NFL Point Spreads

A point spread is similar to a handicap for sports teams. Not all teams are created equal, so oddsmakers create a spread that determines how much better one team is then the other. The point spread evens the field in a way that bettors will bet on either team. When point spreads are calculated, it tells a bettor whether a team is giving or receiving points. With teams having a different level of skill amongst one another, the point spread determines how much a team will win or lose by, according to the bookmakers.

2/12, 11:30p
2/12, 11:30p
ML = Moneyline Line Movement = displays the odds line changes per book and per bet from the opening odds to the live odds. Diff = Change in Sportsbook live odds & live odds

How to Read a Point Spread

First, the point spread determines who the favorite and underdog are in a matchup. If a team has a - sign in front of their spread, then that means they are the favorite. The team is giving points. If a team has a +, then this means they are the underdog. The team is taking points. Sometimes, a game will have a PK or a pick 'em in front of the team. This means that the teams are at equal odds, and the bettor just has to choose who will win the game.

Also, points usually come with what is called juice. The juice is a term used by bettors to explain how much edge the house puts on a number. Often, bettors will see a spread at -110 juice. The -110 stands for how much money a bettor would have to put up if he were to be $100.

All odds are shown based on betting $100. -110 means that a bettor would have to bet $110 to win $100. If the bettor wagers the bet and wins, he would win $100 plus their original $110 back for a total of $210. If the bettor loses, then they lose their original $110.

First, oddsmakers create the spread on the goal of getting an even amount of money on both teams. If both sides have 50 percent on the money on the favorite and 50 percent of the money on the underdog, then the book will automatically make a profit. That is why there is juice on the odds, and why the term "the house always wins" is very relevant.

In Super Bowl LIV, the Kansas City Chiefs squared off against the San Francisco 49ers.

The point spread:
  • Kansas City -1.5 (-110)
  • San Francisco +1.5 (-110)

The spread means that oddsmakers believed that Kansas City would win by 1.5 points, and you had to bet $110 to win $100. If a bettor were a $10 bettor, then they would have to bet $11 to win $10. If a bettor thought the Chiefs would win by more than 1.5 points, then they would be the Chiefs. If they thought San Francisco would stay within 1.5 points of Kansas City or beat the Chiefs, then they would bet the 49ers.

The favorite will win the bet if they win by more points than what the spread is listed. The underdog will win the bet if they stay within the spread that is listed or win outright. If the game finished with the favorite winning by the exact amount of points the spread was listed at, then it is called a push, and bettors don't win or lose money.

How Point Spreads Are Calculated

Talent Level

There are multiple factors in how point spreads are calculated. First, oddsmakers look at a list of power rankings to rate the two teams. Power rankings determine each team's ability, record, the strength of schedule, and other key statistics. All of this determines how good one team is compared to another.

Home-Field Advtange

Next, bookmakers will determine where the game is. Home-field advantage is an indicator of where the line will be placed and sometimes is not taken into consideration by casual sports bettors. Depending on the venue, home-field advantage could give some teams a three to a four-point boost in the spread if they have a passionate crowd every game.

Other Factors

After, oddsmakers will look at various other types of factors that can impact a game. Things like injuries, weather, the rivalry could change the line for a game. If a star player is out, then it will affect the games spread. This, along with inclement weather or playing in a big game, could impact how the game plays out.

Public Perception

Finally, public perception plays an impact on the point spread. Some bettors will see a team play terrific one week, and another team plays poorly. If those two teams face off the next game, then public perception will be that the better-looking team a game before will win. However, that isn't always the case, so oddsmakers will adjust the lines to what people recently saw, creating recency bias. Bettors will think the team is destined for a cover when in reality, they played above their potential, and their opponent played below their potential.

Line Movement

After the line made, oddsmakers will release the line to the betting public. When the line is released, oddsmakers can adjust the line however they want. Remember, the goal of oddsmakers is to make sure that each team has 50 percent of the money on their side.

If bookmakers release a line and 90 percent of the money is on one team, then oddsmakers will adjust the line to make sure the money is more even.

Let's go back to our Super Bowl LIV example.
  • Kansas City -1.5 (-110)
  • San Francisco +1.5 (-110)

Let's say that 90 percent of the money was coming in on the Chiefs to cover the spread at -1.5 points. What oddsmakers could do is move the line so that the money evens out. Let's say oddsmakers move Kansas City to -2.5 point favorites and San Francisco to +2.5 point underdogs. What this means is Kansas City would have to win by three to cover the spread, and San Francisco would have to stay within two points or win outright to cover.

