Say the Bears are a six-point favorite over the Lions and the total is 42. To bet the Bears, you must "lay the points," meaning they must win by seven or more to cover and give you the win. Betting the underdog Lions, you are "taking" six points, and they can lose by five or fewer, or win the game outright, and you have a winning bet. If the Bears win by exactly six, both sides "push" and all bets are returned. It's also a push if the final score equals 42, otherwise the over or under will win.
NFL Football is arguably the most popular sport to bet on in America today. For instance, the Super Bowl is not only the most watched but also the most heavily bet upon sporting event each and every year. So, due to its increasing popularity and the fact that an NFL wager can be placed on the internet by anyone over the age of 18, we felt it necessary to offer a crash course into the NFL point spread for our novice gamblers.
Let’s start with the basics: what do sports bettors mean when they talk about a ‘line?’ The word line, in the language of a sportsbook, can refer to either the odds and/or a point spread in any sports contest. Let’s take a look at an imaginary line the way you’d read it off the board sitting in a Vegas sports betting lounge or on the screen at your online book. Let’s imagine a game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys. Your book’s NFL betting line might look something like this:
Hello! I'm Stephen and am the creator of Fast Break Bets. I'm a young Chicagoan with a huge passion for sports betting and analytics. My interest in betting started back in 2011, and I have been studying models and strategies ever since. Fast Break Bets launched in 2015 to primarily help others become a successful sports bettor and share my models' projections. So browse around, follow @FastBreakBets on Twitter, and feel free to ask me a question!
The concept of betting on totals, or Over/Under (O/U), is quite simplistic. The bettor wagers on whether the TOTAL points scored in a game will fall over or under a pre-determined number set by the sportsbook. Much like the point spread, game totals can be swayed by public opinion. The example below, from the SI Archive, shows the opening totals line for Superbowl XLV:
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Marc grew up on the mean streets of the South Bronx. He's the rare combination of Yankees and Jets fan which explains his often contrarian point of view. He learned about gambling at a young age working down the street from a bookie who took action on anything from the mainstream sports to the last three digits of the purse for certain horse races. Yeah, that's a thing. Today Marc is a freelance writer and social media consultant which allows him to work anywhere there's a wifi signal. This allows him to work from the sportsbook at Red Rock Resort or the food court at The Venetian where you’ll find fast and free wifi. Writing about steak, booze, gambling and Las Vegas is a tough job but somebody has to do it.
Often big games will have "proposition" bets on things not directly related to the final score of the game. These are usually abbreviated to "prop" bets. For example, in football whether or not the first score will be a touchdown. In baseball whether a run will be scored in the first inning. In hockey/soccer, whether anybody will score a hat trick. The odds on these are expressed like point spread bets. For example, as I write this the Golden Nugget has the following proposition bet on Super Bowl 49:
As the numbers grow larger each way – the small numbers get smaller or the positive numbers get larger – that indicates that those options are bigger and bigger favorites, or bigger underdogs. That’s particularly relevant when you’re looking at something like the odds to win the Super Bowl. The teams with smaller numbers are deemed as having a better chance of winning and then as the numbers grow larger, those teams are deemed bigger and bigger longshots.

Oddsmakers do more than pick the winners and losers of each game. They weigh myriad factors to determine which team is favored by how many points. They set an early point spread on each game, then adjust it up or down based on betting patterns. If the Dallas Cowboys are 6-point favorites over the New York Giants, they must win by seven or more points to pay off winning bets. If you wagered on the Giants, you win your bet if New York either beats Dallas outright or loses by five points or fewer.
These are just a very small selection of some props. Many bookmakers offer dozens of different options, particularly on high profile matches. Props are generally considered a fun type of bet rather than a way to make money, but it is possible to make consistent profits from them. We explain more about props on the following page, where we also offer some strategy advice.
There’s only one DFS style game in Las Vegas casinos today. US Fantasy Sports can be found in about 14 casinos and it continues to grow. In this type of football betting, you wager on which player will rank 1st, 2nd or 3rd from a pool of players in specific positions. The wagering style is similar to horse racing where you can wager on win, place, and show. You can also make exacta and trifecta wagers. There’s also an option to place a $1 wager and pick winners from all pools to win $1,000,000.
Because the spread is intended to create an equal number of wagers on either side, the implied probability is 50% for both sides of the wager. To profit, the bookmaker must pay one side (or both sides) less than this notional amount. In practice, spreads may be perceived as slightly favoring one side, and bookmakers often revise their odds to manage their event risk.
Obviously, the first three letters on the top two lines of the three-line package of symbols represents a team in the game you’re wagering on; NYG stands for the New York Giants, while DAL stands for the Dallas Cowboys. The number next to each team’s name is known as the spread or the point spread. Wagers on the point spread are among the most popular sports wagers in the world. The reason this wager is popular is that it doesn’t matter which team wins or loses; what matters is the amount of points the teams score, and whether or not the team you place your money on beats the difference in points (the ‘spread’) or not.

This arrangement tells us a lot: which team is home (listed on bottom, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), which team is the underdog (listed with a plus sign next to their name, in this case the New England Patriots), we know which team is the favorite (listed with a minus sign next to their name, in this case the Seattle Seahawks), and we know the point spread (2.5 points).
Proposition bets are wagers made on a very specific outcome of a match not related to the final score, usually of a statistical nature. Examples include predicting the number of goals a star player scores in an association football match, betting whether a player will run for a certain number of yards in an American football game, or wagering that a baseball player on one team will accumulate more hits than another player on the opposing team.
All individuals are banned from advertising or promoting any football betting activity in which FA regulations prohibit them from engaging. This, however, only applies to individuals in their personal capacities. For example, if a club is sponsored by a betting company and said company places its logo on the club's kit, the team's players are not in violation of the betting rules.
Like many high scoring sports, NFL wagering is dictated by the point spread. The spread, or line, is a type of side bet that equalizes the chance of winning a wager. The line offered for any given team will be accompanied with a – or + symbol to indicate whether a team is a favorite or an underdog. The example below displays the spread from the Sports Insights archives at the time of kickoff:
How the point spread works - When two teams meet on the playing field or on the basketball court, one team is typically better than the other or in a more favorable position because of factors like playing at home. If all you had to do were pick the winning team in a game, everybody would simply wager on the best team or the home team in a even matchup and bypass all the lines and collect their winnings at a high rate.
Also known as NFL OVER/UNDER betting, the total is the number set by sportsbooks that estimates the total number of points scored by both teams combined. Bettors then must predict whether there will be more or fewer points than the NFL “total.” If you bet the 37.5 UNDER, you are hoping for a defensive battle and predicting the offenses to struggle. If you bet the 37.5 OVER, you are hoping this will be a high-scoring game.
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