How to Bet on the NFL
While soccer is king in most of the rest of the world, football is easily the most popular sport in the United States, and from a betting perspective the NFL towers over every other professional league in terms of wagering action and options to choose from. The Super Bowl, which is now staged the first February of every New Year, is easily the most-wagered single event in the USA.
Just for a point of reference, a World Series game in Major League Baseball wouldn’t come close to matching the betting action on an average NFL prime-time regular season game. Prime-time NFL games usually are the most-wagered each week because they are the most-watched on television – there is generally one every Thursday, Sunday and Monday night during the regular season.
Certainly, some NFL teams move the betting needle more than others just as they do from a television ratings perspective. The Dallas Cowboys are the gold standard in the NFL from a popularity standpoint and they have been known as America’s Team for decades. Games involving the Cowboys usually occupy the top 3-4 betting spots overall in any regular season.
Second on the list would be the New England Patriots, but they have only been this popular for the past 15 years or so because they have become such a dominant championship force behind the NFL’s current No. 1 star, quarterback Tom Brady.
There are many ways to bet on the NFL, but to simplify it a bit there are three basic wager types: on the point spread (usually just referred to as spread), moneyline and over/under total (usually just called the total).
Let’s say the Patriots and Cowboys played in the next Super Bowl – that would set some ratings and betting records for sure. In this scenario, New England won a few more regular-season games and is considered a better team by the oddsmakers. So they might list the Patriots as 7.5-point favorites against Dallas. That would look like this in an online betting menu – the home team is always at the bottom in American betting menus (even in a neutral-site Super Bowl there is a designated home team):
Dallas Cowboys +7.5
New England Patriots -7.5
This simply means that a bet on New England would require the Patriots to win by at least 8 points to cover the spread and return a winning ticket. Any New England win by fewer than 7 points or an outright defeat would be a losing bet. To win on the Cowboys, Dallas need only to lose by no more than 7 points or win outright. Half-points are often included so there can’t be a tie or “push.”
Most NFL spreads are between 1-14 points but can get to 20 on occasion.
Don’t care about the final score or margin of victory in an NFL game? The moneyline is another option. Here, you wager simply on which team you think will win. The score 100 percent doesn’t matter – although a tie game would be a “push” and all money returned.
In the above scenario, the betting menu might look like this:
Dallas Cowboys +250
New England Patriots -300
That means a wager of $100 would return $250 on a Dallas victory, while it would take a wager of $300 on New England to return +100. The bigger a team is favored on the spread, the bigger it is also a moneyline favorite. Very rare for bettors to put down a moneyline bet on a huge underdog.
The total is simply the total amount of points scored in a game, including any possible overtime. NFL games will generally have a total set anywhere between 35-65. Two terrific offensive teams would see a very high total. Two stellar defensive teams a low one. Games played outdoors in inclement weather can bring a total number down a bit.
Here is what the betting menu would look like for the above game:
Dallas Cowboys Ov 50.5 (-115)
New England Patriots Un 50.5 (-105)
This means you are betting this game will finish with a total score of either more or less than 50.5 points. There is always a small moneyline attached to both the over and under simply as part of the “price” the sportsbook sets to take the wager. The moneylines often can be the same price. As in spread, totals often have a half-point attached so there is no tie.
Once new bettors understand spread, moneyline and total betting then there are more advanced options like NFL futures, individual and team prop bets, parlays and teasers. In addition, every NFL game now features in-play live betting. Those are when prop bets are used most often: Will Tom Brady’s next pass be complete? Who scores the next touchdown? Those are two of hundreds of options for in-play NFL prop betting.