Over the past decade, the NFL has become America’s most popular spectator sport to a point where it has now reached obsession level status. It receives year round attention from media outlets nationwide, from the draft right through to the regular season and playoffs. Offseason happenings also get widespread coverage.
While the NFL will likely tell fans that their impressive product is the sole reason fans tune-in, they are dead wrong. Yes, fans love the game for the athleticism of the players and the monster hits. However, one crucial aspect that is often overlooked is the influence of gambling on the game’s popularity.
NFL betting is immensely popular here in the United States. Not only is football our country’s most watched sport, but it is also the one on which we place the most bets. At sportsbooks in Nevada, it accounts for roughly 40% of all bets placed annually. When you consider the number of sports we watch in America, as well as the fact that the NFL season is only 23 weeks long, 40% is an incredibly high number.
I’m a self-confessed football addict and watch almost every game throughout the season. There’s nothing I enjoy more than parking my butt on the sofa on a Thursday, Sunday and Monday night.
I also love gambling. I go to Vegas a couple of times a year to hang out with friends and play some poker. When I’m in town, I like to visit the sportsbooks in the major casinos to watch some sports and have a punt of a few games. Nevada is the only state in the US where sports betting is explicitly legal. While we can make friendly wagers with our buddies on the outcome of a game or play fantasy football online, the truth is we have limited options.
As I live on the east coast, if I want to go to Vegas, I can either catch a flight or drive a long, long way. If I want to throw fifty bucks on an NFL game, I’m obviously not going to travel all the way to Vegas to do so. The air fare alone would cost me a few hundred bucks.
Instead, I bet on NFL online. While gambling is largely restricted in our country, there are still tons of options available on the internet. There are literally scores of US friendly sportsbooks all of which offer a wide array of NFL betting options.
There are many different ways to bet on the NFL. However, the available markets can vary widely from book to book. Some sportsbooks offer props such as “which team will score first” while others offer live odds that allow you to place a bet during a game. Many just offer spreads, totals and money line wagers. The lines available can also vary significantly. One book might have a team listed at +5 while another might have them +6.
If any (or all) of this is confusing, do not worry. I’ll explain all these things in greater detail later in this article.
The Point Spread
Betting against the spread is by far the most popular NFL wager and has been since its introduction in the 1950s. When someone refers to the “line or number” on a game, typically they are talking about the spread.
The point spread is essentially a handicap that in theory should make two teams equal. For example, when the 49ers play the Chiefs, the odds are that the 49ers will will the game. If the bookies offered an even money line on both teams, everybody would put their money on the 49ers. So in order to even things up, the oddsmakers give each team a points handicap.
A line for that game might look something like:
What do those numbers mean? In this example, when the game kicks off, the Chiefs will start with a 9-0 lead. If you back the 49ers, they must win by more than 9 points for you to win. For example, if the 49ers win 28-20, you would lose. If instead they win the game 30-20, you would have a winner. If the 49ers win by exactly 9 points, it would be considered a push and your stake returned. When the spread has a half point, such as 9.5 or 3.5, a push is not possible, and bettors will either win or lose.
In order to break even in football betting, you will need to win 52.38% of your selections. Most betting sites offer odds of +110 on point spreads. This means, you need to gamble $110 to win $100. This is how the bookies make their money.
For the sake of simplicity, let’s use the above example again. If I place $550 on the 49ers and another person bets $550 on the Chiefs, the sportsbook will collect $1,100 in wagers. However, it will only pay out $1050 in winnings.
This extra 50 bucks is known as the VIG or the juice and is essentially the way in which betting companies make their money.
Totals betting involves betting on the total number of points that will be scored during a game by both teams. If a game finished 21-14, the total for that game would be 35.
You have to decide if the total final score will be higher or lower than the number offered by a sports book. The number is based on the expectations of the teams playing . The line for these bets is set based on a complex formula that involves a number of different statistics. Some of these include offensive and defensive stats, home and away form, how teams play against each other, injuries, the weather and so on.
An example of a total for a game might look like:
Packers 55 Patriots
The number “55” represents how many combined points the two teams must score for the over or under to hit. If the total is exactly 55, it will be a push and the amount you risked will be refunded.
