The king of North American sports is also the top choice for many Canadians who love betting on sports. With a short and exciting regular season, lots of parity (minus, of course, the consistency of the New England Patriots) and plenty of time between games (to study trends and data), just about everyone loves betting on the National Football League. On an average National Football League game, bettors could find over 100 betting options available.
NFL Betting Options
The most popular choices are point spreads, moneylines and game totals. Game, player and team props make up the bulk of the remaining betting options. People who bet on the NFL can also bet teasers, parlays, futures and specialty props on the Super Bowl.
Betting Against the Spread on NFL Games
The most popular bet on NFL games is betting against the point spread. The goal of the point spread is to make both teams balanced and each side of the wager an attractive betting option.
Point spreads on NFL games have a relatively wide range (although not as wide as NCAA football). Most spreads are somewhere between 2 and 7.5 points. It is common to see a few double-digit point spreads, but anything over 15.0 points is relatively rare.
*The largest point spread in NFL was 28.0 points (Denver Broncos over the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2013), while the San Francisco 49ers were 19.0-point favourites over the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX (largest point spread in the history of the NFL Playoffs).
There is also a chance there is no point spread. When this happens, the game is a “Pick’em” meaning the only option is betting the winner on the moneyline. Super Bowl XLIX between Seattle and New England was a “Pick’em” game on many online sportsbooks.
Point Spread Example
Here is an example of a regular season NFL game point spread.
Many factors determine the point spread. One major factor is what team has home field advantage. Generally, being the home team gives the team a 3.0-point bump on the spread. In the example above, the sportsbook perceives the Dallas Cowboys and Carolina Panthers as relatively even opponents if they played on a neutral field.
If you bet on Carolina, the Panthers need to win the game by three points to cover the spread. If they lose or win by less than three points, then the Dallas Cowboys cover the spread. When point spreads are this close, some bettors prefer moneylines (more on that later), especially on the underdog. However, even in close spread scenarios, point spreads are the most popular betting option on National Football League games.
Point Spread Betting Tips
Here are a couple of additional tips when you bet on point spreads.
Avoid Huge Point Spreads
Bettors are usually better off betting on a smaller point spread. Any spread over 14.0 points is a risky bet due to the potential for teams covering the spread with late (garage time) scores.
If a team is up by 20 points with a few minutes left, it is almost a guarantee they will win the game, even if they allow a touchdown to the opposing team. Therefore, their approach on defence is different. Their primary goal is to stop teams from scoring on big plays.
The plan allows the losing team to pick up easy first downs and drive the ball down the field. They could score a late touchdown, but because the drive took five minutes or more, it is almost impossible for them to score twice more to win the game. Of course, the underdog now covers the spread and anyone who bet on the favourite loses.
Watch for Line Movement
The opening point spread on a game (late Sunday night or early Monday morning) is likely not the same point spread bettors see on Saturday night or Sunday morning. As there is such a long time between NFL games (compared to the other major North American sports league), lines have the most time to adjust and readjust.
If you like an opening line, betting early on it is the route to take. There is a good chance other bettors like the same line as you, meaning as the public places early bets, the line will adjust and point spread will move out of your favour.
If you do not like an opening line, patience is vital. NFL sportsbooks move their line the most when the game is about an hour away. This is done to encourage last-minute bettors to bet heavy against the public. There is line movement throughout the week, and monitoring lines is the best way to get a point spread you are comfortable betting.
Betting Moneylines on NFL Games
Wagering on NFL moneylines simply means picking the winner of the game. In close games, the moneyline is an excellent betting option. However, in games with larger spreads, betting on the moneyline favourite nets a much smaller return.
The Saints are a big favourite entering their game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. However, a $100 wager on the Saints to win outright returns just $21.98. If you are confident the Buccaneers can pull off an upset, you net a very sizeable return ($345 in winnings on a $100 wager).
Additional Information on NFL Moneylines
Here are a few quick facts on NFL moneylines before we continue to other types of betting options available on the National Football League.
Moneylines Often Open After Point Spreads
While point spreads pop up very early in the week, moneylines tend to take a little longer to open on most NFL sportsbooks. Bigger upsets occur in the NFL than other leagues, meaning some sportsbook wait a little longer to avoid paying out large amounts on big underdog winners.
Sometimes Moneylines are not Available on a Game
Sometimes an online sportsbook will not open a moneyline for betting. If the point spread is very small or exceeds a certain amount, (especially point spreads over 15.0), then the online sportsbook may not offer a moneyline at all.
Betting Game Totals on NFL Games
The last of the three main betting options on NFL games are game totals. Totals are great if you are not sure what team is better or if one side can cover the spread. Most game totals range between 42.0 and 47.0. Rarely is a game total lower than 38.0 or higher than 51.0.
NFL Game Total Betting Example
Below is an example of a standard game total on an NFL game.
Sportsbooks determine game totals through a few different factors. The quality of each team’s offence and defence, weather conditions and recent history between the teams. This game is in Week 1 of the NFL season, meaning it is difficult to gauge the offence and defence of each team.
However, looking back at the recent history between the clubs can help bettors. Over the last four games between these two opponents, two games ended with over 46.0 and two ended under.
