How to bet on Football

How to bet on football

How to bet on football. Every year people lay billions of dollars in football bets without the most basic understanding of how to bet on football. Our guide to football betting covers the basics of what is a money line and what is a point spread.

Below we cover the most common football bets. What are the bets and what are the strategies you need to know to get started betting on the NFL & College Football.

  1. What is a point spread?
  2. What is a money line?
  3. What is a game total?
  4. What is a parlay bet?

What is a Football Point Spread?

The theory with point spreads is that you’re not actually betting on which team will win the game, you’re betting on which team will “cover the spread”. The favorite has to win by at least a certain number of points for a wager on them to payout and the underdog can lose the game but still cover the spread.

To put it simply. The favorite will have points deducted from its final score and the underdog will have points added to its final score. Once the points are added/removed, the winner will be decided.

Here’s an example of a point spread on an NFL game between the Raiders and the Bronco.

The Raiders are 6 point underdogs. This means that they will be getting 6 points added to their final score. The Broncos are -6 points which means that they will have 6 points deducted from their final score. You can choose to bet on the Raiders and get the points or on the Broncos and give the points.

Most point spread bets have odds set at -110. This means that you will need to bet $110 to win $100. This is how the sportsbooks make their money. If you have two people betting on opposite sides. One bets $110 on the Raiders +6 and the other bets $100 on the Broncos -6. The Broncos win by 7. This means the guy who bet on the Raiders loses his $110. The guy who bet on the Broncos wins $100 & gets his $110 back for a total of $210. Since both guys bet $110 the total bet was $220 & the total payout was $210. The profit for the sportsbook was $10.

Why Football Point Spreads?

Some games are expected to be close. However, there are also games that are expected to be blowouts. The point spread has a way of leveling out the expected outcome of a game. In a college football game Alabama might be playing Tulsa. Everyone knows Alabama is the better team and will easily win so why watch the game? What if I gave you Tulsa and 42 points? Now are you interested? This is the essence of the point spread. To make as many games as possible interesting to football fans. The more games that are interesting the more action on the games.

Some Tips for Point Spread Betting

Handicapping does not require a degree in mathematics. If you watch the games and get a feel for how teams will perform that gut instinct can payoff. I am not dismissing math. Some basic research can help. How do teams do on the road vs at home. How have they done against the spread so far. The sportsbooks aren’t perfect, but they are good at what they do. If you are betting on 15 or 20 games each week you are not betting on football you are playing the lottery. We will go over some basics in parlay betting later that might help you out if you like to bet on a lot of games.

Never buy into the hype. The most obnoxious hype machine in sports is ESPN. They have an endless amount of talking heads. Every week they will try to outdo each other in sucking up to whoever is hot and castigating whoever is down. The only reason to listen to them is to get an understanding of what the public will hear.

Look at betting on college football. The NFL gets the most attention and the most action. This means a sportsbook manager can take a big loss if he puts out a bad NFL line. However, in college football there is less bet so a lose line will not create the same risk. Winning a bet on San Jose State vs San Diego State counts just as much as winning the Monday Night Football game. I am not saying to ignore the NFL. I just like that there are 50+ college football games up each week and I only have to find two or three soft lines to make money.


What is a Football Totals Bet?

The most common bets on the NFL are point spread and total wagers. You’ll want to consider other wagers, however there is money to be made from sticking to just these two. Regardless of how many different types of wager you end up betting on. These are the two you should begin with.

Totals wagers are also known as over/under bets, which is perhaps a better description of what they are. Quite simply, they involve betting on whether the total number of points scored in a game will be over or under a posted number.

An example of a totals wager on an NFL game.

Let’s say the Rams are playing the Saints. The sportsbook has a total of 44.5 points. This means the combined score of BOTH teams is added together to make a total and decide who won the bet. If the final score is Rams 28 & Saints 24. The total combined score is 52 points and it will go over the total.

Totals are like point spreads in that the odds are usually -110 on each side. It is not uncommon to see odds at -120 because heavy action on one side forces the sportsbook to adjust the odds.

Totals Betting Tips

One good thing about totals betting is that every NFL game will have a totals number posted. That in itself helps out. If you like a game, then you know there will be a bet available. Just like betting on the point spread there is room for a gut reaction in totals betting. If you look at the line and you think it is completely wrong. This is a chance to make some money. Maybe the sportsbook has 39.5 points listed and you like both offenses to score a lot. Then there is a chance to bet the over.