This betting card taken from 5Dimes shows the totals betting options for the upcoming NFL season
The Money Line
If you want to bet on the money line, you are simply tasked with picking the winning team. No point spread is involved. However, if things were that simple, I would be counting my money while sipping martinis by a pool somewhere in the Caribbean.
So, what’s the catch? Picking a favorite to win will cost you; literally, it will cost extra money! Let’s say we wanted to pick the Patriots to win a game vs the Browns. The odds might look something like:
In this example, the Patriots are a favorite to win the game. If you bet $210 on the Patriots to win, you would only make $100 in profit ($310 total). Conversely, $100 on the Browns would return $210 in profit as they are the dog in this match-up.
Money lines in the NFL have tons of profit potential especially when you feel an upset might take place. I’ll often bet the point spread of an underdog and then wager a smaller amount on the money line if it pays out more than 2 to 1.
Also, if a team is a small point spread underdog, such as +1, you may want to consider grabbing the money line instead. NFL games are seldom decided by one point, and ties are even more rare, so there is usually better value in choosing the Moneyline price over the spread.
If you like smaller risk with greater rewards, then NFL parlays might be for you. These are my favorite way to bet. They are much harder to win but offer higher odds and bigger payouts. A parlay involves betting on multiple games. However, in order for a parlay to win, all your picks must be winners.
Parlays can include up to 11 different teams, but are normally between 3 and 5. A typical parlay might look something like:
Pick: Packers -7 -110
Pick: Steelers + 4 – 110
Pick: 49ers 42 – Under
As you can see, not all 3 picks are the same type of wager. The first two are spread picks while the third is a total. A parlay does not require every wager to be of the same type, just that a certain number of selections be made. Most sportsbooks exclude props from parlays.
If one of your picks is push, you do not automatically lose. Instead, that selection is omitted from the wager. For instance, if one of your bets on a 4-team parlay is a push, it becomes a 3-team parlay instead.
The more selections you have on a parlay card, the higher the payout odds.
Typical payouts are as follows:
2 Team Parlay 13 to 5
3 Team Parlay 6 to 1
4 Team Parlay 10 to 1
5 Team Parlay 20 to 1
6 Team Parlay 40 to 1
7 Team Parlay 75 to 1
8 Team Parlay 150 to 1
9 Team Parlay 300 to 1
10 Team Parlay 700 to 1
11 Team Parlay 1100 to 1
Don’t like any of the spreads you see? Well, change them. That is the exact purpose of a teaser. Like a parlay, a teaser requires you to chain together multiple selections and all of them must win in order to payout.
The difference is that instead of higher payout odds, you get to alter the point spread in your favour, making it more likely that your selections win. Teasers come in many shapes and sizes, but a common example is a 3 team teaser where you get to add or subtract 6 points from the spread. A 3 team, 6-point teaser might look like:
Packers -7 Adjusted Spread -1 – Pick Bears +7
Patriots -4 Steelers + 4 Adjusted Spread +10 – pick
49ers 42 Adjusted Total 48 – Under Ravens
We see that the odds have moved by a touchdown in our favor, but all 3 must come in for us to collect. Teasers can go as high as 15 teams and different sportsbooks offer varying point amounts.
Wong Teasers or Basic Strategy Teasers are a common strategy used by sharp bettors. I’ve used these personally to cash in big throughout the season.
The concept was first put forward in the book “Sharp Sports Betting” by Stanford Wong, which many consider as one of the best books on betting sports profitably.
A Wong Teaser is a wager on two or more teams which are -7.5 to -8.5 favorites or underdogs between the numbers of +1.5 and +2.5. These teasers play on the NFL’s most common margins of victory 3 and 7. By being on the right side of the most common margin of victory, players have an obvious advantage – but not so fast. Due to the popularity of Wong Teasers and Sharp Sports Betting, most online bookies have increased their teaser odds and offer spreads that fall in Wong’s range less often. Some have even gone as far as to count a pushed leg of a teaser as a loss. If you can find the proper odds, Wong Teasers are excellent wagers, but it’s increasingly harder to find the proper odds to have an advantage.
For those interested in reading more about Wong Teasers, I recommend you read this page on IntenseGambling.com that covers Wong teasers in much greater detail. In fact, that site has a number of excellent strategy articles that I recommend you read.
