An Essential Guide to Sports Betting on the NFL and College Football Games
Betting on Football for Beginners
Football is the most popular sport in the United States and that includes both the professional and collegiate levels. The popularity of the sport has created the availability of sportsbooks where you can legally wager on football games. This means that you study the various betting lines and types of wagers and make a bet on the outcome of a single football game or combination of games.
You can wager on which team will win, with various payout options, depending on sportsbooks betting lines. You have options to bet on a single game outcome or combine multiple bets to increase your payout. You can even bet on the combined score of both teams. Importantly, the full range of wagering options can be made on the football games in the National Football League (NFL) as well on college games.
As a beginner, a solid understanding of the betting fundamentals for the National Football League (NFL) and College games is a must for those looking to take advantage of sports betting opportunities.
The betting concepts in this beginner’s guide start with an overview of the basic rules of football and then dig into the types of NFL bets, to include the Super Bowl. Next, we’ll address wagering on college football. This guide provides the fundamental understanding of football, with the simple details you need before analyzing the betting lines that the various sportsbooks offer.
Basic Rules of Football
Before wagering on any athletic event, a review of the rules is a good place to start. These are the fundamentals that are later needed for analysis and bet selection, and knowing the rules, makes watching any sport more enjoyable. The basic rules and scoring options for football games are straightforward and described below:
The Field of Play
The field of play is rectangular shaped and is 100 yards long from goal line to goal line, with an end zone at each end of 10 yards in length. The width of the field is 53.3 yards. There are goalposts at each backline of the endzone. There are 11 players for each team on the field at any time during play. The basic scoring principle is to move the oblong-shaped ball over the opposing team’s goal line. One team of 11 is defending their goal line (on defense). The other team is trying to cross the opponent's goal line and score (on offense). Each team has a squad of offensive and defensive players and each team has a third squad that is primarily involved with kicking the ball to or receiving a kick from the other team. This third group is known as the special team unit. Special teams include the unique services of a punter and field goal kicker, as examples.
Run or Pass
To move the ball towards the goal line, the offensive team can either run with the ball or complete a forward pass, one player to another. A legal forward pass is when the ball is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage to another player in a forward direction towards the goal, and an eligible teammate catches the ball before it hits the ground.
The line of scrimmage is the term for the starting line on the field. It is where the ball is placed and is the virtual line across the field where the offense lines up against the defense to try to move the ball.
Four Tries to move Ten Yards
The rules provide the offensive unit with four tries to move ten yards. Each try is called a down; 1st, 2nd, and so on. When a team moves the ball from the initial line of scrimmage to a distance of ten yards or more towards the goal, they are given another set of downs. When a team fails to move ten yards in four tries, the other team goes on offense and tries to do the same. Most often, when failing after three tries, the special team is called in to punt. A punt means kicking the ball downfield as far as possible to increase the distance the other team needs to move the ball toward the goal. Punting is one form of kicking and kick returning plays that special teams provide.
The team with the highest score wins the game. When the offensive team runs or receives a pass beyond the opponent’s goal line, this is called a “touchdown” and is worth six points. The main objective is to score a touchdown and is the highest point award. After scoring a touchdown, the scoring team is given the opportunity for an “extra point or points”. A single extra point is scored when the ball is kicked through the goal-posts on the backline of the endzone. It is possible for a team to run a play, again pass or run the ball across the goal line and receive two extra points.
A field goal is the result of a successful kick through the goalposts from the field. Often on fourth down and near the goal, the offensive team will try for a field goal. A field goal is worth three points. The final scoring opportunity is when the offensive team is tackled behind their own goal line. This is called a “safety” and is worth two points to the opposing team.
Game Time Structure
The game duration is 60-minutes of playing time, with four quarters of 15 minutes each. However, you need to set aside three hours to watch an entire game from opening kick-off to the final whistle. The playing time, or “game clock “only runs for continuous play on the field. The game clock stops: when a player carries the ball out of bounds, on an incomplete pass, a penalty, or when a team uses one of their allotted time outs. Game clock management is a very important aspect of the game since the game time available can determine the number of remaining scoring attempts.
