Betting On American Football
Betting On American Football is one of the most popular not just in the United States, but across the world.
Key Numbers In NFL Betting
Home Field Advantage
Betting On Underdogs
Teams Bouncing Back From Big Losses
The NFL Odds Explained
How NFL Betting Works
The popularity of the National Football League grows each season making it the dominant sporting league in the United States, with its popularity far exceeding baseball, basketball and ice hockey.
The NFL consists of 32 teams, divided into 8 divisions, with each team playing 16 games through the regular season, 8 at home and 8 away. This makes the season short in time-span in comparison to most major sports leagues, being played from early September through to early February.
The brevity of the NFL season can be a challenge for those of us who enjoy betting on the league, since the limited number of games and opponents can make assessing a team's true potential difficult. But it's a challenge that everyone faces which can in turn become an advantage for those who are prepared.
NFL betting has always been big business. When you consider that betting is illegal in the US outside of a limited number of jurisdictions (Las Vegas for example) it's quite staggering the amount of money bet on NFL games each weekend of the regular season. It was estimated that in 2015 alone, a total of $95 billion was bet on NFL and college football, with just $2 billion of that amount bet on the NFL legally. Due to the sport's immense popularity, there are a broad range of NFL odds available at virtually every online bookmaker. From the hugely popular NFL betting lines (also known as NFL point spreads) to NFL Over Under totals, from head to head NFL moneylines and the increasing number of NFL exotic bets available such as First or Anytime touchdown scorer, there is a deep menu of NFL odds to exploit each weekend of the season.
Is it easy to make money betting on the NFL? The answer is no. Just like betting on any other sport or sports league, understanding how to bet on the NFL takes focus, persistence and the development of hard earned value betting intuition.
The most popular form of betting on American football is betting on what is referred to commonly as 'The Spread' or 'The Line'. Although it may go by a different name, the spread is essentially a form of handicap betting.
For example, you will often see a NFL game listed with a bookmaker in the following way:
Chicago Bears -3.5 VS Dallas Cowboys +3.5.
What this means is that if you bet on the Bears to beat the spread, they must win by over 3.5 points, or in other words, 4 points or greater. On the other hand, if you wish to bet on the Cowboys, you win the bet if the Cowboys win the game outright or lose by 3 points or fewer.
Essentially the spread is a margin that the bookmaker feels brings the contest to a 50-50 proposition. In our example, the bookmakers put up the spread of Chicago -3.5 as they believe there is a 50% chance that Chicago will win by 4 points or more and a 50% chance that they won't.
Unfortunately, given that bookmakers also do not offer true even money odds of 2.00, typically offering a price of 1.91 for spread betting, it means that you have to win at least 52.5% of your bets in order to break even. This is more difficult than it sounds. However, to be successful long-term, a strike rate of 56% is considered golden. So as you can see, the margins between failure and success in NFL spread betting are very thin, which makes finding the best odds available so important.
Something that is very important to keep in mind when betting on the NFL are what are known as Key Numbers. What are Key Numbers? Key Numbers are the most common winning margins in NFL games. In order of occurrence these margins are 3 points, 7 points and 10 points. Over the past 20 NFL seasons, almost a third of games finished with one of these three margins.
So why should you keep Key Numbers in mind? Because given that 16% of NFL games over the past 20 seasons finished with a margin of 3 points, it is important that when betting on an NFL spread, you understand the difference between a betting line of 2.5 points and 3.5 points. Or 6.5 points and 7.5 points. Because so many games finish on these margins, it means that the difference of 1 point between a spread of 2.5 and 3.5 points is far more significant than a 1 point difference between a spread of 4.5 and 5.5 points, or even a 2 point difference between a spread on 10.5 to 12.5 points.
To put it another way, let's say the Washington Redskins are receiving a spread of +3.5 points. Because of the common occurrence of 3 point margins, the 0.5 point advantage that the Redskins are receiving above the 3 point margin is worth far more than a 0.5 point advantage above a margin of 5 points or 8 points as these margins occur far less frequently than 3 points.
Traditionally home field advantage in the NFL is worth 3 points. What this means is that when you see a team listed with your bookmaker, playing at home with a spread of -3 points, it essentially means that the bookmaker considers the two competing teams to be of even ability, and are giving the one team the advantage simply because they are playing at home.