Time to do a little shopping. Not for clothes but for the best line. It is not uncommon for one sportsbook to have a total of 40.5 and another might have 39.5. If you’ve decided to be the under, then there’s a clear advantage in betting under 40.5 rather than 39.5.


What is a Football Money Line Bet?

The money line is the easiest wager in sports. Betting the money line for a football game is simply betting on which team you think is going to win. There is no point spread involved. Whichever team you select has to win outright for a wager to be successful. In the unlikely event of a tie, your bet will be returned.

In most football games there is a favorite and an underdog. Very occasionally there are games where the two team are completely evenly matched, but for the most part one team is favored over the other to win.

Why Bet on the Money Line?

Why not just bet on the favorites? Well, the sportsbooks reduce the payouts or odds for a favorite. When we went over point spreads the odds were set at -110 for both teams. On money line bets it is rare for both teams to be at -110. The favorite will usually take more money bet to get the $100 win.

Money Line Bet Example

For an example lets have the Cowboys playing the Giants. The Cowboys are -6 points so they are the favorites. The Giants are +6 points so they are the underdogs. Instead of betting on the points I decide I want to bet on the Giants to win the game outright. The money line odds for this game are the favored Cowboys -400 and the underdog Giants +300. This means a $100 bet on the Giants would win $300 & get my $100 bet back. On the other side if I took the Cowboys at -400. A $100 bet would only win $25. You can see the advantage of betting on the underdogs money line. Of course, if the Cowboys win the game by 3 points. I would lose a bet on the money line that I would have won if I had taken the points. So, be careful. They are a dog for a reason.

Money Line Betting Tips

There is one spot I like to bet the money line on NFL games. That is if the point spread is less than 3 points. If a team is an underdog getting 2.5 points I will take them on the money line. The reason is that most games in the NFL are decided by 3 points or more. Instead of taking a team at +2.5 at -110. I will take them on the money line at +105.

Be selective and only bet when you have justified reasons to do so. If you like several favorites but do not like the low payouts of a money line bet. Take a look at our parlay betting section to see how you can make more money betting on favorites on the money line.

What is a Football Betting Parlay?

A parlay bet combines several bets for a bigger payout. The more teams you take on a parlay bet the bigger the payout. The problem with this is the more teams you have the more likely you are to lose. In most parlay bets you only need to get one wrong to lose the whole bet.

The most common type of parlay bet is the points spread with a totals bet on the same game.

Simple Parlay Example

An example of this bet would be a game between the Rams and Falcons. The Falcons are 7 point favorites and the total is set at 39.5. If you like the Rams and the over. Then the parlay bet would bet Rams +7 & over 39.5. If you are right on both and each has odds of -110. Then your win on a $100 bet would bet $260 plus your $100 bet back. Not bad. betting $100 and winning $260. Of course if either bet is wrong the parlay is a loser. This means the final score could be Rams 23 & Saints 14. This would be a loser because the total is only 37 points.

Money Line Parlay

As I mentioned earlier. Betting on the money line favorites can produce winners but not a lot of money. Remember betting on the Cowboys at -400 on the money line means that a $100 bet on them would only win $25. Now, money line parlay bets can bump this up. What if two favorites were both -200 on the money line. Then betting them on the parlay would win $125 on a $100 bet. Of course if either favorite loses then you lose the bet.

Football Round Robin Parlay

What if you like 6 games? Betting them all on a parlay would have a big payout. However, if just one team did not cover then the whole bet is lost. I have seen many parlays go down in flames when a bettor got 4 out of 5 or 5 out of 6 right. There is a way to bump up the return and minimize the risk. It is called a round robin parlay. A round robin breaks down the parlay bet into several smaller bets.

If I like 6 games and I round robin my parlay by 2’s. I am making 15 different bets on one betting ticket. I would be taking every two team combination of parlay bets. By breaking it down like this it will minimize the losses because all I need is for 2 teams to cover to get some of my money  back. Of course, the down side is that if I am right on all 6 games I will not win as much. But, remember if I am right on all 6 games. I will still win 15 two team parlays. The same thing can be done for round robin parlays on 3, 4, 5 teams. A good insurance move is to bet the 6 teams on a round robin of 5. This would mean you are making 6 five team parlay bets so if one team does not cover. You would still win with 5 out of covering.

Why make Prop Bets on the NFL?

