Are you new to football betting? That’s fine. This is a no-judgement zone. Starting by betting on the Super Bowl might feel like diving straight into the deep end, but it’s actually one of the best places to begin. There are so many different types of wagers available, you’ll be able to get the lay of the entire betting landscape and be a sharp before you know it.

We won’t let you wander into the football betting wilderness alone, of course. We’ve developed this handy Super Bowl betting guide to help you get acquainted with NFL betting, generally, and lay some wagers on Super Bowl 51. Now that the matchup has been set (the Patriots and Falcons will be squaring off at NRG Stadium in Houston on Feb. 5), we can use some concrete examples to make things clearer.

But first things first. Let’s start with some classification.

Types of Bets

Every football bet can be classified in one of three categories: (1) against the spread, (2) money line, and (3) over/under.

Against the Spread

Against-the-spread betting (commonly abbreviated as ATS) is probably the most common type of football betting. In Super Bowl LI, the Patriots are three-point favorites over the Falcons. On paper, this is written out as “Patriots (-3)” or “Falcons (+3)”. The three-point spread means that, if you bet on the Patriots (-3), you only win your bet if the Patriots win by more than three points. If the Patriots win 31-30, for example, you’re outta luck (and money)!

The flip side is that if you bet on the Falcons (+3), you’ll still win your bet even if they lose the game by three points or fewer.

If the Patriots win by exactly three points (say, 37-34), it’s called a “push” and both sides get their money back less a percentage (around 5% to 10%) which is kept by the sportsbook. (Sportsbooks always win on pushes.)

Simple enough, right?

You might get confused a couple days after you make your bet when you see the spread change. If a lot of money is being wagered on one team versus the other, sportsbooks will shift the spread to encourage equal betting on both sides. (This lessens their potential for loss.) For instance, if 70% of the “early money” is bet on the Patriots this year, the spread might shift to Patriots (-3.5) or Patriots (-4). These changes do not impact any bets that you already placed. For your purposes, the spread will remain what it was at the time you placed your bet.

The payout on spread betting is generally about $1 for every $1.10 you wager. You’ll often see the payout listed as “-110”, which indicates that you must bet $110 in order to win $100. You’ll see similar looking numbers in our next type of betting. (Ooh, nice transition.)

Money line

Betting on the “money line” is even simpler than betting against the spread. It simply means betting on which team will win the game “straight up”. You don’t have to worry about margin of victory. If the team you bet on wins, you win your bet!

That’s even simpler! Why doesn’t everyone just do that, you ask. Because the payouts are generally lower. Sportsbooks aren’t going to reward you the same way for picking a massive favorite to win. They will, however, reward you handsomely if you correctly pick an underdog to win! Let’s use this year’s Super Bowl again as an example.

The Patriots’ money line is -150 at the moment. (Hey that style of number looks familiar!) That number indicates that, if you’re betting New England to win, you have to wager $150 in order to win $100. The Falcons’ money line, on the other hand, is +140. The plus-sign changes everything! When preceded by a plus-sign, the money line number indicates how much you’ll get back if you bet $100. So if you bet $100 on Atlanta +140 and they upset the Patriots (by whatever score), you’ll walk away with $240 – your original $100 bet plus $140. (Effectively, the favorite for the game is always listed at a negative number and the underdog at a positive number.)

You don’t have to wager $100, of course. You can wager basically any amount (though sportsbooks tend to have upper and lower limits). If you cut your bet in half an put $50 on the Falcons at +140, you’d go home with $120 if they cover – your original $50 bet plus $70 (i.e. half of $140).

Over/Unders

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Over/Unders (O/Us) are quite different than ATS bets or money line bets in that they don’t generally involve picking the winner. The most common over/under bet is the game total, which involves predicting the total number of points that will be scored in the game. When you’re on/at a sportsbook, you may see a line for the Super Bowl that looks like this: Falcons vs Patriots (-3, 58.5 O/U).

You already know what that -3 means. But what about 58.5 O/U? As I’m sure you guessed, that’s the game total. You can either bet that the game will feature more than 58.5 points (in which case you’re betting the over) or fewer than 58.5 points (in which case you’re betting the under). If you bet the over and the Patriots win 30-29, you win your bet since the teams combined for 59 points. (That’s more than 58.5.) If the Patriots win 30-28, you lose everything, even though the combined score was super close to 58.5.

Like with ATS betting, the game total can and will shift over time, depending on where most of the money is going. Also like ATS betting, you can get “pushes” with the game total. Obviously, these only arise when there aren’t half numbers involved. I haven’t done all the research, but I’m pretty sure no NFL game has ever ended 30-28.5.

Over/Under betting isn’t just limited to game totals, of course. Sportsbooks offer all sorts of O/Us for various sports. In the NFL, it’s common to see win-total O/Us at the start of every season. This year, the Patriots win-total O/U was about 10.5 or 11 (depending on where you look). Since they hit 14 wins on the season, those who bet the over won their season-long bet, and those who bet the under lost. The Falcons win-total O/U was only 7.5. Again, everyone who bet the over won.

(To complicate matters, O/Us can and do have money lines attached to them, meaning the payout isn’t always equal between the over and the under. It all depends on which outcome the sportsbook thinks is more likely.  As long as the sportsbooks think the two outcomes are equally likely, you’ll roughly double your bet if you win, minus the “house” keeping a lil summin summin )

Those Props You Keep Hearing About

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So far, most of the wagers we’ve been discussing focus on the outcome of the game, itself. The Super Bowl, however, is just as famous for its litany of “prop bets” as it is for actual football. What’s a “prop bet”? It can literally be anything. “Prop” is just short for “proposition”.

In order to entice as much betting on the game as possible, sportsbooks offer prop bets on almost every aspect of the Super Bowl, from which team will win the opening coin toss to which player will score the first touchdown. A lot of the props are about on-field performances: Who will have the most receiving yards? How many interceptions will Tom Brady throw? But the really fun ones often have nothing to do with football at all.

This year, you can wager on what color hoodie Bill Belichick will wear during the game, what color Gatorade will be poured on the winning coach, and how many wardrobe changes Lady Gaga will make during the halftime show.

Props aren’t a separate type of bet, per se; they’ll either be money line-style or over/under-style bets. Let’s look at a couple examples to clarify. “Who will have the most receiving yards” is a prop that would you would bet on the money line. Julio Jones is currently the favorite at around +175. (Remember what that plus-sign means? If you bet $100 on Julio and he does have the most receiving yards in the game, you’ll win $175.)

“How many interceptions will Tom Brady throw” is an over/under-style prop. The O/U is at 0.5. If Brady throws zero interceptions, the under wins. If he throws one or more, the over wins. Right now, the over for Brady interceptions is at +120, while the under is at -150, meaning the sportsbooks think it’s more likely that Brady won’t throw any picks.

Ok, I get it. Now what?

Go look at your finances and see if you have some disposable income. If you do, and you want to get in on the Super Bowl action, try one of these top-rated betting sites.


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