Betting on the NFL and the Super Bowl
The NFL season starts in August with four preseason games, before a regular-season schedule that is 17 weeks long. During the NFL season, each team plays 16 games with one “bye week”. The end of the regular season in December, starts the playoff games for the teams that qualify, leading to the conference championship games and then the NFL championship game that is known as the Superbowl, played in early February.
Sportsbooks put up betting lines on every preseason, regular season, playoff game, and of course, the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is among the highest betting events in the world and we’ll cover some special notes on Super Bowl wagering, after discussing the various types of NFL bets.
Types of NFL Football Bets
Point Spread Betting
The most common wager offered by the sportsbooks is a bet on a single game that includes a “point spread”. You may see for example, that LA Rams are listed as -7.5 against the NY Giants. This is the spread or line on the game.
In this example, the Rams are listed as the favorite to win the game. The favorite always has the negative points listed, and in this example must win the game by at least 7.5 points, which really means the Rams need to win by eight points to collect on the bet. With a point spread type bet, you will also see the required bet amount needed to win 100, and that amount is usually 110. This means the bet to payout ratio is 11 to 10, regardless of the amount bet, within the sportsbook betting limits. The 1-unit difference is the sportsbook’s commission. A winning bet returns the win amount plus your original bet. With the 11/10 bet/pay ratio, if you bet $11, you will collect $21, a profit if $10.
The Money Line
Another type of basic football bet is a straight bet where the payouts are aligned with win/loss probability. As a theoretical example, if the favorite is twice as likely to win, then the expected payout of a bet of $100 on the favorite would pay $50 in winnings for a total of $150. The other side of the bet on the “underdog” or non-favored team would pay $200 for a $100 bet. Of course, the sportsbook requires a commission for their brokerage services, so the money line is adjusted a bit further.
With the LA Rams example above, a team favored by 7.5 points would have a money line of -360/280. This means betting on the favorite requires a 36/10 ratio, or bet of $36 to win $10, or a total payout of $46. A $10 bet on the underdog will result in winnings of $28, or a total payout of $38. There is no point difference with money line bets. The team you select needs to simply outscore the opponent to win. With the money line and the sportsbooks adjust the potential payouts based on the win probability of the favored team.
A parlay type bet is where multiple bets are combined for a single wager. As an example, a 2-team parlay, would mean adding another wager to your single selection bet. A 3-team parlay means adding two more bets to your combined wager, and so forth. A parlay bet means you can continue to add games to your single-game wager, and most sportsbooks allow parlays to combine up to 10 bets. To win a parlay bet, every individual selection must be a winner. As you combine bets, the probability of winning every selection decreases significantly. The payouts with a parlay, therefore, should increase as well.
Examples of multiple team parlay payouts are listed in the following table:
|Number of Games||Payout|
|2 Team Parlay||2.6 to 1|
|3 Team Parlay||6 to 1|
|4 Team Parlay||11 to 1|
|5 Team Parlay||22 to 1|
Teasers are a special type of parlay bet that allows bettors to select from a set of point spread adjustments that would improve the chance of a winning bet, in exchange for a lower payout. It is a parlay form of wager since you must have a minimum of two games with teaser bets. With a teaser bet, the sportsbooks offer wagers on multiple selections with a range of point spreads. The standard spread offers for football teasers are 7.5, 7, 6.5 and 6-point teasers. You can add or subtract one of the point adjustments for a wager on two or more games, but with the spread, an adjustment offer comes at a much lower payout than a standard parlay bet.
As an example, with the LA Rams scenario above, you may be very confident that the Rams can win the game, but not ascertain that they will win by 8 points. With a 7-point teaser, the Rams win bet is selected with another bet, where the spread is reduced for the favorite or increased by 7 points for the underdog. In the Rams example of a 7.5 line, you could “tease” this wager down to .5-point spread, but you also must make another bet, where a move of 7 points delivers a win. The sportsbook is offering an opportunity to wager at a lower the point spread on two selections, but at a payout well below the parlay payouts. The “tease” refers to the improved chance to select a winner, given the adjusted point spread, but at a lower payout
NFL Future Bets
Prior to the start of the NFL season, you can wager on the teams that will win the conference championships and the winner of the Super Bowl. You can also make bets on the Over/Under win totals for each NFL team. Since there is a long season ahead, picking the winners way in advance is a bit risky, but the payouts are also higher. An example of a longshot to win the Super Bowl could be in the 100-1 range.