This means there is essentially a 6 point swing between playing at home and playing away in the NFL in terms of the betting spread. For example, a team playing at home with a spread of -3, would be +3 points in the same matchup if playing away.
One simple way to assess whether or not you think a team is a value bet against the spread is to flip the venue. You can do this by applying the 6 point swing to the betting spread. For example, let's say that Miami are playing at home against Cleveland and the betting spread is Miami -4.5. To flip the venue we apply the 6 point home advantage swing. Doing this would then mean that if the game were being played in Cleveland, Miami would then be +1.5 at the spread.
Flipping the venue like this can help give you a different perspective on a particular betting spread and help you determine whether or not you consider the spread on offer to be of value.
It's a simple fact that the majority of people who bet on NFL games, bet on favourites. This can often lead to value opportunities for those of us who have the nerve to bet on underdogs, particularly underdogs receiving large point spreads.
Let's just look at some simple numbers. Over the last 10 seasons underdogs playing away receiving a spread of +10 points or greater, have a winning strike rate against the spread of 54%. Now obviously just betting on these teams alone isn't going to make you rich, but their success rate against the spread shows how such a bias against such teams is reflected in the betting market. The average person betting on the NFL does not like to bet on underdogs, particularly ugly underdogs.
We can see a similar bias for underdogs playing at home receiving a points spread of +7 points of greater. Over the last 10 seasons, such teams have a winning strike rate against the spread of near 59%. This is a rather incredible statistic and again shows the value of considering underdogs that nobody thinks have a chance of winning the game or even getting close.
Another situation to strongly consider in betting on American football is teams coming off a bad loss. If we look at the last 10 seasons of data, we can see that teams coming off a loss of 14 points or more have a record of just over 54% against the spread when playing away in their next game. This is simply the betting market overreacting to their heavy defeat and the fact that they are playing away from home.
We can break this down even further and consider teams coming off a loss of 14 points or more and playing away as underdogs. These teams have a strike rate against the spread over the last 10 seasons of just over 56%. Again, a typical market overreaction to their poor performance the week before.
The National Football League (NFL) is America's elite football league. Comprised of 32 teams, the NFL season is played over 17 week regular season with each team playing 16 regular season games with one bye week.
NFL Conferences & Divisions
The 32 NFL teams are divided into two 16 team conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). Each conference is comprised of four divisions each consisting of four teams. Each division is based on a geographical region – East, West, North And South – with teams generally aligned by their location (although peculiarities exist such as Dallas designated to the east and Indianapolis to the south).
National Football Conference Divisions
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|Dallas Cowboys||Chicago Bears||Atlanta Falcons||Arizona Cardinals|
|New York Giants||Detroit Lions||Carolina Panthers||Los Angeles Rams|
|Philadelphia Eagles||Green Bay Packers||New Orleans Saints||San Francisco 49ers|
|Washington Redskins||Minnesota Vikings||Tampa Bay Bucs||Seattle Seahawks|
American Football Conference Divisions
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|Buffalo Bills||Baltimore Ravens||Houston Texans||Denver Broncos|
|Miami Dolphins||Cincinnati Bengals||Indianapolis Colts||Kansas City Chiefs|
|New England Patriots||Cleveland Browns||Jacksonville Jaguars||Oakland Raiders|
|New York Jets||Pittsburgh Steelers||Tennessee Titans||San Diego Chargers|
How The NFL Schedule Is Determined
Each team plays the other three teams in their division twice during the regular season, once at home and once away.
Eight games on the schedule are comprised of four games against another division within the conference and four games against a division outside of the conference. These eight games are based on a four year rotation.
The final two games on the schedule are against conference opponents who finished in the same place in their division the previous season but who the team is not already scheduled to play. As each team plays another division in their conference, these final two games are against teams from the other two divisions.
