How to Bet NFL Point Spreads

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How to Bet NFL Point Spreads

Want to learn how to bet NFL Point Spreads? So you want to tackle the beast that is football betting, but you have no idea where to start, not a clue what a spread is other than another word for buffet. The moneyline? You’re still in the dark. Over/Under? Well, a little light is coming through.

Obviously, there are a number of factors that go into successfully betting on NFL games, but the first step involves understanding the point spread. Wandering into a sports book without knowing what a spread is is the equivalent of putting your car in drive before you’ve even started the engine. In other words, if you put the cart before the horse in this game, you won’t be in the game for long. But fear not, I am here to educate the uneducated.

For starters, let's look at the NFL Point Spreads of an actual game:

Denver Broncos +3 (-110)

San Diego Chargers -3 (-110)

No, this is not an equation, but it does need a bit of solving, so here goes. The +3 next to Denver means the Broncos are getting three points from the Chargers (you could also say San Diego is giving three points). Or whatever the Chargers final score is, subtract three (hence the -3 in front of San Diego) from it and add it to Denver’s final score to determine if the bet is a winner/loser. For example, San Diego wins the game 21-17 and you bet the Chargers at -3 than you would win the wager because 21-3 = 18, which still leaves the Chargers one point ahead of the Broncos final score. Conversely, adding three to Denver’s 17 still leaves the Broncos a point short of San Diego.

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If San Diego were to win the game 20-17 and you bet the Chargers at -3, the wager is referred to as a Push. Neither side wins in this example because subtracting three from the Chargers 20 results in 17 and adding three to the Broncos 17 results in 20. In this case you would not lose or win any money as the book returns your original wager amount regardless of which team you bet on.

The goal of the book when creating NFL Point Spreads, which is carried out through the use of the opening spread and its subsequent manipulation (i.e. the line opens at +/- 3 but money pours in on Denver so the book moves the spread to +/-2 or +/-1.5 to get more bettors going San Diego’s way) is to get even money on both teams; when it achieves that result it is impossible for it to lose money. How you ask?  See the -110 after the +3? That number represents the amount you would lose on a $100 bet. In other words, if you place a $100 bet on Denver at +3 (-110) and the Broncos fail to finish within three points of San Diego, you would lose $110; however, if the Broncos were to finish within three points of San Diego, you would get your initial investment back ($100) as well as $100 for winning the wager.

Perhaps, the following example will better illustrate how payouts work when the house has even money on both teams:

50 people bet on Denver at +3 (-110) and 50 people bet on San Diego at -3 (-110). San Diego wins 21-17, so the house will payout $5000 (50 bettors x $100) to those who bet on the Chargers, but it will have collected $5500 (50 bettors x $110) from the 50 bettors who sided with Denver.

In cases where the book is not getting even money on both squads they will resort to the line manipulation I referenced earlier.

I think I know your next question (why not bet on straight up winners?). Well, you can and many chose to do so on certain occasions, but it a far riskier proposition most of the time. I’ll use another game line to prove my point, only this time I will include what is called the moneyline (refers to putting your money on the team you believe will be the outright winner, no spread is considered).


Arizona Cardinals +9.5 (-110), +400

San Francisco 49ers -9.5 (-110), -500


Based upon the information I supplied above when explaining how to bet NFL Point Spreads, you know that Arizona is a 9.5 point underdog, requiring them to get within nine points of San Francisco’s final score to cover to the number and produce a winning bet. You will also see the +400 after the Cardinals, this is the moneyline or the odds for a straight up wager. What this means is that for every $100 you wager on an Arizona victory you would win $400 (4 to 1 odds). Based upon the line, it is easy to gather the likelihood of an Arizona victory is not good, which is why few people would bother with this wager. Of course, the return on investment is good in the event of a Cardinals win, but why throw away $100 for a play that has about a 25 percent chance of coming through? Conversely, the Niners look like a certain winner here, but the -500 indicates you would lose $500 for every $100 (1 to 5 odds) wagered on a straight up San Francisco win should it lose to Arizona.

You may feel the 49ers are a ‘lock’, but those who know football, particularly pro football, will tell you there is no such thing. In this case you have about a 25 percent chance of losing on a $500 wager. Yes, 75 percent looks good, but the one in four chance of losing $500 on a $100 bet would have most bettors thinking twice.

Well, this in no way covers every aspect of NFL betting, but it is my hope that it gives the novice/newbie/green player an idea of how to bet NFL Point Spreads, how to read a line and what is happening, behind the scenes, when a line moves.

- Matt Foust, Special Contributor

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