underdog. But there are occasional toss-ups. Known as pick’ems, these are the games that sportsbooks have deemed to be too close to call.

What’s a pick’em in sports betting?

A pick’em is a contest in which there is no clear favorite or underdog. If it’s a sport that offers spread bets, there won’t be one. The sportsbook that has set the line sees no clear advantage for either side.

On the betting line, it will show up as PK, pick or pick’em in the space where the spread would normally appear. A pick’em can happen on the moneyline, as well, in which case the odds will be the same on both sides, such as -110 or -105.

Which bets can be pick’ems?  

A pick’em bet is the most common on point spreads bets for football and basketball. While baseball, hockey, and soccer use a version of the spread, it’s generally the same number for those three sports, such as a standard 1.5 on an MLB run line.

Football and basketball spreads can be all over the place, ranging from as low as a single point up to double digits. The spread serves as a clear indicator of which side is the favorite in the game — unless, of course, the sportsbook views the teams as even. The pick’em can also apply to the moneyline, although the actual “pick’em” designation may not appear there.

Do pick’ems happen in all sports?  

On the moneyline, a pick’em could happen at any time. You could see equal odds on both sides for an NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL game, for example, and the same could apply for an upcoming UFC fight or boxing match.

For spreads, the pick’em generally appears in basketball and football, both at the pro and college level. The majority of NBA, NFL, college football, and college basketball games will have a spread, and a few may appear as pick’ems.

How the odds work for a pick’em  

The odds will be equal on both sides. At most sportsbooks, that means -110 for both teams, the standard starting point for spread and total bets.

However, betting action on pick’em games can lead to movement in the numbers, though not necessarily enough to shift it to an actual spread bet. Instead, you may see a slight split, such as -108/-112, or something slightly bigger like -105/-115.

In cases like that, there’s still not enough of a difference for the book to set a spread, but the betting public has made its preference known. The side with the lower odds is generating more action, while the other team has seen a little less.

For bettors, the movement in the numbers can provide some solid clues, but they don’t necessarily have to influence your decisions. You can always shop around and compare the odds at several books before deciding whether and where to bet.

Pick’em betting strategies 

When the oddsmakers are telling you that there’s no clear advantage, they’re not doing that in jest. After crunching all of the numbers, data points, and everything else that goes into setting the spread, they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s too close to call.

A pick’em game is difficult to get right, but you can still take a look to determine if it’s worth betting on or not. To do so, here are some things to consider:

  • Record of the two teams, both season-long and over the last few games: Season-long records are a natural starting point, but they’re far from the only answer. Recent records — last three, five, 10 games — may provide better insight into the current state of affairs.
  • Any common opponents or schedule similarities?: Of course, you can’t just go off of won-loss records. Two teams that look equal at first glance may have traveled different paths to get to the same place. If one side has played a tougher schedule or excelled against teams that the opponent has struggled with, that’s something to keep in mind.
  • Do you see any clear advantages in the matchup?: Sure, the sportsbook has already done the work when it set the line. However, sportsbooks aren’t perfect. Mistakes can happen, so it’s possible that you spot an advantage that the book has either missed or overlooked. Go through the matchup from top to bottom and see what you find.
  • Head-to-head history for the two teams: While the past is no guarantee of what’s to come, you may be able to dig up some clues on what tends to happen when the two clubs square off. That said, what you find could still point to the game being a toss-up.
  • Any clues from the most recent times they squared off?: Similar to season-long and recent records, you should be placing the most weight on what has happened recently. Has one side gotten the better of the other? Have the games come down to the wire? Does one team now have something to prove? Etc.
  • Recent trends and momentum for both teams: As the season progresses, teams will go through various ebbs and flows. For the game you’re looking at, is one side hot and the other cold, or are they both doing about the same? Current momentum can be important.
  • Is there a discernible home advantage?: Home field is far from the only factor that matters for sports betting, but it is a piece of the puzzle that can occasionally serve as a tiebreaker for two evenly matched clubs. Outside of the random neutral-field games, look to see how the home squad tends to do in familiar surroundings.

Should you bet on a pick’em?  

For some bettors, the too-close-to-call nature of a pick’em game isn’t worth the risk. Others like the challenge and/or feel that they can find an edge. For the average bettor, the best advice is to take it on a case-by-case basis.

If you work through the above tips and still don’t know where you want to bet, it’s probably best not to. When you’re not able to make a strong case for one side over the other, then you’re simply guessing.

As for when you do find an advantage, don’t cash in your winning tickets just yet. The game is a pick’em for a reason, and anything can happen. The margin for error in these games is typically quite slim.

If a pick’em game goes according to script, then it will be a tight affair that may go down to the wire. That may be reason enough not to bet and simply enjoy the contest as a fan.

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