How to Bet on NFL Football Games
If you’re new to football betting and looking to learn all the different types of wagers available to you and how they work, you’ve come to the right place! We explain how point spreads work, what rotation numbers, money line bets, over/unders, parlays, teasers, pleasers, prop bets and futures are, as well as how to buy points on games to move the point spread. We give a few football betting tips and close out with where you can bet on games online at legit sportsbook sites. You’ll also find articles that expand on some of these topics. Enjoy!
The Point Spread
The most popular football bet is the point spread (aka: line, straight bets, side). In most cases, one team is likely to be favored over another. There are many reasons for this, with the main reason being one team is viewed as better than their opponent. Oddsmakers differentiate the two by creating a point spread. At first glance, it can be very confusing. Here’s an example of what you may see at a sportsbook and how to understand it:
Kansas City Chiefs -1.5 -110
San Francisco 49ers +1.5 -110
The road team is always listed first. The home team is always listed second (on the bottom). The team with the minus sign (-) next to their name is the favorite. The team with the plus sign (+) is the underdog in the matchup. In the case above, KC is favored as a -1.5 fav over the Niners.
The easiest way to explain how the NFL point spread works is to take the final score of the game and subtract -1.5 if you took the Chiefs or add +1.5 if you took SF. Let’s use Super Bowl LIIV (54) as an example;
The final score of the game was Chiefs 31 - 49ers 20. Using the example above, if you bet on the Chiefs, you would subtract -1.5 from their score. This would give them a score of 29.5. For betting purposes, the score of this game would be KC 29.5 - SF 20. Your Chiefs’ bet would be a winner.
If you bet on San Fran, you would add +1.5 to their score. For wagering purposes, your final score would be KC 31 - SF 21.5. Your SF bet would be a loser.
Note: You only add or subtract points to or from the team you have placed a wager on.
Now let’s use an example of a game with a line (spread) where one team won the game straight up but lost against the spread:
Green Bay Packers +4.5
Dallas Cowboys -4.5
Let’s say you gambled on the Cowboys, and they won the game 24-20. You would then subtract -4.5 from their score, giving them a new score of 19.5. With GB scoring 20, your bet on Dal is a loss by a half-point, 20-19.5.
On the flip side, if you had placed a wager on the Pack, you would add +4.5 to their final score, which would make them a 24.5-20 winner.
Lastly, the -110 you see next to each team is the vigorish (aka: Juice) the bookie charges. Bookmakers charge a commission. That’s how they make their money. In a perfect world, the “vig” would be listed as $1.10 because it would be much easier to understand! The easiest way to explain the -110 is that you have to lay/risk $1.10 for every $1.00 you’re trying to profit. Another way to put it is you have to risk $110 for every $100 you’re trying to win.
It should be noted that if you win your bet, you get your full staked amount back in addition to your winnings. It should also be noted that while -110 odds is the sports betting industry standard, there are a few betting sites that operate similar to Walmart, offering their product at a steep discount (-105 odds). When penciled out, betting on games at reduced juice blows away any sign-up bonus you can get. What it boils down to is you’re saving $5 for every $100 you’re trying to win. A $100 bettor may play ten games in a weekend. That’s fifty dollars in savings! Now multiply that by 52 weeks in a year. A guy would save over $2500 in risked amount! You can find this great offer at BetAnySports Sportsbook. When you register, you’ll be asked to choose a signup bonus or reduced odds. It’s a no brainer to roll with the discounted odds option.
For those inquisitive about the Bookmaker end of the deal, in his perfect world, you would bet the Packers, and I would bet the Cowboys for the same amount. We both bet $110 to win $100. You win, get your $110 back plus your $100 win. I lose, he takes my $110. He’s essentially arbitraged the situation where he was going to get $10 off of one of us without any risk to himself. Check out our article on how point spreads work for even more information on this topic.
We often get asked what the three numbers are to the left of each team. These are called “Rotation Numbers”. The purpose of these numbers is to avoid confusion when at the sportsbook or when calling in your bets. While you know exactly what you’re looking to bet, the ticket writer doesn’t, therefore these numbers make the process easier for him to understand. In turn, the isk of him making an error goes way down. If you say “I’d like to put $500 on the Cardinals”, he has no idea if you’re referring to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, Louisville Cardinals college basketball team or the Arizona Cardinals football team. He also has no clue whether you’re talking point spread, money line, first quarter bet, halftime bet or even a proposition wager. By giving the rotation number, there leaves nothing in question. Most Las Vegas Sportsbooks prefer and appreciate you using rotation numbers opposed to telling the ticket writer what you’re looking to bet. It’s simply the proper etiquette.
