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.
Whether it’s in a sportsbook in Las Vegas, or as is becoming increasingly popular in the modern gambling landscape with NFL online betting, trying one’s luck at correctly picking the total score of an NFL game is an exciting, if challenging, form of wager.
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.
Typically, the betting sheet will list a game as such:
New England Patriots at New York Giants
Over 45.5 (-110)
Under 45.5 (+110)
In all betting, the favorite is always listed with the minus sign (-) and the underdog is listed with the plus sign (+). This is because the payout for the favorite is always going to be less than the amount wagered, while a successful bet on an underdog will be more than the amount wagered.
In this case, for every $100 you bet on the under, you would receive $110 in payout for a successful bet. If betting the favored over, it would require a wager of $110 in order to win $100.
Usually, the over-under is set a half-point to avoid a tie, or a “push” in which the amount of the bet 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 totals lines is 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 such as weather or injuries. In rare cases where a major injury to a key player, like the starting QB for one team, can cause sportsbooks to remove the over-under total from the betting line altogether.
As opposed to the Las Vegas sportsbooks, where odds are fixed and bettors must play the totals provided them on a given day, some online betting sites may allow the bettor to make their own betting lines by increasing or decreasing the site’s provided over/under line.
Known as “alternate lines,” this process allows the bettor to change the O/U number, which also changes the odds for the line depending on the amount of the movement off the provided line.
For example, if the online site sets the over-under at 48.5 and you thought the game l was going to be much more lower scoring because of concerns over increased wind projections for gameday, certain sportsbooks would allow you to select an alternate lower game total and bet the under, which would payout a lot more than the under on the original 48.5 line.
Individual game over-under betting is a hallmark for bettors on gamedays. But there are other forms of over-under betting that require an entire season to be won or lost. These are the NFL over-under wins bets, and they have become the darling of the preseason betting world.
Much like the typical futures bets which ask you to pick the division, conference or Super Bowl winner with varying odds for each team, over-under wins bets 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.
A typical NFL wins over-under wager would look something like this:
Pittsburgh Steelers 9.5 Wins
Bettors can wager on the over and under on Pittsburgh’s wins, which includes the 16-game regular season only. Like any other bet, a total represented by an even number can result in a “tie,” or “push” which would result in the bettor getting his original wager back. For example. If the Steelers win total was 9.0 and they finished 9-7, that would be a push.
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 for the serious bettor.
When to make over-under season win total bets depends largely on your tolerance for risk. Bets very soon after the Super Bowl and before teams make coaching changes and free agency likely generates better odds, but the data informing those decisions is often incomplete or downright misleading.
The later into the offseason, the more likely the betting lines will reflect 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.
The most informed decisions will come in August, when teams have played preseason games and their strengths and weaknesses are defined. Any major injuries that occur in the preseason will be baked into any line movement by the sportsbooks, but can also save the bettor from a potential disaster by 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. Strength of schedule information is usually available shortly after the completion of the previous season. Team opponents are known well in advance – six in-division games, plus rotating divisions to fill out the other ten games.
The overall strength of a team’s divisional foes can be key to assessing a team’s chances for its win target. For instance, the Patriots have 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.
Sportsbooks anticipate the Patriots will win 5 or 6 division games each year, roughly half of their expected win total in slightly less than half of their overall schedule.
Coaching and personnel changes will also factor into a team’s expected win total. Anticipating certain free-agent movements after win totals are released, but before the moves become official, could give a bettor a nice edge against the field.
Anticipating (and guessing correctly on) major personnel issues can have a huge impact. In 2018, for instance, the Pittsburgh Steelers were installed with a win total over-under of 12. That number seemed attainable until Le’Veon Bell decided to hold out for the entire season. The Steelers predictably struggled and finished the year with just nine victories.
Knowing that the Browns would likely turn the keys to their 2018 season over to rookie Baker Mayfield also led to success for bettors who bucked the years-long trend of taking the Browns’ under for a team total usually in the range of 3 or 4 and taking the over this time, with the like set at 5.