NFL Beginners Betting Guide: Basics of NFL Betting

NFL Course 101

Gambling has become one of the most popular sports activities among all fans throughout the country, and with states beginning to pass measures to legalize sports gambling, it is only going to become more popular with time.

With this being said, there are many entering the sports betting industry and have no idea what they’re getting themselves into. They don’t know what a point spread is or how it’s made, they don’t know the different kind of bets you can make before and during a game, and they have no idea how to manage their money. We will answer some basic questions and give you the “betting basics” for the NFL season. We will give you some basic terminology and give you some advice at the end so you don’t lose all your money at once. By the end of this article, you will have a grasp on how the system works and can go about taking the next step in preparing yourself for winning money during NFL season.

The Point Spread

The first thing you need to know when betting on an NFL game is how point spreads are actually put together and displayed for the public. Knowing this is an essential part of being successful in the business.

A person who sets the line or point spread, known as an oddsmaker, always sets an opening line, which is a number that he or she thinks is the most fair value that will get equal action from bettors on both sides. These are trained professionals that study every aspect of the game or event, and are usually successful at setting a number that gets money from each side. They look at all types of different statistics, trends, and other factors to help them come up with a line. They also take into account whether a team is a “public team”, a team which people flock to bet on a regular basis, such as the New England Patriots. The Patriots will get a lot of action so oddsmakers will nudge the line up a couple points in their favor knowing they will get money on their side no matter what they set the spread at. Oddsmakers also know that people love favorites. According to fivethirtyeight.com, almost 65% of the betting public plays the favorite.

Once oddsmakers set the number, the public puts money on a side and can influence the line if a lot of money is going towards one specific play. That’s why a closing line can be much different than the opening line, although it usually stays pretty close as long as there are no major injuries or weather factors in an upcoming game.

With each spread that is put out there, you will have a favorite and an underdog. “Favorite” simply means that team is expected to win while an underdog means the opposite. Each NFL game will also have an over/under total, which is the total number of points the game is handicapped to have by both teams.

Let’s look at the following spread:

GameSpreadTotal
New England Patriots
-7.5
O/U
Miami Dolphins
+7.5
47

In the example above, New England is -7.5. The minus means the Patriots are expected to win the game by at least 7.5 points, while the plus for Miami means they are the underdog and are expected to lose by 7.5 points. The O/U, which stands for “Over/Under”, means that the total number of points in the game is predicted to hit 47 points.

If you think the Patriots are going to win by more than 7.5 points, you would bet them at -7.5. So if the Patriots win by 8 points or higher, you’re a winner. If they win by less than 7.5, say by only 7 points, you lose the bet. However, if you think the Dolphins will lose by less than 7.5, or even possibly win the game outright, you will want to take Miami +7.5. So if the Patriots win the game 31-27, the Dolphins cover the spread.

With the over/under, oddsmakers predict the game will fall on 47 points. If you think the two teams will put up more than 47 points combined, you will want to take the over. If you think it will fall under 47, you will want to take the under. So if the final score is Patriots 27, Dolphins 17, the “under” wins the bet since the two teams combined for 44 points, less than the 47 point total.

If the final score ends up 27-20, a total of 47 points, you get what is called a push. This means whatever money you bet, you will get that money back. You don’t win or lose. The same goes with the point-spread. If the Patriots spread changes to -8 and you have the Patriots and they win 28-20, you will get a push and get your money back.

Moneylines

So using the above example, almost all times you will see some other numbers added to the line. It will look something like this:

GameMoneylineSpreadTotal
New England Patriots
-500
-7.5 (-115)
O/U
Miami Dolphins
+425
+7.5 (EVEN)
47 (-110)

“ML” stands for money lines. They’re odds for winning the game outright. A lot of betters want to bet just the winner or the loser, which is where the money line comes into play. In the above example, the Patriots are -500 to win the game. That means if you don’t want to bet the Patriots -7.5 but rather just want to be safe and pick them to win outright, you will play the -500. However, here’s the kicker: In order to win $100, you need to put down $500. Everything is proportioned at 1-to-5 odds. If you put down $100, you only $20 back. However, on the flip side, the Dolphins are +425. If you think they will win the game outright and you put down $100, you would win $425 back should Miami come out victorious. The odds there are 4.25-to-1.

Also, you will see a number with the point spread, usually between Even and -125. Above you see the Patriots are -7.5 (-115). This basically means that you would need to put down $115 to win $100 back. For the Dolphins covering +7.5 (Even), putting down $100 would win you an even $100 back. Simply put, a “minus” money line number means you won’t win as much back as you put down. However, “plus” money line numbers mean you win more money back than what you put down.

Parlays and Teasers

Many betters love to try and win big money by playing parlays. A parlay is a combination of two or more bets in which every one of your plays has to win in order for you to win money. The more point spreads you play, the longer the odds, meaning the more money you can win.

