How to bet on the NFL: Point spreads, totals, parlays and more

Photo by Ashley Landis/AP.

No sport in North America is bet on more than the NFL. And no event sees more wagers than the Super Bowl, which caps off the league’s season in February each year.

The NFL is king when it comes to betting, creating action all throughout the week with games on Monday and Thursday in addition to the leadup to the big Sunday slate. 

There are many ways to bet on the NFL. The point spread is the most common, but there are a number of other markets, including player props, that attract a high volume of wagers. 

How to bet on the NFL

For those new to betting or in need of a refresher, this how to bet on the NFL guide will run you through the markets that football-loving bettors like to wager on.

Moneyline betting

Wagering on the moneyline isn’t as popular among NFL bettors as it is for leagues like the NHL and MLB, but it’s still part of the NFL betting experience. 

A moneyline bet is straightforward and simply requires you to pick the team you think will win the game. If you like the Bills to beat the Patriots straight up and place a wager on it, that’s a moneyline bet. 

Each team will come with its own set of odds based on its probability of winning that specific contest. The odds will ultimately determine the potential payout. 

A team that is favoured will have a minus (-) sign before its odds, while the underdog will have a plus (+) sign. 

Team success of course plays a major role in determining which club is assigned as the favourite. Other factors include which team is home and the health of the roster. Missing key players will have an impact on the odds. 

Quarterbacks, specifically, can swing the lines considerably. Let’s say QB Josh Allen was unable to play in that hypothetical Bills/Patriots matchup, Buffalo would likely go from a short favourite to an underdog. With a healthy Allen at home, the Bills might be -140 favourites but without him could flip to a +200 underdog. A swing like that is monumental for bettors. 

Moneyline odds vary considerably between matchups and every week there are large favourites that see odds of -600 or higher. At those odds, a team would have an 85 percent implied probability of winning that matchup. To better understand what that means, here’s an example of the return you would make depending on what the odds were set at:

OddsWagerTo win
-140+140$100
-600$600$100
+130$100$130

Unless you’re backing an underdog to win straight up, which would be a low-probability outcome, there's bigger payout potential by betting the point spread. We will take you how to bet on NFL points spreads and provide examples of what you will see offered by sportsbooks.

Note: You will also see the moneyline referred to as ML for short.

Point spread betting

Betting on the point spread is the most common wager made by NFL gamblers.

A point spread is a certain number assigned by sportsbooks that a team either has to win by or can lose by. These numbers will vary depending on the opponents that are playing, whether a team is at home and, like any sport, if a key player is injured. 

Let’s go back to that hypothetical Bills and Patriots matchup and say Buffalo is at home and Allen is healthy. It would be reasonable to assume that the Bills would be favoured by 3.5 points. If you selected them to cover that spread, it would mean that they would have to win and do it by at least four points. On the flip side, if you backed the Patriots on the spread, they could lose and you would still win your ticket as long as they weren’t defeated by more than three points. 

Under this scenario, you would see the Bills listed at -3.5 and the Patriots at +3.5. Most sportsbooks will set the odds at -110 for both sides on the spread, which will help create action on both teams. 

One thing to note about the point spread is that it can and does change throughout the week. Sportsbooks will set an opening line at the beginning of the week (typically as early as Sunday night once the majority of games that week have been played) but it can look much different by the time the game starts at the end of the week. This can be a result of player availability but it also could change depending on how many bettors are favouring a particular side. If there is a big majority backing the Patriots at +3.5, sportsbooks might drop that number down to Buffalo -3 or -2.5 to create more action on the Bills.

Like other sports, there are alternative spreads as well. You can buy more points, meaning you could take the Bills at say -6.5 and see your odds change to something like +120 or you could pay more juice (give a larger cut to the operator) and pick them to only have to cover a -2.5 spread at say -160.

Betting totals

Totals are also highly popular among NFL bettors. Wagering on the total is straightforward and involves selecting whether the two teams will score more or fewer points than the number that is set by the sportsbook. You will also see totals referred to as the over/under or O/U. All three terms are interchangeable. 

Most sportsbooks will set the over/under for a game between 40-50 points. Some, like a game involving Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs against another high-powered offense, will reach the mid-50s. 

Like point spreads, -110 odds is the standard on totals for both the over and under. That means for that Buffalo and New England matchup, if the total was set at 44.5, you’d most likely have the option to choose the over at -110 as well as the under at the same odds. 

