NFL football is far and away America’s favorite sport to bet on, and it’s easy to understand why. With teams only playing once per weekend, bettors can spend days preparing, looking at each matchup, studying trends, and tracking line movements. Because of its popularity, the NFL offers the most diverse ways to place a wager; football betting is doubtless sees the highest action at sportsbooks.
In this guide, we’ll discuss several betting strategies and the common NFL betting markets. Afterward, you’ll feel confident that you can succeed in the industry’s most popular sport.
Let’s look at them all!
NFL Football Betting Against the Spread
Betting against the spread is the most popular method for NFL wagering, and as we’ve covered how against the spread bets work, it’s straightforward to do. Not only does a spread balance the odds between unequal opponents, but it can create drama late in games that would otherwise lack any. In the NFL, since scoring can come in 2, 3, 6 and 7-point increments, the spreads for football typically settle around those margins.
For an NFL spread the home team is listed on the bottom, like so:
Typically, if two NFL teams are evenly matched, the home team is a three-point favorite; conventional wisdom is that home-field advantage counts for roughly three points in the NFL. So, when you see Buffalo listed as six-point home favorites, bookmakers are saying that, on a neutral field, they’d be three-point favorites.
NFL spreads are made available for the following week every Sunday night after the majority of the previous week’s games have been played. Regarding ranges, NFL spreads typically fall between a pick’em and 15 points. It’s rare to see an NFL team favored by 16 or more: it’s only happened 80 times in the league’s lengthy history.
The Hidden Dangers of Betting On Big Spreads
Those big spreads can be a dangerous bet in football, even when one side appears to be much better than the opposition. When one team is up by a wide margin late in a game, NFL defenses often go into “prevent mode,” trying to take away big plays and allowing opponents to drive the ball slowly down the field. This can lead to the dreaded “backdoor cover:” an underdog getting a meaningless late score that helps them beat the spread. Depending on which side you take, it can be the most frustrating or rewarding moment in gambling.
To avoid getting burned on a backdoor cover, you can always simplify your betting by playing the moneyline.
Moneyline Betting on the NFL
Betting the moneyline means performing the simple act of picking who will win the game. It’s a less popular option for single bets in the NFL because of the subpar payouts for betting the favorite.
As you can see, the disparity in payout between the spread and the moneyline can be great at times. Rather than wager $270 on Buffalo to win straight-up for a potential payout of just $100, it’s easy to talk yourself into taking the Bills -6. That same bet of $270 would pay out nearly $235 if Buffalo just wins by seven, which is a touchdown and a convert; not hard to imagine.
However, the moneyline does provide a chance at big winnings if an underdog comes through, so if you had a good feeling about the Jets, the moneyline would be the better play.
It’s worth noting that some books will limit your opportunity to bet the moneyline, generally releasing it a few days later in the week than they do the spread. Some books won’t even release a moneyline when a game’s spread is less than three points or greater than ten.
Every NFL game will also have a total you can bet on (which we explain in more detail in this section). NFL game totals have historically ranged anywhere from 30 to 60 points.
You might think, in today’s high-scoring league, almost every game would see more than 42 points, so the over is the obvious choice, but think hard about that decision. NFL totals are set based on a number of factors like the level of offensive and defensive talent in the game, whether the opponents are division rivals, and what the forecasted weather in the area will be.
The over is always more fun to bet, because cheering for points is more enjoyable. But to successfully play totals, you have to be willing to play the under once in a while.
NFL Football Halves/Quarters Betting
All these single bets can be made for specific halves and quarters too. The first half will have both a spread and total and the second half line will usually be made available during the game. The same goes for individual quarters, which will often see higher totals for the second and fourth quarter, due to the high number of timeouts during those frames.
It’s important to remember that bets placed on the second half and fourth quarter don’t include overtime.
Proposition (Prop) Betting
We introduced you to prop bets here. With more individual statistics available than any other sport, NFL games have the richest tapestry of props available. A primetime game could have close to 100 props associated with it. (Primetime games are the only event in a specific window, like Monday nights, so bookmakers often give bettors more opportunities to play props then they would on busy Sunday afternoon window.)
