Over/Under Betting Explained

Over/Under Betting Explained

There are three ways to bet on a sporting event that are significantly more popular than any other type of bet. The first is betting against the spread, where you have to decide if a team will win or lose by a certain amount of points. The second is betting on the moneyline, where you are betting on which team will win the game, irrespective of the score. The third, and arguably the simplest, is over/under betting.

Understanding over/under betting, which is also frequently referred to as the “total,” requires predicting whether the score of a game will be higher or lower than the number assigned by oddsmakers. If you are betting on the over/under, which team wins the game is not relevant, only the final score matters. This is popular for several reasons: first, you can watch a game without sweating about which team wins. You can even bet the over/under on a game involving your favorite team without worrying about being a bad fan. Your team can lose the game and you can still win the over-under bet. So, if you love your favorite football team, but think they will struggle to score points in an upcoming game, you can bet on the under, without actually betting against your favorite team.

Another reason people like betting totals is that it can be fun to root for points. Especially for a casual fan. Who doesn’t want more points to be scored? It’s the rare form of betting where you are actually betting on both teams. Everyone can go home a winner if the over hits.

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What is Over/Under Betting?

Let’s use an over/under example from a college basketball game to explain how to bet on over/unders, but the math will apply to other sports like football where you can also bet on the over-under.

The North Carolina Tar Heels are playing the Texas Longhorns in an early season college basketball game. The over-under, or total, is 139.5 points. That means if you bet the over and the final score is 80-70, you would win the bet. If you bet the under and the final score was 80-70, you would lose the bet. In this particular game, you would make the same amount of money betting on the over or the under. The line for both is -110, meaning you would need to bet $110 to earn $100 in profit on the over or under.

However, often the basketball over/under odds feature different payouts for the over and the under. That usually means that more people are betting on one number so the bookmaker is spreading the risk by giving you a better number for the less popular bet. The over/under for Providence versus Alabama is 151.5 points. But, you can bet on the over at -108 or the under at -112. That means you would make slightly more money betting on the over, likely because more bettors are jumping on the Under for this particular game.

What Should Be Considered When Betting the Over/Under?

There are many factors that go into betting an over/under and different sports have wildly different factors that can impact not only the outcomes of games, but also the betting trends. Three key factors to look at are:

  1. Play style of both teams
  2. Travel/fatigue and time between games
  3. Weather

Play Style

Slower-paced teams in college basketball can also dictate their style of play. No matter how quickly their opponent shoots Virginia or Wisconsin will still take their full shot clock, passing the ball around to find the perfect shot. But, unlike Gonzaga, they generally finish around .500 in over/unders because they already play low-scoring games. It’s hard to go significantly below the under, if the under is already an extremely low number like 120 points.

Travel Fatigue

Obviously for basketball games, weather is a non-factor. But, in basketball, far more than football, travel and fatigue can greatly impact the over/under. NBA teams will often play one game in say Orlando, fly overnight to Dallas, and play the next night in Dallas. Teams playing in back-to-back games are clearly more likely to be sluggish, but if both teams have just played, and especially if they’ve also traveled the night before, you might want to consider betting the under.

In college basketball, which rarely has back-to-back games, fatigue is slightly less of a factor but matchup style can greatly impact an over/under. For instance, Gonzaga is a team that plays an extremely fast-paced style of basketball but plays in a league, the WCC, with a more moderate tempo. But, when teams play Gonzaga they are forced to play their style of ball, which leads to games that fly past the over. To wit, Gonzaga was an incredible 27-6 in 2019-20 on over/unders.

For NFL betting, it is important to check which teams are playing on a short week and may have less rest. Teams who played on Monday night and then play the following Sunday have one less day of rest. Thursday Night Football is really tough to predict because teams are usually coming off of only three rest days, but then the following week they have three extra days of rest.

The Weather

In the NFL weather is a massive concern for many games. An expected snowstorm can bring an over/under total down by a huge number of points and while you don’t need to become a weatherman to bet on the NFL or college football, you should be cognizant of the weather situation, particularly for cold weather teams later in the season.

Betting on the weather does not necessarily mean simply betting on the under, because there is snow on the field. Certain teams and quarterbacks have had excellent history playing in foul weather games.

The most famous bad weather betting game of this century was when a snowstorm in New England brought the total down from the 40’s all the way to 37.5 and everyone was still betting the under. But, while the Titans were lost in the snow, unable to complete a pass, Tom Brady thrived in the snow and the Patriots delivered one of the greatest beatings in NFL history, winning 59-0, single handedly covering the over by three touchdowns.

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How is over/under payout calculated?

Just like betting on the spread or the moneyline winner, there are multiple ways that are commonly used to calculate over/under betting odds, but while they might look vastly different, they are all arriving at the same payout ultimately.

Moneyline odds, also known as American odds, are numbers that are at least three digits long and have a plus or minus symbol in front of them. They are numbers that look like -200 or +750. American odds are always based on a bet of $100, regardless of whether you are betting one dollar on an over/under or one thousand dollars. So, using the previously mentioned Texas-North Carolina game’s over/under as an example, if you bet $100 on the over (or under, because as we explained, both payouts are the same for this game) you are risking $110 to win $100 in profit because the odds are -110.

It is worth noting a few differences between betting the over/unders on different sports. Firstly, it goes without saying that the over-unders in NBA games are significantly higher than college basketball. While the NBA game features 48 minutes to NCAAB’s 40 minutes, a typical NBA over/under these days can be 225.5 points, while a college basketball over/under might be 145.5 points. A typical NFL over/under is 47.5 points. A lower scoring sport like football will sometimes have more variance on the payout between the over and under. While the over-under numbers for a college basketball game will generally both be close to -110, it is not unusual to see a college game having an over at -104 and an under at -122 for the same number, meaning substantially more people are betting the under.


What does push mean?

A push is when your bet ties. If an over/under on a college football game is 58 points and the final score is 30-28, meaning the total is 58, you have pushed. If a game pushes, you will be refunded all of your money. To avoid pushing, most over/under totals are half numbers like 58.5 points.

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Time to place your bet

When you are making your over/under bets, you should keep in mind some of these key principles outlined here. Remember that is there an obvious factor, like a team playing their third game in four nights, or a snowy football field, the over/under has already taken that into account. The trick is to zig when others zag. Perhaps you see a report that a predicted rainfall is expected to miss an NFL game, where the number has been adjusted lower. That’s when you should use the weather to your advantage when betting on over/unders.

Remember that betting NFL over/unders is much different than NBA totals. Being a much lower scoring sport means every point is precious in football. One player missing from an NFL game, particularly a good quarterback, can bring a number down significantly. So, do your research and place your over/under bets using whatever betting strategy you decide is best.

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