Guide to Betting NFL Point Spreads

NFL football is the most popular betting sport in the United States along, with many parts of the world as well. The players are well-known, the games are exciting, and the point spread is on the line much of the time from a betting perspective. In other words, bettors enjoy wagering on NFL spreads because they get their money’s worth, win or lose. It is very entertaining to watch and wager, and it only gets better every year.

The biggest misconception with NFL betting is that you are wagering on a team to win or lose the game. While that is certainly a betting option called the moneyline, taking the point spread into consideration is totally different and more complex. NFL bettors need to handicap games based on spreads before putting their money down.

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What are NFL Spreads?

A point spread is a number an oddsmaker at a sportsbook sets on a game with hopes of getting equal action on both the favorite and the underdog. For example, with a 7.5-point spread, the favorite needs to win by eight points or more in order to cover the number while the underdog must lose by seven or less — or win outright — to do the same.

The odds of an underdog winning straight up are usually slim depending how big the point spread is, which is why the moneyline is also available. If you are a casual bettor who does not want to worry about the spread, then wagering on the moneyline is the way to go, especially with underdogs.

However, the issue with the moneyline if you like betting favorites is that the price can be high. Many favorite bettors would much rather take their chances with teams covering a point spread of -7.5 at a lower price of -110 (bet $110 to win $100) than wagering on them to win straight up (SU) with a price of -450. Likewise, many underdog bettors would be more enticed to take +350 (bet $100 to win $350) instead of +7.5 because the potential payout is much higher with a SU victory.

As you can see, there are advantages to betting both point NFL spreads and moneylines, depending on what you prefer. Keep in mind, the point spread exists mostly for sportsbooks to show a numerical value differentiating favorites and underdogs and then ultimately allows bettors to pick which team they think has an edge based on their own personal opinion, usually determined through the use of power ratings or other rankings.

Oddsmakers also use power ratings to help set opening numbers and include home-field advantage values within them. The typical home-field advantage value is three points in favor of the host team, although stronger fan support can push that number higher and a worse situation there can make it even smaller to the point that it becomes irrelevant. In other words, some teams have a worthy home field while others do not.

The bottom line here is that the point spread is often misinterpreted as the amount of points the favorite is expected to beat the underdog by. That may seem to be the case if you simply make score predictions based solely on power ratings. But as a bettor, you still need to decide if your team will cover the point spread, rather than landing right on the number, which would only result in getting your money back with a push. The object of NFL spread betting is covering the number as a favorite or underdog.

Point Spread Factors

There are obviously numerous factors that go into making NFL spreads, including injuries, weather, home-field advantage and trends. Oddsmakers consider all of these things and more, as that is what they are paid to do. If they do not set fair lines, then they will not have a job for long. Why? Because either bettors will not wager on their numbers, or they will make a killing on them and put them out of business. They have to be at the top of their game, and being in the know is the secret to their success.

Just the same, bettors need to do their homework too if they want to beat the books. With the NFL, there is so much public information out there that few bettors can get a real edge on games unless they are really sharp and really know what they are doing. Getting inside information on NFL games can be extremely difficult, which is why those who do, and consequently move the betting lines based on it, are referred to as sharps.

Sharps are the complete opposite of the betting public, often just referred to as the public. While the public can be measured by bet percentages on games, the percentage of money wagered on a particular side can also be totally different. For example, 70 percent of bets could be on the Chicago Bears at -3.5 against the Green Bay Packers. But 60 percent of the money could be on the Packers at +3.5, meaning they are the sharp side. Maybe the public likes the Bears because they are playing at home and had a better record last year. Maybe the sharps like the Packers because they believe they are undervalued in this situation and can win the game in an upset as underdogs.

Regardless, two of the biggest factors that can move point spreads are injuries and motivation. If sharps have any inside info at all on a game, it likely involves one or both of these two factors. In the NFL, the injury report is critical for anyone handicapping the games, but that is also public knowledge. Some professional bettors may know if a key player will actually start or not, which could make all the difference in terms of the point spread. If Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers cannot play due to injury, the drop-off in talent to his back-up is massive, so betting against his team would make more sense.

Successful handicappers become successful bettors by considering all of these factors while also looking at recent and historical trends to see if any of them might be worth betting on. Some trends are worthwhile, and others are worthless, and it can take a lot of time to sift through the data, including statistics and game logs. Time is money, so the more of the former that is spent on research, the less of the latter could end up in your pocket. Timing is everything with regards to betting too, especially when dealing with line movement. NFL spreads can change dramatically quickly and cost you money if you are on the wrong side of a line move. That is why it is always important to stay on top of the latest news and track point spreads in an effort to keep ahead of the moves. If you can do that consistently and have the ability to shop around at different sportsbooks, you will get the best numbers more often than not.

Spread Betting Types

By now, you probably realize that the most common point spreads cover the entirety of a game, including overtime if needed. But did you know that there are other spread betting types that you can wager on? An NFL football game consists of four quarters or two halves, and you can bet on point spreads over any of those durations as well. There is also in-game wagering, in which point spreads can fluctuate based on live situations.

Sportsbooks have their hands full setting numbers on all of these different types of spread betting, so the bettor has an advantage if handicapping the numbers correctly. Do certain teams play better in the first quarter than the other three because they lack depth and get tired sooner? Do others get stronger as the game goes on because they have a lot of depth and a good coach that can properly motivate them at halftime?

In-game wagering is a completely different animal, as a single play can change the odds of the favorite or the underdog covering the point spread. These live betting numbers can fluctuate quite a bit, so much so that a bettor could possibly middle two different points spreads (one on each side) to guarantee a profit. Middling, as it is known, can also be done with point spreads for a full game and shorter durations like halves. From the example earlier, the Packers could be +3.5 for the game versus the Bears, who could later be +3.5 themselves in-game if they are trailing 7-3 at halftime. If Chicago wins 20-17, then you would cash both bets based on the final outcome.

Sportsbooks will continue to find new ways for bettors to wager on NFL football games, with spread betting remaining at the forefront. No matter how much technology changes the way oddsmakers do their jobs, they are in the business of making the best numbers possible. And the main goal of sportsbooks is capitalizing on those numbers, making the most money they can by outsmarting bettors, who want to beat them just the same.