The National Football League is most popular sport to bet on, with spread betting as the wager of choice for most users.
Spreads have become a major component of NFL media, as television, print, and radio outlets promote betting against the spread as part of their seasonal coverage.
In this article, we’ll provide you with a crash course on spread betting, guiding you as you build your bankroll with this popular bet type.
What Are NFL Spreads & How Do They Work?
Betting on or against the spread has been an institution in the NFL for decades. Since games can appear lopsided, sportsbooks assign spreads that superior teams must cover in exchange for more favorable odds for bettors.
Betting on spreads may seem confusing, but it isn’t. Typically if all things appear equal, the home team will be a three-point favorite, meaning it must win by at least three points to push and will cover if it wins by four or more points. If the underdog loses by fewer than three points or wins outright, then it covers the spread.
In the event of a push, the bet is voided and the bettor receives their money back. More lopsided games can feature spreads of seven or more or even as high as 14, 15 or even 17 points. Betting on an underdog to cover a double-digit spread can be a way to cash in even when a game appears lopsided on paper.
The largest spread in Super Bowl history came in Super Bowl XXIX, when the San Francisco 49ers covered 18.5 points in their 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers.
However, the biggest upset in Super Bowl history came when the New York Jets overcame an 18-point spread in Super Bowl III to defeat the Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in a game made famous by Joe Namath’s iconic guarantee.
How to Read NFL Spread Lines
Reading NFL spread lines on a sportsbook app or website is where things can really seem confusing. But we’ll try to make it easier.
Because of space limitations on TV, phones and computer screens, point spreads will often be displayed as plus or minus a number.
If a team is -3 that means it is a three-point favorite and must win by at least three to push and four to cover the bet. If an underdog is +7 that means it must lose by fewer than seven points in order to cover the spread.
Usually odds for spreads are about -110, which means a $110 bet would fetch $100 in profit. Most of the time, football spread odds won’t go lower than -105 or higher than -115.
Sportsbooks will typically offer odds for alternate spreads, but they are usually nowhere near as lucrative as betting on game’s spread.
For instance, if the Chicago Bears are a 3.5-point favorite at -110 odds in their game against the Detroit Lions, but you think Chicago will only win by a field goal, you can bet Chicago to cover 2.5 points at -140. That would mean if Chicago wins by three your bet would hit but would only pay out $71.42 in profit on a $100 bet.
If the Bears win by four or more, your bet would still hit, but it would profit less than if you wagered them to cover 3.5 ($90.90 in profit on a $100 bet).
Some more old-school bettors will refer to betting a favorite to cover the spread as “giving" or “laying" points. If they were to bet on the underdog to cover the spread they’d be “getting" or “taking" points.
How American Odds Work
American odds are typically plus and minus money, which is in relation to $100. Favorites are typically the team with minus-money odds, and the underdog is usually the club whose odds are plus.
However, in some games, when the spread is “pick ’em" the odds can be -115 and -105, meaning the underdog is the team whose odds are closest to 100.
In spread betting, the odds will typically be between -105 and -115, which is far more lucrative to betting a favorite who might be -200 or shorter on the moneyline.
Still, given the uncertainty of NFL games week-to-week, and the fact that it is very hard for most teams to cover spreads of two touchdowns or more, betting on or against the spread comes with increased risk.
Calculating the payout for a plus-money bet is easy, but because spread betting typically revolves around teams with minus odds, it can be a little bit trickier to determine the total payout. However, online sportsbooks will declare a bettor’s payout when he/she bets on a game against the spread.
How Decimal Odds Work
Decimal odds, odds that are typically used Canada, Australia, Europe and other continents, are the same as American odds, except are displayed as decimals in relation to 1 instead of in relation to 100. For instance, a bet with 0.91 odds is the same as -110. If a decimal spread is going at 0.83 that’s the same as -120.
For spread betting, decimal odds will typically be lower than $1, but if you wager a different style of bet — like a moneyline or a prop — that is plus-money, the decimal odds might be 1.5, 1.7 or higher.
