One of the most popular sports to bet on is football. Football betting is something that nearly all sports betting enthusiasts love.
Monday Night Football is the traditional sign that summer is over. Football gives its fans plenty of long weekends; games run Thursday through Monday for the entire season. Even better, there are plenty of chances to bet and opportunities to win. In this guide, you’ll learn the basics of betting money on your favorite football games online.
Learning how to bet on NFL games and college football games can feel intimidating at first. I know from experience. That’s why I’ve broken this guide into two parts – a Quick-Start Guide for those who want to dive right in – and a more Comprehensive Guide to Football Betting for those who want would like to learn more.
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I’ve tried to make this guide as simple as possible so you can start betting on football games today if you so choose.
Where to Bet on Football Games
For U.S. residents who are new to online football betting, Bovada Casino & Sportsbook is (hands down) the best betting site. They have a solid reputation, great customer service, and the highest acceptance rate for Visa debit, credit, and prepaid cards. If your card isn’t accepted, you can use Bovada’s Live Chat support to get instructions for using a money transfer service like Western Union to make a deposit.
When I bet on football games at Bovada, I feel confident that I’ll be paid my winnings. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at a lot of other US-facing sportsbooks. I know people that have signed up at the newest betting site because of the huge bonus or the sleek design, only to get the run around when they tried to cash out. I’d rather stick to a site I can trust.
Besides the feeling of security I get, there are a number of other reasons why I recommend Bovada for football betting.
- Their site is easy to use. When I first started betting online I was shocked at how complicated some betting sites were to navigate and understand. Bovada makes it easy to browse through different bets. You can even preview how much you would win on each bet.
- Their mobile site allows you to bet from your mobile phone or tablet.
- They offer live betting. That’s right – you can place bets while you watch the action live.
- They have good promotions.
Understanding Point Spread Bets in Football
Point spread betting is the most popular bet in football. The point spread takes points from the favorite and gives them to the opposing team. You’re actually making a bet on whether the team you bet on will cover the spread. You can make other bets on the money line or the total. Bets on the money line are wagers on the outcome of the game regardless of points. Total bets concern the total number of points in the game, and you make wagers on whether the total will be under or over a number set by the casino. We’ll show you how to read the line in a Nevada sports book, and cover each type of bet you can make. Lines usually look like this:
|San Francisco 49ers||-160||43||UN||-110|
Betting the Spread in Football
The spread is listed next the team names in column A. The example table above lists the favored team as the 49ers with a 3-point spread. The 49ers have to win by 4 or more points to cover the spread and pay out to bettors that wagered on them. If the 49ers only win by 3 points, the bets result in a tie and your original will be returned to you. Those betting on the Dolphins will win if the 49ers only win the game by 1 or 2 points.
Many local papers, as well as USA Today, quote recent lines in their Sports sections. Lines listed in newspapers are only approximations, however. You’ll find more exact lines in casinos and sports books. Newspaper lines are usually listed like this:
SAN FRANCISCO -3 Miami
SAN FRANCISCO Miami +3
The home team is always listed in capital letters. Newspapers list lines differently, but it makes no difference if the favorite team gives up points, such as San Francisco -3, or the opposing team gains points, like Miami +3. The favorite team is always listed first, as well. In this example, San Francisco is both the favorite and the home team.
A point-spread bet requires that you bet 11 to make 10, meaning you have to pay $110 to possibly win $100, regardless of which team you wager on. You’ll be paid $210 if you win, which is your original $110 plus the $100 in winnings. You can make an even-money bet, such as $50, but the casino will round down your winnings to the nearest dollar. Instead of a 10 to 11 payout of $45.45, you’ll be paid $45 if your $50 bet wins.
The house’s vigorish is calculated into an even-money bet, making the payout 10 to 10 rather than 11 to 10. This means an even-money spread bet has a 4.54 percent commission that comes out of your winnings. This commission can add up, negatively affecting your expected-win rate. For an example, you could make 10 point-spread bets, but you only 5. Here’s how the vigorish affects your winnings:
Five wins at $100 per win = $500
Five losses at $110 per loss = -$550
You’ve just lost $50, even though half your bets came out winners! You have to win at least 52.38 percent of the spread bets you make to come out ahead of house edge.
Betting on the Money Line in Football
If betting on the point spread isn’t your style, you can bet on the money line. This allows you to bet on the outcome of the game regardless of the points.
|San Francisco 49ers -3||-160||43||UN||-110|
This above example shows the money line in column B, and indicates how much you bet and how much you can expect to win expressed in betting units of $100. The plus sign for the Dolphins means that a $100 could win you $140, while the minus sign for the 49ers shows that you must bet $160 to win only $100. You have to pay more to win less on the 49ers because they’re the favorite team. You can still bet as much or as little as you would like, but remember that a payout on the favorite team will be calculated at 100 to 160, or 10 to 16.
Point-spread bets and money-line bets give comparable edges to the house.
Betting on Football Totals
Using the next line example, we’ll discuss total bets. These kinds of bets don’t depend on which team wins the game. Instead, they depend on the total number of points scored by both teams.
|San Francisco 49ers||-160||43||UN||-110|
Column C shows the total bet number, in this case 43. If you think the total points scored by both teams will be over 43, you can bet on the over (OV). If you think the total scored will be under 43, bet on the under (UN). Both of these bets, based on the line, offer 11 to 10 payouts, so you must bet $110 to win $100.
