Understanding NFL Odds
Chances are that, as an NFL fan, at one point or another you’ve placed a wager on a football game. Betting on the NFL is as old as the league itself, but with more states legalizing sports gambling after the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the ability to wager on an NFL game has become easier and more exciting than ever before.
Sportsbooks put out NFL odds each week of a season, and it is then up to the bettor to translate that information into successful wagers. Here is our guide to the different types of NFL betting available to the public, both in Las Vegas and on your favorite online sportsbook:
The most popular choice in NFL wagering is to bet against the point spread. For each game, oddsmakers put out a line (known as a point spread) in an attempt to even the playing field. For instance, the home team in a game against an evenly-matched side will usually be listed as a three-point favorite. The line is shown on a betting sheet as the favored team “giving” three points (-3) and the underdog team “getting” those three points (+3).
This means that, for your bet on the favorite to come through, that team must win the game by more than three points. Conversely, to win on the underdog, that team must only lose by two points or less, or win the game outright.
How much you win on this bet is determined by the moneyline — the three-digit number listed next to the point spread. A typical betting line looks like this:
Chiefs +3 (-110)
Packers -3 (+110)
If you bet the Chiefs and the “covered” — winning by more than 3 — you would win $100 for every $110 you wagered. If you took the Packers and they lost by less than 3, you would win $110 for every $100 you bet. Should the game end with the favorite winning by three, the bet would be a tie (or push), and your original wager would be returned to you.
Some bettors prefer not to tangle with the point spread, and choose to simply bet on the outcome of the game. In that scenario, the bettor is wagering on the moneyline, which is presented like the +110/-110 numbers in the point spread, but in this case, the numbers vary up and down. For example, the favorite might be listed as -270, which would require a $270 bet for the bettor to make $100, while the underdog may be +340, netting you $340 for a $100 bet.
Over Under Bets
If betting against the point spread is the most popular type of NFL betting, then making NFL over-under picks runs a close second. Having an over-under bet on the outcome of an NFL game — otherwise referred to as a Game Total bet — requires the same skill and knowledge betting on the point-spread. The difference here is that you are betting on both teams to perform in a similar way, as opposed to favoring one team over the other.
Here, the oddsmakers set a number for how many total points are expected to be scored in each individual game. That number is referred to as the “Over-Under” and is often listed on betting sheets as the “O/U” number. Quite simply, the bettor is required to pick whether the total points in that game will exceed the O/U number — betting the “over” — or whether the teams will combine for fewer points — the “under.”
So if the over-under for a game between Dallas and Miami is 43.5, and you bet the over, you would need the teams to score a combined 44 points in order to win your bet. If Dallas triumphs 24-20, you win. Conversely, if you took the under, and the final score was 17-10, you would again be a winner.
For those who would prefer to raise the stakes a little, the parlay bet is made for you. In this type of wager, you are required to bet on two, three, four, or even 10 outcomes, and you must get them all correct. One miss, and the bet is over. But the odds can be enormous — a typical three-bet parlay pays 6-to-1, four bets 13-1, and so on.
In football, you can combine bets against the spread and over-unders, sometimes on the same game, or multiple ones. Obviously, while the odds become increasingly mouth-watering as you add more games to your parlay, there’s a reason they are so long. Keeping your parlays to manageable numbers is always the prudent strategy.
Another key approach is to employ in-game correlation. You can bet the spread and the over/under in the same game, and it often makes sense to play both in a parlay with a connection between heavy favorites covering as well as the over. Obviously, the more points the favorite scores, the more likely both the spread and the over will cover. Conversely, playing a heavy underdog implies that the favorite won’t be scoring big points, so the chances for a low-scoring game overall increase.
Teasers are similar to parlays, but with the ability to shift the point spreads on a particular game by six or seven points. Though the payouts are less than a traditional parlay card, the chances of hitting your winners increases. Like a parlay, the bettor must string together a series of correct bets in order to win an overall payout. But while a parlay card requires you to play the point spread as is, the teaser lets you shift the lines upwards of seven points in either direction to mitigate the risk. So, for a teaser point spread, you can decrease the number for the favorite or bump it for the underdog, while the same “teasing” applies to the over/under.
