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How Football Betting Odds Work

By Scott, NFL Football Handicapper,

Understanding how NFL betting odds work is really a cinch. It’s one of those things that may seem complicated upon first exposure, but no person is more than a few minutes away from understanding how the odds work. Becoming a proven winner at NFL betting is the hard part. Simply understanding how the odds work is a breeze.

In order to understand how NFL betting odds work, there are basically two different kinds of odds expressions that you will need to understand--the point spread and the money line. Let’s discuss both, so you will be ready to dip your big toe into the wild and wooly waters of NFL football wagering.

Betting Against the Spread

Standard NFL betting uses a point spread. With point spread betting, both sides of the bet pay the same, regardless of what team you pick. But since not all teams are the same, the point spread is used to accommodate for the difference in quality of the teams. Here is a quick example:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers +7.5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles -7.5

Above, you see an NFL point spread. It’s a number that is applied to both sides of the bet. Tampa Bay is “getting” 7.5 points, while Philadelphia is “giving” 7.5 points. In other words, Philadelphia is the favorite, considered the better team or at least the team more likely to win this particular game. In NFL football betting, a minus sign always indicates a favorite. Conversely, a plus sign always indicates an underdog. At +7.5, Tampa Bay is a 7.5-point underdog. At -7.5, the Eagles are 7.5-point favorites.

For a bet on the favored Eagles to be successful, they need to win a game by a margin that surpasses the point spread. In other words, a wager on the Eagles can only win if they win the game and do so by 8 or more points. A bet on the Buccaneers at +7.5 can win if they win the game outright or if they lose by a number that does not exceed 7.5 points. Therefore, a bet on Tampa Bay can win if they lose by 7 points. If they lose by 8 points, however, the Eagles bet would win.

Basically, the point spread is a handicap that is applied to a game in order to give it equal betting appeal for both sides. The bookie would prefer that the same amount of money be bet on both teams in a given bet. That is what is behind the spirit of a point spread. So the better team needs to give up points, while the inferior team gets some extra points to work with.

Note: When betting against the spread, you will need to bet a little more than you stand to win. This is one of the ways the bookie makes his money. The industry-standard is a -110 line, meaning you will wager $110 for every $100 you hope to win. With a little work, you can find a -105 line, meaning you only have to bet $105 for every $100 you hope to win.

The Money Line

The second form of NFL betting odds you need to understand in order to be ready to bet is the money line. The money line is simply an expression used to express odds. It is prevalent in all forms of NFL betting. One way it is used is in a form of betting called money line wagering, where point spreads are not used and you simply pick the winner of the game. The great majority of the time, one team is better than the opponent. That means odds need to be used. And those odds, quite simply, are expressed on the money line. Here is an example:

San Francisco 49ers +150 vs. Seattle Seahawks -170

Above you see a money line for an NFL game. Just like with point spreads, the minus sign is used to show the favorite, with the plus sign used to designate an underdog. Again, point spreads are not an issue with money line betting. When betting a team on the money line, you simply need that team to win.

At +150. the 49ers are the underdog. +150 means you would win $150 for every $100 you bet. Seattle is -170, meaning they are the favorite and you would win $100 for every $170 you bet (risk). Here are 4 guidelines about money lines that will help:

Understanding the following 4 points will mean you completely understand money lines:

1. A plus sign always indicates an underdog.

2. A minus sign always indicates a favorite.

3. When you see a number after a plus sign, that is how much you would WIN if you bet $100.

4. When you see a number after a minus sign, that is how much you have to BET if you want to win $100.


Other than betting on the result of the games, you can make other bets, one of which is totals betting.

Totals: The bookie posts a total of the projected number of points both teams will score and you bet if the combined score of both teams will either go “over” or “under” that amount. Here is an example:

Minnesota Vikings vs. Chicago Bears, Total: 47.5
Over 47.5 (-110)
Under 47.5 (-110)

In the above example, both the over and under are listed at -110, meaning you have to bet $110 for every $100 you want to win. If you think the combined score of both teams will be lower than 47.5, you would pick “under.” If you believe the combined score of both teams will surpass 47.5, you would bet “over.”

Key Points to Remember about NFL Betting Odds

When you see two teams listed, the first team is always the visiting team, with the second team listed being the home team.

In NFL football betting odds, a plus sign always indicates an underdog, with the minus sign signifying a favorite.

Money line expressions revolve around the $100 mark simply to make the odds easy to understand. Naturally, you don’t have to bet $100 or an amount where you’re trying to win $100. You can bet more or less and the odds would just break down proportionally.

There are other types of NFL football wagers that are not listed here, but they all will either use the point spread or money line. Mastering the two concepts will have you ready to at least understand all forms of NFL betting.

In the isolated case where two teams are evenly matched, there will be no spread and both teams will be listed as “pick ‘em” and you just pick the winner of the game.

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