For basically every position on the field, there’s a prop bet you can make. Here are a few examples from a Minnesota/Green Bay game.
Props offer a chance to wager on the game without betting on the final score, but they have some downsides, like carrying a lower maximum bet (compared to the spread and moneyline). You may also notice less favorable odds than you get on moneyline or spread bets: bookmakers tend to over-round the implied probability more on props, because less money is coming in on them.
When it comes to live betting on the NFL, NFL prop betting might be the best of any sport. Given the number of stoppages of play in the NFL, some books will give you the chance to wager on the outcome of every play in a game. You can bet on whether the next pass completion; whether the next drive will end in a field goal, touchdown, turnover or punt; even bet on what type of play the offense will call next: run or pass. The spread, moneyline, and totals update regularly for live betting; bettors can have a lot of success live betting football if they can sense when a game’s momentum is changing.
Tips for a Successful NFL Betting Strategy
In order to be successful, your strategy should combine several different factors. The more factors that contribute to the foundation of your strategy, the great chance of winning in the long run, as long as the factors are sound, that is.
Let’s look at several potential factors to include.
Home vs Away Pros & Cons
Over a large sample size, home NFL teams are winning 55 to 60 percent of the time. The average winning margin is by less than three points. So generally speaking a moneyline bet on the home team should yield winners over a long period of time. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for both the home and away teams?
Pros for the Home Team … Cons for the Away Team
- Home team doesn’t have to travel so more rest and recovery leading up to the game.
- Crowd noise greatly impacts momentum and aides the home team.
- Crowd noise impacts visiting team’s communication, especially on offense.
Cons for the Home Team … Pros for the Away Team
- Betting value is hard to find. For example, moneyline odds of -240 or shorter are hard to generate long-term success.
- Over the years, officiating has become more neutral, canceling out a former advantage of playing at home.
- Player nervousness of performing in front of home fans.
NFL Underdog Betting Value
As previously stated, NFL games are usually decided by three points or fewer. Since the betting market generally sides with the favorite, the sportsbooks will set better value on the underdog. A spread of +7 can be accompanied by a moneyline bet of +300 or so.
That is great value for a game predicted to be decided by one score. Anything can happen in one-score games. Don’t be shy to bet those as you’ll likely win a fair number and, at those odds, you can afford to win less often and still be profitable in the end.
Line Movement Analysis: Halftime & Public Money
Live betting is something that most sportsbooks offer. At halftime, the sportsbook will post moneyline odds for the remainder of the game. For a close game, betting the underdog is another opportunity to grab value. You’ve already seen the first half play out competitively so betting the halftime loser to come from behind and win is a realistic ask.
Additionally, halftime only last 15 minutes so value can be found since the sportsbooks are making rush decisions that cater towards the public money (favorites).
As with most sports, bettors generally back the favorites in pro football. NFL lines will be posted on Tuesdays. As you get closer to Sundays, the favorites tend to become bigger favorites and the underdogs are bigger underdogs. When analyzing the matchup on Tuesday, it could be best to act immediately (if you like the favorite) or wait until closer to kickoff (if you like the underdog).
Handicapping Regular Season vs Playoffs
We already know that home teams win more often in the regular season, but what about in the playoffs? What about each round of the playoffs? Unsurprisingly, according to Pro Football Reference, the home team is even more likely to win in the playoffs.
From 2002 to 2014, the home team won 57.3 percent of the time in the regular season. Come playoff time, that number jumped to 62.3 percent. In the Wild Card round, home teams won 57.7 percent of the time. That increases to 65 percent in both the divisional and championship rounds.
If you consider home-field an advantage in the regular season, come playoffs it is more significant and should be bet accordingly.
It was mentioned briefly, but it’s so important it is worth its own section. Knowing where public money is going can help you in the long term. If you feel strongly that a home favorite will win when the lines first come out, it is best to bet it early before public money drives up the odds. A -320 moneyline on Tuesday can become -355by Saturday. By placing the same bet earlier at a lower cost you have saved money and reduced the juice (read our guide on that).
