Beginner's Guide to NFL Betting
American football is quickly becoming a global sport, with semi-pro divisions picking up notoriety in Europe, NFL games now being hosted in the UK and rumours of a potential London-based franchise to be made in the future. This ever-growing fanbase makes the NFL one of the largest sports betting markets in the world - with an estimated 45.2 million Americans alone betting on the NFL this season (according to the American Gaming Association) - up 36% from last year.
It's no surprise the numbers are up, as each of the 32 NFL teams now play in a newly-extended 17-week regular season, followed by a playoff run to the all-important Superbowl. Now with nearly 300 games in a single year, the betting opportunities are seemingly endless. Every wager option you could ask for is available somewhere in the market, from Parlays and Futures, to Spreads and Money-lines, so rest assured there are options for every betting style.
In this guide you'll find a brief description of what the NFL is and how the game is played. As well as a rundown of all the different wagering strategies and types of bet available in the market right now.
American Football is a game that pits two teams against each other, where the aim is to win by scoring the most points. To score, you must get the ball in the opposition’s ‘end zone’ for a 'touchdown' (6 points) or kick it through the upright posts for a 'field goal' conversion (3 points). You also get a further point for kicking a conversion after a touchdown. The two teams in each game will have an offensive squad, defensive squad and various special teams units.
Each time a team takes possession of the ball, they have 4 attempts (downs) to get 10 yards, at which point the attempt counter is reset and they get another 4 downs to do the same again. This continues down the field until they either score a touchdown, field goal or lose possession.
The game is split into 4 quarters, each 15 minutes long. Both sides have 3 timeouts each half, which allows them to stop the game clock for 30 seconds, often to change personnel or play calls, or simply to save time on the clock.
The Point Spread:
Perhaps one of the most common wagering forms you'll see on NFL betting sites is the points spread. This form of betting mostly relates to the margin of victory a team may have in any given game, but it is also used as a market for total points, and also for some futures bets.
A points spread is decided by the oddsmakers, who study every aspect of NFL matchups to provide an opening spread for short and long term markets. For each spread, you will have a favourite and an underdog, even by the smallest of margins. The favourite will always have a 'minus sign' in the spread and the underdog will have a 'plus sign'.
In the example above, New England are playing Miami. The Patriots have -7.5. The minus means the Patriots are favourites to win the game by at least 7.5 points, while the plus for Miami means they are expected to lose by 7.5 points.
With a 'Points Spread' bet you will be wagering whether the scoreline will be above or below what is predicted. For example - if you think the Patriots are going to win by more than 7.5 points, you will buy them at -7.5 and if they win by 8 points or more, you'll win your bet.
Oppositely, if you think the Dolphins will lose by less than 7.5, or even possibly win the game outright, you will want to take Miami at +7.5. This means that if New England win 36-34, your bet wins as they only lost by 2 points.
The O/U, which stands for “Over/Under”, means that the total number of points in the game is predicted to be 47. The same rules apply for betting on the O/U on total points. If you think there will be more than 47 points scored in the game, you will need to take the over. If you think there will be less than 47 points scored, you will need to take the under.
If the final score ends up 37-10 (a total of 47 points) you will receive a 'push', which simply means you get the money you wagered straight back.
You will also see numbers besides the spread like above and they will usually be between 'Even' and '125'. These indicate the odds for the spread bet. The -115 for the Patriots spread, means that you will have to wager $115 to win $100 - so this is 1.5-to-1. The 'Even' simply means that if you wager $100 on the Dolphins, you will win $100 back.
One of the most popular betting strategies is to simply bet on which team will win - represented by money-lines (often abbreviated to ML) which are outright bets on the winner of any given match-up. If you're a straight-forward bettor, this may be your go-to. The odds format tends to be written like below:
Money-line odds can be read like the odds for a spread bet. For example, the -500 for the Patriots is equal to 1-to-5 odds - meaning that if you bet $500 on the Patriots money-line above, you'd win $100. Oppositely, the +425 odds for Miami, mean that if you bet $100, you win $425 - so a 4.25-to-1 odds. Make sure you take notice of the + and - in the odds, as it easily indicates the underdog and the favourite.
Parlay bets are hugely popular among bettors trying to win big. This bet type gives users the ability to roll multiple wagers into one big bet combining them all. The odds are boosted as the probability of every individual bet winning gets lower and lower as more are added. This leaves the bettor with a huge payout for a very small stake, but the odds of every single bet being won are so low that Parlay bets tend to be hard to land.
Let's say you place a parlay bet on 4 separate NFL games:
Patriots at -500 vs Dolphins.
Falcons +4 vs Eagles
Buccaneers -3.5 vs Panthers
Raiders/Broncos Over 52 Total Points
If you bet $100 on a Parlay for all four bets, and the Patriots win, the Falcons lose by 2 points, the Bucs win by 10 and the Raiders/Broncos game finishes with a total 42 points - you would lose the parlay as you only won 3 out of 4 bets. But if the Raider/-Broncos match-up finished 36-28, you would win all four bets and the parlay.
The odds for a straightforward 4-team points-spread parlay is around 13-1 odds, so your $100 would payout $1300. For points-spread parlays, the odds are always around the following:
If you place a money-line parlay, it's likely your odds will be lower than the above, especially if you are betting on the favourites to win. The combined odds will always be shown to you before you place the bet, and will change for each new bet you add or remove to the parlay.
Long before the start of a season, odds for futures bets will be released. These are bets on the long term success of an individual or team for the upcoming season and some of the Some examples of futures you will see are - “Super Bowl Winners”, “AFC Championship Winners”, “MVP title winner”, “Most season rushing yards" and "Over/Under Total Wins for Team X." As you can see, most of these will be money-line futures, but you can also make futures bets on points spreads.
One part of futures are Prop Bets which are bets on a team or individual’s performance, or a specific event, during a game. These are like shorter-term futures that only span one event or game. Here's a few examples of prop bets for a Browns vs Steelers game:
There are countless prop bets available for any given game and you can even bet on the outcome of a coin toss. If you're ever planning to watch your favourite player on a Sunday, be sure to keep an eye on the odds ahead of time and you may just find the perfect prop bet.
Besides all of the above, there are also huge markets for live american football betting - giving bettors an opportunity to win from the constantly changing odds while watching a live NFL game at the same time. Similar bet types are available for live betting - namely outrights/money-lines, parlays and spread bets.