The National Football League is as American as supersizing your drink and deep-frying obscuring food. Sure all the other sports are fun, and yeah college football is great, but this is NFL we are talking about! Incidentally, the most popular sport in the United States is also the most popular sport to wager on, and chances are if you are new to sports wagering, NFL betting is where you will begin.
With the recent legalization of sports betting in several states, interest in NFL betting has never been higher. In 2019 alone, approximately $145.94 million U.S. dollars was wagered on the Super Bowl. In September 2020, the state of Pennsylvania reported a sports handle of $463 million, with a bulk of those bets coming by way of NFL betting.
As you can see, business is, how they say, boomin’ when it comes to betting on sports, in particular NFL betting.
So how does NFL betting work? Well, it’s quite simple! Let’s dive in.
NFL Spread Betting
Spread betting is the most popular way to wager on NFL football and is also the most common way you will hear people discuss betting on the sport.
How NFL spread betting works is pretty standard to how wagering on any other sport works. The better team playing in a given game will be considered the favorite, and they will need to win a game by the point spread offered by the sportsbook. We know the team is favored in a matchup when they are listed as being minus (-) the point spread.
Conversely, the worse of the teams playing in a given matchup is called the underdog, or “the dog”, as you will hear many other people referring to a team not expected to win the game outright. We know a team is marked as the underdog in a given matchup when they as listed as being plus (+) the point spread. The bettor wins this bet if the team wins outright or does not lose by more points than the plus point spread has designated to them.
An example of how a point spread in regards to NFL betting would look is as follows:
Jets vs. Bills (-10.5)
In this instance, if you felt the Bills would win the game outright by 11 points or more over the Jets, you would bet on the Bills -10.5.
On the other hand, betting on underdogs works in practically the same way, only with a nice little bonus in that the underdog can lose the matchup outright, but “cover” the spread by losing by a certain margin of points.
If in the above matchup you felt the Jets would lose the game but keep it closer than 11 points, you could bet on them to cover the points, and if the Bills were to win by 10 points or less even if the Jets lost the game you would still win your wager.
When a betting number does not include the half point (better known as “the hook” in sports betting terminology, hence our moniker), that does leave open the possibility that your bet would end in a draw, or what is better known in sports betting as a push.
An example of a push would look like so:
Final Score: Buccaneers 31, Falcons 21
In this example, regardless of the side you were on, you would have your money refunded as both teams did not clear the point spread in either direction.
NFL Moneyline Betting
Moneyline betting is another method of NFL betting and is the easiest form of betting to understand. Unlike spread betting where you can pick the winning team correctly but still lose the bet because they did not win by enough points, moneyline betting only requires that you correctly pick who wins the game. The biggest thing to consider with moneyline betting beyond picking the correct side is understanding how payouts work with these types of bets.
An example of this would be as follows:
Washington Football Team (+350)
at Seattle Seahawks (-400)
If you believed the Washington Football Team would pull the big upset over the Seahawks in this matchup and wanted to bet on them straight up, you would be paid out $350 on a $100 wager, or three and a half times your bet. In the other scenario, if you believed the Seahawks would win but were not confident in the point spread, you would need to risk $400 to win $100, or in other words, you would have to risk four times your desired payout as oddsmakers have decreed the Seahawks are big favorites to win this matchup.
Essentially, the bigger the point spread the higher the cost backing a favorite with a moneyline wager is going to be. However, if you are able to accurately find the scrappy underdog that pulls off the outright upset you will find that moneyline bets on underdogs come with a higher payout because of the higher risk in wagering on them.
NFL Totals Betting
NFL totals betting is very similar to betting the point spread, only instead of betting on a team to cover a point spread you are betting on whether or not the combined final score of a game will go over or under the game total posted by oddsmakers.
While totals betting is the standardized term in sports betting circles, you will also often hear these wagers referred to as “over” or “under” bets.