How Fractional Odds Work
Fractional odds, like 2/1, 5/2, 9/5, etc., are common in horse-racing circles but have also been used for futures odds bets. However, if a typical spread bet’s odds are -110, they would be 10/11 in fractional betting.
But spread betting is not usually used with fractional odds. For instance, if the Buffalo Bills enter the NFL season at 7/1 to win the Super Bowl that is the same as +700 odds. If Patrick Mahomes enters the season as +300 to win the NFL MVP that is the same as 3/1 odds.
Converting fractional odds is pretty easy. For instance if a favored team has 4/5 odds to win its division that’s the same as 0.8*100 then divide 100 by 0.8 to get -125. For plus-money odds the conversion is easy too. For instance, if a team has 3/2 odds to win its division, that would be equivalent to +150.
Best Sportsbooks to Place NFL Spread Bets
Here is a look at some of our favorite sites and apps to bet on football.
The Caesars Online Sportsbook offers a luxurious experience with an extremely user-friendly app and website. Plus, Caesars has a partnership with the NFL, which means it offers terrific odds and a great number of betting markets for each football game each week.
What’s better is each wager placed nets users Caesars Rewards, the company’s VIP loyalty program. Users redeem their points with hotel and dining credits at Caesars properties, as well as other perks like sports tickets and more.
BetMGM Sportsbook is an elite option for NFL spread betting. The app and website give users great odds and a robust number of betting markets for every NFL game each week — as well as other sports too — plus competitive lines for every football game.
With BetMGM, users can get intel and data to help them make the most informed decisions, plus it offers bettors terrific perks like boosts and promos for NFL betting.
In addition to this, BetMGM is one of the most widely available online sportsbooks in the country, meaning it is probably legal in your state if you live in a place where online sports betting is legal.
BetRivers is a great option for betting, especially for new and novice users. The BetRivers app and website gives users a helpful glossary of terms that new bettors may be too intimidated to ask about as well as stats and trends that enable bettors to make the most informed decisions.
The best part about playing with BetRivers is its exceptional welcome offer, which can give new players an opportunity to add to their bankroll.
FanDuel Online Sportsbook is the No. 1 option for bettors in the United States, and it’s not hard to see why.
They invented the same-game parlay, which enables users to customize multi-leg wagers from the same game, and changed the game again with Same Game Parlay+, which allows bettors to combine multiple markets from multiple games in a practice that is tailor-made for NFL Sunday betting.
The site is constantly revolutionizing the way sports betting works, whether it is by innovative practices or by conveniently offering a robust number of withdraw/deposit options and terrific customer support. It’s a great option for betting on all sports but especially for football.
DraftKings is another widely available option for online sports bettors, which makes it a terrific option for spread betting on football. DraftKings makes curating your own same-game parlay a breeze. It has a great user interface that makes finding your preferred wager simple. It also offers great odds and a ton of betting markets.
They also have a partnership with the NFL, which means it is constantly offering boosts and promos for football bettors on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, as well as new-user benefits for the playoffs.
How to Pick NFL Spread Betting Sites
Determining which sportsbook to use from the list above is a matter of preference, but there are some actual criteria to consider. For instance:
- Spreads/Odds: Spreads and odds are fairly standard, but if you can find better odds or a more favorable spread at one sportsbook — or if the odds are boosted at one sportsbook — that is the best way to go. Be sure to consult our NFL odds comparison tool to find the best spread and lines for the game you want to target.
- Welcome Bonus: Typically I play through a welcome bonus at one sportsbook before trying out a different one, and taking advantage of free playable funds is integral. Find the welcome bonus that is most conducive to your playing style, keeping in mind that many sportsbooks will offer bet and gets centered around either the start of football season or the NFL playoffs.
- Interface: You’ll want a sportsbook that makes logging in easy and fast, since live spreads can change quickly. Plus, you’ll want a site that is easy to navigate.
- Payment Methods: It’s best to have a sportsbook that makes putting in and taking out your money simple. Find the sportsbook that enables you to put your money in easily and lets you receive your money quickly — think hours instead of weeks.
Why Should I Bet NFL Spreads?