Also like point spreads, you can bet on alternative totals as well. If you’re expecting a higher-scoring game in that matchup and think there is value to be found, you could take the over on 46.5 points, for example, which would ultimately change the odds and produce a larger payout if successful.

You can also wager on team-specific totals as well and place an over/under bet on how many points you think each individual team will score in a game. The total would be reduced compared to the main number because only one team’s output would matter for this bet type.

Prop betting

Player props involve betting on individual outcomes in a game. The prop market is robust, giving bettors plenty of ways to wager on a game in addition to the spread, total and moneyline. 

Let’s use the Bills again as an example and run through some common prop types that sportsbooks make available for each game. 

There are a number of different quarterback props listed every week. For instance, you can wager on how many touchdowns you think Allen will throw, how many completions he will make, or how many yards he will toss for. The operator will set a total and you can select whether he will go over or under that number. 

These types of over/under props are also available for running backs and receivers. Common props you will see for these players centre around their yards totals, receptions, and rushing attempts. 

Anytime touchdown props are also popular, where you can wager on a player scoring a TD for that particular game.

There are also markets for team and game props, such as over/unders on the total amount of touchdowns or field goals for the contest.

Futures

The futures market involves betting on outcomes that will happen at a later time. This is a great way to bet if you’re willing to play the long game and find good value. 

Among the more popular NFL futures markets is picking the Super Bowl champion. Once the Super Bowl ends, odds for who will win the next title go on the board almost immediately and will remain open right up until the big game. So you will have a year to enter the market. 

Super Bowl odds are constantly changing due to team performance and injuries, and then of course once again when the playoff field is set and there are only a select amount of teams that even have a chance to win. 

Right now you might be able to get the Bills at +800 to win the Super Bowl but those odds will shorten the further they go in the playoffs. There is obviously risk betting far away from the Super Bowl, as the team you select may not even make it, but it’s when you will find the most value and increase your chances for a larger payout. 

You can also wager on team win totals, division winners, and an individual player's production (such as how many receiving touchdowns Cooper Kupp will score during the season).

Betting on season-long awards is another way to enter the futures market. You can wager on who you think will win the MVP, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and so on.

Parlays

A parlay consists of making multiple bets on a single ticket. You make one wager and every bet on that parlay must win in order for a bettor to cash their ticket. You could predict the correct outcome of four different games but if the fifth was incorrect, you would lose the parlay. 

Parlays can be a combination of moneylines, spreads, totals and player props. 

An example of an NFL parlay looks like this: 

Buffalo -3.5 (-110)
Stefon Diggs over 6.5 receptions (-118)
Bears vs. Packers under 50.5 (-110)

Combined odds = +574. If you predicted all three of those outcomes correctly, you would win $574 (a total payout of $674) on a $100 bet.  

A parlay has to have at least two bets attached to the same ticket but can have many more. Keep in mind: The more bets you add to a single ticket decreases your likelihood of winning but parlays are attractive to some because the payouts are bigger than a single-game wager. 

Some, but not all, sportsbooks also offer the option to make a same-game parlay bet where you could combine a moneyline, over/under, player prop, and so on. So, for example, you could make a bet where you predict the Bills to win, the total to go over 45.5 points, for Diggs to score a touchdown, and for Allen to throw for more than 290 yards. 

Live betting 

Live betting is popular and provides users with options to bet on games after they start as they play out in real time. Among the markets you can bet on are the moneyline, over/under and point spread. You can also make in-game bets on player props. 

Depending on the score of the game or a player’s individual performance, these lines can quickly look very different from the final line they were set at before play started. 

The Bills, for example, may have closed as a -3.5, -145 favourite against the Patriots with an over/under set at 44.5, but those lines could move fast if either team got out to a quick lead. 

Let’s say it was New England that got ahead early, going up 10-0 within the first few minutes of the game. The Patriots would then surely become the favourite on the moneyline and spread and the O/U would soar past that 44.5 mark because of the amount of early scoring. If you still liked the Bills to win, you would then be able to bet on them as an underdog on the ML.

That’s just one example. Odds are constantly changing throughout the game — certainly after a score and even on just a change of possession. Buffalo could quickly become the favourite again if it tied the game up, ending your chance to get them as a plus-money underdog. 

While markets remain open throughout a game they will close from time to time based on a number of factors, such as a timeout or injury, or a team increasing its odds of scoring by entering the red zone. 

There are more ways to bet on the NFL, such as teasers, which involve parlays on alternative spreads. You can read more about that in our guide on betting teasers.

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