How to make a point spread bet
Steph Curry's hot hand will always give the Warriors a chance to cover the spread. Photo by Mary Altaffer/AP.

In addition to the moneyline, the point spread is another highly popular way to bet on sports. This is especially true for higher-scoring sports like basketball and football. 

While there's a little more to a point spread bet than the moneyline, it's still a fairly simple way to wager on a sporting event. Like the ML, the favourite will have a minus sign (-) and the underdog will have a plus sign (+). 

A point spread requires the favourite to win by a certain amount of points. The underdog, on the other hand, can either win outright or lose by a certain number.

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By placing this handicap on teams, the sportsbooks level the playing field a bit (since you would still have a chance to win your bet if the underdog lost, unlike the moneyline) and create betting action on both sides. 

Point spreads can be small but they also run very high if a matchup is deemed particularly lopsided, which can be especially true in collegiate sports where the talent level between opponents is sometimes extreme. That said, double-digit spreads in both the NFL and NBA aren't uncommon.

NFL and NBA point spread betting

Below we will take a look at how sportsbooks present a point spread bet for NFL and NBA games.

Bills -14.5 (-110)Texans +14.5 (-110)
Bills +3.5 (-115)Packers -3.5 (-105)
Raptors -6.5 (-110)Kings +6.5 (-110)
Raptors +10.5 (-110)Warriors -10.5 (-110)

Let's start by looking at the Bills and Texans example. If you wagered on Buffalo -14.5, it means the team would have to win by at least 15 points for you to cash your bet. Sportsbooks will often set the spread at numbers that are different from the key numbers of 3, 6, 7, 10, 14.

This is because a lot of games end by that margin of difference (a field goal, two field goals, a touchdown). So an extra point or hook (a half point) is often added to the spread which is another way of drawing action on both teams.

Here's why: As a 13.5-point favourite, the Bills would have to win by two touchdowns to cover the spread. By setting it at Buffalo -14.5, though, it means the Bills would have to win by three scores or convert on a two-point conversion to cover. One extra point might not seem like much but, in a sport like football, it makes a tremendous difference.

As for the NBA example, Toronto could either win outright or lose by 10 points or fewer and you would cash your ticket if you backed the Raptors at +10.5 in that matchup against Golden State. So even if you thought the Raptors would lose to the Warriors, you can still wager on them and win your bet in the event that they weren't victorious.

Thanks to the point spread, the Raptors can lose a game and you can still win your bet. Photo by Adam Hunger/AP.

If you don't like betting against your favourite team — and some people don't — you can also wager on them to cover the spread as an underdog if a straight-up win against a superior team feels unlikely.

While spreads might change leading up to the beginning of a contest (this could be a result of player injury, for instance), the odds rarely do. As you can see, most point spread odds are set at -110 for either side. They can, however, shift slightly like in that Bills and Packers matchup. 

MLB and NHL point spreads

The NHL and MLB have their own versions of the point spread as well but each goes by different terms. 

Betting on a spread for an NHL game is called the puck line and in MLB it is referred to as the run line. The standard handicap is 1.5. That means in order to cover the spread a team would either have to win by two goals/two runs or could lose as long as it wasn’t by more than one.

While blowouts happen in both sports, the margin of victory is typically much smaller compared to the NFL and NBA. Many NHL and MLB games are decided by only a single run or goal. That’s why you won’t see the large double-digit spread numbers that you do in basketball and football. 

Sportsbooks also offer something called alternative spreads for all of the Big Four sports. Alt spreads allow you to place a bet on a number that's different from the main one.

You might be able to get the Bills at -10.5 or the Raptors at +12.5, for example, but their odds would change. Your return on investment would decrease as well because your probability of winning would increase.

NorthStar Bets editorial Insiders have no influence, direct or otherwise, over the setting of odds advertised on our platforms.