The popularity of betting on the NFL has created the availability of sportsbooks where you can now legally wager on football games. Sportsbooks put up betting lines on every preseason, regular season, playoff game, and of course, the Super Bowl. Football is the most popular sport in the United States and the Super Bowl is among the highest betting events in the world.
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 matches 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.
Betting on the NFL for Beginners
Bettors who are new to NFL betting should always study the various betting lines and types of wagers before placing a bet on the outcome of a single NFL game or combination of games.
You can wager on which team will win, with various payout options, depending on sportsbooks betting lines.
You will find 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. The full range of wagering options can be made on the football matches in the NFL as well on college games.
This guide provides the fundamental understanding of the NFL, with the simple details you need before analyzing the betting lines that the various sportsbooks offer.
The Point Spread
The most common wager offered by the sportsbooks is a bet on a single game that includes a “point spread”.
Before putting your hard-earned money on a sports wager, you should understand the process involved with making that wager available to you. You may have a good feel for the game-winner, but in making the bet you will most often be presented with a “spread” on the game.
You may see for example, that NY JETS are listed as -7.5 against the Chicago Bears. This is the spread or line on the game.
In this example, the Jets are considered the favorite. The favorite always has the negative points listed or is “laying” 7.5 points in this example. If you are betting on the NY Jets here, you are wagering that they will win by 8 points or more.
With this type of wager, you will also see a line that indicates the amount you need to bet to win 100, and that amount is usually 110. That does not mean you have to bet $110 minimum, it means the bet to payout ratio is 11 to 10, regardless of the amounts bet, within house limits.
The payout/odds are generally listed as minus 110, or an “even money” type payout, but incudes the point spread “balancer” to even out the betting action. Balanced betting or “two-way” action is a critical business need for the sportsbook to minimize risk to their commission revenue.
A winning bet returns the win amount plus your original bet. As an example of the 11/10 ratio, if you bet $11, you will collect $21.
Keep an eye out for spreads without the .5; those with 7, or 3 points as examples. In this situation, if the Jets, won by 7 points in our simple single bet example above, you would get the amount bet returned to you. A tie on a single point spread bet is referred to as a “push”, and you get your wager back.
The Money Line
Another type of basic bet is a straight bet where the payouts are aligned with the probability of win without the spread balance.
This means, if the favorite is twice as likely to win, then, in theory, you should expect that a bet of $200 would pay $100 in winnings, plus your original bet. Of course, the sportsbook requires their percentage, so the money line is adjusted a bit further.
Using the NY Jets 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.
If you are looking to bet on the underdog in what is expected to be a close scoring contest, always consider the money line. This may offer increased expected value versus taking a few points that only pay out 10 for an 11 bet. Of course, the underdog has to win the game to collect your winnings, but the payout difference makes this worth a deeper look.
Often the odds or win probability heavily favors one team relative to its opponent, and the point spread is a form of handicap placed on the favorite to “balance the action.” The role of the oddsmaker is to come up with the numbers - meaning the person or service that came up with the -7.5 points in this first basic example above.
A point spread that generates the same amount of money bet on both teams is the ideal situation for the sportsbook. With balanced action the sportsbook can operate a riskless business, that simply collects its commission from the winners, and could care less who wins the game.
This commission or slice of the winnings that the sportsbook takes in from the winners is sometimes referred to as the “vig”, short for “vigorish.“ In this sense, it means the number of gambling winnings that are withheld to keep the sportsbook in operation.
As the bettor, you are wagering that the oddsmaker’s line, that was developed to balance the action, is inaccurate. Your analysis indicates that the spread is too high or low, and therefore a profit opportunity exists.
Take a deep look at the lines for what is considered “public favorites”. These are teams that have a long (past) history of winning or otherwise high-profile teams. Often, the oddsmakers may have to adjust the spread a bit in anticipation of a lot of small, public perception bets. The past is interesting, but the analysis should be focused on the teams about to take the field.
Types of NFL Football Bets
A parlay type bet is where multiple bets are combined for a single wager. In a parlay bet, you can continue to add events 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.
The first example above is a single team, point spread wager. The NY JETS were listed as a 7.5-point favorite against the Chicago Bears. With a parlay type bet, you have an opportunity to add one or more bets to your wager. A 2-team parlay would mean adding another wager to your single bet. A 3-team parlay means adding 2 more, and you can continue to add games to your single-game wager, often up to 10 bets.
With parlay bets, the payouts increase significantly as you add teams, but so does the probability of loss, since you need to cover the spread on every game on the bet. Examples of multiple team parlay payouts are listed in the following table:
Examples of multiple team parlay payouts are listed in the following table:
Parlay bets can be a lot of fun, but If you are looking to bet on multiple games, there is a better chance for long term profitability with multiple single bets. The parlay payoffs look attractive, but the payouts are far less than the underlying odds.
Example: the simple probability of picking the winner of game 1 is 50%; the same as game 2. The joint probability is .5. times .5 or 25%, which would require a payout in the 4 to 1 range, versus the payout of only 2.6.to 1.
