Betting on the National Football League is becoming more and more popular in America and around the world each year. With the rise of fantasy football and office pools adding fuel to the fire, the NFL is by far America’s most watched sport. Some of this can be accredited to the gambling as there’s nothing more fun than kicking back and watching the game when you’ve got some money riding on the winner.
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There are several ways to bet on the NFL, ranging from simple to complex. Sports books offer vanilla point spreads and totals, money lines, live betting, props, and future bets. While these options are offered on most other major sports, for football there is an extremely deep and liquid market due to the high volume of betting action each and every week. One could easily argue that all NFL decisions are based at least partly on gambling.
For example, the league recently has added more Thursday night games. Why is that? Most likely, the NFL knows that people will divert attention from other activities and pay attention to their action on a weeknight, simply because of gambling action to keep them interested. There has been a rise in overseas games, and talk of teams moving outside the USA, to build popularity and add more potential bettors. The NFL will never come right out and say it, but gambling truly drives the league and its growth. There is no accurate way to measure the total amount of action, because a high percentage of it takes place underground between bettors and illegal bookies. But based on the “legal” action online and in Vegas, football is booming. Also just look at the recent TV ratings for the Super Bowl between New England and the Giants for further proof that the it really rules the entertainment world.
Every sports book that offers NFL action also offers point spreads and totals for each game. Here’s an example of a typical listing for a game.
New York Giants +2 (+100) +135 54o-115
New England Patriots -2 (-120) -145 54u-105
The way to read that board would be as 3 separate bets. The first is the regular spread. In this case, the Patriots are -2, and -120. This means the Patriots have to win by 3 or more points for you to win your bet, and you risk $120 for every $100 won. If the game ends and New England wins by exactly 2, all bets are refunded. The second bet is a moneyline bet. This bet does not take into account any spread. You risk a bit more in this case if you bet New England. So instead of paying $120 for every $100 win, you risk $145, but if New England wins by 1 or 2 (or more) you win. The last column is the total of 54, with the over having a risk amount of $115 for every $100 won. This bet is simply the total points scored by both teams. If it lands on the number exactly, all bets are refunded.
Since points in American football come, for the most part, in groups of 3s and 7s, this affects how spreads are set. A team that is expected to dominate the game might be favored by 2 touchdowns, or 14 points. A close game usually has a 3 point spread. You rarely see spreads such as -8 or -5 because it is tough to have a game end up with that winning margin. Point spreads range anywhere from a pick em (no spread) up to as high as 21 points, with the very rare case of a game being 21+, which happened a few years ago when New England finished the regular season 16-0. But most games are expected to be closely contested, and thus the spreads for the vast majority of games is less than 10 points.
Totals can range from about 35 points up to as high as 60, depending on the teams involved, the weather and playing conditions, and the stakes. Playoff games usually are a bit lower scoring as defenses ramp up their intensity and any outdoor games bring weather into play. Recent rule changes that emphasize the passing game have caused totals to go a bit higher. The kickoff has been moved up, resulting in more touchbacks, which has also caused bookmakers to adjust their totals.
When betting on NFL, it is good to look for books that offer up fair value on spreads. Compare a few different books and see if your chosen book has lines similar to the others, especially when looking at the juice. If most books have a line at -3 (-110) but yours shows -3 (-115) or -3 (-120) you might want to consider betting the underdog or finding a new place to play. Some books try to rip you off or give you poor value, beware of them.
You can easily find bets on the spread, moneyline, and total for 1st halves, 2nd halves, and even quarters at most places. It’s an almost unlimited source of action for bettors when you factor in that each week features so many games.
There is a growing market for live betting, especially in the National Football League. Most nationally televised games have live betting now. Usually it is just the spread, moneyline, and total, but some creative books have been offering props and other “yes or no” type bets during live play. Live betting spreads can vary wildly, especially after a big play such as a “pick 6″ or fumble return for touchdown. This high volatility in spreads adds lots of risk but can be highly rewarding as well.
There are many different kinds of props offered as well. Most books have been in the habit of offering props for every regular season game, and even for preseason and the Pro Bowl, for years now. It used to be only the Super Bowl that had lots of props, but now that has all changed due to the Internet.
Popular props include “will either team score 3 times in a row?” and “which team will score first?” There are dozens more and it seems like each season adds more and more props, which is of course good for the bettor as he has a bigger selection to choose from. Most of the time props are either a “yes/no” bet or an “over/under” bet. So you can have a prop that says “Eli Manning passing yards, 314″ and then you can bet over or under. Or you can bet something like “will Eli Manning throw an interception?” which is a yes or no choice.