Composition Of NFL Team Schedule
|Division Opponents at home||3|
|Division Opponents away||3|
|Other Division within Conference at home||2|
|Other Division within Conference away||2|
|Other Division out of Conference at home||2|
|Other Division out of Conference away||2|
|Conference opponent by position at home||1|
|Conference opponent by position away||1|
Current NFL Standings
How The NFL Playoffs Work
Six teams from each conference advance to the playoffs that begin in early January. These six teams feature each of the four division winners with two 'wildcards' also advancing to the playoffs. The two wild card teams are those which posted the best win/loss records in their conference but did not win their division.
The six advancing teams are ranked firstly in order of win/loss record by division winner and then win/loss record of wild card team. This means that the top four seeds are each division winners with the fifth and sixth seeds taken by the two wildcard teams.
NFL Wildcard Round
The top two seeds in each conference do not play the first week of the playoffs, with the 3rd seed hosting the 6th seed and the 4th seed hosting the 5th seed. The winners of these games then progress to the Divisional Round, with 1st seed hosting the lowest seeded winner of the Wildcard Round and the 2nd seed hosting the other Wildcard winner.
NFL Divisional Round
The winners of the Divisional Round progress to the Conference Championship game, with the highest seeded team of the two earning the right to host the Championship game on their home field.
NFL Conference Championship Games And The Super Bowl
The two winners of the Conference Championships advance to the Super Bowl played in early February.
Example: NFL Playoffs 2015/16
Below we can see the AFC Playoff Bracket for the 2015/16 NFL season with the Denver Broncos winning the conference and representing the AFC at the Super Bowl.
Below we can see the NFC Playoff Bracket for the 2015/16 NFL season with the Carolina Panthers winning their way to the Super Bowl to face the AFC Champion Denver Broncos.
NFL betting odds come in three popular formats. These are:
- Decimal odds
- Fractional odds
- Moneyline odds
While American sports fans are more familiar with American money line odds, for the purposes of this article, we will deal primarily with decimal odds as they are much easier to work with in terms of basic betting theory and calculations.
Understanding betting odds is key to successful NFL betting. Being able to understand the probabilities expressed in betting odds allows you to easily assess betting value. If you cannot determine betting value, then you're very unlikely to be profitable long term betting on the NFL.
The video below provides a good introduction to betting odds and their implied probabilities.
Learn More About Betting Odds.
Let's now discuss how to bet on the NFL and the range of betting markets available. There are many ways to bet on the NFL. Bookmakers across the planet now offer a deep menu of NFL betting odds, from the more traditional to the more exotic. In this section we will discuss the most popular NFL odds,
How To Bet NFL Lines
The most popular and certainly the most traditional way to bet on NFL games is known as the Point Spread.
NFL Point Spreads (also known as betting lines or handicaps) is a estimated final margin for a given NFL game. Bookmakers determine the margin as a 50/50 bet. In other words, they believe there is a 50% chance the result will end one side of the estimated margin and a 50% chance the result will end on the other side of the estimated margin. Bettors can bet on which side of the margin the game will end on.
Football Point Spread Explained
So how to bet NFL spread and handicaps. Let's consider an example. Let's say that the Dallas Cowboys are playing the Washington Redskins. The point spread for this game is listed as at bookmaker Ladbrokes:
What does this mean?
Well, for starters the Cowboys are considered the favourites as they are the minus handicap while the Redskins are the underdogs with the plus handicap.
The bookmakers have therefore determined that the final margin will be either side of Dallas by 6.5 points. Bettors can then bet on either side of this margin.
So if you believe Dallas will win by more than 6.5 points (I.e 7 points or more) you bet on Dallas -6.5 points.
Calculating A Winning NFL Spread Bet
On the other hand, if you believe that the Redskins will win the game or at the very least will not lose by more than 6.5 points (6 points or less), you bet on Washington +6.5 points.
Calculating whether your NFL point spread bet was a winner is simple. Let's say that Dallas wins the game 30 to Washington 20.
If you bet on the favourite, in our example Dallas -6.5, you deduct 6.5 points from their final score. In this case that would leave us with an adjusted final score of Dallas 23.5 Washington 20. With the handicap deducted, Dallas are still winners meaning your bet on Dallas -6.5 points is a winning bet.
On the other hand if you had bet on Washington +6.5 points, we add 6.5 points to their final score, giving us an adjusted final score of Dallas 30 Washington 26.5. Unfortunately for us, even with the handicap added to Washington's score, Dallas still wins the game so our bet on Washington +6.5 points is a losing bet.
