How NFL Point Spreads Betting Works? Structure & More!
We know that sports betting pre-dated the invention of football by a couple of hundred years. But when you think about how perfect football is for sports betting, it’s as if they were created as two halves of the same glorious pastime.
The weekly games give us several days to ponder our wagers. The national television audience gives us all a chance to watch our bets win, or sadly lose in the final seconds on a meaningless field goal. And of course, there are the ornate cathedrals for football that have been built across this great land, so all of the football bettors can gather in prayer together at the goal post alter on Sunday afternoons.
The NFL and sports betting is simply the perfect marriage.
NFL Season Structure
The NFL as a sport and league is built perfectly for sports betting, and so is the way the season is laid out.
Unlike other sports, where odds and point spread may be released less than 24 hours before the game, the NFL season gives us multiple days to debate and dissect the point spread that has been given. And because we have so many days to mull over a bet on a point spread, inevitably the point spread will change, leading to even more debate.
When the spreads are released the Monday before the game, what we know by Sunday’s kickoff may have completely turned on its head. Injuries may have happened midweek. Or players are out because of other reasons. Or players are now healthy and preparing to return. Weather forecasts may have also changed, altering gameplans and expected point totals.
NFL point spreads are a living thing, always subject to change, and always fun to bet.
How NFL Point Spread Betting Works
Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet in the NFL, and also the easiest to understand.
The favorite has to win the game by a certain number of points, and the underdog simply needs to avoid losing by that many points.
Many point spreads will come with a half-point attached, like 3.5. In cases like that, a bet on the favorite is a winning bet if the favorite wins by at least four points. A bet on the underdog wins if they lose by three points or fewer, or they win the game.
This half-point is called a hook, and its presence helps prevent ties on NFL point spread bets. Although ties do still happen on occasion because not all point spreads come with a hook.
How NFL Point Spreads are Set
Many bettors look at a point spread as a predicted outcome by the sportsbook. In reality, it’s just a tool used by the sportsbook to stimulate betting for both sides of the wager. Let’s say the spread is 3.5-points, and 80 percent of the wagers come in on the favorite to cover.
That opens up the sportsbook to a potential big loss if the favorite covers the spread. So the sportsbook will shift the spread to perhaps 4.5-points in an effort to get more action on the underdog. If the sportsbook can create an equal amount of wagering on both sides of the spread, they are covered for any losses and are guaranteed a profit because of the vig they charge.
Vig, short for vigorish, is an old Yiddish word for interest on a loan, as identified by the odds a point spread bet pays. Both sides typically pay -110 on a point spread bet, which means that in order to win $10 you need to bet $11. That extra $1 goes to the book, and is known as vig, also called juice.
It’s the cost of doing business and it can’t be avoided.
Why Point Spreads Change
As explained above, a point spread often changes as a way to stimulate more wagering on a particular side of the wager. The sportsbook wants to cover itself and any losses it might suffer.
But NFL point spreads may also change because of factors that have nothing to do with wagering, like injuries as one example.
Sometimes a spread won’t be released until after we know the status of players who were injured in the previous game. Sometimes players get hurt in practice midweek, and if it’s someone like a quarterback, top cornerback, or another important player, the spread might make a significant shift.
This played out famously during the 2021 season with the game featuring the Packers and Chiefs. On Tuesday morning the Packers were listed as 1-point favorites. Then on Wednesday news broke that Aaron Rodgers would miss the game because he tested positive for COVID-19. The point spread immediately flipped to the Chiefs as 7.5-point favorites.
That’s an extreme example. Usually, the movement is more subtle. But anything can happen in the week leading up to kickoff, and anything can happen to a point spread.
NFL Point Spread Betting Considerations
So we know how NFL point spreads work, how they are created, and why they move. Now it’s time to understand what factors we should consider when placing our point spread bets.
The first thing, and the most obvious thing, is where the game is being played. Who has home-field advantage, and how much is that advantage worth? The conventional wisdom of home-field being worth three points is changing. In truth, it’s worth less than two points, according to the stats, and it’s worth different amounts to different teams.
