Football Point Spread Betting

Point spread wagering is the most common type of football bet and allows you to bet on whether a team will win or lose by a certain number of points. It provides an incentive for people to bet on underdogs. Sportsbooks use them to make the betting market more even and balanced, so that people bet in equal numbers on both of the teams. This is done in order to make it easier for online sportsbooks to pay off the winners of the bets. Some people confuse point spreads with over/under bets (see football over/under article), assuming that you are betting on the total points of the game. However, that is not the case; in point spread as you are only betting individual teams winning by a certain number of points, or not losing by more than a certain number of points. The total score of both teams is not really important. The best way to show how point spreads work is with a few examples.

* Please see illustration below to help understand point spread bets, text explanation follows.

Point Spread Football

Point Spread Examples
Let us say one of the highest ranked teams in the National Football League (NFL), Pittsburgh Steelers, is playing against one of the lowest ranked teams, Arizona Cardinals. Steelers would likely be heavy favorites in this game and a great majority of players would bet on them over the Cardinals. However, a sportsbook applies a point spread of 7.5 points for the Steelers and 7.5 points against the Cardinals:

  • Arizona Cardinals +7.5 (-$110)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers -7.5 (-$110)

Counting Point Spreads
If you are wagering on the Steelers, then they have to win by more than 7 points. Thus, if the final score is 20-17 for the Steelers, then the Steelers would have only won by 3 points, and this means your bet is a loss. If the final score is 27-10, the Steelers would have won by 17 points, so your bet is a win. This way, if you bet $110 on the Steelers, you will win $100.

If you are betting on the Cardinals, then they can lose by 7 or less points. Thus, if the final score is 20-17 for Steelers, then the Cardinals only lost by 3 points, so you won the bet. This way, if you bet $110 on Cardinals, you will win $100. Of course, if the Cardinals win, your bet is still a win.

‘0.5’ Element
The ‘0.5’ is used to prevent a “push”. An example where a “push” would happen is, if the spread is set at 7 points and the final score is 27-20, the game is a push and the sportsbook returns all of the bets.

As far as which is used most often (half-point or no-half-point) it really goes both ways with bookies. Often times you will see sportsbooks posting the spreads without the ‘0.5’ point element. This is because they might have adjusted the odds or they really do not think that the final score can equal the spread. They could also simply not mind the possibility of a “push”.

Useful Tips and Strategies

The internet is filled with with poor advice on this topic. If you’re novice but insist on acting like a handicapper then one important factor is knowing about the teams that you are betting on and how they fare against each other. If you do not know how the teams stack up against each other, how can you guess what the point spread is going to be? Some of the things you should research is how they play with similar teams, what point spreads they have had before and how they have been playing recently. That way, you can make a more informed decision, increasing your chances of success.

Really though a much better way to go about this is to either stick to betting systems or learn advanced football strategies. Our page on betting systems includes ways to cut the bookmaker advantage without learning any advanced betting strategies and is the most ideal for casual bettors. For those serious about wagering for a profit, the strategy page provides a great overview to this topic and refers you to more advanced topics such as handicapping the market, advanced teaser strategy, betting derivatives etc. Following the information in either of those two articles will be most ideal, because football betting otherwise takes a ton of knowledge and/or luck to beat.

Shop Around
Point Spreads are the most popular method for wagering football and for this reason the odds are vastly different between online betting sites. For example, popular US friendly sportsbook is well known as the best online betting site period for betting underdogs. Often times you might be comparing lines and see all other betting sites are offering New York Jets +7 -110, and see Bovada has Jets +7.5 -110. In this case it would be foolish to bet the Jets at any other website. Other times you might find BetOnline has Patriots -3.5 -105 while all other sites have Patriots -3.5 -110. Here the point-spread is the same but the price is different. At BetOnline you only need to risk $105 to win $100 instead of $110 to win $100 everywhere else. Finally you might be faced with a situation where everyone is offering -9 -110 and you see Intertops has -9.5 -105. Which is the better bet? Our NFL half-point calculator can help you decide. The point I’m getting at here, is having accounts at multiple betting sites, and shopping the point spreads and price between them all, is extremely critical to beating sports betting over the long term.

Author & Professional: Jim Griffin