NFLbets' NFL Betting Basics -- Types of odds and bets -- Betting terms and expressions
So you’re ready to take the plunge into the high-adrenaline, tons-of-fun world of NFL betting – congratulations! NFLbets is certain you’re relatively up on the basics of betting (after all, whether the Powers That Be admit so or not, American football and gambling have always gone hand in hand), but just in case, we’ve gathered the fundamental knowledge required to take things to the next level. Bursh up with NFLbets’ primer and rejoinder; we hope newbies and old pros find this page helpful.
NFL Betting Basics: Types of odds and bets
As just stated, betting and football are greatly intertwined and even those who have no intention of ever placing wagers on NFL games know and understand the basic ways to bet. However, the complexity and opportunity within the less commonly-played sportsbook offerings may surprise some trying to take their betting game to another level. Read on for some ABCs in these areas.
How odds are expressed
Three standard formats for expressing odds are used internationally, though almost every sportsbook will use a combination of two different styles for NFL betting odds.
• Fractional odds are by far the most commonly associated with sports betting, as evidenced by a turn of phrase such as “Two-to-one Brady’s lying about deflating footballs.” In the fractional odds format, a winning bet at 2/1 odds pays out at twice the wagered amount. A winning bet at 1/2 odds pays out half the wagered amount.
• American odds evolved from the oddsmakers’ desire to provide as much precision in offerings. The American format expresses odds based on 100; a 2/1 underdog would be posted in fractional format as +200. Odds displayed as a negative number, e.g. -200, should be interpreted as meaning that the bettor must wager 200 to win 100.
The American format allows sportsbooks in many cases to offer a more easily understandable line. Commonly offered lines such as 23/20 and 17/5 are positively counterintuitive compared with +115 and +340. Most sportsbooks based in North America therefore offer a combination of odds styles for NFL betting; generally, odds shorter than 4/1 are shown in American format and longshots are shown in fractional format.
• A third method of display odds is the decimal format, though this is typical only used at European sportsbooks and even there rarely for NFL betting. That’s kinda too bad, because decimal format offers the swell advantage of showing the exact payout. In decimal format, 2/1 or +200 therefore becomes 3.0 or 3.00, which may be thought of as units. So, bet $50, win 3 x $50, and expect to get $150 returned from the cashier. Neat, huh?
Types of bets: Single bets
NFLbets’ll start with some real basics on types of bets, so depending on your experience as an NFL bettor (likesay, if you have any), feel free to skip down a section for the more exotic and elaborate stuff.
The simplest type of betting for NFL games may be called single bets. A single bet is any bet which is based on the outcome of a single game or season. The result of a winning single bet is based on the stake and the odds offered.
• The point spread is quite fundamentally the starting point of all NFL and football betting. Even those who no literal strake in a given game will discuss the potential outcome in terms of a spread determined by Las Vegas bookmakers. This number is expressed as a positive number for the favorite in a given game and as a negative number for the underdog; when the final score is known, the number of points in the spread is added to or subtracted from the team on which you’ve bet.
Let’s take as an example a point spread of “Seattle Seahawks -4½ vs Los Angeles Rams.” A bet on the Seahawks minus the points means that Seattle must win by five points or more to cash in. Betting on L.A. in this scenario translates as a winning bet even if the Rams lose outright by up to four points.
• Betting with no handicap involved is known as “money line betting”: Just pick a winner of a certain game, and that’s a money line bet. On these bets, odds are posted with the favorite getting shorter than 1/1 odds and the underdog usually in the area of 2/1 or so. This wager is preferred only by those NFL bettors who like the underdog in an upset because of the unfavorable odds generally given to the favorite.
• The over/under is also quite a popular NFL bet on any given Sunday. (Or Thursday night. Or Monday night.) The over/under line expressed as a single number representing the expected cumulative score by both teams for the game. Bet on whether you think the total number of points is over or under the given line.
Returning to our L.A. Rams at Seattle example above, let’s say the over/under for this game is set at 49½ points. Betting the under means the final score will have to total 50 or more to win the wager. The NFL bettor can even use the point spread and the over/under to from a prediction for the game based on bookmakers’ consensus. In this theoretical game, Vegas expects (or is at least taking bets based on) a final score of Seahawks 27, Rams 22 or 23.
• Proposition bets, or props, may be defined as those bets which are not based on the outcome, i.e. winner and loser, of a game or games. (Yes, technically over/unders should be considered proposition bets, but these have grown so popular as to demand its own classification.) Proposition bets are further divided into two types.