Lambeau Field in December comes with a greater home-field advantage than a game being played in Jacksonville in October.
Who did each team play last week, where did they play, and on what day did they play? If one team played on Monday, they have fewer days to heal and less practice time to prepare. If a team just took a long flight across the country and is now back on the road, that matters. And if they just played a rival or one of the best teams in the league, perhaps they are set up for a letdown. All of it should be researched and considered.
And obviously, you want to look at the injury reports. Even if it’s not big-time players that are out or limited, a team missing a couple of offensive linemen can have an amplified effect on the way the offense functions. We’re talking about points and half-points making the difference between a winning bet and a losing bet. Small things matter.
NFL Point Spread Betting Tips
You’ve done your research, you know the teams and matchups, and you have final scores in mind. Now it’s time to line shop.
Look around at different sportsbooks before placing your bet. Many of them will have the same line, but some may not. If you were prepared to bet on the favorite with the line at 7.5, you might be able to find a sportsbook that has the spread at 6.5 points.
That’s a much better bet for you, and absolutely worth the time you spent to find it.
Pick a few games and dial in on them. Don’t try to wager on all 14 Sunday games, which spreads your bankroll thin, as well as your knowledge. Find a few games in which to become an expert. You are far better off placing wagers on four games that you really know and like versus 14 games that you kind of know, with some results that are just guesses.
Create a budget and stick to it. And never ever chase a loss by betting a game you weren’t already planning to bet. That leads to even more losses and a bigger hit to your planned budget.
Betting information, and if that information equals the math required for a win. It’s all brains and no heart. Don’t make the mistake of betting on your favorite team because you want them to win. In the same token, never bet against your favorite team’s rival because you want them to lose. Want has nothing to do with the numbers.
Along with never betting with your heart, never bet with alcohol on board. Place your NFL bets first, then open up your Sunday beers while you watch your games.
NFL Point Spread Betting Terms
Sports betting has its own language, and point spread betting has an even more specific list of terms and phrases that are good for you to know.
Against the spread – Results of a game(s) when factoring in the point spread.
Bad beat – Looking like the bet will win, then a last-minute score beats the spread.
Cover the spread – If the favorite wins or the underdog does, they are said to have covered the spread.
Hook – A half-point on the point spread.
Juice – The sportsbook’s commission (also called vig).
Laying the points – Betting on the favorite.
No Action – A game no longer taking bets.
Oddsmaker – The person who sets the point spread.
Pick ‘em – There is no favorite or underdog because the point spread is even.
Push – Neither team covers the point spread and wagers are refunded.
Steam – The line changes because of heavy wagering on one side.
Taking the points – Betting on the underdog.
It’s always good to understand the language that is being spoken so you can quickly and more clearly decipher the available information. Want to learn more about NFL Point Spreads Follow us on Twitter
NFL Point Spreads FAQs
Unlike moneyline bets, which can pay long odds, point spreads are designed to keep the bet as close to an even-money bet as possible, minus the vig to the sportsbook. Because of this, it’s unlikely that you will ever win significantly more than the amount of your wager.
Many point spreads feature a half-point to avoid this scenario. But there are enough whole-point spreads that a tie will eventually happen to you. When this happens, the bet is declared a push, and the amount of your wager is returned to you. In some cases, the sportsbook will keep the amount of the vig, even when the bet ties. But this practice is less common.
A sportsbook’s entire goal with a point spread is to get the betting to be as close to even as possible for both sides of the bet. If too many punters put their money down on one side over the other, the sportsbook is open to taking a loss. If they can disperse the betting to both sides of the wager, they are guaranteed to make money because of the vig.
Where sports betting is legal, point spread betting is legal. And if you are at least 21-years-old and living in a place that gives you access to a legal sportsbook, you are eligible to place NFL point spread bets. Some states do make exceptions for employees of the NFL and anyone else with the ability to influence the outcome of a game.
In the 15 seasons from 2006 to 2021, overall NFL favorites covered the spread just short of 48 percent of the time. Favorites at home covered the spread just 46.25 percent of the time, while favorites on the road covered the spread 51.38 percent of the time.