Looking for Value in Point Spreads

The way a bettor finds value in a point spread is to determine how accurate the line is. Similar to how bookmakers make lines, bettors use the same information to see if the line is correct or not.

There are multiple ways to find value in a line. Some bettors value statistics while some look for situational spots. Bettors who view statistics look at the numbers and calculate whether or not the line is accurate all things being equal. If there are no injuries or no particular situation as to why the line is different than it should be, then bettors will take the value of their numbers compared to the bookmakers.

Also, some bettors look for situational spots to be the spread. For example, a bettor might know that underdogs coming off a big win will have a letdown the following week. A team could play in a sandwich game coming up. A sandwich game is when a team plays a lesser opponent in between two big matchups. Usually, the sandwich game is a time when a team lets up given the situation in their schedule.

There are many ways to find value. Also, it is essential to understand the number oddsmakers are making rather than the teams that are playing. Casual bettors often look at the teams playing and place wagers that way. However, some don't realize they're betting on the team instead of the number oddsmakers released.

Point Spread FAQ

What's the best way to bet for a beginner?

The best way for a novice sports bettor to start is to limit their bets. First, it's easy for someone to bet way too many games at once. The best way to go about sports betting is to bet an amount you're willing to lose. Making money in sports betting is hard. Bettors must limit the size and number of their bets if they want to win longterm. The best way to do that is to handicap games and limit the number of bets.

What does it mean to bet the number and not the team?

Many casual bettors bet on games based on the teams that are playing. However, they don't realize they are betting a number that is strategically made by oddsmakers. The spread is a number and based on odds that a team will cover.

A bettor might look at the Cleveland Browns, a team that has been one of the worst-run franchises since 2000, and say, "I will never bet on the Browns in my life." This is the wrong way to look at it because there might be a game where the Browns have value on the spread. Many bettors would not bet on the Browns if they had even odds playing the defending Super Bowl Champions. What if the Browns were +50 against the defending champs? Would the same bettors not bet the Browns then? Only 14 times in NFL history has a team won a game by 50 or more points, so it would be pretty historical if the Browns didn't cover a spread as +50 undergods.

What's the difference between point spread and moneyline?

The point spread is a way of evening the playing field for a matchup. If the best team in the NFL played the worst, and bookmakers put them at even odds, then bettors would bet the better team every time. However, oddsmakers create a spread to even the matchup. If the best and worst team faceoff, then oddsmakers might set the spread at +14 to get bettors to bet both sides of the game.

The moneyline is different. That is where you can bet the straight-up winner. However, betting the favorite to win every game isn't the most profitable strategy. Bookmakers create moneyline odds where a bettor has to risk more money to bet on the favorite. No bet is a guaranteed winner, so even though the odds might be favorable when betting the bettor team straight up, it always doesn't work out, and the bettor loses much more money.

What is a total?

A total is when a bettor wagers on how many points, or runs, will be scored in a game. Oddsmakers will set a total on a game, and bettors will bet whether the game goes over the total or under the total. If the game goes over the total, then it means more points were scored than what the total was set. If the game goes under the total, then it means fewer points were scored than what the total was set. A push happens when the game ends with the exact amount of points that were scored as the oddsmakers total.

What is handicapping?

Handicapping is where bettors do their homework on a game. Good bettors will look at the line and then sort through important stats and metrics along with injuries and other useful information. Handicapping is a great tool to weed out bad bets and strategically place bets based on the information given. Bettors who handicap games give themselves a better chance of winning the bets they place.

What is a Bankroll?

A bankroll is a certain amount of money set aside for sports wagering. One of the biggest issues novice bettors have is bankroll management or having no bankroll at all. Sports betting is a volatile industry. Bettors have good and bad streaks, and if they aren't careful, they can bet all their money away. Bettors need to keep track of their profits and losses. Usually, bettors place between one to five percent of their bankroll on a game depending on how confident they are. For example, if a bettor is a $10 bettor, then their bankroll should be $1000.

What are Parlay's?

A parlay is when a bettor places multiple bets in hopes of a bigger payout. Typically a parlay can be a series of two to ten bets. A bettor needs all bets to hit in the parlay to win money. Despite having a higher payout, parlays are harder to hit. With sports betting being as tricky as it is, hitting on multiple bets is a tough thing to do. So, this makes parlays incredibly hard to hit consistently, which is why oddsmakers offer them. Despite larger payouts, they know more times than not they will be collecting.