Odds are pretty good that if you are a fan of the NFL, at one point or another you have placed a wager on an NFL game. Betting on the NFL is as old as the game itself, but now, with the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling and more and more states allowing for legalized sports gambling, the ability to wager on an NFL game is easier and more exciting than ever before. Each week during the season, sportsbooks put out their NFL odds, and then it is up to the bettor to decide how to translate that information into successful wagers. Here is a guide to the different types of NFL betting available to the public, both in Las Vegas and on your favorite online sportsbook:
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The most popular choice in NFL betting is the bet against the point spread. For each game, oddsmakers put out a line, or a point spread, in an attempt to even the playing field for a particular game. For instance, the home team in a game pitting two evenly-matched teams will usually see the home team 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 in order to win your bet on the favorite, 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, which is 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
In this scenario, if the game ended with the favorite winning by three, the bet would be a tie, or push, and your original wager amount would be returned to you.
Some bettors prefer not to tangle with the point spread and bet the game to win or lose. In that scenario, they bettor is wagering on the moneyline, which appears like the +110/-110 numbers in the point spread bet, but in this case, the numbers vary up and down. For instance, the favorite might be listed as -270, meaning it would require a $270 bet to make $100. The underdog might be +340, meaning a $100 bet wins you $340.
If betting against the point spread is the most popular type of NFL betting, then making NFL over-under picks has to run a close second.
Making 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 as a point-spread bet. The difference here is that, essentially, you are betting on both teams to perform in a similar way, as opposed to one team over the other.
Over-under or Game Total bets operate under the same concept as a Point Spread bet. 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.”
For example, 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 combine for 44 points in order to win your bet. So, if Dallas wins 24-20, you also win. Conversely, if you took the under and the final score was 17-10, you would be a winner.
For those who love the thrill of the high-wire act, where big odds can lead to big payoffs, but require considerably more risk, the parlay bet is made for you. In this type of wager, you are required to bet on 2, 3, 4, even 10 outcomes on one wager, and you must get them all correct. One miss, and you’re done. But the odds can be enormous, the more bets you put on your parlay. A typical three-bet parlay pays 6-to-1. Four bets goes 13-1, and so on.
In football, you can combine bets against the spread and over-unders, sometimes on the same game or binding together results of multiple games. Obviously, while the odds are mouth-watering the more games you add to your parlay, there’s a reason the odds are so long. Keeping your parlays to manageable numbers is always the prudent strategy.
Another key strategy to employ with parlays is the in-game correlation. You can bet both the spread and the over/under in the same game, and it often makes sense to play both of those pieces in a parlay. There is 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, and the chances for a low-scoring game overall increase. Favorite/over, Underdog/under.
Teasers are similar to parlays, but the huge difference is in the ability to shift the point spreads on a particular game by 6 or 7 points. While the payouts are less than a traditional parlay card, the ability to hit your winners increases.
Like a parlay, the bettor is required to string together a series of correct bets in order 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.
For a teaser point spread, you can decrease the number for the favorite or bump it for the underdog. 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 you are looking for instant gratification, the futures bet is not your kind of action. But if the long game appeals to you – as well as some pretty impressive odds that could lead a Cinderella story to a huge payday – then the futures bet is right up your alley.
The premise is actually quite simple. 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 just-completed Super Bowl – might have odds in the neighborhood of 6-to-1 like the odds you might expect for a favored horse in the Kentucky Derby.
From there the odds for each team get longer. Teams that reached the playoffs in the season just ended might see odds in the 12-to-1 range. Teams that finished just outside the postseason start to creep into double-digit odds against. Teams with .500 or slightly worse records find themselves around 25- or 30-to-1. And the basement dwellers can see odds around 999-to-1, if you believe in the impossible dream.
Much like over-under win totals, you will need to wait for the entire season to conclude itself to know if you have a chance to win. 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 so popular, is the odds involved. You bet an individual game, and you are wedded to the moneyline. Even the biggest underdog bet, usually a +300, is only going to pay like it’s 3-to-1 odds.
But 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 that asks the bettor to wager on the total win amounts over the 16-game regular season for each team.
These are great bets for the casual fan looking for some football action in the months where there is no football. These win over-under lines generally get released around the time of the April NFL Draft, and give even the least gambling-savvy fan an extra reason to root for their favorite team over the course of the season – or root against their bitter rivals.
Unlike an actual bet on the outcome of an event, like the Super Bowl, with its point spread and 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 in factoring into a prop bet. Indeed, what makes prop bets so popular, especially for big-ticket events like the Super Bowl or the NBA Finals, is that you don’t really need to be a hardcore gambler or sports fan to make a wager and enjoy rooting for your winning outcome.
But no sport and no event like the NFL and its Super Bowl is more prop friendly in the betting world.
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:
TEAM TO SCORE FIRST
New England Patriots -132
Los Angeles Rams +100
WILL THERE BE A SCORE IN THE FIRST 5½ MIN?
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 the more popular prop bets are attached to individual performances. How many points, how many touchdowns, how many yards. Those questions lay at the heart of most prop bets. In Super Bowl LIII, these were 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 ever key skill player in the game. Even defensive players get in the act, with props on sacks, fumble recoveries and interceptions.
And if you were feeling frisky before Super Bowl XLVIII between Seattle and Denver, and bet the following prop: “The First Score Will Be A Safety” at 60-1 …
And then there are the prop bets for everything except the Big Game:
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 sites such as 5Dimes, Bovada and Intertops are fine sources of prop bets for both major events and regular season games.