If betting against the point spread is the most popular type of wagering in the NFL, over under betting has to run a close second. Whether it’s in a sportsbook in Vegas, or betting online, trying one’s luck at correctly picking the total score of an NFL game is an exciting, challenging form of wager.

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What is an over under bet?

NFL over under (or game total bets) operate under the same concept as point spread wagers, where you back a team to score or not score a certain number of points. The main difference is that, rather than betting on one team over the other, an over under requires betting on both teams to perform in a similar way. The oddsmakers set a number for how many total points are expected to be scored in each individual game, which is referred to as the “over under”, and is often listed on betting sheets as “O/U”. The bettor is simply 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 odds for a Dallas versus Miami game are 43.5, and you bet the over, you would need the teams to combine 44 points in order to win your bet. So, if the final score is 24-20, you would win, as you would if you took the under and the final score was 17-10.

What do over under bets look like?

Typically, the NFL over under odds on a betting sheet will be listed as:

New England Patriots at New York Giants

Over 45.5 (-110)

Under 45.5 (+110)

The favorite is always listed with the minus sign (-) and the underdog with the plus sign (+). This is because the payout for the favorite will always be less than the amount wagered, due to the increased likelihood of this happening. In the above example, for every $100 you bet on the under, you would receive $110 for a successful bet. If betting the favored over, it would require a wager of $110 in order to win $100.

How are over under numbers decided?

Usually, the NFL over under odds are set with half-point to avoid a tie (also known as a “push”) in which the amount staked is returned to the bettor. Like point spreads, the over under number is likely to move in one direction or the other over the course of an NFL week. The opening NFL total lines are usually set on Tuesday mornings. By Sunday (or Thursday or Monday, depending on the game), the line may have moved up or down, based on factors like the weather or injuries. In rare cases, a major injury to a key player (like a team’s starting QB) can cause sportsbooks to remove the over-under total from the betting line altogether.

As opposed to the Las Vegas sportsbooks, where NFL over under odds are fixed, some online betting sites may allow individuals to make their own betting lines by increasing or decreasing the site’s provided O/U line. Known as “alternate lines,” this process also changes the odds for the line depending on the amount of movement from the provided line.

For example, if you thought a game was going to be much lower scoring than the 48.5 O/U line because of increased wind projections for gameday, certain sportsbooks would allow you to select a lower game total and bet the under. This would pay out far more than the under on the original 48.5 line.

Are there other types of over under bets?

While individual game over under betting is a hallmark for bettors on game days, over under “season win” bets enable you to bet on the results over an entire league campaign. These are much like typical futures bets, which ask you to pick the division, conference or Super Bowl winner with varying odds for each team.

Over under season win bets are great for the casual fan looking for some NFL action during months where there is no football. These 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 throughout the season.

A typical NFL over under season win wager would look something like this:

Pittsburgh Steelers 9.5 Wins

Over (-110)

Under (-110)

When is the best time to make an over under season win bet?

Unlike a straight game over-under wager, where the specific teams and their strengths and weaknesses help inform the likely outcome, betting on a season total of wins requires a bit more research. When you should make an NFL over under season win bet depends on your tolerance for risk. Doing this soon after the Super Bowl (before teams make coaching changes and the free agency period) will be more likely to generate better odds, but the data informing those decisions is often incomplete or simply misleading.

Further into the offseason and the betting lines will have a better chance of reflecting the actual strengths and weaknesses of each team. A team listed at -170 to win 5 games in March might be +110 for that same win total come August. Any major injuries that occur in the preseason will also affect any line movement by the sportsbooks, but can save the bettor from betting the over on a team that loses its best player before the season starts.

Strength of schedule is a key factor in helping to gauge the likely win total for a particular team, and this information is usually available shortly after the completion of the previous season. For instance, the Patriots generally had a win total of around 11-12 wins in the Tom Brady era, largely because the AFC East has consistently been one of the weakest NFL divisions over the past two decades.

What other factors can help you predict a team’s win total?

Coaching and personnel changes can also help you predict an expected win total. Anticipating certain free-agent movements after win totals are released, but before the moves become official, could give a bettor a strong edge against the field. Indeed, major personnel issues have had huge impacts in the past. For instance, in 2018 the Pittsburgh Steelers were installed with a win total over-under of 12. This number seemed attainable until star player Le’Veon Bell missed the season due to contract negotiations stalling. The Steelers predictably struggled and finished the year with just nine victories.