The NFL is king when it comes to sports betting in the US. As more and more states legalize sports betting and launch online sportsbooks, it’s never been easier to bet on football. Sports betting might seem confusing beginners who have never heard of a moneyline or a prop, and may not even know how to read odds. This NFL betting guide will serve as a beginner’s roadmap but also contain helpful tips and information for even experienced bettors.
NFL Betting Basics
Regardless of your sports betting skill level, this guide will lay out the essentials of betting on the NFL. Here you’ll find information related to how to read and interpret odds, bet types, and important pieces of information specific to betting on the NFL.
What to Research Before Placing a Bet
Stats and advanced metrics. Before betting your hard-earned money you should be informed about both teams you are betting on. It’s important to become familiar with statistics and even advanced metrics and learn how to use them to compare different teams. Important stats include: yardage (yards per play and defensive yards allowed), turnover margin, time of possession, and 1st/2nd down success rates.
The injury report. Injuries play a big role in how the odds of any game look. If Patrick Mahomes is questionable and not practicing, the spread, moneyline, and total of the Chiefs game that week will fluctuate with every bit of news released on his status. Unless you know something oddsmakers don’t know, best not to make your bet until that issue is settled. Of course, you could make a guess and take advantage of the odds as well.
Betting trends. It’s also beneficial to research how a team or player is performing with respect to gambling. How often do they cover the spread? has the over or under been hitting in their last few games?
Weather. Unlike most US sports, weather plays a big factor in NFL games. If it’s pouring rain or snow, the total is going to come way down. If it’s -5 degrees at home in Buffalo, the Bills are going to be heavier favorites, and the total will also come down. Once we get into December football, weather becomes a big component of your betting strategy.
Many people swear by betting “openers”. An opener is the initial line set by the oddsmakers. In the NFL, that’s usually Sunday night for the upcoming week’s games. The theory is that the people who make the lines are operating in a vacuum when they set their lines. They haven’t had time to compare their lines with the rest of the betting market. If one sports book sets an Eagles-Cowboys line at Eagles -3 and every other book is at Eagles -3.5, the book will likely quickly change to the -3.5 number. When you get your bets in early, you can sometimes buy yourself an extra point or so by taking action before the market reacts.
Favorites vs. Underdogs
Who the underdog is, is sometimes not as important as why they’re the underdog. Is a team missing a key position player such as the quarterback? Or even a starting player? Is this a divisional matchup where one team owns the other? Has a certain team struggled in consecutive weeks? One thing that you should know is that if a factor is obvious to you, it’s probably already baked into the point spread. If you think you’re getting great value because a certain team has had 10 days rest and their opponents only six, you should know that element is already considered by the people who make the lines.
Home Teams vs. Away Teams
As time goes on, home teams in all sports, including the NFL, seem to have less of an advantage than they did decades ago. Home teams peaked by winning about 60% of their games decades ago, and that number keeps slipping closer to 50%. Certain teams however, do maintain a better than average home field advantage. For example, Seattle famously has raucous fans, Denver plays at a higher altitude, and teams in cold parts of the country (such as Green Bay, New England, and Buffalo) are accustomed to playing in cold temperatures and snow. Also, pay attention to West coast teams flying across the country to play 1 PM eastern games, and how teams generally fare in prime time appearances.
It’s important to look at a team’s schedule when you are considering betting on then. Not all records are created equally. Perhaps the 4-0 team you want to bet on beat four losing teams, while their 1-3 opponent lost to three playoff teams. A close loss to a great team might be a better result than a win over a terrible team, so analyzing each team’s wins and losses is essential.
The Impact of Weather
Every season you read a story about some star NFL quarterback who grew up in Florida or Texas and played collegiately in the SEC and is now dreading playing in a snowstorm because they’ve never played a snow game in their life. Make sure you check the weather of all NFL games you are considering wagering on. It becomes particularly important when the calendar turns to November and December. Weather does not just impact winners and losers. A projected snowstorm or torrential downpour can bring an NFL over/under down by many points.
Analyzing the Injury Report
It’s important to know how to read the NFL injury report. Some teams list every player with a minor ailment on their report, but if a player is practicing in spite of his injury, he is almost certainly playing on Sunday. If a player is limited in practice, his status is up in the air and you might want to wait until later in the week to gauge their status, if they are a QB or a player important enough to affect your bet. Questionable means 50-50 chance of playing, A designation of Out means they aren’t playing and players who are Doubtful virtually never play. There are tons of “football docs” on Twitter you can follow to gain insight on a player’s chance to play and how compromised he might be.
The Difference Between Preseason, Regular Season, and the Playoffs
One of the strange truisms of NFL betting is that you can, in theory, bet just as much money on a meaningless preseason game than you bet on the Super Bowl. For the preseason, if you insist on betting on a game, it’s crucial to know which team is taking the game more seriously, and who is more likely to play their starters longer. For the playoffs, it’s important to analyze what happened in the regular season critically. Sure, Team A swept Team B in the regular season, but are they missing several key players in their postseason rematch?
Types of NFL Bets
Before you start placing bets on the NFL, it’s important to know the difference between the various types of bets you can place on NFL games. For instance, do you know how a prop bet and a futures bet differ? Here are the six main types of bets you can place on NFL games:
How to Bet the Spread in the NFL
The most popular type of NFL wager is betting against the spread. The spread, or line, for each NFL game is determined by an oddsmaker. For instance, you might hear someone say that the Green Bay Packers are 3 point favorites over the Minnesota Vikings. The line will often be stylized as Packers -3, or Vikings +3. The minus (-) symbol indicates the favorite, the plus (+) symbol refers to the underdog.