Why are some prop bets considered easier than side/totals bets on NFL games? The Sportsbooks often offer props as a marketing tool rather than as a means of profit. Think of how many times you have heard of some crazy prop bet on the news. That is free advertising for the casino. Because of the large number of prop bets offered on NFL games there really isn’t the time available to spend on each one. Think of it, the line maker still has other sports to put up lines on like the NHL, NBA, MLB …etc.

That is why prop bets are more a formulaic practice than actual line making. How is a line made for the over/under betting on how many passing yards a quarterback will have?

It is a relatively simple formula.

The average passing yards per game multiplied by (opposing defenses average passing yards allowed after / the leagues average passing yards allowed)

Of course this alone can be misleading if the quarterback had one huge passing game and distorted the average passing yards per game. This is why the median must be developed. The median is the middle number of passing yards by the quarterback. If there is an even number of games then add the two middle numbers together and divide by two. After that compare the medium to the mean to determine which is a more accurate portrayal of the quarterbacks performance.

An example of the medium and the mean for a quarterback from Tom Brady’s passing yards for the first 5 games of the 2015 season.

  • 312 yards
  • 275 yards
  • 358 yards
  • 466 yards
  • 288 yards

The mean is 339 (this is the total number of yards divided by the number of games). The median is 312 (this is the number in the middle of the range of numbers).

A quick analysis is needed to decide which is better: mean or median? If we see that he had 466 yards because he was in a shootout with the Bills and was forced to throw the entire game, it explains why the average (mean) is higher. But both are relatively close. For the year Brady averaged 298 per game. Now you have a guide to look at when the number comes out for your prop bet. The next step would be to take either the medium or the mean and complete the formula by the defense allowed part of the formula. For some this will seem like quite a bit of math but the important point is this is about all the sportsbook manager will do when it comes to setting a line. With over 70 prop bets on your average NFL game and hundreds available on playoff games this quick calculation is all he has time for. He will offset the lack of a true line by adding to the vig (often -115 / -115), and reduced betting limits.

The reduced limits and general lack of action does one more thing to the line. It can move the line with far less money being bet on one side. For example, someone bets $500 wager Manning to throw for less than 280 yards at -115. The line might move to (-105 / -125). The move will depend on how much action there is on the line. Because these lines are often automated and do not require the sportsbook manager to set the line. All he has to do is approve the computers line move. The important thing to take away is there will be many variations in the line at different books. This is unlike the side/total which is heavily bet and tends to settle within a point.

Live Football Betting Strategy – Basics

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The Middle

A middle is a gambler taking advantage of a change in the line to get both sides of a game. In non-live betting this would mean going to two different books or making a halftime bet if he got the right odds. An example would be if he got the Arizona Cardinals at +7 before the game and the game had a halftime score of Arizona 14 – Denver 10. If the bookmaker then placed a halftime line of the Broncos -5 in the second half. He could take the Broncos and be able to win both bets.

Final score the Broncos win the game by more than 1 point he wins the halftime bet.

Final score the Cardinals win the game or lose by less than 7 points he wins pre-game bet.

If the Broncos win by 6 points (20-14) then he wins both bets.

This bet is one I will do if I want to lock in a profit and I can get key numbers; 3,4,6,7,10.

Applying to live football betting. This is easier to do with live betting than it is with halftime betting. The reason is the bookmaker will have this strategy in mind when he is laying a second half line. He does not want to lock in a profit for a lot of big players, so he will try to offer a line that might not be “right” in his expectation as to what will happen in the second half but it will prevent middling. In live betting it is a computer program that sets the bets and it is working on an algorithm based on what will be needed to get equal action of both sides of this particular bet and not the action on the whole game.

The Injury

You might expect the live lines to be taken down when an injury occurs. In football, other than to a quarterback the lines are not brought down or suspended because of injury. This is where a little pregame research can go a long way. I have made significant money off of this. An area I like to research is the defensive backs. A situation I look for is a team that has several injuries to the reserve defensive backs or maybe one starter. This does not seem like such a big deal and will not move the line before the game. But, I have found that if a team is already thin in the secondary and then loses a couple of more players. This will not only alter the ability of the defense to defend the pass but will also alter the offensive play calling. In one game I knew that both backup safeties were hurt and the team had a guy off the practice squad and another they had waived earlier in the year and these were the only backup safeties they had. Well, both starts got nicked and when they went down the deep passes were wide open. It doesn’t happen often but there are certain positions to look at the will alter a game plan and not alter the line. When I am making live bets I always look at the starting and reserve defensive backs and offensive tackles. If I know a team has no depth at offensive tackle and I see a starter lying on the ground holding his knee…It is time to look at the under and a side bet on the other team

