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The NFL’s Betting History
The NFL was founded nearly a century ago, and it has taken almost 100 years for betting on the sport to become more accepted, following the recent repeal of PASPA (Professional and Amateur Sports Act) in the United States. Moving forward, betting on NFL games will not seem so forbidden or taboo in the U.S. or around the world, as it is already becoming more mainstream, with corporate sponsorships coming in from casino resorts and legal wagering opportunities continuing to expand across the globe.
In fact, the planned move of the Raiders from Oakland to Las Vegas in 2020 signifies how far the league has come in terms of embracing a city best known for its roots in gambling, dating back to legalization there in 1931. Vegas had been previously viewed in a very negative light, but Raiders owner Mark Davis did not care and followed through on his father Al’s dream to bring the team to Sin City. The Raiders already have a partnership with Caesars Entertainment, and others may soon follow with similar deals.
With the Super Bowl also continuing to be the most heavily-wagered sporting event on the planet, there is unlimited potential for NFL betting in the U.S. and beyond. Sportsbooks will compete with each other to offer the most creative props and betting options, giving the public a bigger menu to wager than ever before. The debate on whether or not fantasy football should be considered a game of skill or another form of sports betting will be cleared up at some point as well, and it will not matter what you think eventually because it will all be one in the same. NFL betting is only growing.
The league’s history is well-documented, but not so much from a betting perspective. The goal here is to provide you with as many details as possible regarding when wagering on the NFL came to fruition, discuss current betting options and reveal handicapping tips that can help you beat the oddsmakers at their own game.
NFL Betting History
First and foremost, football fans will always remember Joe Namath’s famous guarantee 50 years ago that his New York Jets would upset the heavily favored Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. You did not even have to be alive at that time to realize the significance of Broadway Joe’s prediction and how he successfully backed it up, leading the Jets to their lone Super Bowl victory against the Colts, 16-7, as 18-point underdogs. This is a player who was later elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1985 based mainly on this one huge accomplishment, as the rest of his injury-ravaged NFL career was pretty forgettable.
The New England Patriots (14-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI) and New York Giants (12-point underdogs in Super Bowl XLII) are two other notable champions who beat the NFL odds with big upsets, thanks to the play of future Hall of Famers at quarterback. The defenses of the Patriots and Giants both slowed the game down and limited prolific offenses that are still known as some of the best of all-time. But it is New England’s Tom Brady and New York’s Eli Manning who we remember the most, just like Namath, even though neither of them was bold enough to guarantee a Super Bowl win.
While those three are probably the most memorable Super Bowls based purely on the point spread, the history of betting on NFL games obviously goes back much further. Before the Super Bowl even existed, there was the NFL Championship Game between 1933 and 1966. The Giants and Colts participated in “The Greatest Game Ever Played” in 1958 for the NFL Championship, with the latter winning 23-17 in the first sudden-death overtime game in league history.
The first Super Bowl then took place in 1967 between the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, as Packers head coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr both became legends by helping take home the second of their three straight titles overall.
Of course, there was wagering on those earlier championship games too, but many bettors used illegal bookies instead of going to Vegas, so it is hard to say exactly how much volume was involved back then, compared to today. Betting on NFL games was not even discussed publicly in the media on a regular basis until Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder had a regular segment picking games on the popular CBS pregame television show The NFL Today with Brent Musburger, Irv Cross and Phyllis George in the 1970s and 80s.
In 2017, Musburger, whose love of gambling was always evident in his broadcasting style, quit his job as a play-by-play broadcaster and moved to Vegas to help start the Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), which has provided comprehensive coverage of sports betting. More and more media networks focused specifically on gambling have been created since then, and the NFL has been a heavy emphasis for many of them due to its popularity.
While betting on the NFL has always existed, it is being covered now more than ever before. That has also made it easier to re-trace the history, which is being told to us by those who lived it and appreciated by a younger audience who can learn from it.
NFL Online Betting Options
There are all types of betting options already available with NFL games, and the number of opportunities just keeps growing. From game point spreads and over/under totals to futures like odds to win the Super Bowl and season win totals to props such as who will score the first touchdown, NFL online betting options are at an all-time high. If you do not know much about any or all of these, you are definitely in the right place.