- Popular: Betting on spreads is popular, especially for football. The NFL has embraced spread-betting and turned it into a legitimate business, particularly in the age of online sports betting. If you want to be a part of the in-crowd, you’re probably going to need to bet against the spread, especially if you want your bankroll to grow.
- Value: Betting against the spread is a great way to get more bang for your buck. Given the fact most NFL games are decided by three points or more, laying three points on a favorite in a game is a great way to win more. Plus, if your favorite team has almost no chance in a game, you can still bet on it to cover the spread and win money even if it loses.
- Keeps Games Interesting: Betting on a team to cover the spread adds drama to games that can be lopsided. For instance, if you bet a team to cover 9.5 points, and it is leading by 10 late in the game but its opponent is threatening to score, there is incentive to remain tuned in even if the result is no longer truly in doubt.
Why Shouldn’t I Bet NFL Spreads?
- More Risk. With more risk comes more of a payout, which is why odds are favorable for betting on/against the spread. Plus, coaches play for their team to win not cover the spread, which means if you bet a team to cover 8.5, and it gives up a late touchdown to lead by only 4 you lose even if the team is going to win.
- It’s hard. Oddsmakers have gotten extremely good at setting really accurate spreads that are conducive to sportsbooks making money. Plus, in the NFL, where upsets happen all the time, betting on a team to win is tough let alone win and cover a certain number of points.
NFL Spread Betting for Beginners
Spread betting might seem complicated, but it isn’t really. If you bet on a team +3.5, that means it can either win or lose by three points or fewer.
If you choose a team -6.5 that means it must win by at least seven points, or else your bet fails. If you wager on a team to cover seven points and it wins by exactly a touchdown and an extra point, that is a push and the bet is voided and you get your initial stake back.
Additional Types of NFL Bets Available
As referenced above, there are a bunch more betting options than just spreads for betting on the NFL. Here’s a look at some of those.
Moneyline betting, or betting on which team will win, is the simplest form of football betting. All you need to do is pick the winner.
The difference for moneyline betting is that, because there are lopsided matchups on paper, teams are assigned moneyline odds that could be far-less lucrative than betting against the spread.
Still, winning bets are winning bets, which means profiting on a team at -250 is more than losing a -110 bet.
NFL Over/Under Betting (Totals)
Totals, or over/unders, is good for games that a bettor believes will either be high or low scoring but isn’t sure on the winner or spread.
Over/unders for NFL games are typically in the 40s but can reach the low-50s if two high-octane teams are squaring off. Bettors can choose to tease, or buy, points on the over/under for shorter odds, which is an especially popular practice for parlay betting.
For instance, if the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears have an over/under set for 45.5 at -110, a bettor can tease it down to 42.5 at -175. That means an over bet will produce lower profit but would hit if there are 43, 44 or 45 points in the game.
NFL Prop Betting
Prop betting, or betting on outcomes that aren’t tied specifically to the final result, is another popular option for football bettors. There are no shortage of props offered by online sportsbooks for each NFL game each week, plus they offer odds on player props for each game as well.
An example of a prop bet is determining which team will be the first to score 21 points in a game. There are also player props, such as choosing Lamar Jackson to surpass 45.5 rushing yards in a game. Each wager will hit even if the team bet on does not win the game.
NFL Futures Betting
Futures typically center around betting on teams to win a championship but can also include betting on awards like NFL MVP or comeback player of the year.
Odds for future betting, especially picking which team will win its conference or the Super Bowl, are typically long, since each team gets odds and anything can happen in the one-and-done format of the NFL playoffs.
Still, betting on a team to win its division or make the playoffs can carry shorter odds, which is why they can carry great value.
NFL Parlay Betting
Parlay betting, or combining multiple markets in one bet, is one of the most popular ways to bet on football. In this type of wager, you need each leg of your parlay to hit for you to win.
Because there are usually between 11-15 games each Sunday, putting together multi-leg parlays on teams to win or cover the spread is a Sunday tradition in the fall in the U.S.
However with the advent of same-game parlays, which have become standard with each online sportsbook, parlay betting can still work for Thursday, Sunday or Monday night games.