Special Notes on Super Bowl Wagering
The Super Bowl is the largest sports betting event in the US, and the sportsbooks put up a wide variety of bets to include a long list of “proposition” bets. A proposition bet is a wager on some unique aspects of the game. Examples include bets on which player will score the first points, bets that on Over/Under for completed passes by each quarterback, and other very specific bets. You can even bet on which team will win the coin toss!
There is a 2-week gap between the conference championships that determine the Super Bowl matchup and the game. You would need this time to analyze all the proposition bets. The standard point spread and money line bets are where most of the money is wagered. Parlays and teasers are limited to the team and over/under bets, since there are only 2 teams. With all the hype and media buildup over the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl aside, the game follows the same basic rules of football and picking a winner still requires a fundamental analysis of both teams.
Betting on College Football
The regular season of college football starts in late August and ends in early December. College bowl games start in mid-December and run through the first of the year with the college championship in the first week of January.
Sportsbooks put up betting lines on just about every college conference from the Ivy League to the high-powered SEC (South Eastern Conference). There are betting lines for every minor and major bowl game to include the national championship.
The basic rules of football are essentially the same for the NFL and college. Betting options to include parlays and teasers are also available. One interesting note; sportsbooks allow parlay bets to be combined with NFL bets and can provide some excellent wagering opportunities.
Betting Differences Between NFL and College
Football rules and betting structures are the same in NFL and college games, but there are some differences to note. There are 32 NFL teams to analyze for betting opportunities, but hundreds of college games. Similar numbers are evident in the number of college bowl games as compared to NFL playoff games. There are a lot of bowl games. The sportsbooks books need to put up a line on just about every college football game, but as a smart bettor, you can focus on a conference or specific type of bowl games, or even one or two teams.
The other obvious difference is that college athletes are not professionals and some are still teenagers. For younger players, the travel demands, balancing school and practice time can be a challenge. In addition, there can be vast differences in the level of athletes from school to school. These factors can lead to some variability in performance outcomes that can result in some very large point spreads. Early in the college season, point spreads in the 30, 40-point range are common and require careful wagering analysis. It is extremely unlikely that you will ever see a 40- point spread in the NFL, given the competition is relatively level.
Football Betting Considerations
Football is often described as a game of third-down efficiency. When the 3rd down effort does not result in a new set of downs, a punt to kick to the other team is often the consequence. Teams that consistently attain a new set of downs and drive down the field, will usually win the game. As a bettor, you need to look at this example and all the fundamentals in order to pick winners. Bets on individual games are the best long-term approach to profitable football wagering. When betting on individual football games, you need to win at least three bets out of every five bets placed in order to maintain a profit. Take the time to truly analyze your options.
The other considerations that can disrupt a team’s consistency are turnovers and penalties. Turnovers are fumbles and pass interceptions where the defensive unit takes the ball away. Penalties are another setback for teams and make consistent play difficult to predict. These are game day variations that can turn your well-analyzed bet into a loser.
To analyze the point spreads and totals, you need to develop your own set of power rankings and should compare the offense, defense and special team capabilities for both teams in any game under consideration. A ranking system is necessary to determine if one team is undervalued or another overvalued when looking at the spread for a game.
You can go online to get started with NFL and college power rankings, but should always adjust these published rankings as you see the matchups. Injury analysis is an important week to week adjustment. Injuries to key players can make trend analysis and power rankings an “apples to oranges” comparison.
As a bettor, you have the advantage to focus your analysis on a few NFL teams or a college conference or two, where the sportsbook needs to put betting lines on just about every game. Remember, on average for every NFL or college betting line, there is a group of winners and an equal group of losers. Do your homework, be patient, and focus on fundamentals, so you are more often to be in the winning group.