That means that if you want to make a bet against the spread on the Packers, you are betting that they will win the game by 3 or more points. If they win the game, but by less than 3 points, you would lose the bet. If the Packers end up winning by exactly three points, that is called a push and you would get your money back.
What the oddsmakers are essentially calculating is that the Packers are 3 points better than the Vikings. Generally, but not always, a bet on the favorite or the underdog in a spread bet will yield an identical return. So, if both teams have -110 odds, a $110 bet on either team would mean you would get $100 in profit if your bet wins.
If you want to bet on an NFL game, but don’t want to bet on the spread, another option is betting the moneyline. If you make a moneyline bet, you are only wagering on which team will win the game, the final score and margin are irrelevant.
For example, instead of the Green Bay Packers being 3 point favorites over the Minnesota Vikings, the Packers could be -160 favorites, while the Vikings are +140 underdogs. What that means is if you wanted to bet on the Packers, you would be risking $160 for every $100 you are trying to win. (Note that $100 is just the traditional round number used in moneyline bets, you can make bets for much less than $100 if you desire.)
Essentially, because the Packers are favored to win the game, you would not even double your investment were the Packers to win. With the Vikings however, the +140 line indicates that for every $100 you wager, you would stand to win $140 in profit. One of the benefits of betting on the moneyline is that if there is a large underdog, using the spread you would only stand to make a slightly less than 100% profit if you bet correctly on that team. However, betting on the moneyline, your profit can easily be 300 or 400 percent, if the team is a large enough underdog.
Prop bets are arguably the fastest growing form of NFL wagers. A prop, or proposition, bet is when you wager on things that will happen in and around a game, unrelated to who will win the game.
Examples of prop bets are:
Kirk Cousins to throw for more than 250 yards
Aaron Jones to run for more than 75 yards
The Packers defense to have more or less than 3.5 sacks
Which team will punt first in a given game?
Who will throw an interception first: Aaron Rodgers or Kirk Cousins?
Which player will have the most receiving yards in the Packers-Vikings game?
Here’s how the above prop bet would work: If you wager $100 on Minnesota’s Adam Thielen to have the most receiving yards at +250 odds and he does, you would win $250 in profit, so $350 in total.
Prop bets are most popular when it comes to the Super Bowl. Some famous examples of Super Bowl prop bets include betting on how long the national anthem will last or even betting on which team will win the coin toss.
One of the most famous forms of NFL wagers is over/under betting. Betting on the over/under of a game, also commonly referred to as a total, involves simply predicting how many total points will be scored in a given game. So, if the over/under for a Tennessee Titans versus Indianapolis Colts game is 45.5 points, you would bet the over if you think 46 or more points will be scored, or the under if you think 45 or fewer points will be scored in the game.
When you bet an over, the odds for most NFL games are -110, meaning you would be betting $110 for every $100 in profit that you are trying to win. There are definitely odds higher or lower than -110, but they usually won’t move significantly in either direction. The odds for both the over and the under are usually the same.
So, for our theoretical Titans-Colts game, you would be betting on -110 odds for each the over or the under, but occasionally you will see two teams have different odds for opposite ends of the same total. For example, if many people bet the over of 45.5 points, that sportsbook might move the over odds to -112 and the under odds to -108, to try to encourage more people to bet the under.
Parlay bets are one of the more complicated forms of NFL wagering, but once you learn how they work they can also be a very lucrative type of betting.
A parlay is a bet that combines two or more bets into one bet. You can combine two separate bets into one parlay bet, or even ten separate bets, there is no limit. Note, in a parlay you need to win EVERY game in the wager for the bet to be successful. So if you bet a ten game parlay and go 9-1, you win nothing.
Suppose you wanted to bet on the Green Bay Packers to beat the Minnesota Vikings as -140 favorites AND the Indianapolis Colts to beat the Tennessee Titans as -125 favorites. Instead of betting on both games separately, if you parlay them and place the bet together you would stand to win more money if both bets win. If you made separate $50 bets you would gross $175.71 if both bets won. If you parlayed the two games, you would stand to gross $208.57 if both ends of the parlay were winners.
A futures bet is a wager on any game or event that will take place in the future. The most popular form of NFL futures bet is betting on the Super Bowl winner. If you wanted to, you could place a futures bet in April on any of the 32 NFL teams to win the next Super Bowl or their respective division, or even place a bet on who will be the upcoming NFL MVP or Coach of the Year.
If the Denver Broncos have +6000 odds to win the next Super Bowl, that means that for every dollar you wager, you would stand to win sixty dollars if the Broncos did win the next Super Bowl. Generally, the favorite in Super Bowl futures betting would have a line of about +500 while the team least likely to win the Super Bowl would have odds of +10000 or higher.
One of the reasons futures betting has become so popular is that the chances for winning huge amounts exist. If you bet on the moneyline of a standard NFL game, even the biggest underdog will only return about four dollars for every dollar you wager. In futures betting, the favorite will often return greater odds than that!
The most common type of NFL wager is betting against the spread. Other popular forms of NFL betting include over/unders, moneyline bets, parlays, prop bets and futures bets.
Many people like betting the spread when it is posted on Sunday night or Monday morning for the following week. The most popular time to place a bet is the Sunday morning of a game.
Betting on the NFL is currently legal in 25 U.S. states. You can check here for the complete list. Five more states have already legalized NFL betting with 14 more U.S. states on the way to legalizing betting on the NFL.
While it can be difficult to predict the top teams at the beginning of the season, the best strategy is to try and rank the top 14 teams in the league (excluding the undisputed league favorite) and then bet on those teams when they are underdogs.
Playoff betting can be tricky because good teams can be underdogs in every game, so a bet to cover the spread can be a safe(r) pick. If you’re not keen on the spread, look into some player prop bets, especially if you’ve been following teams all season.
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