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What are Points Spreads?

Point spreads are a very common tool used in sports betting to make games and matchups more even for betting purposes – point spreads are why betting football and basketball are so popular but not so much baseball and hockey because those don’t have spreads as many games in those sports are decided by one run/goal.

Very similar to a handicap, underdog teams are basically given points before the game starts and favorites have points taken away. This results in favorites having to win by a certain margin to win the bet, thus making the bet more even and making the odds very similar for both teams in any matchup. This means you can still pick your favorite teams to win, even if they are huge underdogs, because they would have a large point spread in their favor.

One thing to keep in mind is that sportsbooks don’t set spreads on what they think the final margin of victory will be but instead the number that will draw the most action on both sides. A 50/50 split is the most profitable situation for a sportsbook.

On the image above, the point spread is listed in the first column on this sportsbook. In this Monday night matchup between the Browns and the 49ers, the 49ers are favorites and thus have a negative point spread. The 3.5 points is what will be taken away from them in the final game total, so to win the bet the 49ers would have to win the game by more than 3.5. This means that the Browns either have to win the game outright, or lose the game by fewer than 3.5 points.

If the 49ers score 20 points, but the Browns score 17 the Browns win the bet despite losing the game itself. The favorite will always be signified by a negative number in their column and the underdog will always have a positive number. Just add that number the final score of whichever team you bet on and if they win the game with the new total then the team “covered the spread” and you won the bet.

The numbers below the point spread are also important. In the image above you can see a “-105” and a “-115” below both the “+3.5” and “-3.5”. These signify the odds on each bet and how much of a payout you will receive if you choose either team. For instance, if you take the underdog Browns and they cover the spread, you will get back $100 if you bet $105. That is why the number is -105, it shows you how much money is needed to get back $100. So if you bet on the 49ers to win by at least 3.5 points, you will get $100 back if you bet $115 because the number shown is -115. If the number shown is a positive, which is rare on spread bets, then you will get back whatever the number is, if you bet $100. So if you bet $100 and the odds are shown as +110 then you will get back $110 if you win your bet.


In this particular example shown above the spread is shown as -3.5 and obviously you cannot score half a point in the NFL so there is no way for this spread to be a tie. However, a lot of the time the spread will be only full points like -6.0 or +5.0 and a tie or “push” can occur. If your bet ends in a push or tie than you do not win anything but you also do not lose your bet and you are refunded. Most of the time, a half-point is added to the magic NFL numbers of 3 and 7 because too many games end by a 3-point or 7-point margin. Sportsbooks don’t like a push any more than bettors do.


If you see “PK” or the spread is a “Pick’em” this just means that the game is too close for a spread and the winner will just be whichever team scores more points/wins the game straight up. The odds below are still relevant but there are no points added or taken away from either team and the points scored on the field are all that matters.

Point Spread Changes

It is important to keep track of point spread changes. The spread will usually change throughout the week based on roster news, weather or other factors (one side being bet heavily over another). The spread will lock when you make the bet, however, so you do not have to worry about these changes once your bet is made. For instance, if you bet on the 49ers above at -3.5 and then Browns QB Baker Mayfield is ruled out of the game due to an injury, the spread would get higher toward San Francisco considering the Browns would be without their starting quarterback. If you took the bet earlier, then you will be at an advantage because you were able to lock in the -3.5 while the new spread will be closer to -7.5 or something similar. 

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