When a team wins a point spread bet, it is often referred to as 'covering the spread'.
NFL Spread Odds
Odds for NFL point spreads range between 1.90 and 1.95 depending upon your bookmaker. If you intend to focus on NFL point spreads, we suggest your bookmaker offers at the very least odds of 1.92 on NFL point spreads.
If you bet on NFL point spreads randomly, over a large enough sample size you will have a 50% strike rate. The table below shows the strike rate needed to make a profit relative to the odds available.
Line Betting Win % Needed To Make Profit
|Odds||Win % Required To Profit||Win % Required For 5% ROI|
Most professional NFL bettors look to hit a strike rate of 54%. As you can see, the difference between failure and success betting on NFL point spreads may seem slight, but those few percentage points make a world of difference.
How To Bet NFL Over Under
Another popular NFL bet type is the points total market, also known as Over Unders.
What is an Over Under bet?
An Over Under bet is simple. Similar to a point spread, a bookmaker sets a total number of points that they think will be scored in a NFL game, with a 50% chance that the game will end with more than that number of points scored and a 50% chance that the game will end with fewer than that many points scored.
For example, the example below shows the Over Under points total at bookmaker Coral for a game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons. As we can see, bettors can bet on either side of 50.5 total points scored in the game.
If you bet on Over 50.5 points, you need the two teams to score a total of at least 51 points for your bet to win. On the other hand, if you bet on Under 50.5 points, you need the two teams to score a total of at most 50 points.
As with point spreads, bookmakers offer odds of between 1.90 and 1.95 for NFL point total bets.
It's also possible to bet on individual team points totals. This is similar to the game total but instead of considering the total combined points scored, all you are concerned with is the points total of a particular team.
How To Bet On NFL Moneylines
NFL moneyline bets are simply head to head bets where you are betting on the final result (including over time). No handicaps, no points totals. All that matters is who wins.
Below is an example of a NFL moneyline market with odds listed at bookmaker William Hill for a game between the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants.
As we can see, the Giants are clear favourites in this game at odds of 1.34 while the Browns are at odds of 3.35.
As we said, there are no handicaps involved in NFL moneyline bets. You are simply betting on who you think will win the game. If you believe there is value with New York, you bet on them to win the game at odds of 1.34. On the other hand, if you believe there is value with Cleveland you bet on them to win the game at odds of 3.35.
Many NFL bettors like to mix and match NFL moneylines with NFL point spreads. For example, Cleveland's point spread is +7.5 for this game. Many bettors like to hedge the moneyline with the point spread. For example, they will bet £50 on Cleveland to win the game at odds of 3.35 and £55 on them to at least cover the point spread at odds of 1.91. If Cleveland wins the game, you win both bets. If Cleveland loses but by no more than 7 points, you win your point spread bet making a profit of roughly £50, covering your stake for your moneyline bet.
How To Bet On NFL Futures And Outrights
Not only can you bet on NFL games, you can also bet on NFL futures and outrights. Betting on NFL futures involves betting on the winners of the following:
- Super Bowl Winner
- Conference Champions
- Division Winners
- NFL Most Valuable Player
Other Popular NFL Odds
Thanks to the explosion in online betting, bookmakers now offer a deep menu of NFL odds to bet on. The most popular of these additional markets are:
Additional NFL Game Markets
|Alternative Point Spreads|
|Total Touchdowns Scored|
|First Touchdown Scorer|
|Anytime Touchdown Scorer|
|Team To Score First|
|First Scoring Play Type|
|First Quarter Winner|
|First Half Winner|
You can also bet on a range of statistical markets. These include:
Additional NFL Statistical Markets
|Individual player passing yards|
|Individual player rushing yards|
|Individual player receiving yards|
|Longest Field Goal|
Where Can I Bet On NFL Games?
Every bookmaker on the planet offers odds on NFL games. For NFL betting we recommend the following bookmakers. Click the logo to read about their current new customer bonus offer.
Detailed Bookmaker Reviews
To find the best bookmakers for you NFL betting, please refer to our list of detailed bookmaker reviews.