NFL Totals (Over/Under) Betting Explained

by | Aug 4, 2021

Anytime a sportsbook limits the amount of money you can place on a particular type of wager, your interest should be piqued! And that’s the case with betting on NFL totals (over/unders).

From a common-sense standpoint, the limiting of a bet tells us the wager in question is easier to beat than a point spread bet. I don’t know about you, but if there’s a peach tree, I’d rather pick the low-hanging fruit (total) than climb a ladder to pick from the top (point spread)! When you have an advantage in football betting, you exploit it! There aren’t many, so we must seize every opportunity as possible because the break-even point of 52.38% is more difficult than meets the eye. With that being said, this is a perfect opportunity for us to squeeze in another edge you can seize with absolutely no effort; Reduced Juice, which is a fancy name for betting on games at -105 odds instead of the traditional -110 odds 99% of bookies stick you with. You can find this killer money-saving offer at BAS Sportsbook.

What is a Total Bet?

Totals bets (AKA: Over/Under Bets – You may see them listed as O/U) are very simple and have nothing to do with a point spread. If you bet a total, you’re simply wagering on whether the combined score of both teams will go over or under the posted number.

Let’s use Super Bowl LV as an example:

  • Kansas City Chiefs
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers 56

If you bet the game to go over, you’re predicting there will be 57 or more combined points scored by both teams. If you bet the game to go under, you’re predicting the total combined points scored by both teams will be 55 or less. The Bucs won the game 31-9.

31+9 = 40. Football bettors who wagered on the under won by a whopping 15 points. Those who bet the over got smoked.

What would have happened if the game landed on 56? The bet would have been considered a tie (push), and you’d have gotten your money back.

Note: Sometimes, you’ll see an over/under bet that ends in a 1/2 or .5. This type of line simply eliminates the possibility of a tie.

Lastly, totals bets are fun! Many NFL gamblers love them because they’re somewhat stress-free as you do not need one team to win by a certain amount over another. You can root for both teams!

Why does the Total Move Throughout the Week

Totals can and do move. The number the oddsmakers post when the lines come out is referred to as the “opening line.” It’s common for the closing line at kickoff to be much different than the opener. Reasons for line moves on totals are (but not limited to) weather conditions, injuries, the book getting hammered with one-sided action, and syndicate/wiseguy bets. Let’s take a quick look at all of these:

Weather: Rain will force an over/under down as teams generally run the ball more. Wind and rain are the primary culprits. When winds reach 15mph, it’s statistically proven that it negatively affects a team’s passing game. Rain creates a slippery ball and wreaks havoc on passing games. Teams generally rush the ball more when it’s rainy/snowy.

Injuries: We’re not talking about to a QB, RB, or WR here. We’re talking offensive linemen and key defenders going down. Injuries (especially multiple) to a team’s offensive line create major issues as they can’t pass protect as well (the talent between a starter and second-stringer is HUGE) and/or block as well for the run game. Injuries to key players are defense can create a lack of pass rush, coverage, or a downright black hole in the secondary. We’ve all seen COUNTLESS rookies get toasted on defense by crafty wide receivers.

One-Sided Action: If a ton of people are betting on one side with the other side getting minimal action, the books will adjust the line accordingly to attract action on both sides. It’s always in the sportsbook’s best interest to shoot for even action as in a perfect world they’re collecting the vig with no risk. They gamble too, though! You see it often when they’re getting hammered on one side and don’t move the line or even crazier; they move the opposite direction! These guys get TONS of information, so run for the hills or bet with them when you see this happening. How can you see what others are betting? Google NFL consensus picks, and you’ll find multiple options that allow you to view how teams are betting both sides and totals.

Syndicate/Wiseguy Action: Bookmakers take notice when huge bets come in. If they’re consistently getting beat by big money, they’ll use that information to move lines. While the house always wins overall, there are SUPER sharp bettors (far and few in between) who have the edge over the house, and you better believe they take notice.

Odds on Totals Bets

As with point spreads, we all pay a commission to the bookies for taking our bet. This house advantage is called the vigorish (juice/vig). Most bookmakers charge -110 odds. While this may seem confusing to new bettors, it’s actually very simple. All football betting odds are predicated on “to win $!00”. In this case, -110 tells us the amount we’d have to lay/risk to profit (win) $100. This doesn’t mean that you have to bet $110 on a game, though. You can break this down to the lowest common denominator, which would be $1.10 to win $1.00.

