NFL Bets Made Simple: A Guide for New Football Bettors
Betting on the NFL has become nearly as popular as watching the game itself. Millions of people worldwide enjoy wagering a little money on the games each Sunday, and millions more prefer to wager a lot. But don’t be discouraged if the phrase “betting against the spread” still confuses you. You’re certainly not alone.
Whether you are entirely new to NFL betting, or just need to brush up before the season, you’ve come to the right place. This guide covers all the different ways you can bet on the NFL in great detail. If you are brand new to betting and don’t understand odds, you will benefit from reading our beginner’s guide to betting on sports before jumping in here.
Single-Game NFL Bets
When you open a site from our list of best NFL betting sites, you will see the following wagers displayed for each game: point spread bets, moneyline bets, and totals bets. These three will almost always be grouped together, appearing on a “line” as follows:
Betting the Point Spread
Betting “against the spread” is the most popular way to wager on football.
You may hear people reference the spread in a variety of ways: betting against the spread, betting the spread, point spread betting, or simply ATS (against the spread).
Football games are rarely perfect match-ups, and the spread is the sportsbooks’ way of leveling the playing field. In order to win a point spread bet or “cover the spread,” the favored team not only has to win the game – they must do so by a specified number of points (the spread).
The spread encourages equal betting on both teams, as it essentially “gives” points to the underdog. You most often find spreads with half-points attached, which is known as a “hook.” The hook avoids the possibility of a push (or tie).
Looking at our Giants/Cowboys example above, the team with the negative number next to its name is the favorite; in this case, it is Dallas (-5.5). If you bet on the Cowboys against the spread, they have to win the game by at least six points for you to win your bet. Dallas is said to be “laying” 5.5 points in these circumstances. Another way to look at it is subtracting 5.5 points from Dallas’ score at the end of the game. If the Cowboys still have more points after subtracting 5.5, then they cover the spread.
The spread is a way of leveling the playing field: In order to cover the spread, the favored team not only needs to win the game – they must do so by a specified number of points.
The Giants have a positive number next to their team name, indicating they are the underdog. They do not have to win the game outright for you to win your bet. So long as they don’t lose by more than five points, you’ll come out a winner. Obviously, you would also win your bet if the Giants won the game outright.
Generally, point spread odds will be the same when betting on either team. If the money is too heavily wagered on one team, the sportsbooks will alter the spread during the week to encourage bettors to wager on the other side (sportsbooks want the money evenly split). But not to worry, your bet is locked in with the spread that you wagered on.
Check out our point spread betting guide to learn more about betting against the spread in the NFL.
Betting the Moneyline
While less popular than betting the spread, the NFL moneyline is the easiest football bet to understand. When betting the moneyline, you are simply picking the team that will win the game.
The odds attached dictate your potential payout and the sportsbook’s implied probability. Returning to our sample line above, Dallas remains the favorite on the moneyline, as indicated by the negative number (-200) next to the team name. But, in this case, that number means something different: a -200 moneyline tells bettors that they need to wager $200 on Dallas in order to win $100.
When betting the moneyline, you are simply picking the team that will win the game.
The negative number next to the New York Giants (+150) gives us similar information, with one key difference. It tells bettors how much they will win on a $100 bet, in this case $150.
Moneyline bets are easy to understand, but they offer a poor return on investment when betting on the favorite. To learn more, check out our detailed guide to moneyline bets.
Betting Totals (Over/Under)
When betting on the “total,” you are no longer concerned with which team will win the game. Instead, your focus is strictly on how many points will be scored overall. You may also hear this type of bet referred to as “over-under betting.”
Sticking with our Dallas/New York example, the sportsbook has set the total at 49.5 points. Again, the half-point (hook) is present to prevent a push. You have two options when betting totals: over (more than 49.5 points will be scored between both teams) or under (less than 49.5 points will be scored overall).
When betting on the “total,” you are no longer concerned with which team will win the game. Instead, your focus is strictly on how many points will be scored overall.
Odds will generally be the same for betting either the over or the under, and the total set by the sportsbook can change throughout the week. When making this kind of bet, ensure you click on the option with the correct letter — “o” for over and “u” for under. You will see the total listed twice in case the odds do differ between the two options.
See our guide to totals betting to learn more.
Multiple-Game NFL Bets
With anywhere from 13-16 matchups to choose from, you may want to bet on more than one game each week. Parlays and teasers allow you to do just that, and they can be very profitable options for those who know how to use them.
In simplest terms, a parlay is a bet that involves more than one event. For example, if you want to take the Cowboys to cover the spread (from our example above), and are confident the game will end over 49.5 total points, you can bet both with one single stake. You may also be interested in betting both the Cowboys and another team to win their respective games. Parlays make this possible.