Know the Head Coach

Some teams can get out to an early lead and then poor it on (New England Patriots) and other teams will get out to a big lead and become so conservative that they let the other team back into the game (Kansas City Chiefs). Why, it is the head coach. Andy Reid is famous for this. In fact, I like him as a head coach. He is predictable. When the Chiefs get a lead in the first half I like to take the other team and the points. Conversely, when the Patriots get a lead. Brady and the Patriots will go for the kill and run it up. This is one of the keys to live betting and why it is different than traditional football betting. It is far more intense, and the gambler must be focused on one game.

How to bet on NFL Preseason Games

Always remember, money won on NFL preseason games counts just as much as money won on regular season games. If you are a high roller and dropping six figures on a game then preseason may not be for you as the books may limit betting. However, if you are betting less than five thousand on a game then preseason football may be a better bet than regular season games. When betting on sports you are not betting against the house but against other gamblers. Most preseason action is by diehard fans in Vegas to bet on their team. They think that it is just luck in the preseason and do very little research to back up their bets. This is your opportunity to find some key games to bet on. Be selective and build your bankroll for the regular season.

What good is the NFL preseason? Let me drag out the one that every gambler remembers. The 2008 Lions that went 0-16 were 4-0 in the preseason (and the 2005 Colts that started 14-0 were 0-4 in the preseason). So why play them? The owners love preseason games because the all players are all paid the same amount. Yep, just like the playoff games the owners get a big payday for these games so look for them to continue.

With that said, here is our advice to NFL Preseason betting.

  • Quarterback Rotation
  • Look ahead Game
  • Depth/Holdouts/Injures
  • Head Coach

Quarterback Rotation

One of the major goals of the preseason is to make sure that you have a QB who is ready when the NFL season starts. For teams with a top starter returning from last year the team will only need to play him a few reps to get his timing down. The backups become the primary betting option in this situation. Are the backups a bunch of journeymen or are they young talent that needs to be developed? I prefer the journeyman who has a bad reputation but seems to hang around each year. These guys are usually well schooled but lack the arm strength to be a starting NFL quarterback. In the preseason these journeymen can look like All Pros against free agent defensive backs.

Another thing to look for is how set is the number 2 quarterback on the roster? If the second stringer is coming back for another year then he might not get much playing time in the first game. The coaches will look at this as an opportunity to throw in a couple of guys they know they will cut just as an insurance policy if they need a quarterback later in the season. If a team has the starter and backup set in the first preseason game then you are likely to see some really bad quarterbacks play most of the game.

For some teams it is the opposite situation. They need to develop a quarterback as soon as possible and them only way to do that is to give him as much work as possible. Understand this, if the starting quarterback is going to play then the starting offensive linemen will play. You are not going to risk your top draft pick or free agent signing to a practice squad left tackle. Though the inexperience of the QB could lead to lots of mistakes having the first string offense go against another teams second/third string defense is still going to present some opportunities to score

Look ahead Game

From time to time a NFL team will play a preseason game against an opponent that they will see again in the regular season. In this case you can be all but certain that the coach will not use his real game plan. What they will do is play a more vanilla overall offense and defense. This does not mean there will not be a few wrinkles. The key for a head coach in this situation is to not show his primary game plan but he also needs to force the opposing coaches to spend time preparing for formations they will not see in the regular season rematch.

An example would be a team that is primarily a passing team. In the preseason game they would not only want to run more than in the regular season. They will also like to run more out of passing formations to force the defensive coordinator to prepare for that situation. In the preseason game look for the team offense to do the opposite of what you would expect in the regular season. On defense, a team will not show off their blitz packages and will generally stick with a basic coverage scheme.

Camp Holdouts and Injuries

Every year, there are star players who sit out preseason games in the NFL due to contract disputes while others suffer serious injuries that could keep them out a significant amount of time. Don’t overreact to these hold outs and injuries. If a top quarterback is injured and not likely to play in the first two preseason games it really doesn’t matter that much. He was not likely to play that much anyway if he was an established starter. The exception to this is the third preseason game. Teams traditionally will leave the starting units in to get a good look at how ready they are and if they need to work on anything in the fourth preseason game.