First, it is important to understand how NFL lines work in terms of betting on sides in individual games. If you look at the NFL odds on any game, you will see three different pregame betting options, the point spread, moneyline and total. The point spread is a number oddsmakers set at a sportsbook that shows the difference between the favorite and underdog, based on power ratings or other rankings between the teams.
The favorite must win by more than that amount of points to cover the spread, and the underdog needs to stay within that number or win the game straight up to cash. For example, if the Patriots are listed as 9.5-point favorites against the Raiders, then they would need to win by 10 points or more in order to cover. If Oakland loses to New England by nine points or less or wins straight up, then the underdog beats the number.
Meanwhile, moneylines are designed for NFL bettors who do not want to worry about covering the spread and would rather just wager on which team they think will win the game instead. But in that same game between the Patriots and Raiders, you would need to pay a hefty price on the favorite to win, although you would get rewarded with a much bigger payout on the underdog. For New England, the price would be -450 (bet $450 to win $100), and Oakland’s payout would be +350 (bet $100 to win $350).
Game totals involve the combined number of points scored between the two teams. So if the total is set at 45.5 points and you bet the over, you would need 46 points or more scored. Likewise, there would need to be 45 points or less scored to cash the under.
With point spreads and totals, you can also wager on them for smaller parts of the game, like quarters and halves. NFL online betting offers many of these types of additional game options, so it pays to have an account to ensure you do not miss out.
In addition, futures have become increasingly popular as more of a long-term investment over the course of the entire season. They can pay off nicely if you have a long shot bet like the St. Louis Rams in 2000 when they won the Super Bowl behind little-known former Arena Football League quarterback in Kurt Warner, who remains the last player to take home the NFL MVP and Vince Lombardi Trophy in the same year. The Rams cashed at 200/1 for the biggest future odds payout in Super Bowl history.
Season win totals are much more of an investment though because you are simply wagering on how teams will perform during the regular season, again going over or under a certain number without the benefit of getting astronomical odds. Instead, you generally bet on a moneyline, with either the over or under favored at a price like -140.
Finally, props and live wagering round out the different NFL betting options. Props can involve different events that happen before, during or after a game, especially in the Super Bowl. Will the coin toss result in heads or tails? Will Brady throw a touchdown pass or interception first? What color will the Gatorade be that is poured on the winning head coach? These are examples of Super Bowl props widely available over the years.
Then there is live wagering that continues to evolve despite being the most difficult NFL lines for oddsmakers to book. Think about it, sportsbooks need to be able to follow every play and react in real-time to set new numbers every few seconds. Live wagering is the present and future of NFL betting, and more and more sportsbooks will offer it.
NFL Handicapping Tips
Now that you know the many different NFL betting options, it literally pays to know how to wager on them successfully. If you think about NFL betting like playing the stock market, then you can probably understand why research is so important. Handicapping games before wagering on them is essential unless you are just betting blindly or letting others spend your money. If you want to win money betting the NFL, you must earn it.
In the Internet age, there is so much information out there that you have to go through it with a fine-tooth comb on a daily basis and consider the sources very carefully. Even the media can be tough to trust sometimes, so having more than one source is always advised before placing a wager. You certainly do not want to throw your money away, and there are a lot of so-called experts out there who claim to know more than they do.
That said, following newspaper beat writers on Twitter is one of the best first steps you can take to keep track of NFL teams. They are the ones watching practices, talking to players and coaches and forming opinions on what they see and hear from teams. It also helps to follow others who you believe to be true experts with a history of accuracy.
Speaking of history, looking back on what happened in prior seasons can actually help you the most. Studying past game logs for teams can tell you how they fared against the spread (ATS) along with their over/under total results. You will also see all of their scores versus their opponents, and then can use your own judgment to determine if they are worth betting on this time. From there, you can even choose to narrow down your focus to a particular division so that you do not have to handicap all 32 teams.
Having a specialty might be the best NFL handicapping tip you can get. Do you like to wager on teams ATS or prefer handicapping totals? Have you followed the NFC North more than any other division to the point that you yourself feel like an expert? Ultimately, being confident and trusting yourself is the best way to win at NFL betting.