Zig-Zag Theory Explained

Zig-Zag Theory

Playoffs are the most wonderful time of the year for sports fans. Nothing can quite match the excitement of an elimination game, when everything is on the line for one team, or both, if we are talking about game 7. In sports betting, elimination games are also one of the best chances to win big, thanks to the zig zag theory.


What exactly is the zig zag theory? And does it really work in betting? The answers are actually quite surprising, and there is plenty of evidence to back them up. While the zig zag theory isn’t flawless, it is actually extremely successful in more than a few cases.


Let’s explore the zig zag theory in sports betting, and how you can actually use it to win.



Zig Zag Theory Explained

Think of a playoff series in the classic best-of-seven format. The series pitches a high-seeded team -which has the home field, court or ice advantage- against a low-seeded team, which only gets to play at home in three of the seven games.


Assuming that the higher seed wins the opening two games at home, the lower seed already finds itself in a deep hole. It has to win at least one of its two home games in order to stay alive. That’s when the zig zag theory comes into play.


The zig zag theory assumes that the losing team has a higher chance of winning the following match in a playoff series. And when a team has its back against the wall in an elimination game, that possibility increases significantly. After all, a team staring elimination in the face will throw everything but the kitchen sink to keep itself alive in the series.


But does that theory really hold true? How often does the zig zag theory actually work in sports betting?


Surprisingly, the theory actually does hold water. Although you can’t apply the zig zag theory to every single scenario, we can come up with a sort of zig zag indicator for NBA matchups and NHL games.


The NBA has yet to see a reverse sweep, with a team coming down from a 3-0 lead to win the series. Three teams did come close to pulling it off. All three teams managed to claw back from a 3-0 deficit to tie the series, but ultimately lost in game 7.


NBA Zig Zag Theory- All time Winners
Team ATeam BDetails
Rochester RoyalsKnicks logoNew York KnicksRochester Royals versus the New York Knicks in the 1951 NBA Finals.
Nuggets logoDenver NuggetsJazz logoUtah JazzDenver Nuggets versus the Utah Jazz in the 1994 Western Conference Semifinals.
Trail Blazers logoPortland Trail BlazersMavericks logoDallas MavericksPortland Trail Blazers in the 2003 First Round versus the Dallas Mavericks.


Reverse sweeps are extremely rare in the NHL, but they do happen. Four teams have managed to pull off this nearly impossible feat:



NHL Zig Zag Theory- All time Winners
Team ATeam BDetails
Red Wings logoDetroit Red WingsToronto Maple Leafs did it in the 1942 Stanley Cup Finals, beating the Detroit Red Wings.
Islanders logoNew York IslandersPenguins logoPittsburgh PenguinsNew York Islanders versus the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Flyers logoPhiladelphia FlyersBruins logoBoston BruinsPhiladelphia Flyers versus the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Kings logoLos Angeles KingsSharks logoSan Jose SharksLos Angeles Kings versus the San Jose Sharks in the 2014 Western Conference Quarterfinals.


The Maple Leafs remain the only team to complete the reverse sweep in the NHL Cup Finals. Out of this list, both the Flyers and the Kings reached the Cup Finals in 2010 and 2014 respectively, with the Kings lifting their second title that year. It’s fair to say that reverse sweeps are a good indicator in the NHL.


But don’t get overly ambitious with hitting long odds in these cases: teams leading a series 3-0 have a 90-57 record in the NBA (61.2%) and a 127-76 record in the NHL (62.6%), which means that a sweep is far more likely to happen. While the zig zag theory tells you to bet on the team down 3-0 heading into game 4, your chances of winning are just under 40%.


Don’t lose hope in the zig zag yet, though. As we said earlier, the theory actually makes a lot of sense in some cases.



Zig Zag Theory Sports Betting Tips



In the NBA, teams up 3-0 are more likely to win game 4 and complete the sweep. However, we have a very interesting scenario in which the zig zag theory works more often than not:

teams up 2-0 have a 36.9% win rate in game 3 (90-154)


In other words, a bet on the team trailing the series score will win more often than not. When that happens, the team suddenly finds itself in the driving seat to tie the series:

teams leading with a 2-1 record into game 4 have a 120-321 record (27.2%).




The same applies to the NHL while teams up 3-0 have completed the sweep 62.6% of the time, it’s a different story when it comes to a two-game lead.


Teams heading into game 3 leading the series 2-0 have a 203-193 record (51.27%).,


While history tells us that the team still holds a small advantage, betting on the trailing team isn’t necessarily a bad idea – especially considering the potential payout.

Game 2 also offers a decent chance: teams trailing 1-0 have won 345 times in 742 games (46.5%).



Point Spreads Bets

For point spread bets, teams coming off a loss in the last decade have covered the spread roughly 50% of the time in the NBA. Since it’s evenly split, you should check the odds first before placing a bet.



Zig Zag Theory Sports Betting Examples


Games won: 2Games won: 0Team B is down 2-0 heading into game 3.
Statistics tell us that teams facing a potential 3-0 deficit have won game 3 roughly 60% of the time.



Games won: 1Games won: 0Team B is down 1-0 heading into game 2.
The win rate in these cases is just below 50%. Depending on the odds, the bet could be worth it.
Games won: 2Games won: 0Team B is down 2-0 heading into game 3.
Our zig zag theory indicator also tells us that it could be worth a shot.
Teams in these circumstances have won just under 50% of the time.



Pros vs Cons of the Zig Zag Theory

🔷 Pros:


🔹 The psychological and emotional factors usually play a very important role in sports. That’s one of the pillars for the zig zag theory. Teams with their backs against the wall tend to play their best in these situations to avoid elimination.


🔹 Statistics also back up the zig zag theory in some specific scenarios, proving that there is also empirical evidence behind it.



🔶 Cons:


🔸 Blindly betting on teams coming off a loss is usually a bad idea. As much as the zig zag theory works in the examples listed earlier, it works far less often outside these cases.


🔸 Bookmakers naturally catch on to these tendencies as well. Don’t go into these bets expecting to find inflated odds. Sportsbooks obviously avoid losing money as much as possible, and that requires keeping up with all the betting strategies.




Despite being relatively simple, the zig zag theory is surprisingly effective. As long as you stick to the statistics rather than following it blindly, the zig zag between the winning and losing teams can return a decent profit. Just like the vast majority of sport betting theories, the zig zag theory isn’t bulletproof, but is still very useful.




Zig-Zag Theory FAQs

What Is the Zig Zag Theory?

The zig zag theory in sports betting assumes that the losing team is likely going to win the next match in a playoff series.

How to Use the Zig Zag Theory in Sports Betting?

Statistics show that the zig zag theory is at its most effective instance in game 3 of a playoff series. In this case, you should bet on the trailing team, which wins roughly 60% of the time in the NBA and just under 50% in the NHL.

How to Be Successful with the Zig Zag Theory in Sports Betting?

The best way to profit with the zig zag theory, as a rule of thumb, is betting on the team that is trailing the series entering game 3. Statistics show that teams facing a potential 3-0 deficit pull off a win most of the time to avoid falling into an even deeper hole.

Does the Zig Zag Theory Work in the NBA?

Yes, the zig zag theory works in the NBA, but only in specific cases. Game 3, with one of the teams down 2-0, is the best possible scenario for the zig zag theory in NBA betting.

Does the Zig Zag Theory Work in the NHL?

Yes, the zig zag theory works in the NHL, mostly for teams entering game 3 and down 2-0 in the series. These teams usually pull off a win in just under 50% of the cases.


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