How to Read NFL Football Odds
By Loot, NFL Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Football lines will look a bit foreign at first glance for people who are new to betting. The only difficult part of betting on football is to get good enough at it to turn a profit. The odds and numbers of sports betting require almost no math skills or knowledge of sports. There are a few things you need to know, but they are the kinds of things that once you are exposed to it, it’s always going to stick with you.
Point-Spreads: There are a few different numerical representations that you will need to know. First is the point-spread. It’s what makes the world of standard NFL wagering go around. When looking at an NFL football game on the bet-sheet, you will see both teams have a number next to them. It’s the same number, but one team is minus that number, while the other is plus that number. It looks like this:
San Diego Chargers +5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs -5
The point-spread is a number of points given to both teams, with one team favored by that many points and the other team an underdog by that same number of points. You see the San Diego Chargers are +5. That means they are receiving 5 points. The Chargers are the underdog in the game by 5 points. The Chiefs are minus 5 points. They are giving 5 points as the favorites and for a winning bet to be cashed on Kansas City, they can’t simply win, but must win by a margin that exceeds that number. For a winning bet to be made on the Chargers, they can either win the game outright or just not lose by a margin that exceeds that number. If Kansas City wins 29-24, for example, the bet is a “push” and all bettors have their wager amounts returned.
The point-spread is a handicap, of sorts. Two teams are rarely ever perfectly-matched. It happens every now and then and those are called pick-’em games, where you simply pick who will win the game, regardless of margin. But in the vast majority of games, one team will be better than the opponent. It could be by a little or a lot. The point-spread is brought into the picture to make that accommodation.
Both sides in a point-spread football bet pay the same. You could bet on the worst team in the league to beat the Super Bowl favorite and it pays just as much as if you had bet the better team. That’s because it’s not about winning, it’s about “covering the spread.” When dealing with point-spreads, it’s not so much about which team wins. It’s about us, as bettors, beating the number posted by the bookie.
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When looking at an NFL football line, remember that the minus-sign (-) always indicates a favorite. That applies to all aspects of sports betting. A plus-sign (+) always indicates an underdog. Again, that holds true in all expressions of sports betting odds. When you see minus (-) a certain number, that team has to win by an amount surpassing that number. When you see plus (+) a number, a team can lose by an amount that’s not more than that number and the bet wins. So if Denver is -10.5 facing Oakland at +10.5, a winning bet on Denver can only occur if they win by at least 11. The Raiders can be a winning bet if they do anything besides lose by 11 or more points.
The Money Line: It’s important to understand the money line in football betting. It faces us in virtually any bet we make. Simply put, money lines are just a way to express odds. We all know of odds like 2-to-1 or 10-to-1. Those are easy to understand. But within those numbers are many degrees. Odds don’t always land on a round number. Money lines account for that.
In addition to point-spreads being offered on all football bets, you will see games listed with a money line, where you can forget about points and simply pick the winner of the game. This brings in the need for odds, which are expressed on the money line. Here is an example:
San Francisco 49ers +155 vs. Seattle Seahawks -175
In the above example, you see two money lines. From the same format we use in point-spreads, a minus-sign indicates a favorite, with the plus-sign indicating an underdog. San Francisco at +155 is the underdog. At +155, that’s how much you win if you bet $100. On a money line, when you see a plus-sign with any number, that’s how much you win if you bet $100. Seattle is the favorite at -175. Minus any number is what you must bet to win $100. A $175 bet on Seattle would pay off $100 in winnings.
In essence, a plus-sign is how much you win and a minus-sign is how much you have to bet. And the $100 figure is just used to make it easy to understand. You can bet any amount you wish, depending on the limits at your sportsbook.
Even when betting on a team using a point-spread, we will be facing a money line. When betting against-the-spread, you must generally bet $110 for every $100 you hope to win. That converts to a money line of -110. However, there are books that offer reduced juice, which allows you to bet at a more-favorable -105 line, meaning you only have to bet $105 for every $100 you hope to win. That seemingly small edge can add up to big savings over the course of an NFL betting season.
Totals: Also next to all football bets is a “total,” a number posted by the bookie where you can pick whether the combined total score of both teams will surpass or not reach that number. Here’s an example:
Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions, Total: 51
In the above example, the total is 51. Your choice is boiled down to over or under. If you think the combined score will be less that 51, you bet under. If you think it will be over 51, you bet over and naturally, all bets are returned if the combined score is exactly 51 points. And just like with bets made on teams against-the-spread, bets on totals are also subject to a -110 money line, where you must bet $110 for every $100 you want to win.
Rest assured that it will come to you. The odds in NFL betting are really easy to understand and they can be mastered quite quickly. A bettor with just a few months under his belt can have the same automaticity with the odds as a bettor who has been doing it for decades.