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Betting on the National Football League

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.

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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.

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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.


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Categories: Sports