NFL Bets Made Simple
Betting on the NFL has become nearly as popular as the game itself. Millions of people worldwide love to spruce up their NFL Sundays by wagering a little money on the games, 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 new to all NFL betting, or just need specific aspects explained a little better, you’ve come to the right place. Here we will go through 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 first reading our beginner’s guide to betting on sports, as well.
But let’s start tackling the topic at hand: betting on the NFL.
Single-Game NFL Bets
When you open your sportsbook of choice, which is hopefully one of our trusted picks, and head to the NFL section, the first types of bets you will see are: point spread bets, moneyline bets, and totals bets. These three will almost always be grouped together, appearing as follows:
Betting the Point Spread
The most popular type of NFL bet you can make is a bet “against the spread.” You may hear this referred to in a variety of ways: betting against the spread, betting the spread, point spread betting, or just simply ATS (against the spread) etc. But don’t be confused, they all mean the same thing.
Football games often have a perceived favorite, and the spread is just the sportsbooks’ way of leveling the playing field. Basically, the favored team no longer just has to win the game, but now has to do so by a specified number of points (the spread). Without getting bogged down in specifics, the sportsbooks do this to encourage equal betting on both teams, since that’s their safest path to making money. Often you will see spreads with half-points attached, which is known as a “hook.” This is to avoid the possibility of a push (or tie). If you ever encounter a push, the bet is treated as if it never happened; bettors receive their wagers back.
Looking back 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 “covered the spread.”
The Giants have a positive number next to their team name, indicating they are the underdog. If you don’t believe there is any way the Cowboys will beat the Giants by six points or more, then you would bet on the Giants, who are “getting” 5.5 points. They do not have to win the game outright for you to win your bet; you win as long as they don’t lose by more than five points. Obviously, you would win your bet if the Giants won the game outright, as well.
If the final score of the game is 24-21 for Dallas, then anyone who wagered on New York would win their bet, as the Giants covered the spread. (Dallas only won by three.) Again, you can frame it as adding 5.5 points to New York’s score at the end of the game, if you find it easier. That would give the Giants 26.5 points, which is more than Dallas’ 24.
Generally, the odds will be the same when betting on either team, as the spread has created a level playing field. As money comes in, though, the odds and the spread may change slightly in one team’s favor. 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. (Again, sportsbooks want the money evenly split.) But not to worry, your bet is locked in with the spread that you wagered on.
If you want to know more about betting against the spread in the NFL, we’ve got you covered here.
Betting the Moneyline
Of the three types of bets we’re looking at today, the moneyline is the easiest 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. In the example above, Dallas is the favorite. As with the spread, their status as the favorite is 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.
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.
This type of bet may be easier to understand, but can force you to risk a lot to win a little if betting on the favorite.
When bet 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. 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. Your options for this bet are over (more than 49.5 points will be scored) or under (less than 49.5 points will be scored). At the end of the game, you combine the points scored by both Dallas and New York to figure out whether the over or under bettors were correct.
As is the case with betting against the spread, the 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.
Multiple-Game NFL Bets
With anywhere from 13-16 games any given week on the NFL slate, it is very possible that you are interested in betting on more than one game each week. If you understand the three types of bets we discussed above, then you’ll have no problem with the two types of bets that allow you to wager on multiple teams.
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), but also like the game to go over 49.5 total points, you can bet both with one single stake. You may also be interested in betting both the Cowboys and Patriots to win their respective games. Parlays make this possible.
A parlay can include any 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.
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 Week 1 in the NFL to help illustrate this:
In our first game, you may be drawn to the Chiefs getting 7.5 points, but fear a late Alex Smith turnover could push it to a two-score game (a difference of 8-16 points). In the second game, you may not trust the Steelers to win by ten points, given Ben Roethlisberger’s struggles on the road, but are pretty confident that they’ll still beat the Browns. Not to worry; we will just tease the spreads in our favor.
Most sportsbooks give you the option of teasing the spreads by +6.0, +6.5, or +7.0 points. In our example from above, we may want to tease our spreads by just +6.0 points. This would result in Kansas City now 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 could do the same thing when betting on the total, and would have all the same options. Certain sportsbooks will also offer you 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
Betting the moneyline, against the spread, and totals is fun, but betting on the NFL has become a lot more intricate. We now have the ability to 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 to you during any week of the NFL season. You can always make one of the standard bets which are good super bowl bets for beginner bettors but prop bets get creative and can be a bit more fun. Prop bets range from which team will score first in a game to how many yards Tom Brady will throw for and everything in between. For the latter, or any prop that involves 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 include the odds for betting on each.
Here is a list of popular props you will come across:
- What will be the first scoring play?
- Which will be the highest scoring quarter?
- Will the team that scores first win the game?
- Will the team that scores last win the game?
- How many total touchdowns will be scored?
- Will either team score three times in a row?
- Which team will turn the ball over first?
- Total passing yards by a quarterback
- Total rushing yards by a running back
- Total receiving yards by a receiver
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.
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. Well 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 types of bets once the season starts. Most books will not allow you to parlay any futures bet.
In Game Live Betting
Once a game has started, you often still have the ability to bet on the moneyline, spread, total, and more. This is called live betting. Of course, the moneyline odds will change based on what has happened in the game so far, and the spread and total points will be constantly moving, as well.
Live betting also allows you to wager on what the outcome of the next play will be. It can be as general as a passing or rushing play, but also as specific as a 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, of course, as your window to place these bets is very small.