Despite the split, betting the under on moderate to high game totals (anything over 45.0) early in the season is a smart strategy. Changes to training camp rules seem to slow players down early in the season. In 2017, if the line on every game opened at 46.0, five would have gone over and ten under (one game was postponed due to bad weather).
Tips for Betting NFL Game Totals
Betting on the under early in the NFL season is not the only strategy for success when betting on game totals. Here are some more tips to help you place better wagers on NFL game totals.
Half and Full Point Totals
Like point spreads, game totals end in either a .0 or a .5. Betting on totals ending in .0 means a push is possible. A push is not bad for bettors. In fact, the possibility of one is somewhat of a bonus. Consider the example avoid. If the line was 45.5 instead of 46.0, you either win or lose your wager. If the Colts take a late touchdown to take a 25-20 lead, then the extra point after the toucdhwon is either make or break for your wager. However, a 46.0 game total means if the Colts make the extra point and win the game, you get a refund on your bet.
Avoid the Temptation of the Over
Sports bettors have a tendency to bet on the over more than the under. While the over can be the better option sometimes, most bettors bet the over because it makes the game more entertaining. You cannot lose an over bet in the middle of the third quarter. You may also stay tuned into a 35-7 game because a late touchdown from the losing team wins you your bet.
To have success betting totals, you need to bet on some unders. There are games every week that end with 20 or 30 points total. If you look for the right factors (changes at quarterbacks, lousy weather, Division opponents), you will find some great game totals to wager the under.
Betting Player, Team and Game Props on NFL Games
The rest of the bets available on an NFL game fit into the player prop, team prop or game prop category. While not as popular as point spreads, game totals or moneylines, sometimes the best value on a game is on one of these types of bets.
Player props involve betting on a player’s game total or on whether or not a player will accomplish a specific feat (intercept a pass or score a touchdown). Player props open later than most other betting options. There is always a chance there is no action on a player prop, so sportsbooks often wait until the final injury report to release these lines.
When betting on player props, considering a player’s recent success and their opponent is a must. It is also smarter to focus on player totals. Betting whether a player scores a touchdown is much riskier than betting if they will finish with over or under a certain amount of yardage.
A player who scored ten touchdowns last season could have easily had ten games without a touchdown. However, a player with over 1000 (rushing or receiving) yards in a season, likely did so with more consistency.
Team props involve betting on whether a team will accomplish something or on a team’s game totals. Popular team props include over/under totals at half-time and how the team will score their first points (touchdown, field goal, safety or no points).
Game props fit every other betting option available. This includes alternative point spreads and alternative totals. Game props offer the largest selection of bets on every NFL game. In addition, many game props offer higher payouts on correct wagers.
For example, betting the first half winning margin offers good odds on every option. Bettors can choose any three options from the list and still make a profit if they are correct (as long as the total bet is less than the lowest return on a winning bet). As there are so many game props, lines on these types of bet move less than point spreads and moneylines.
NFL Parlays (betting multiple NFL games at once) is a popular option during the NFL season. There are many ways to approach parlays. Parlaying the best point spreads and totals is one way to bet parlays. Parlaying a few heavy favourites, which helps bettors get better odds is another option. However, the real profit from parlays comes from picking the best underdogs of the week.
If you find some small underdogs, parlaying just two greatly increases your potential winnings. Two +160 underdogs on the moneyline, changes the odds to +576. Parlaying a $10 on the two underdogs to win nets you $57.60 in cash.
Sharp sports bettors do not recommend parlaying NFL games. However, more casual bettors who bet smaller amounts enjoy parlays. Needing just two small underdogs to win always seems possible on NFL games and the chance to win over five times your wager makes betting both on the same card worth the additional risk.
For bettors who like NFL point spreads, but want some extra points on their spreads, NFL teasers are a popular option. Most online sportsbooks offer 6.0, 6.5, 7.0 and 10.5 super teasers on NFL games. Teasers move point spreads on teams. For example, a 7.0 teaser on a 5.5-point favourite, makes the team a 1.5-point underdog.
When you bet on teasers, you need to parlay at least two games. Most bettors who like teasers, tease three lines on the weekend. You can tease underdogs and favourites on the same betting card. However, the amount of the tease is the same on every game.
Betting on NFL Futures
For the bettor with long-term aspirations, NFL Futures are a great betting option. NFL Futures are available on what team will win the Super Bowl, what team will represent their Conference in the Super Bowl, Division Winners and win totals during the regular season.
While the odds and payout are the largest on Super Bowl and Conference winners, the smart money on NFL futures is on regular season wins. Most online sportsbooks keep regular season win totals constant and only shade lines.
If you are able to jump on win totals early, you can get the best odds on your futures. Otherwise, you can wait and bet against the public for a chance to win more.
The majority of public bettors favour betting on the over. As you can see above, betting under on regular season wins pays out more. The amount the lines move is based on the action on each side. If you want to bet an over, bet early. If you like the under total, waiting until closer to the start of the season is a better strategy.
Bonus: Super Bowl Sunday Specials
The Super Bowl is the most bet event in North American every year. One of the reasons why so many wagers are made on the Super Bowl every year is due to the specialty props offered by online sportsbooks. Online sportsbooks offer props on the half-time show, the colour of Gatorade, and even how many chicken wings are consumed on Super Bowl Sunday.