A backdoor cover is either a sports gambler’s lucky day or worst nightmare. Backdoor covers are when late points are scored that flip the point spread outcome without impacting the winner of the game. Typically, bettors with a ticket on the favorite who lost because of a backdoor cover will say that their bet was the right side, and didn’t deserve to lose.
Here’s a hypothetical example:
Let’s say that this year’s Super Bowl is a rematch of Super Bowl LV with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. The Chiefs have been red hot during the entire second half of the season and the Buccaneers are dealing with some significant injuries, so Kansas City is an 8.5 point favorite. The Chiefs dominate the first half, and maintain a 33-17 lead throughout the fourth quarter and have the ball with three minutes left.
Wanting to be conservative and run clock, Kansas City just hands the ball off three straight times and then punts with a minute remaining in the game. Down 16, Tampa Bay marches down the field and scores a touchdown with under ten seconds left and converts a successful two point conversion. The onside kick was unsuccessful, so the late score was ultimately irrelevant in the game. However every mainline point spread bettor on Tampa Bay +8.5, their apparent loss became a miraculous win.
This is an extreme example, but backdoor covers happen more often than you would think.
When Can a Backdoor Cover Happen?
Backdoor covers can happen when a team favored by a significant number is covering that number by more than a few points but then eases off the gas, loses concentration, or perhaps the law of averages and lucky bounces just even out a bit.
For example, if the Warriors are -9 favorites over the Trail Blazers and are leading by 17 with four minutes to play and Steve Kerr decides to pull Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Draymond Green, and the rest of the starters and Portland goes on a 12-2 run to end the game and cover the nine, that would be a backdoor cover.
Or if Alabama football is favored by 28 and leading by 34 and the opponent scores on its final drive against the second or third-string defense, that too would be a backdoor cover.
Backdoor covers are also common in the “garbage time” period of the game, where the win/loss outcome is not in question. This is particularly prevalent in college basketball, when teams will pull starters and put in bench players such as walk-ons. The games can drastically change because often the walk-on is a fan favorite or someone who the coach thinks really deserves a shot, so the team will not run its typical game plan and instead, just try and get an individual a shot.
There is also the backdoor cover in college basketball where the winning team can’t quite run out the clock and shoots with a few seconds left, allowing the losing team time for a buzzer-beater to crush the spirit of everyone with a ticket on the favorite to cover.
You’ll often hear announcers hint at these events by saying things like “that basket certainly matters for some” or referring to the play as a “bad beat.”
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Where are Backdoor Covers Most Common?
Backdoor covers are most common in the two sports where point spread wagers occur most frequently: football and basketball.
They are probably most common in college football where large point spreads are common, and also the NBA which is notoriously a league with large runs and frequent drastic swings.
What is a Frontdoor Cover?
Frontdoor covers are the reverse of a backdoor cover. Instead of the underdog covering the spread unexpectedly at the end of the game, frondoor covers happen when a favorite isn’t covering late in the game and then suddenly ends up winning the bet for the those who took the favorite, and breaking the hearts of those on the underdog.
Here’s a hypothetical example:
Alabama is slated to play Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, a College Football Playoff Semifinal, on December 31st, 2021. The Crimson Tide are favored by 13.5 but Cincinnati has played Alabama even all game long and Alabama leads by just one point with three minutes to go. Cincinnati bettors are feeling great about the Bearcats +13.5. However, quarterback Bryce Young leads Alabama on a touchdown drive to take an eight-point lead with six seconds left. After the kickoff Cincinnati only has time for one play and attempts to run the lateral play to keep themselves alive. One of the laterals is errant, and an Alabama defender scoops up the ball and runs into the end zone as time expires. The Crimson Tide win by 14 and cover the spread.
When Can a Frontdoor Cover Happen?
Frontdoor covers can happen when the losing team is covering the spread but needs to play risky to try and actually win the game in the final minutes. The lateral play is a great example, as is a basketball team running an all-out full-court press unsuccessfully attempting to foul that leads to a wide-open dunk.
Frontdoor covers can also happen when the favorite that has struggled all game finally figures it out and pulls away.
In basketball, the losing team fouling to try and extend the game can also drastically change the outcome of both the point spread and the point total.
Where are Frontdoor Covers Most Common?
Frontdoor covers are most common in college basketball, where a favorite of anywhere from three to ten points can be not covering all game long but has a late lead. The underdog and losing team begins to foul, and if the favorite makes a high percentage of free throws the point differential can grow significantly in the final minute.
Football frontdoor covers in the final minute may not happen as often, but are sometimes on freak plays like the example described above. Unlike fouling, these are relatively unexpected and can end up in a winning or losing bet that’s talked about for days, months, or even years.
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