A “money line bet” is a fancy word for picking the winner straight up (no point spread involved). This is a great option, especially when you consider that NFL teams aren’t playing to cover the spread for you, they’re just trying to win the game. It’s an even better proposition if you’re confident that the underdog has a strong chance of winning the game straight up, as, with this bet, you can profit more than you risk! Let’s take a look at an example of a money line wager:
New York Giants +170
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -200
Moneylines are always based on $100. If you bet the team with the (+), you’re risking a hundred dollars to win whatever the plus amount is, which in this case is $170. If you wager on the team with the minus sign, you’re risking that amount to win $100. In the example above, you’d be risking two hundred dollars to win one hundred dollars. As with any football wager, you always get your risked amount back in addition to your winnings.
For those curious about the relativity between point spreads and money lines, check out our point spread to moneyline conversion chart where we give examples on what the ML would be on point spreads from two to ten points.
If you’re still confused how this type of wager works, we’ve got an extensive piece on how football moneyline bets work that will teach you everything and more you ever wanted to know about them!
Totals, also known as “Over/Under” bets, are the simplest form of betting on football. You’re simply picking whether the total combined points scored by both teams goes over or under the posted line. Let’s take a look at an example:
Kansas City Chiefs
Green Bay Packers 49.5 -110
Let’s say the Chiefs win the game 24-20. The total points scored by both teams adds up to 44. This would result in the bet being graded as a loser because it failed to go over by 5.5 points. As noted above in the point spread section, the -110 means you have to risk $1.10 for every $1.00 you’re trying to win. As usual, you get your staked amount back if you win.
Note: Sometimes, you’ll see odds like Over +100/Under -120. This is because the bookmaker is either getting heavy one-sided action and is trying to create balance or has taken a stance on the game and likes one side more than the other and is trying to lure people in so he can take a stronger position on his pick.
Tip: Most sportsbooks have much lower limits on totals than they do for spread betting. What does this tell us? The over/under bet is easier to beat! Keep this in mind when deciding which route to take during your NFL handicapping!
For more on this topic, check out our expanded article on NFL over under betting, which a handful of tips that will help you beat your bookie.
A parlay is a sports bet where you pick anywhere from 2-15 teams, and each selection needs to win in order for your betting ticket to cash. The allure of parlay bets is the big payouts.
Parlay Payout Odds
If one (or more) of your football picks pushes (ties), the parlay drops down one level. If you have a 2-team parlay and get a push, the bet drops down to a straight wager.
A parlay bet can consist of point spreads, over/unders, and moneylines. Some bookies won’t allow a side and total from the same game to be parlayed. This type of bet is called a correlated parlay. If your bookmaker doesn’t allow correlated parlays, we highly recommend looking for greener pastures!
Note: For those of you with a “lottery mentality”, BAS Sportsbook offers 25 team parlays! For those with a conservative approach who love to play big parlays, but wouldn’t mind taking a lesser payout if they lost a couple games, they also offer progressive parlays.
Another type of parlay bet is a “Round Robin“. This is similar to boxing horses in horse betting. With this bet, you pick a handful of teams, and the bookie ties them all together for you in 2, 3, or 4 team combinations that cover every single combo. You don’t have to do 2,3’s and 4’s. You can choose to do just 2’s. Most sportsbooks allow you to select 3-10 teams on an NFL Sunday.
There’s an old saying: “Parlays are why Bookies drive Cadillacs”. These bets are not easy to cash. If you’re going to partake in this high risk/high reward venture, it’s in your best interest to make sure you’re betting at a shop that offers the best parlay odds on the web.
A teaser bet is similar to a parlay in that you have to bet on two or more teams, and they all have to win in order to cash, however, with this type of wager, you get to move the line anywhere in between 5 and 20 points. Moving the point spread in the direction you choose obviously increases your chances of winning, and the odds reflect this as well. A 2-team parlay would pay 2.6 to 1 odds. A 2-team 7-point teaser has you laying -130 odds.
Here’s an example of standard teaser odds:
Teaser Payout Odds
|FOOTBALL||6 pts||6.5 pts||7 pts||7.5 pts|
Sportsbooks have different rules for teaser bets, so it’s in your best interest to read the fine print before partaking in this activity. You’ll find everything from ties reducing to the next level, ties winning, and ties pushing. It really all depends on which betting website you’re using.
Pleaser bets should be called Kamikaze wagers because they will cause major damage to your bankroll, and you have very little chance of surviving. A pleaser is a parlay style bet where you select one or more teams, and it’s just the opposite of a teaser. Instead of moving the point spread in your favor, you’re moving it out of your favor. Example: The Kansas City Chiefs are -10. If you select them as a pick in your 7-point pleaser, you’re now laying -17. An example of an underdog pleaser pick would be the Houston Texans at +7. If you throw them into your 7-point pleaser, their spread would now be a pick’em.