Team props are the more plentiful props among NFL bettors until the Super Bowl. Examples of team props on a week-to-week basis may involve margin of victory; number of points scored by a team or teams in a quarter, half or full game; etc.
Player props are, naturally, those involving individual players’ results. During the season, a number of offerings based in total yardage, TDs, sacks, interceptions – any stat really – may be available, though typically only for name players. Note that some sportsbooks may make fewer player props available than others. For the Super Bowl, all sportsbooks offer zillions of these props as untold cash is wagered on player props based in performance and culminating in one of the most popular props of the year, “To Win Super Bowl MVP.”
• Live betting, or in-game betting, has become a betting style unto itself, although most in-game bettors are also playing the traditional bets. In live betting, the odds on offerings including the point spread and most props may be reset and reoffered to reflect what has happened within the game already. For NFL betting, new odds are offered at the ends of quarters. Many NFL bettors use live betting as a way to hedge on bets they know they’ve blown early, so exercise caution in this mode of play.
• Futures are an extremely popular bet in the preseason, because what NFL fan doesn’t make predictions prior to the start of a season? Among the bets standardly offered, team props can include the ever ultra-popular “Over/under Wins for Season” and “To Win Division/Conference/Super Bowl” offerings. These are exactly what you’d figure: The latter is essentially a bet on how many wins a team will get, while the latter are odds based in fractional format.
During the preseason, a number of offerings based in total yardage, TDs, sacks, interceptions – any stat really – are available, though typically only for name players.
Types of bets: Parlays and more exotic NFL betting
Just in case the options in single bets aren’t enough for you, most sportsbooks offer lots of other ways to bet NFL games. Note that such offerings will vary from site to site.
• Parlays are essentially two or more separate bets played on a single ticket; all individual bets within the parlay must win for the bettor to be paid. Though intrinsically much harder to win on, the advantage to the parlay bet is that odds on a big favorite. For example, betting the New England Patriots at -1000 on the money line against the Buffalo Bills is hardly worth the risk. Putting a bet on the Patriots into a parlay with another pointspread bet increases the odds – and thus the potential payout – on the bet.
Most types of NFL bets can be put into a parlay, though not all sportsbooks will allow certain futures to be included, due to the seriously long odds some such parlays would create.
• Round-robin bets represent a variation on parlay betting bet explained as wagering on several parlays at once. Choose anywhere between 3 to 8 teams and the number of teams on each parlay for a resultant number of bets. As an example, well take the Patriots -12 and Seahawks -4½ as before, along with the Chargers +5½ at Pittsburgh and the Bears +2 at Dallas, and we’ll bet on 2-team parlays. Thus, this round-robin bet is actually six parlays (Patriots-Seahawks; Patriots-Chargers; Patriots-Bears; Seahawks-Chargers; Seahawks-Bears; Chargers-Bears). Taking these four teams in 3-teams parlays works out to four parlays.
• Teaser bets, or teasers, make parlay betting even more enticing by tilting the point spread further into the bettor’s favor. Choose a parlay of two games or more (typically three, for reasons explained momentarily). Betting a teaser adds a certain amount of points to your team’s spread in every game. For example, if you put the Patriots at -12 vs Buffalo and the Seahawks -4½ vs the L.A. Rams into a 6-point teaser (the most common variety of teaser), you’d essentially be wagering on a parlay of Patriots -6 and Seahawks +1½. Note the latter spread flipping to morph the favored Seahawks into an underdog; herein lies another attraction to the teaser.
While the teaser may seem like quite an advantage for the bettor – and it is, if used wisely – the catch comes in the significantly reduced payouts: A winning 2-team parlay bet pays +260, whereas a 2-team teaser pays out around -110 – exactly the same as a single bet on the point spread. Teasers of 6½ and 7 points are also widely available at sportsbooks as well, and these payouts are even lower. A 3-team, 6-point teaser can pay as much as +180, however, which is quite a bit more reasonable for the risk involved.
• Buying points allows more precision in NFL betting. Buy ½, 1, 1½ or 2 additional points on the point spread for a payout of 10%, 20%, 30% and 40% lower, respectively.
• If bets differ from parlays in that, though both show multiple bets on a single ticket, the bettor’s pay out as individual bets. Continuing with the previous examples, we’ll say you cover the Patriots -12 vs Buffalo as the first bet and the Seahawks -4½ vs the L.A. Rams as the second; the stake is $100. If the Patriots cover, $100 is then automatically wagered on the Seahawks, and, assuming odds of 9/10 on each bet, if the first bet pays, the cashier will be returning $90. If the Seahawks cover as well, the winning if bet on these teams pays out on this win as well.
