Football Betting: What is a Point Spread?
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper. Lootmeister.com
People new to football wagering will wonder what all this “spread” talk is about. It’s a word you hear all over the place in the world of football betting. The term “spread” is short for point-spread. It is the guiding principle in football betting. Rarely are two teams ever evenly-matched. One is almost always better or has superior conditions for a win.
Straight football betting against the spread is a heads-or-tails equation. Betting on either side wins you the same amount of money. But if one team is better than its opponent, it isn’t a fair bet. That’s where the point-spread comes into play. It’s a way to even things out and make the bet equally appealing on both sides.
The point-spread involves points. One team gets them, the other gives them. The bet is not a wager on who will win the game. It’s about who will win and by how many points. Let’s look at an example.
Carolina Panthers +10.5
Green Bay Packers -10.5
First of all, the home team is always listed last anytime a game is listed. So the Packers are home at Lambeau playing the Panthers. You see the Packers are -10.5, while Carolina is +10.5. That is the point-spread. Carolina is +10.5. That means they are getting (+) 10.5 points. Before the game even starts, they are up by ten-and-a-half points. Meanwhile, Green Bay at -10.5 is giving (-) 10.5 points. They’re down by 10.5 points before the game even starts.
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The oddsmakers are trying to make both sides of the bet attractive. Obviously, everyone would take Green Bay if the issue was simply to predict the winner of the game. The point-spread evens things out and gives people a reason to take Carolina, especially if they think the Panthers can keep the game somewhat close.
If you bet on Carolina at +10.5, you can win two ways. Carolina can just win the game and you’d naturally win. But if they lose, you can still win--as long as they don’t lose by more than 11 points.
If you bet on Green Bay at -10.5, they not only must win the game, but must do so by at least 11 points or you lose the bet. To win the bet means you “covered the spread,” another way to say you won the bet.
You should know a few things about the spread. First of all, anything you notice about a game is figured into the spread already. For example, you might like one team more because they are at home. But that has already been accounted for in the spread, as home-field advantage is usually worth about 3 points of extra consideration on the spread. That goes for any other obvious observations. The spread already reflects it by the time you see it.
You will see games where there is no numerical spread, but simply a “pick-’em,” which means that either team can simply win the game for a bet on them to “cover.” It’s also important to note that the spread doesn’t necessarily represent a numerical opinion of the book. Just because a team is a 10.5-point favorite doesn’t necessarily mean the bookie thinks that team will win by 10-11 points. The number is devised more in the spirit of what the bookie thinks will evoke an even play of bets on each team.
For example, if the New England Patriots are on Monday Night Football playing a team like Jacksonville, the spread is almost certainly not an expression of what the book thinks will happen. It’s an isolated game that gets a lot of betting attention. The book knows the general betting public bets favorites, leans toward nationally-treasured teams like New England, and will bet big on a MNF game. Therefore, the spread for New England will be a big number, since the bookie knows it might be hard to get people to bet Jacksonville in this spot.
The term “against he spread” refers to record-keeping as it pertains to football betting. A team might be 0-5 this season at home “against the spread.” That doesn’t mean they have a record of 0-5 at home, it merely means that they have covered 0 spreads in 5 home games this season.
A team might be 11-5 for a season, but their “ATS” record was only 6-10. The term “against the spread” is just a way to keep track of things that happen in football as it relates to a betting angle. On ESPN, you might hear a lot about won-loss records in all types of different situations. To relate it to football wagering, however, you need to know what the “ATS” records are. So if you hear a quarterback is 40-10 at home, don’t use that as a reason to bet on that team. For all you know, his ATS record could be 23-27.
We hope you've enjoyed our article on the point spread explained. For another piece on this topic go here: The Point Spread.