A parlay can include a combination of moneyline, point spread, or totals bets from one or more games each week. However, most sportsbooks will not allow you to bet the moneyline and the spread in the same game. Some sportsbooks will allow unlimited events in a parlay, while others cap a maximum number.
When constructing a parlay, your potential payout is increased, as you need to get all events correct. This allows you to risk less for more winnings. But keep in mind, there is no prize for getting seven of eight events in a parlay correct.
Have a try with our parlay calculator to get a sense of the possibilities.
A teaser is a type of parlay, in which all bets are against the spread or the total, and the bettor sacrifices potential payout for more favorable spreads. Let’s look at two more games from the NFL to help illustrate this:
Most sportsbooks give you the option of teasing the spreads by +6.0, +6.5, or +7.0 points. In our example above, we may tease our spreads by just +6.0 points. This would result in Kansas City getting 13.5 points (7.5 + 6.0 = +13.5), and Pittsburgh only laying three points (-9 + 6.0 = -3). As mentioned, though, your potential payout is dramatically decreased because you are getting much more favorable spreads.
You can also use teasers when betting on the total. Certain sportsbooks offer a long list of alternate spreads to choose from in each game. This will allow you to work the spread in either direction for each game.
As was the case with a parlay, you need to get all events correct in a teaser to win the bet. It’s important to know your sportsbook when constructing parlays and teasers, as some will remove an event from the parlay/teaser if the outcome is a push, while others count a push as a loss.
Other NFL Bets
There’s more to NFL wagering than betting the moneyline, against the spread, and totals. You can also bet on how well one player will perform, who will win team and individual awards, and even the outcome of a single play.
NFL Prop Bets
Propositions, or props, are most popular during the Super Bowl, but are available throughout the NFL season. Prop bets range from which team will score first in a game to how many yards a given QB will throw for, and everything in between.
When props involve an individual statistic, the sportsbook will set a projected total, and you simply choose over or under. In any prop bet, the sportsbook will lay out your options very clearly and will include the odds for betting on each.
These are only a handful of the props available to you for each game, and when the Super Bowl comes around, not all props will be football-based. You’ll see unorthodox prop bets like the length of the National Anthem, and what color Gatorade will be dumped on the winning coach. You do have the option of creating a parlay with props, as well, but most books force you to have only prop bets in the parlay.
Want to learn more? Find more prop bet details here.
Within 24 hours of the final whistle in the Super Bowl, bettors can begin wagering on who will win next year’s Super Bowl. This is referred to as a futures bet. Before the teams playing are determined, you can handpick which of the 32 NFL franchises will hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Other popular futures bets involve the major player awards for each season: MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, etc. The sportsbook will provide a list of the favorites and include a “FIELD” option. If betting the FIELD, you are wagering on none of the listed names winning that award. Certain sportsbooks will also allow you to bet on the QB to throw for the most yards in a season, which RB wins the rushing title, and more.
Team win totals are also a very popular futures bet. Sportsbooks set a number of wins for each team (often with a hook) and allow you to bet the over or under. These may be referred to as “season props” on some sportsbooks.
If you’re planning on making any futures bets, keep in mind that some sportsbooks will close these bets once the season starts. Most books will not allow you to parlay any futures bet. Read more to learn the ins and outs of futures betting.
In-Game Live Betting
Many sportsbooks allow you to bet on the moneyline, spread, total, and more throughout the game. This is called live betting. Of course, the lines and odds will shift throughout the game depending on how things are progressing on the field.
Live betting also allows you to wager on the outcome of the next play. These props can be as general as predicting whether a team will run a passing or rushing play, but also as specific as loss of yards, gain of 1-4 yards, gain of 5-9 yards, a first down, or a touchdown. You will have to be quick as your window to place these bets is very small.
States That Allow NFL Betting
The NFL betting market has never looked better. There are several US betting sites and apps that allow you to easily place wagers on your favorite teams—from the Dallas Cowboys to the Green Bay Packers.
Fans can currently place bets on their favorite NFL teams in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania—if the Cardinals, Eagles, or Steelers are your cup of tea. Fans of teams like the Ravens, Jets, and Giants will have to wait a little longer for their opportunity, but Maryland and New York are not too far away from legalized sports betting. Connecticut sports betting apps and Louisiana online sportsbooks are looming in the background as well, as they wait for approval in their respective states.
Whoever you cheer for, there’s plenty of opportunities to win big on your favorite teams and you can do it all from the comfort of your home.
Find Success This NFL Season
There’s certainly no shortage of options when it comes to betting on the NFL. Review the 9 simple strategies NFL bettors should know before jumping in on the action, and always wager responsibly.
If you’re interested in a full weekend on football betting, college ball also offers exciting and profitable options for bettors. Check out our college football betting guide to learn more!
Let's have fun and keep it civil.