• Reverse bets are essentially if bets with an added wrinkle. In the if bet, a winning bet on Team A triggers the bet on Team B; in reverse bets, both “if Team A wins, bet B” *and* “if Team B wins, bet A” are covered. As this is essentially two bets in one, double the wager is necessary.
To be honest, we’d advise against playing a reverse bet ever; winning the correct proportion of point spread bets plus a 2-team parlay will pay well more lucratively than in a reverse bet – especially since both teams winning is the only way a reverse bet makes money anyway…
Common terms & expressions in NFL and sports betting
If you’re this far down the page, you’ve probably got enough betting-related vocabulary among your personal lexicon so as not to necessarily need further explanation of common words and expressions in the sportsbook world. So this one’s for the text-skippers, the page-jumpers, the tl;dr’ers and for those who just want a reference guide. Call it the Glossary of NFL Betting.
Action. “Action” in sports betting is a term used to describe all the bets made on a given game. A phrase like “The early action is mostly on the Philadelphia Eagles” means that the majority of bets (and therefore wagered cash) in the first few days of the line’s availability are getting made on the Eagles.
Against the spread (ATS) and straight up (SU). In NFL pregame analyses related to betting, team records are almost always expressed in terms of wins/losses/ties both ATS and SU. A given team’s SU record is simply its “real life” record; its ATS record is based on game results with the point spread for each game added in. For football bettors, a team’s ATS record is well more important than its SU record, as most NFL bets are made based on point spreads. ATS marks are also crucial because far more teams on a yearly basis trend toward a .500 mark ATS than SU.
Betting Slip. The betting slip is that little lottery ticket-sized piece of paper given to the bettor after he/she places a wager. In U.S. sportsbooks, each betting slip contains information on just one bet, whether a single bet, parlay, teaser or whatnot, along with information on money wagered and potential winnings. At online sportsbooks, the term “betting slip” takes on a marked difference (and so the necessity of including the term in this vocabulary list). Internet-based betting slips may list several bets on a single “ticket” and represent instead all bets made at the site on a single visit.
Favorite and underdog. In any game, the favorite is that team expected to win either in terms of point spread or, more informally, the general consensus among NFL fandom. The underdog is the expected loser of the game. When discussing favorites and underdogs as related to point spreads, the teams are said to be…
Giving points and getting points. Simply put, the favorite gives points while the underdog gets points. To demonstrate by example, a point spread of “Minnesota Vikings -6½ vs Detroit Lions” could be described as “The Vikings are giving 6½ [points] at home to the Lions” or “The Lions are getting 6½ [points] at Minnesota.”
Long odds and short odds. These terms defy exact objective definition, but the closer a given line gets to 1/1 or +100, the more likely that line is to be described as “short odds.” And once sportsbooks express that line with fractional odds (see above for explanations of various betting formats), more bettors are likely to refer to them as “long odds.”
Longshot. Even more objectivity-defying than those directly above is “longshot.” A longshot may be described as a team (or sometimes even a player in preseason props such as “To Win Defensive MVP”) that has odds long even to deter most action on them. Beyond the informal sense, “longshot” is particularly used in proposition betting and especially in reference to value bets (see below).
No line (NL). Occasionally, one or two games will have no point spread or over/under established and the display/website will show “NL”. This means that sportsbooks are not currently taking bets on this game. Typically, a No Line indicates a lack of information on which to base lines and odds; in the overwhelming majority of cases, the NL is due to the unknown playing status of one or both starting quarterbacks in the game. The pesky “NL” is replaced by proper numbers well before kickoff is almost ever case after the release of the teams’ injury reports midweek.
Pick ‘em, pick or PK. Seeing one of these in lieu of a point spread is not the equivalent of “NL”, but rather indicates a point spread of zero. Placing a bet on either team in a “pick ‘em” game is the equivalent of making a Money Line bet and, in cases of “pick ‘em” games, both teams should have equal odds on the ML.
Value Betting. When the sharps and NFL betting touts talk about “value betting”, they’re describing a low-risk, high-reward proposition bet; value bets are those offerings worth betting because the odds are out of proportion to the actual chances of success. For example, a bettor may believe that the Houston Texans are relatively unlikely to win the Super Bowl but have a much better chance than the 25/1 odds posted: He/she will definitely be looking to place a small wager, i.e. a value bet, on the Texans.
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