While Major League Baseball will forever have a special place in American hearts, the NFL has now seized the top spot in the American sports hierarchy, establishing itself as a national obsession worthy of year-round coverage. The Super Bowl, the NFL’s championship game, is the highest rated television event every year in the States.
Whether the NFL admits it or not, the league’s popularity has been helped tremendously by betting markets, and, to a lesser extent, by fantasy sports. The billions of dollars that Vegas bettors plunge on the league each year is just a fraction of the total amount wagered in illegal markets – a giant pool of money fed not simply by the United States, but by a ring of countries stretching right across the globe. The league is especially vocal about their anti-gambling stance, an amusing situation given that this basically equates to biting the hand that feeds their almost messianic popularity.
The NFL starts with a four game preseason, followed by a full 17-week regular season. Each team receives one bye-week, resulting in 16 regular season contests for each franchise, plus additional playoff games should they make it through to the postseason.
Both the AFC and NFC are split into four divisions, each one containing four teams. After the conclusion of the 17-week regular season, six teams will progress to the playoffs. The final six include all four of the division winners. The remaining two places are filled by the Wild-Card teams, those sides who boast the best records after the divisional champions. The two divisional winners with the best records will receive a first-round bye, and will also hold home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The playoffs consist of a sequence of straight eliminators, and these begin at the end of the regular season, in early January. Ultimately, one team from the NFC and one from the AFC will be left standing, and these two will then progress to the Super Bowl to battle it out to be crowned true champions.
Since the NFL is one of the most widely bet sports in the world, the number of betting markets available is often much greater than in the other three major American sports. Since the advent of internet wagering, the amount of wager types on the NFL has consistently gotten larger. In today’s market, the sheer amount of wagering options available on just a single contest can be daunting.
Point spread wagering is by far the most popular form of betting on the NFL. Each week the lines are released on Sunday evening and Monday morning for the coming week’s games. There is plenty of speculation on where the week’s lines originate, but it is generally believed that they come from a small group of handicappers and sportsbook employees working out of Las Vegas.
Within hours of the lines being posted, “sharps” or professional-level handicappers will hit the lines hard with numbers that they think the bookmakers made a mistake on. By Tuesday, many adjustments will have already been made to the opening lines. By the time Thursday comes along, the bookmakers will have tightened up and fine-tuned the line, and at this point the public will be invited to lay down their dollars. Betting will be heavy from here right up to kickoff.
While the majority of money being bet on NFL games is from public bettors, colloquially known as “squares”, they have little influence on the lines until later in the week. Professional level handicappers influence the line throughout the week, which helps a sportsbook work towards an “optimal line” as they get closer to the weekend.
The basics of point spread wagering on football games are simple. Let’s look at an example.
Cleveland Browns +3(-110) at Pittsburgh Steelers -3(-110)
The Browns head to Pittsburgh to take on their AFC North division rival, the Steelers. Pittsburgh are the favorites in this game, and are playing at home. The number directly to the right of each team is the amount of points they are favored by or getting in this contest. The numbers in parentheses represent the attached odds for each side. This bet uses the standard -110 pricing.
In this particular game, the Browns are the underdogs, getting three points, and the Steelers are the home favorites. Pittsburgh must win the game by three points or more for the Steelers’ backers to cash in on their wager. Cleveland must either win the game, or must lose by less than three points for the Browns’ backers to win their bet.
If the Steelers win by exactly three points, the bet will be considered a “push.” This means each side will be refunded their betting stakes, as there is no point spread winner or loser. Of course, if the line consisted of -3.5 and +3.5, a push would not be possible. The half-point in football wagering is known as a “hook.”
The numbers of 3 and 7 are key figures for NFL games. Many games are decided by either 3 or 7 points, and for this reason, the oddsmakers are wary of such scores. If you can get on the right side of these numbers, it can be highly profitable.
Buying points is an option, but it is usually better to get the best price possible. Buying points and half-points is common, but sportsbooks charge a premium price when buying off the 3 or 7. In fact, some bookmakers may not sell points off these numbers at all. Unless bettors can get an off-market price, buying points on the 3 and 7 isn’t profitable long-term.
NFL money line betting isn’t as popular as point spread wagering, but it offers an alternative form of wagering for football bettors. With money lines, there is no point spread, and the only thing that matters is the outright winner of the contest. Money lines wagering on NFL is no different than for other sports. Let’s look at another example, using our AFC North rivals once again.
Cleveland Browns +175 at Pittsburgh Steelers -190
The money line simply replaces the point spread. The Steelers are the clear favorites in this contest at -190, and the visiting Browns are once again the underdogs at +175. As you can see, money line odds have a much more volatile range than point spread wagers, but can also be highly profitable bets, especially when bettors cash in on a large underdog.
Totals or Over/Under wagers are self-explanatory, and are used as betting options on just about every sport in the world. Well, the NFL is no different, and while totals aren’t quite as popular as point spread betting, they still make up a large part of NFL betting markets.
Like point spreads, a number of factors go into determining the total of a game. There are many variables, including weather, coaches’ game plans, and the offensive or defensive prowess of both teams.
Totals usually range from about 35 points, at the low end, to a maximum of about 60 points. These two numbers are fairly extreme, though. In practice, it’s quite rare for a total to be lower than 37 points, or higher than 58 points.