Reminder: As noted above, there are a couple of places on the web where you don’t have to lay -110 odds! This is one of the best-kept secrets in the sports betting industry. There is absolutely NO reason to bet on games at -110 when you could be betting at -105 at BetAnySports. Why pay more for odds when you don’t have to?

Tips to Betting NFL Totals

A seldom talked about variable in handicapping NFL games is coaching. It’s important to understand that it doesn’t matter if a team has the most talented player in the league. If a coach has a style/philosophy, that is what’s going to happen. If a running back is mega-talented at running right and the playbook says run left, that is what’s going to happen. It’s absolutely imperative to know what each coach’s belief system is. Look at box scores. See what they’re trying to do. Is a coach calling lots of passing plays on a regular basis? Is he calling run plays most of the time? Learn this stuff. It’s GOLD!

Understand that passing teams are going to have higher scoring games, and rushing teams are going to have lower scoring games. A passing team moves the ball quicker down the field. A 15-yard pass is 5x more effective than 3 yards and a cloud of dust. The pass play often results in more clock stoppages while the running play milks the clock. Know each team’s strengths and weaknesses and what they’re trying to do.

Know a team’s strengths and weaknesses. A team with a weak secondary is likely to draw more passing attempts against them, even from teams that don’t usually throw the ball as much (assuming they have a smart coach, which can be questionable at times!)

Look at a team’s historical plays. How many snaps is a team getting off? You’d be surprised how consistently big of a difference there is snap counts with some teams. No huddle offenses and QB’s that call their own plays speed things up. There are numerous sites on the web that show weekly snap counts. This is precious football handicapping information with regards to over/under bets!

Maybe the most important variable of all is the weather. It’s a proven fact that passing games suffer when the wind hits 15mph or more. Rain and snow also wreak havoc on a team’s passing game, so they’re forced to transition to a ground game which milks the clock and usually limits scoring.

Beware of SNF/MNF and nationally televised game totals. Bookies know that bettors LOVE points and to bet the over, so these lines are oftentimes inflated by a point or three. Keep in mind that you’re looking to have fun with a bet, and they’re booking bets as a business with the goal of slowly draining your paycheck over the course of the season.

The trend is NOT your friend. Too many novice gamblers (notice I said gamble instead of bettor or sports investor) blindly follow trends. The sun was out yesterday, does that mean it’s going to be sunny today? NO. Trends are interesting, but absolutely ZERO indication of what’s going to happen in an upcoming game. Each game is its own entity. Every game has its own set of variables that cannot be compared to the past.

Hot O/U Betting Tip: If you like to bet unders, it’s often best to wait until a couple of hours before kickoff to place your wager. If you like overs, it’s a good idea to get your bet down earlier in the week before it gets bet up by the general public. It doesn’t always play out this way, and by betting early, you leave yourself vulnerable to injuries and weather changes, but you also want to make sure you’re receiving the best line. NFL totals can and do move throughout the week. Getting the best of the number (line) can turn a 50% handicapper into a 55% handicapper, which is the difference between winning and losing. (52.38% is the break-even point at -110 odds)

Season Wins: Another Type of Totals Bet

While this article is intended to be about the over/under bet on a single game, it should be noted that there is another type of over/under bet worth checking out; Season Wins.

Prior to the start of each season, oddsmakers put out a number on each NFL team with regards to how many wins they’ll have, and we as bettors have an opportunity to bet the over or under. It’s a great way to derive entertainment from football betting for a whole season for as little as one dollar. They’re somewhat easy to beat, and it’s fun to have something to pull for.

Why do I think they’re easy to beat? These betting lines are based on public perception. It could almost be said that if you went opposite of public opinion, you’d win. I’d be a buffoon to suggest blindly betting on NFL season win totals. However, when you factor in that good teams often lose players to free agency (players wanting bigger contracts so they can’t keep everybody that made the team good), and bad teams trying to get better by making coaching changes, receiving high draft picks, changing schemes and signing free agents to fix holes, we have a sort of evolutionary process that happens. Good teams often don’t stay good, and bad teams often don’t stay bad.

The general consensus of most football bettors is that they place bets on what they’ve seen (recency bias), and it just doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that a team like the 2020 Houston Texans would be better in 2021, as that organization was an absolute train wreck during that time.

In summary (generally speaking), teams evolve, and nothing is as it seems! Do your homework and reap the benefits!

Got questions? Think we should add something here? Feel free to drop us a line!