If there are several injuries to one position then this would be a time to take advantage of it. Lets say a team is down two or three defensive backs. A journeyman quarterback can really take advantage of playing against a bunch of guys who will be working as bouncers in a couple of months and stack up some great offensive numbers. In preseason games do not get to caught up in injured players who would not have played many reps anyway. What you want to look for is several injuries to one unit. Pay particular interest to the offensive line or defensive backs.

Head Coaches

In the regular season talent wins. In the NFL preseason the head coaching philosophy can trump talent. If a head coach has an interest in instilling a “winning attitude” then he will play his regulars against third stringers just to get the win. Some head coaches just want to get through preseason with no injuries and give some playing time to guys they made need later in the year. For them, they don’t care if they go 0-4 as long as the team is healthy.

The change in head coaches or the change in offensive/defensive coordinators usually means there will be a new playbook and a new strategy for the team. Look at Chip Kelly and what he meant to Philadelphia. His style of play meant more plays and more offensive opportunities for both his team and the opposition.

Learn to Shop Lines & Time Your Bets

Shop for the Best Betting Line

Would you pay $500 for a phone on Ebay when the same phone is for sale at $400 on Amazon? It happens all the time in sports betting. Every day I see people bet on a team at -7 in their favorite sportsbook when another book is offering the same team at -6.5. It is not just the off numbers but key numbers like; 3,4,6,7, and 10 are routinely different. In College Football the lines are more likely to be different than on an NFL game.

If you are going to Las Vegas and you are going to bet a parlay. Then…do yourself a BIG favor and pick up the parlay cards. There will be line movement between when the cards come out on Thursday and kickoff on Saturday or Sunday. What really drove this home for me is I hit a six team parlay because of line shopping. I had one team on my parlay bet that had the line move from +4.5 down to +3 off the board. However, on one parlay card (thanks Harrah’s) they had the parlay card out with a +4.5. I took the time to round robin off the bet by (3 ,4, 5) and it paid off big with a six for six when they lost by four points. If you are betting online, it only takes a few seconds to see if there is a line difference.

Bet at the Right Time

The public will usually bet later in the week and they tend to pick the favorites and the over. If you like an underdog, it is best to get your bet in as late as possible, where there is heavy action from the public on favorites. While this obviously will not happen in every game it is one way professionals use to help the ROI. Lines movements are something you should get used to following.

Example of Line Movement:

Line opens at: Redskins vs Cowboys – 6.5 (-110)

Line Change: Redskins vs Cowboys -7 (-110)

The Cowboys are favored by 6.5 points and the odds are (-110). This means the Cowboys would need to beat the Redskins by 7 points or more to cover. The (-110) means you need to bet $110 to win $100. On the other side you could take the Redskins +6.5 at (-110). If the Redskins win the game straight up or lose by 6 or fewer points. The Redskins cover the bet.

The line change was to 7 points. This means that if you bet on the Cowboys they would need to win by 8 or more points to win your bet. The Redskins would either need to win straight up or lose the game by 6 or fewer points to cover the spread. If the Cowboys win the game by exactly 7 points the game would be a push and all straight bets would be refunded.

If there is a lot of early action on the Cowboys then the sportsbook has a choice to make. They can either change the line or the odds. On key numbers (3,4,6,7) they are more likely to change the odds than the number.

Example of Odds Movement:

Redskins (+100) vs Cowboys -6.5 (-120)

The (-120) changes the odds on the game while keeping the line the same. In this situation you would need to bet $120 to win $100 if you take the Cowboys. If you take the Redskins a $100 bet would net you a $100 win. If the money still is going on the Cowboys then the next move is likely to be the betting number (6.5).

College Football Betting Strategy
Become a Conference Expert

Do you want to bet on College Football like a professional. Then avoid one of the biggest mistakes people make when betting on college football. Can you really handicap over 100 teams in four days? By the time you get the odds and start your research you are down to just four days at most and sometimes only a couple of days for the weeknight games.

What should you do? Pick one College Football Conference to start with. The best one is the Conference near where you live. This will help you because the local reporters will feed you information. Which offensive line has a couple of guys out? Which defense is down to walk-ons in the secondary.

If you are just starting out then start researching one Conference before the season starts and add another Conference each month. Another way to expand beyond one Conference is to get three or four people together and each one be responsible for one or two Conferences. This is a great way to leverage the research but be warned. If one guy is lazy it can lead to some real problems. If you do this. Be ready to cut someone loose fast if he isn’t doing his share of the work.