With an underdog, the odds tend to improve. A +170 moneyline on Tuesday can become +195 or higher by Saturday. By knowing these trends, your gains are greater and losses are cheaper.
Another trend pertains to the O/U in bad weather: those games tend to be lower scoring than initially predicted, and bettors know it. When inclement weather is in the forecast, game totals tend to go down over the course of the week.
Imagine on Tuesday the O/U is set at 51.5. If you see weather predictions of for rain, snow, or fast winds, it’s best to bet the under. By the time the weekend comes and most bettors place their wagers, 51.5 can become 49.5 or lower.
Knowing these two betting trends is essential and, over the years, you’ll discover more.
Several team-related factors should be considered when deciding how to bet. Some of the most common ones are:
- Team records on extra rest or short rest. Teams playing on Thursdays and Mondays will have extra or short rest as compared to their opponents
- Team injuries
- Teams’ current win/loss streaks
- Teams’ past performance in certain weather conditions, playing indoors in a dome, or in primetime games
- Comparison of teams statistically, for example, rushing offense vs run defense, passing offense vs passing defense, and red zone offense vs redone defense.
Monitoring the Market: Attack Weaker Lines
NFL lines move throughout the week. As teams release injury reports, point spreads will move accordingly. The sooner you act, the better chance you can take advantage of a line before it moves. Being proactive and monitoring the weather can be a great asset to you.
Additionally, NFL coaches give press conferences throughout the week and, while they won’t provide the game plan, a close listen could provide some clues.
NFL Betting Markets
By now you know the three main types of bets; moneyline, ATS (against the spread), and Over/Under (a.k.a. game total). The NFL has three betting markets for those bet types: parlays, teasers, and futures.
All of these can provide value for bettors, as long as they understand how each works. Let’s get a full understanding of each and how you can take advantage of them.
1. NFL Parlays
Parlays are a great way to get value where a single bet doesn’t provide it. Combining two short moneyline favorites can result in odds much closer to even money. Others like to parlay either a moneyline or ATS pick with the O/U. Just remember all events on a parlay must win for the bet to be successful. If you want to know strictly about Parlays and Teasers we have that covered too.
2. NFL Teasers
Teasers are a way for bettors to effectively “buy” a different point spread. In a teaser, the better gets to adjust the point spread of (at least) two games by 6 to 10 points.
The standard NFL teaser is six points, so the bettor gets to either add six points to an underdog or subtract six points from a favorite. The table below shows normal ATS vs teased ATS.
By teasing the spread, the Bills can now lose by as many as 12 points to generate a win for bettors, while the Steelers only need to win by two for a win!
But remember, all teasers must include at least two games. Like parlays, all legs of a teaser must win in order for the wager, as a whole, to be a winner.
A common NFL teaser is to find multiple favorites laying between 4.5 and 6.5 points and “tease them down,” meaning those teams just need to win. You’ll commonly see this bet with home teams as the public loves taking home teams to win outright.
Another common teaser is to find tease multiple underdogs over seven points. Seven is considered a “key number” in NFL betting because most NFL games are decided by one score or less.
3. NFL Futures
For those willing to tie up their capital for longer periods of time in hopes of a big payout, future bets are enticing. A lot has to go right for futures to win, but having the correct foresight can yield huge profits. Futures bets can vary from Super Bowl champion, NFL MVP, NFL division winners to AFC/NFC conference champions.
One of the most common futures bet is wagering on teams’ season win totals. For example, the Buffalo Bills were set at 6.5 wins last preseason and bettors could then bet either the under or the over. Since they went 10-6, they won more 6.5 games and the people who bet on the over cashed their tickets.
Additionally, you can even find a future for first NFL head coach to be fired at some sportsbooks.
Given this valuable information you can see why betting on the NFL has become king. The NFL betting strategies and markets are so entertaining for a bettor while being profitable. Data may change over a short period of time, but what has been discussed here are trends because of their longevity of consistency. Using this as part of your foundation will aide in long-term success. Don’t forget to combine knowledge with our other helpful guides!