If there is any market that seems to get bigger and bigger with each new season, it’s NFL props. Propositions and other exotic bets take in a wide range of options, varying from absurdly simple and traditional wagers to truly off-the-wall bets. Most NFL props center on team or player specific wagers.
A typical player prop is usually focused on a player’s yards, receptions, or a combination of one or more of those. Sometimes two players can be pitted against one another in a prop wager. Some of these bets can be quite complex, and larger sportsbooks may offer over a dozen props on just one game.
Team props are similar, but instead focus on a specific team’s output. This could be the number of points a team scores, the total number of touchdowns given up, and many more. Betting on the coin toss or on which team will score first are other examples.
If you have an eye for a weak line, propositions are some of the easiest bets to exploit. This is mostly due to the vast number of prop bets available, combined with the absence of many professional bettors in these markets. The oddsmakers tend to concentrate on their more pressing point spreads and totals markets, and won’t generally have time to monitor hundreds of prop bets in addition to those.
Props also can vary wildly between sportsbooks, which opens up plenty of opportunities for profits. However, there’s a significant drawback in betting props – low betting limits. While bettors can easily wager thousands of dollars on sides and totals, most props have a betting limit of $500 or less. Some prop markets have max limits as low as $50.
Futures markets are normally long-term bets that end with the conclusion of the playoffs or the regular season of a particular sport. When they were first introduced, NFL futures were mostly limited to just the Super Bowl winner, but such bets have expanded plenty since then. Bettors can now wager on the AFC and NFC Champions and on the divisional winners. Futures odds are updated throughout the year, even during the offseason.
While future wagers tie up players’ bankrolls for an extended period of time, these bets can offer some massive payouts if you manage to pick a winner. Also, if a team gets close to achieving their goal, bettors usually have the opportunity to hedge their bet and guarantee themselves a profit.
Live betting or in-play betting markets did not exist until the advent of internet sportsbooks. Today, they are the fastest growing form of wagering, and are especially popular with NFL bettors.
Live betting offers constant wagering action, and allows bettors to place money on each individual play, should they want. Live point spreads, totals, props and other types of bets are also updated as the action happens.
As with props, live betting markets aren’t monitored as efficiently as the sides and totals bets, making in-play another potential soft spot in a sportsbook’s otherwise impenetrable armor. Once again, though, their betting limits will also be much lower than on sides and totals.
Live betting markets can certainly be profitable for players, and sportsbooks have been forced to lower limits and ban some in-play bettors. Many of the bets have additional juice added to both sides to make things more difficult. The live betting options vary dramatically from sportsbook to sportsbook, so it’s best to evaluate the profitability of live betting markets on a case by case basis.
Parlays and teasers are not unique to NFL betting markets, but are among the most favored bets of the masses. Depending on the number of teams and the type of wager, parlays and teasers can be highly profitable, but generally a bettor’s edge is razor thin against the sportsbooks.
NFL parlays above two and three teams will have odds that generally aren’t beatable long-term, no matter what strategy is used. However, two-team correlated parlays have been shown to be profitable over an extended sample.
A correlated parlay amounts to two bets tied together, the outcomes of which will be connected. For example, if it’s cloudy outside, it may rain. An NFL example is pairing a high-scoring favorite with the over in the same game. If the favorite covers the spread, the game will likely go over as well. The same can be said for a defensive minded underdog and the under on the total. If there’s less scoring, it is more likely the dog covers, and the game stays under.
Once again, online sportsbooks have adjusted to this type of wager. Many have completely outlawed correlated parlays. In some cases, bettors won’t be allowed to parlay sides and totals from the same game.
Teasers, like parlays, mostly have a high house edge, but two and three-team teasers offer bettors the best chance to come out ahead. One of the most widely known teaser strategies, “Basic Strategy Teasers” or “Wong Teasers”, were popularized by Stanford Wong’s book, Sharp Sports Betting.
These teasers can be bet on two or more teams that fall between -7.5 to -8.5, and between the numbers of +1.5 and +2.5. Since the most common margins of victory in the NFL are between 3 and 7 points, these teams fall right near these key numbers. This gives an undeniable advantage to those who utilize this method. Well, at least it did for a while.
Like correlated parlays, sportsbooks have adjusted the odds on teasers as a whole, and often only offer spreads that stay out of the range of the Wong Teaser strategy. Unfortunately, profiting off Wong Teasers is much harder today than it was five years ago.
The NFL is one of the world’s most prominent leagues, and offers more markets than most other sports, despite there being a relatively small number of games each season. It is one of the best sports to watch, and also one of the most profitable. Understanding how to exploit your advantages (and which bets to stay away from) on each bet type is a vital aspect to becoming a successful NFL handicapper.
Professional football has roots going back to the 1890s, but the sport was never officially sanctioned until the formation of the National Football League in 1922. The game waivered in popularity over the following decades, although a tight core of devotees kept the flame burning throughout that time.
The 1960s would be the decade that saw the sport rise in prominence. The creation in 1960 of the American Football League (AFL) was instrumental, sparking a fierce rivalry with the NFL that resulted in the two merging in 1966. Winning this new super league would secure not just increased adulation, but also the freshly-crafted Super Bowl trophy, a glorious prize the pursuit of which would fuel the sport’s ascendancy throughout the 1970s and 80s. By the end of this period, football had established itself as one of the country’s most watched forms of entertainment, and a glittering star had taken its place among the American sporting firmament.