For example, take a game between the Packers and Chiefs:
Green Bay -12
With a teaser card, you could adjust the lines to look like this:
Green Bay -6
Or, if you wanted to bet the underdog, you could go like this:
Kansas City +18
That’s an enticing set of lines, and while you won’t break the bank playing it, a win is a win.
If the long game appeals to you — as well as some pretty impressive odds that could lead to a huge payday — then the futures bet is the thing for you. Shortly after the Super Bowl concludes on the first Sunday night in February, sportsbooks put out odds for all 32 teams to win the next season’s Super Bowl. The favorite — usually one or both of the teams having just played in the Super Bowl — might be priced in the neighborhood of 6-to-1, similar to the odds you might expect for a favored horse in the Kentucky Derby.
From there the odds for each team get longer. Those that reached the playoffs might be priced in the 12-to-1 range, while teams that finished just outside could creep into the double-digit odds region. Others with .500 records, or slightly worse, find themselves around 25- or 30-to-1. And the basement dwellers can see odds of around 999-to-1, should you believe in the impossible dream.
Much like over-under win totals on individual games, you will need to wait for the entire season to conclude to know if you have a chance of winning. In this case, however, you are not rooting for any other outcome than winning the Super Bowl — it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.
What makes futures bets so intriguing and popular are the odds. You bet an individual game and you are wedded to the moneyline. Even the biggest underdog bet — typically a +300 — is only going to pay like it’s 3-to-1 odds. But with a futures bet, even for the biggest favorites you are likely to get 6-to-1 and double your money if your team wins the big one. And when the slipper fits? In 2007, the New York Giants opened the season at 30-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. Thank you, David Tyree.
As mentioned above, another type of futures bet are the over-under wins totals, where you wager on the total win amounts over the 16-game regular season for each team.
These are great bets for casual fans looking for some NFL action in the months when there is no football. Over-under lines generally get released around the April NFL Draft, and give the least gambling-savvy fan an extra reason to root for their favorite team over the course of the season — or against their bitter rivals.
Unlike an actual bet on the outcome of an event, such as the Super Bowl and its point spread, over/under and moneyline, the proposition bet offers odds on a particular aspect of the game, both on-field and off. In almost all cases, the actual outcome of the game plays no part. Indeed, what makes prop bets so popular is that you don’t really need to be a huge gambler or sports fan to make a wager and enjoy cheering for your winning outcome.
But in the betting world, no sport and no event like the NFL and its Super Bowl is more prop-friendly. Think of all the statistical measurements and milestones that go into an individual NFL game, and then imagine all the possibilities for prop bets. Consider the Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams. Here was just a sampling of the prop bets available to the public:
Teams to Score First
New England Patriots -132
Los Angeles Rams +100
Will there be a score in the first 5½ minutes?
Team to score last wins the game?
As you can see, the sportsbook balances its odds of a “win” or a “loss” not with the object of the wager, but with the moneyline. By skewing the moneylines on each side of the wager, the book is trying to entice the bettor to wager on the least likely of what are, essentially, a set of exotic over-under scenarios.
In the examples above, team achievements are at the heart of the prop. But many popular prop bets are instead attached to individual performances, such as the number of points, touchdowns and yards a player makes in a game. Those questions lay at the heart of most prop bets. In Super Bowl LIII, these were the prop bets available just for Tom Brady:
Total Pass Attempts: 37.5
Total Completions: 25.5
Total Passing Yards: 282.5
Now imagine a similar string of bets for every key player in the game. Even defensive players are involved, with props on sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions.
There were also prop bets for everything except the Big Game, including:
- O/U on the length of the National Anthem
- The color of Gatorade poured over the winning coach
- First song played by the halftime performer
- Number of Geico ads in the first half
Online platforms such as 5Dimes, Bovada and Intertops are fine sources of prop bets for both major events and regular season games.