The payouts for these bets are enormous. A two team seven-point pleaser bet pays 7-1 odds. A five team 7-point pleaser bet pays 180-1. I’ve been in this industry for over 20 years and have yet to meet anybody who can beat this wager consistently. It’s hard enough to pick one winner ATS in the National Football League, much less move the line against yourself and then try to pick multiple games correctly. These bets are for degenerate gamblers only!
Short for “proposition bets”, (aka: Exotic Bets) these are wagers on outcomes not associated with the point spread, total, or money line. This type of wager can be (but not limited to):
- Quarterback to throw for the most yards
- QB to throw for the longest touchdown
- Running Back to rush for the most yardage
- RB to go over or under a certain amount of yards
- Wide Receiver to catch the longest reception
- WR to score the longest TD
- Tight End to have the most receiving yards
- Kicker to boot the longest field goal
- Team to have the most first downs
- Will an AFC or NFC team win the Super Bowl
- Coin Toss
These are just a handful of examples of thousands of different types of proposition wagers. Often, you’ll see a huge menu of “props” offered for high profile football games such as the Super Bowl, Thursday Night Football, Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football.
Tip: These bets have very low limits because they’re easier to beat. However, always beware of something that looks too good to be true. Many sucker bets are likely to be on the card. I once lost a prop bet for most points scored between backup NBA point guard Howard Eisley and NBA All-Star Charles Barkley. Somebody knew something, and it wasn’t me!
As the name implies, “Futures” are bets that are pending for an extended period of time in the future. Examples of futures bets: Team to win division, conference championship, division winner, rookie of the year, and player to be taken first in the NFL draft. You can even bet on which two teams will meet in the Super Bowl. The most popular football futures bet is “Team to win the Super Bowl”.
The great thing about futures bets is that they offer huge payouts, they’re fun, and you can have something to root for long term for as little as fifty cents.
Many online sportsbooks will allow you to “buy points” on a single wager. Most Vegas books will let you buy up to two points. This generally costs around 10 cents per half point, with the exception of moving the number on or off the 3, which is more expensive. Some sportsbooks like 5Dimes let you buy a ton of points. As I write this, I’m looking at a KC Chiefs Week 1 spread where they’re laying 11 points, and you can buy them to +4 for -2222 odds. Before considering such a proposition, keep in mind that if you lose a bet like this, you have to win 22.2 times in a row just to break even. I know some grinders who have tried to game this system, and all of them busted out.
A good time to buy points is when you feel like you have an edge against the house (your information is better than theirs), and you’re in a position where you can be on the right side of a key number (common final score margin).
Another good time to buy points (although it’s costly and may not be sustainable long term) is to buy off the 3. With such a high percentage of football final score margins landing on 3, a sharp bettor/wiseguy can oftentimes gain an advantage.
How NOT to Bet on Football
Many square football bettors will advocate for the Martingale System, going as far as calling it a “sure thing”. The Martingale Betting System is a fancy name for “doubling up after you lose.” The problem with this is that you will eventually hit a losing streak and bust out. The system may seem reliable because you’ll more than likely pile up a bunch of wins; however, a losing streak is inevitable at some point. When it comes to the NFL, the Martingale System is a muffed punt, fumble and interception all tied up in one. This style of betting is that monster under your bed when you were a kid and will bankrupt you.
NFL betting is TOUGH. Try to stick to just picking one single game. Take it from a professional football gambler who failed at everything for the first ten years and gained wisdom from the process.
More advice: It may be tempting to unload on a game, but you should never put more than 10% of your bankroll on any single game. Never have more than 20% of your bankroll in play on any given day. Highs and lows are going to happen. Proper bankroll management is essential if you want to beat the bookie.
Where to Bet
MyBookie: Deposit $100 to $300 and receive a 100% REAL CASH bonus! You must use bonus/promo code PREDICT100 on the registration page.
Bovada: Get a 50% real cash bonus on your first deposit of $100 to $500. Example: Deposit $500, and they’ll add an extra $250! Awesome live betting platform! Fast Bitcoin payouts!
Betnow: Giant 100% REAL CASH bonus up to $500 in free bets when you use bonus code PREDICTEM.
BetAnySports: Bet on games at -105 instead of -110! 25 team parlays! 20 point teasers! Massive amount of betting lines! Tons of prop bets!
It’s mind blowing how many people ask us how point spreads work and within a week think it’s easy and they’re going to get rich. Posh sportsbooks weren’t built on winners and bookies drive Cadillacs for a reason. While it helps to be a fan and know a lot about the game, the fact is 98% of people lose at NFL betting. There’s much more to it than thinking one team is better than the other. You have to take offensive lines into account, defensive lines, secondaries, player speed ratings, injuries, coaching styles, weather, key numbers and a whole bunch of other variables into account if you plan on winning long term. Most can’t do this because they have 9-5 jobs and families. Football handicapping is more than a full time job. If you find that you’re not able to win on your own, check out our free picks page or our affordable expert picks prescription service. We do this full time and know what we’re doing.