Games televised by the National Football League are the most-watched sporting events in North America – live in team stadiums and on television screens and streaming internet connections. In 2012, the last time such an audit was made, average attendance at live games was 67,604. That’s enough to make NFL contests the most-watched live sport in the entire world.
Betting on NFL Games
The National Football League is an ideal market for sports bettors of all experience levels, from novice to professional.
For beginning punters, the week of research time available between games is a great opportunity to ease into the kind of legwork required to become a smart sports gambler. For experienced sportsbook customers, the large fan base of the league (and the large number of people laying bets on specific games like the Super Bowl) means opportunities to take advantage of point spreads skewed by popular opinion.
As the Picks.org football wagering experts, we take real pride in our discussions of professional football wagering strategy. Our site provides a variety of assistance to both casual and more aggressive bettors, including weekly NFL picks, statistical analyses, and season-long predictions, all completely free. We do our research for our own sports wagering hobbies – what we share with our readers is the same information we use to handicap NFL contests.
The Basics of NFL Wagering
Sports betting can be complex in terms of the number of wagers available to you whether you walk into a Vegas sportsbook or access a book on the Internet. Newcomers to National Football League bets should stick to the basic bets (point spreads, money lines, and game totals, as described below) rather than venture into the more exotic bets without enough experience.
Exotic wagers on sports (including football exotics) are like their counterparts in casino table games – low-return wagers that promise big returns and easy money but require a professional level of insight and more than a bettor’s fair share of luck.
Point Spread Bets
Understanding the point spread is the first step in learning to wager on sports. A point spread is a number that indicates which team a particular sportsbook favors. This is also known as “the line,” as in “What’s the line on the Cowboys and Bears tonight?”
Betting on the point spread means laying a wager on which team will win. If your book lists the Dallas Cowboys -3 at the Chicago Bears, you’re betting that the Cowboys will beat Chicago by three points or more. Alternatively, a punter could wager on the Bears as a three-point underdog.
The trick to reading the line, as it is traditionally printed, is to remember that the +/- sign indicates the minimum number of points the book determines a team will win or lose by. That means a bet on “New England +8” means victory if the Patriots win outright or lose by fewer than 8 points.
Money Line Wagers
A money line is a different type of bet based on a different format used by a book to display odds. An example of an NFL money line would be:
Houston Texans +120
Indianapolis Colts -130
The number next to the team’s name tells bettors two vital pieces of information in a single glance. The +/- symbol here indicates the book’s favorite in a manner opposite to point spreads. That means Houston is the underdog in our example.
The number next to a team’s symbol refers to an amount of money that makes up part of the wager. For the favorite, it represents how much a punter has to bet to win $100. Bets on the underdog show how much a bettor will earn in a winning payout if they place a $100 wager. Using a base-100 number system makes it easy for the house and the gamblers to scale their unit bet sizes up and down.
To place a money line bet, a gambler could risk $130 on the Colts (the favorite) to pocket a $100 bill, or invest just $100 on the underdog Texans for a potential payout of $120. Simple as that…gotta love it, right?
The money line is not commonly used in football, at least not as commonly as the point spread system. Customers at sportsbooks will see money lines more often in sports where a point spread doesn’t make sense – think boxing, tennis, auto racing, and soccer. It is possible to place NFL money line bets, it just isn’t as easy to find books offering them on a wide variety of weekly contests.
** Quick tip for beginners – if you do find NFL money line propositions available, remember that the difference between the numbers in a given money line is likely to grow when popular opinion shifts to a favorite or away from an underdog. Betting on a contest with an almost-guaranteed winner makes more sense when the wager is placed early, before action on the favorite increases.
The reverse is true for bets on underdogs that research shows could pull an upset. Waiting to place a wager until the last minute could increase a gambler’s payout if their research and intuition pays off.
Game Total (Over/Under) Betting
Game Total Betting, also called “over/under”, means laying a bet on a total number of points set by an oddsmaker. Punters can choose to bet “over,” meaning they think the points total will be higher than the books’ prediction, or the “under,” meaning the opposite. Game Total odds at sportsbooks look something like this:
Washington/Dallas – O/U 30.5
An “over” bet pays out if the two teams combine for 31 points or more. An “under” bet wins if the totals add up to 30 or less.
Exotic Wagers & the NFL
Many gamblers think of these as “sucker bets,” and it’s certainly true that some of them come with very long odds. They’re appealing because of potentially big payouts, but unless a gambler is an expert in the games being wagered on, they can be dangerous to bankrolls.
An example would be the classic multi-team parlay, a wager on the outcome of several games in a single day. Bettors who pick the right outcome of different numbers of games receive exponentially larger payouts. These are high risk/reward bets.
Other examples are NFL proposition or “prop bets.” These can be on anything from which side wins the coin toss to which team will get the last penalty in the game. They are also extremely high on the risk/reward scale and should be avoided by amateurs.
Three Must-Pick NFL Games
Even gamblers who don’t find placing bets on American football to their liking tend to make wagers on certain weekly and annual contests. The following are the biggest events in the sport – games with the largest audience and the most money exchanging hands between punters and bookmakers.
Monday Night Football
Monday Night Football is a longtime fan favorite, and the league schedules “intriguing” games for Monday Night matchups. This is the final game of each weekend of NFL play so stakes are usually higher. There is no lack of action at sportsbooks on these weekly highlight games, and many gamblers who may never otherwise wager on the NFL will lay bets on Monday nights.
Thursday Night Football
At the opposite end of the weekly schedule is Thursday Night Football, the first game of any given weekend. This is a newer “single-game night” highlight tactic being used by the National Football League to draw in new fans. It generates much the same fan interest and sportsbook action as Monday night, just not quite as much. In time, Thursday Night Football may be just as popular as the big game on Monday Night.
The Super Bowl
The league’s championship game has become as much a commercial spectacle as it is a demonstration of brains and brawn. More than 1/3 of North America tuned in to watch the 2014 Super Bowl, and at many books it is the biggest event of the year. The Super Bowl also allows for a larger variety of wagers than the average game. Yes, bettors can find money line, point spread, and game total bets, but the real sideshow for sports gamblers is the lineup of Super Bowl exotics found at the majority of books.
Intro to NFL Betting Strategy
The advice below is a sneak peek at what our team can teach customers interested in learning how to bet the NFL. These three tips are an introduction to our site’s overall National Football League wagering strategy.
1. Check Home vs. Away Statistics
In the NFL, more than in any other major league in the world, home-field advantage plays a large role. Researching two competitors’ stats and performance both on the road and at home is a quick way to get a handle on the likely outcome of any bet.
2. Read Injury Reports
Punters who ignore injury reports do so at their own risk. Because of the way the league runs, some major game-altering injury reports are not available until right before kickoff. Losing a single important piece, especially on offense, can affect NFL outcomes as much as any other factor.
3. Watch the Movement of the Line
Sportsbooks move their lines around over the course of a week, between NFL games. Changes in the line can indicate (to more seasoned bettors) where the smart money really lies. Punters who notice drastic changes in the line should take note and do even more research to find out where the volatility comes from.
Wagers on the NFL are easy to understand, the stats are simple and easily-researched, and it is such a popular game, you can find available wagers on American football in the most remote of markets. Continue following Picks.org’s NFL wagering advice to get more entertainment value for your sports betting budget.