The set total on a given matchup in the NFL can be determined from many different factors including:
- Weather (including games played in a dome)
- A great offensive team playing another great offensive team
- A great defensive team playing another great defensive team
An example of what an NFL totals line may look like is as follows:
Las Vegas Raiders O50.5 (-110)
at Kansas City Chiefs U50.5 (-110)
Using the above example, if you felt the Chiefs and Raiders would score more than 50.5-points and wanted to win $10, you would bet $11 on the OVER 50.5. If you wanted to win $100, you would risk $110, and so forth. If you felt the Chiefs and Raiders would combine for less than 50.5-points, you would bet your desired dollar amount on the UNDER 50.5.
Before locking in your wager we recommend reviewing relevant NFL trends and stats to decipher what teams tend to go over the total and what teams tend to go under the total.
NFL Parlay Betting
Parlays are a selection of two or more wagers that are linked together on a singular ticket.
Instead of betting on a series of single-game outcomes, a parlay is where you are wagering on all of those games together and are then subsequently rewarded with a larger payout than you would be betting on the games individually. Well, you know, should you win your wager.
The caveat behind these bets is that knowing that it only takes a single loss to sink your entire ticket. These bets are much harder to win than betting on them individually would be. As such, the more legs in your parlay the greater the potential payout.
An example of what a parlay ticket may look like is as follows:
3 Team Parlay Pays (+600)
In this example, if the Titans, Packers, and Browns all cover their respective point spreads, you would be paid out six times the amount you risked on the parlay. For the sheer sake of simplicity, a wager of $100 in this example would pay you $700 ($600 for your parlay win along with your original $100 bet).
NFL Teaser Betting
A teaser bet is nearly identical to a parlay bet but with one twist – a teaser bet is a type of parlay where you can adjust the point spread or total by a certain number of points, making it theoretically “easier” for each side to cover that number.
However, because you are buying points on a sequence of games, the payouts for teasers will be much lower than the payout of hitting a parlay.
Standard NFL teasers include two or more wagers with lines adjusted by anywhere from 6-7 points. The fewer the points you tease, the higher the payout.
Using the above parlay example as a 6.5 point teaser would look like this:
3 Team Teaser Pays (+160)
As you can see, the Chiefs line has now moved from them being 3-point favorites to them being 3.5 point underdogs. The Packers adjusted from 6.5 point favorites to just needing to win the game and the Browns can now lose by 9 points or less and still cover the spread. Should all three individual outcomes occur, you would net $160 on a $100 wager.
NFL Prop Betting
Prop bets are side wagers on a game that require you bet on something other than the outcome of the game. In NFL betting, these typically come in the form of player or team prop bets. Prop bets hit the peak of their popularity during the Super Bowl, but there is value in prop betting all throughout the season.
Some examples of some NFL prop bets you may encounter may look like so:
- Patrick Mahomes O/U 299.5 yards passing
- Dalvin Cook O/U 105.5 yards rushing
- DK Metcalf O/U 99.5 yards receiving
- Total combined made field goals O/U 3.5
- Demi Lovato O/U 2:01 National Anthem length
- Distance of longest penalty in game O/U 15.5 yards
There are countless other examples of prop bets that one can wager on, and many bettors find them to be another means to make a game that much more exciting.
In addition to betting on single games, you can also bet on outcomes set to happen in the future (hence the term ‘futures’ betting). The most common instance of NFL futures betting is betting on a team to win the Super Bowl before the season begins. However, there are numerous other NFL futures bets that are always available to bet on. Some examples of NFL futures bets are as follows:
- Betting on a team to win a division or conference
- Betting on a team to win the Super Bowl
- Betting on a player to win NFL MVP
- Betting on a player to win NFL Rookie of the Year
As is the case when betting on an underdog to win straight up, betting on a long shot team to win their division, conference or Super Bowl would net a bigger payout in the event that dark horse team went on to surprise the rest of the field.