Just because two powerhouse teams are playing doesn’t mean you should bet the over. Linemakers know that offensively powerful teams can score a lot of points, so they make the total intentionally high. In order to win betting on the over, both teams must collectively score more than 43 points. Betting on the under, the teams must score below 43 together. Linemakers also know if both teams have a powerful defense, and will lower the total number accordingly.
It requires just as much handicapping to bet the total successfully as it does for betting on the spread or line. The payoff basis on an over or under bet is 11 to 10, just like the payoff on a point-spread bet.
Football Parlays and Teasers
There’s another betting option known as a parlay, which allows you to bet on multiple teams, but every team you select must win its respective games for your parlay bet to pay out. A popular form of parlay is known as a teaser. The casino provides a parlay card, which lists the menu of link options.
You don’t need a parlay card to make a parlay bet, however. Most sports books offer 13 to 5 on two-team parlays. You can give the employee behind the counter $5, and choose two teams, either side or totals. The employee will give you a piece paper in return. Do NOT lose it! It’s the only proof that you made your bet. That piece of paper is worth $18 if both your teams win. On the other hand, one or both your teams may lose. If that happens, your piece of paper will at least allow you to show a tax auditor you suffered a gambling loss this year. But let’s say one of your teams ties. If this happens, your bet will instead play as a straight $5 bet on the second team. Your piece of paper will be worth $11.50 if the second team wins. The paper is worth only $5 if both teams happen to tie.
If you’d like to try betting a parlay card, your bet depends on the outcomes of three games. Always be sure to check the card for any details, because you won’t given extra points on any of the teams you’re betting on. Occasionally, a parlay card specifies that ties lose the bet, other times that they win. Sometimes cards don’t offer rules on ties. That’s because the spreads end in halfs.
Let’s go over an example. Let’s say you’d like to make bets on three teams. With a parlay card, you can bet $10 on team A, potentially winning $9. If team A wins, you’ll want to take the entire payoff and bet at 11 to 10 that team B wins next. That bet wins as well, so you take that whole payoff and make another 11 to 10 bet that team C wins the final game.
With your three teams winnings their respective games, your original $10 bet has grown to almost $70 by the third game’s end. If any one of your teams loses, your $10 bet belongs to the house. A parlay-card bet allows you to wager $10, and with a little luck, receive $70 once all three games are done. This does, of course, depend on the sports books taking your bets, so never be afraid to ask!
All three teams winning their games carry true odds of 7 to 1. This means without a house edge, your $10 would pay out $80, but then the house makes no money! The edge for the house comes out to about 12.5 percent on a three-team parlay. Parlay is an excellent choice for someone picking winners at greater than 52.8 percent. If you’re betting for fun, you’re likely to pick winners only 50 percent of the time. In this circumstance, a straight bet is your best decision because you lose a higher percentage to the casino on parlays.
Another option is a teaser. This type of bet allows you to pick three or more teams, but they must all beat a specific spread in order for your bet to win. Sports books give additional points over the regular spread for teasers. Air Force might be favored by 9 points, but a teaser will offer you Air Force -3 or Wyoming +15 instead.
Teaser cards pay off at lower odds because of the more attractive spreads they offer bettors. Like parlay cards, teaser cards often specify rules: that ties win, that ties lose, or that there are no ties because the spread ends in ½. Sports books may even offer several different teaser cards, so make sure you check the rules printed on them!
Parlays offer a huge potential payout for a small bet, but all your selected teams must win. Three straight bets means you could still win money if one of your teams loses their game.
To set the totals, linemakers take the points-against (PA) and the points-for (PF) concerning each team into consideration. You can use the PF and PA, as well, to decide whether to bet over or under a total. You can find these statistics in USA Today, or your local newspaper’s Sports section, under the NFL standings.
Here’s an example of how the statistics might look for a Pittsburgh vs. Green Bay game at Pittsburgh:
This allows you to calculate the average PF and PA for Pittsburgh by dividing those numbers by the number of games the team has played. Summing the resulting products together for Pittsburgh will give you the average total number of points scored by Pittsburgh per game. You can get the average for Green Bay the same way.
|Avg. PF||Avg. PA||Total Points/Game|
According to the results, Pittsburgh and Green Bay are pretty well matched. An actual line for this game was listed as GB -3 ½ 42, which means that Green Bay was favored by 3 ½ points, with 42 total points. With a total of 42, and both teams averaging 44 points per game, betting the over looks enticing. And the linemaker’s prediction was close, because at the end of the game Green Bay won 24 to 19, with a total of 43 points collectively.
It takes a lot more information than we’ve gone over to win consistently more than 52.4 percent of your bets. This is just the start. Linemakers consider every piece of information available, so you should too. Research can be half the fun!
Linemakers will usually give the team with the home-field advantage and additional 2 to 3 points. It’s not always obvious, though. In the example we’ve been using, Pittsburgh against Green Bay at Pittsburgh, Green Bay could have been favored by 6 if the linemakers hadn’t included points for Pittsburgh’s home-team advantage. Check the injury lists, as well, when you’re making your own analysis because linemakers and handicappers include that information in their calculations. The Sports sections in USA Today and local newspapers list the status of injured players by teams. One thing to note about local newspapers, however: They typically print more information on the home team than on the out-of-town teams. Since information is gold when it comes to betting, be sure to find additional sources for information on teams, including sports web sites.
Point spreads can swing by 1 to 5 depending on the injury of a key player, if they’re important to the team’s performance. Sometimes teams have many replacements for some positions, but rely on a particular quarterback. Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the teams you want to bet on can help you calculate your final bets.