Anyway, back to business. The odds for teasers are typically:
Two teams = 10/11
Three teams = 9/5
Four teams = 3/1
Five teams = 9/2
Six teams = 6/1
Two teams = 10/12
Three teams = 8/5
Four teams = 5/2
Five teams = 4/1
Six teams = 11/2
Two teams = 10/13
Three teams = 7/5
Four teams = 2/1
Five teams = 7/2
Six teams = 5/1
If you’re an action junkie, then you will love live betting which allows you to make bets during a game. You are placing your wager based on the current score and situation. A single play can instantly and drastically change the odds available. When Adrian Peterson is running down the field, leaving would be tacklers in his wake, the odds on the Vikings might be moving just as fast as Adrian. One second they might look like
Wait, what’s that? Adrian is loose!
The point being, the odds can and will change extremely quickly based on what is happening in the game.
I’m an action junkie myself, and I do enjoy having a few bets while watching a game. Unfortunately, in the USA our in-play options are far behind what’s available overseas. However, things are slowly improving. The leading US-facing books now offer in-play markets on all televised games, while a small selection offer lines on the majority of NFL and NBA matches.
Player and Team Props
Have you ever heard someone say, “You can bet on anything in the Super Bowl, even the coin toss.” Well, it is true, you can. These types of wager are known as propositions, props or exotics. A prop is a wager on something other than the outcome or total score of the game. A “player prop” involves betting on how well a particular player will perform. An example of a player prop might look like this:
Casey Hampton over/under 4.5 burritos consumed
Over! Ok, seriously now:
Calvin Johnson Over/Under 110 yards receiving
The idea is pretty straight forward, if Megatron breaks 110 yards, you win. If the giant football catching robot fails to break 110 yards, you lose. If he gains exactly 110 yards, it will be a push.
Player and team props might seem to be more suited to recreational punters; however, nothing could be further from the truth. The difference in props and spreads and totals is the large difference between sportsbooks on their prop offerings. There is often several points difference in the odds from one sportsbook to another on certain props.
This can give you a solid advantage as you will nearly always beat the market efficiency on your wager. However, sportsbooks have also picked up on this and decreased the limits of props heavily, with some as low as $100.
Evolution of NFL Markets
As a longtime fan of the NFL, I remember the old days of betting with my local bookie, long before online betting became widely available. Since the turn of the century, the NFL market has grown exponentially and is now the second most wagered upon sport in the world besides soccer.
In Nevada alone, an estimated $50 million is wagered per week, and that is a conservative estimate. This does not even take into account the hundreds of online bookmakers nor the action taken by local bookies. When all these numbers are added up, the NFL is easily a multi-billion dollar betting market.
The amount bet on NFL games continues to rise each year, and oddsmakers are offering more and more options, some even months ahead of time. Football fans can now wager on Week 1 match-ups in the middle of June. Throughout the season and playoffs there are literally thousands of proposition bets offer at each site.
Advantages Over Locals
As I mentioned above, most bettors started out like me, betting NFL with a local bookie before making the switch to the online scene. There are several advantages to online sportsbooks compared to land-based bookies.
For one, bettors will almost always receive a form of a deposit bonus, usually in terms of a free play. Though it comes with a rollover before it can be withdrawn, it is an instant bankroll boost that can be used immediately.
Also, the list of markets is much smaller offline. If you’re a true diehard NFL bettor like me, every week is precious. I analyze every game, break down the match-ups and am constantly looking at injury reports. In addition to point spreads and totals, I’m also looking for +EV player and team props to put my money on.
Business by its very nature is competitive, and online betting is no different. There are plenty of sites open to US bettors. This presents a number of opportunities with two that stand out above the rest.
The first and most obvious is that different books offer different lines on games. If Book A has a team priced at +6, while Book B has them at +6.5, you should obviously bet with the latter as you have a greater chance of winning. This is known as “shopping the odds” or “line shopping”. If one supermarket were 10% cheaper than another one down the road, you would be more likely to shop at the cheaper one. Betting online is no different and finding the best price is one of the most important things you can ever do if you want to make a long term profit.
The second reason to use multiple sites is each offers its own unique sign up bonus.When you first register and deposit they give you free money that can be used to bet on games.
If you are not using at least two or three different sportsbooks, you are missing out on a ton of value.