Here’s an example below of four teams you are taking in a parlay:

1. Tampa Bay -3.5 vs Carolina
2. Atlanta +4 vs Philadelphia
3. Arizona +14 vs L.A. Rams
4. Oakland/Denver OVER 52 points total

Let’s say you bet $50 on this parlay above. Tampa Bay wins by 10 points, Atlanta loses by 2 points, Arizona loses by 17 points, and the final score of the Raiders-Broncos game is 33-30. You’ve won three out of the four games but LOST the parlay and your $50 because you lost one game. To win a parlay, every one of your bets needs to pan out. Now let’s say Arizona loses by only 10 points to the Rams and all the other results are the same as mentioned above. Now you’ve hit 4-for-4 and have won your parlay. The payout for a 4-team point-spread parlay is right around 13-1 odds. So if you put down $50, you will have won $650. Not a bad payout. Now you see why some love risking their money for parlays.

For point-spread parlays, the odds are right around the following:

ParlayOdds
2-team parlay winner
2.5-1
3-team parlay winner
6.5-1
4-team parlay winner
13-1
5-team parlay winner
25-1
6-team parlay winner
50-1
7-team parlay winner
100-1

A lot of the parlays are calculated by the money number. A 4-team money line parlay can be a lot less if you’re playing teams to just win the game at -500, -300, -200 and -170 odds.

Another type of common bet is a teaser. A teaser means you can play two or more games by adjusting the lines. Most teasers allow you to adjust the point-spread 6-7 points, but you can get creative and change it more in advanced options. But let’s just stick to a regular 6-point teaser.

Let’s say you have the following spreads below:

Kansas City -8 at Oakland
New Orleans +2 vs. New York Giants

In the example, you like Kansas City and New Orleans and want to adjust the spreads by six points each. By teasing those spreads six points in your team’s favor, the Chiefs now become -2 and the Saints are +8. Just like with parlays, both have to cover those numbers in able for you to win. Teasers don’t have the same odds as parlays. Usually a two-team teaser comes with a money value of -110.

Just like you can adjust the spread one way, you can adjust it another if you wish. You can even adjust totals. So if you like Oakland, you can push their spread up to +14 and tease that with New Orleans +8 or the New York Giants at -4. If you want to play the totals, very simply you can push the total six points up or down and take the over or under for whichever benefits your side.

Many bettors love betting teasers in the NFL with touchdown favorites. They’ll see Seattle -7 over Arizona and New England -7 over Buffalo and want to reduce both of those to 1 point and take Seattle and New England.

Futures and Props bets

Before the season starts and as the season goes along, you will see futures bets, which is playing an individual team or player’s success for the upcoming season. Examples of futures bets are “Odds to win the Super Bowl”, “Odds to Win the AFC Championship”, “Over/Under on the number of wins for the Jets in 2019”, “Odds to win the MVP title”, “Odds to end up with the most rushing yards”, etc. A lot of bettors look for value in futures bets and play the value. For example, if they like the Packers to win the Super Bowl and their odds are +3300, or 33-1, they will play a futures bet on them. If they put down $100 and the Packers win the Super Bowl, they win $3,300.

There are also proposition bets (or prop bets) which are bets on a team or individual’s performance, or a specific event, during a game. Below are some example of prop bets for the Browns vs. Steelers game.

Prop Bet DescriptionOverUnder
Odell Beckham, Jr. Receiving Yards
Over 103.5 (-125)
Under 103.5 (-110)
Longest Touchdown of the Game?
Over 47.5 yards (Even)
Under 47.5 yards (-120)
Pittsburgh Steelers Team Total Points
Over 20.5 points (-125)
Under 20.5 points (+105)
Will James Conner Score a Touchdown?
Yes (-110)
No (-120)

Many times there will be hundreds of different prop bets during a game. You can even bet coin tosses, whether there will be an overtime, or whether there will be a defensive touchdown. Prop bets are most popular during the Super Bowl where you can even bet over or under a specific singing time of the national anthem.

Managing your Bankroll

When starting out betting, it’s beneficial to start with a good amount to play with for yourself and never bet more than 20-25% of your balance. As you win more, you can bet more and start to build your balance up. The worst mistake bettors make is trying to make up their losses in one bet.

Here’s an example of managing your money poorly, which sadly is what many bettors do. A bettor will start with $100 and they lose two $20 bets in the 1 p.m. games. However, the Rams are favored by only 3 points at home vs. Seattle in the 4 p.m. game. There is NO WAY the Rams will lose this game. To play it safe, you take the Rams money line at -160 and put down $60 to win $44 back. This way you are guaranteed to win back the money you lost for the 1 p.m. games and gain a little more. After all, there’s no way the Rams lose at home.

Guess what happens? Russell Wilson leads the Seahawks on a game-winning drive at the end of the game and the Seahawks win. And now your $100 you started with is all gone.

So be careful with managing your money and don’t try to win back all your lost money with one bet. Always be smart and accept that you’re going to lose at times. Gambling has its ups and downs and you go through hot and cold stretches. Many times when you go through a losing stretch, it’s good to step away for a little bit and regroup.

The bottom line is to be smart, do your homework, don’t get too emotionally attached, and have fun. Don’t let gambling ruin your life. It can make football more fun and it can add some money to your bank account, but don’t let it get to the point where it’s costing you your car or even house.

Play the game, don’t let the game play you. Good luck! Now win some money.

  
I have a BA in Journalism from the University of South Florida and worked as a sports editorial assistant and supervisor for the Tampa Bay Times for 10 years. I've also taught and managed a Journalism program at the high school level and currently work as a freelance writer. I have a deep passion for sports, particularly golf, football, and baseball, and have been active in the gambling industry for the last 10 years.

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