There are team props and individual player props. For the Super Bowl, there usually is a bit of a bigger selection offered, since after all, it’s the SUPER BOWL!! These special props include various coin toss bets, halftime bets, wagers on the television ratings, wagers on commercials, bets on the stock market action the day after the game, and even cross sport bets such as “what will be higher, Duke free throw attempts or Eli Manning completions?” The selection is really only limited to the imagination of the bookmaker. Again, every year seems to offer more and more props.
Futures bets are bets that are settled sometime out in the future, hence the name. These bets can be placed up to a year or more in advance or as short as 2 weeks ahead. Months before the NFL season starts, there are already regular season win totals posted at some books. These bets won’t settle for almost a year. Futures markets are offered for divisions, conference championships, and the Super Bowl, usually well in advance. It is not hard to find a place to bet on next year’s Super Bowl, again, almost a year from the game.
Futures markets often have higher than normal juice since the bettors don’t always know how to spot it. If you look at the odds to win the Super Bowl, all teams are listed with odds of at least +500 (5/1). So how is there juice if no teams are odds on favorites? Simple, there are 32 teams, and thus if you bet every team, you would be expected to lose quite a bit of money since only one team can win. In theory, if all teams were equally matched, the “fair odds” would be +3200 for each team. This would assume no juice, and an equal chance for each team to win. However, some teams are much stronger than others. The odds compensate for this. Some teams are +500 or +600, while others are as high as +100000 (100/1). If we were to convert all teams’ odds into percentages, and add them, we would come up with a number less than 100%. This means that the house has an edge.
A simplified example will help here. Let’s assume we are down to the last 4 teams standing in the NFL. Here are the listed odds.
If we were to bet $100 on each team, we would be expected to lose money over the long term. Only if Pittsburgh or Baltimore ended up winning would we come out ahead. But since Dallas and Philadelphia have the lowest odds, chances are they will end up winning, and we will lose money. The true odds “should” be much higher but if they were then the book would not make money and would have no incentive to offer the lines.
Just like in stock market investing, “the trend is your friend.” This simply means that if something is working, you stick with it until it stops working. This might be something such as a backup QB coming in and playing well, or a team consistently covering the spread when they are playing in prime time. You can see this phenomenon again and again, not just in football but throughout sports and life. Recent examples include the rise of Jeremy Lin in basketball and back to football, the ability of Tim Tebow to will his team to comeback after comeback.
A trend in the most recent NFL season was to simply bet the Green Bay Packers and the New Orleans Saints, especially at home. In fact, the Saints covered for 8 straight weeks against the spread, an almost unheard of “trend.” They covered every single game at home this year! If you wagered on these 2 teams at home every week, your record in the regular season would have been an astounding 15-1!
A new QB such as a rookie QB or a backup that comes in to become the starter can be a big boost to a team’s chances. Tim Tebow is the prime example, but it also happened when Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady became the starters after injury. Both teams made bettors a lot of money simply by riding them and playing out the trend. There is often a lot of luck in spotting “trends” because they can sometimes disappear quickly.
There are 2 different types of “teaser” bets that we will look at now: standard teasers and sweetheart (or monster) teasers.
Before explaining a sweetheart teaser, let’s quickly go over what a regular teaser is.
A regular, standard teaser involves anywhere from 2-15+ teams, and is a combination bet in which all bets must win for your bet to cash. Pushes are handled differently from book to book. Some books grade them a loss and others “reduce” or remove that tie from the bet. Some books offer both options.
The teaser bet lets you add extra points to your spread. So if you like a team -10 and another team also -10, you can bet both teams at -3 instead, but now both bets must win or your bet loses. The juice ranges wildly from book to book and depends on how many teams are involved. Line shopping is very important in teasers, and always remember to read over the rules to make sure pushes reduce or push the entire bet. Otherwise the bet is probably offering poor value.
Sweetheart teasers are special types of bets designed by the books to lure players in with the illusion of easy profits. While these bets do win from time to time, that does not mean you will hit them often enough to overcome the house edge. These sweetheart teasers allow you to gain an extra 10+ points on each spread, and are generally sucker bets.
Making a bet on a game is a piece of cake. There is action everywhere and most books take any bet up to $1000. Some books of course take much much higher bets, and during the Super Bowl bets as high as $100,000 were easily placed, with some high profile players betting a million in Vegas.
American football is one of the most watched and celebrated sports in the United States and because of this there are a number of special events throughout the season to give the fans a bit of added excitement. Below we’ve outlined some of the most popular tournaments played throughout the season.
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