Teasers are a type of parlay bet that allows bettors to choose from a few favorable points spread adjustments that would improve the chance of a winning bet, in exchange for a lower payout. It is a type of parlay since there is a two-game minimum with teaser bets. A teaser bet requires the selection of multiple games, and the teaser spread choice. The standard spread adjustment choices for American Football are 7.5, 7, 6.5 and 6-point teasers.
As an example, in our NY Jets scenario, a bettor is very confident that the Jets will win the game, but not as confident that they will beat the spread. On a 6-point teaser, the Jets game is paired with another similar game, where the spread is reduced for the favorite or increased by 6 points for the underdog. In our example of a 7.5 line, we could tease this game down to 1.5-point spread but will need to add another bet where we are confident a move of 6 points will result in a win.
A point spread change of 6 or 7 points can significantly change the probability to cover the spread. However, along with this increase in win probability, comes with a significant drop in the payouts of covering multiple games. As an example, a 2-team teaser pays the same 11/10 ratio as a single point spread bet. This means you need to pick 2 winners at for the same payout you would receive as winning a single point spread game but can offer good value since the point spread is changed in your favor.
The “tease” refers to the improved chance to select a winner, given the adjusted point spread, but at a lower payout.
Examples of 7-point teasers are listed in the following table:
Note: Teaser betting guidelines can vary by sportsbook and by sport. As an example, the point spread options for football are different than basketball. Sportsbooks in Las Vegas have a limit of 8 games on a single teaser bet.
Teasers are a safer bet since you can minimize the impact of the points spread to your advantage. But given you need to win multiple games with a limited payout, it often makes sense to take another look at the game. If you are not confident your bet can cover the spread, then you probably should take another look at the opponent or better yet, look at another game. Similar to a standard parlay, if you are looking to bet on multiple games, there is a better chance for long term profitability with multiple single bets.
Another very common type of sports bet is the Over/Under bet, where instead of picking a team to win the game, the bet is on the combined score of the game.
With this type of bet, the sportsbook puts up a number total that will draw balanced action. As a bettor you would analyze that combined total in terms of the scoring and defensive capabilities of the two teams.
Again, using our NY Jets versus the Bears example, let’s assume the oddsmaker sets an over/under total of 37.5 points. A winning bet on the over, means the combined scores of both teams (to include any overtime play), would require a combined point total of 38 points or higher. A winning bet on the under would require that the combined point total be 37 points or less. Over/Under bets almost always include the. 5 point “hook”, since the sportsbook prefers to avoid “push” bets.
The payout odds for American football and basketball follow the 11/10 ratio. You will see the over/under line as listed with -/+ 110, meaning you need to bet 11 to collect 10, along with your original bet.
It is standard sportsbook practice to mix over/under bets with team point spread bets on parlays and teasers. This provides you with a wide range of betting and risk reduction opportunities, along with the increased payout of a parlay. However, in the long-run, betting single games has a better profitability outcome, since single-game bet payouts are closer aligned with win probabilities.
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.
A proposition bet is a wager on unique aspects of the game. Prop bets were essentially designed for the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the largest sports betting event in the US, and sportsbooks put up a wide variety of “proposition” bets for this event.
There are prop bets on the player that will score first, which quarterback throws the first touchdown. You can place a bet on the player named MVP and even 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.
Betting Differences Between the NFL and College
Football rules and betting structures are the same in NFL and college matches, 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 matches. 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.
As a bettor, you need to look at this example and all the fundamentals in order to pick winners. Bets on individual matches 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 match 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 event. 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.
History Behind the NFL and Super Bowl
The event that we now refer to as the Super Bowl was first played in January 1967. This first featured the champions of the American Football League, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League.
The AFL began just seven years earlier and was considered to be an upstart league with limited talent as compared to the long-established National League. The Green Bay Packers won the first two AFL/NFL Championships, as the event was known at the time, and these NFL victories reinforced the sense that the AFL had a lot of catching up to do.
In 1969, the NY Jets beat the heavily favored Baltimore Colts, and the Kansas City Chiefs returned to win the championship the following year. The AFL had definitely caught up and the merger of the two leagues was completed in 1970.
The growth in popularity of football since the first AFL/NFL championship has made the Super Bowl the biggest sporting event in the US. The merger, that set up a truly national football league, generated a surge in interest.
The 1970 merger came at the same time as advances in color television, instant replay, the innovative programming of Monday Night Football, and later round clock cable sports coverage. Advancements in television viewing, massive stadiums with corporate luxury boxes and giant stadium viewing screens all contributed to the explosive demand for NFL games, especially the Super Bowl.
The biggest sports event that draws the largest game-day viewership also attracts the largest levels of advertising spending. The money spent on Super Bowl commercials could match the gross national product of a few small countries.
As the popularity of the Super Bowl has grown, so has the investment in television commercials. The Super Bowl not only draws a huge audience of football fans but many that tune in to see the many entertaining commercials. The Super Bowl is now an entertainment event like no other.