Football is one of the most popular sports in North America, and its popularity, particularly in the NFL, is at an all-time high. Every Sunday, Monday, and Thursday (and some Saturdays), people all over the world study statistics, matchups, and trends in order to gain an advantage on betting lines from various sportsbooks that offer NFL markets.
It could be a single game, a player betting prop, or NFL futures odds that bettors try to cash in on. All of this will be covered in our How to Bet on NFL guide, which is linked below.
Placing bets on NFL football games can be a fun and profitable endeavor if you put in the time and effort. Fortunately, Odds Shark has done all of the legwork for you, so all you have to do is read this page, and you’ll have a better understanding of how to bet on American football games from the preseason to the Super Bowl, whether you’re looking at live odds or traditional football betting lines.
RULES OF AMERICAN FOOTBALL EXPLAINED
American football is a two-team sport in which the goal is to score more points than the opposing team. To accomplish this, you must first get the ball into the opposing team’s “end zone” or kick it through their goalposts. A touchdown is scored when the ball enters the end zone and is worth six points. By kicking the ball through the posts, you gain an additional point.
The fundamental rules of American football are simple. The team in possession of the ball must attempt to advance up the field. They have four chances to advance the ball 10 yards. If they are unable to do so, the ball is passed to the opposing team. If they gain 10 yards, a new set of four attempts is initiated.
Within an NFL team, there are effectively two ‘teams.’ One is the offense, which enters the field when the team is in possession and is in charge of scoring points. The other is defense, which is activated when the team is not in possession.
For each play, the two teams line up against each other. The ball will usually snap back to the quarterback, who decides whether to throw or run. A sack occurs when the quarterback is tackled.
An NFL game is divided into four quarters, each lasting 15 minutes. If the scores are tied at the end of regulation time, the game goes into overtime. In this game, whichever team scores first wins.
EXPLAINED AMERICAN FOOTBALL ODDS
There are three popular formats for American football betting odds. They are as follows:
- Odds in decimal form
- Probabilities in fractions
- The moneyline odds
While American sports fans are more familiar with money line odds, we will focus on decimal odds for the purposes of this article because they are much easier to work with in terms of basic betting theory and calculations.
Understanding betting odds is essential for winning at American football betting. Understanding the probabilities expressed in betting odds allows you to evaluate betting value easily. If you need help figuring out betting value, you’re unlikely to be a long-term American football bettor, so let’s dive into it!
TYPES OF AMERICAN FOOTBALL BETTING
Let’s take a look at how to bet on American football and the various betting markets available. There are numerous ways to wager on American football. Bookmakers all over the world now provide a wide range of American football betting odds, from the most traditional to the most exotic. This section will go over the most common American football odds.
WHERE TO BET ON AMERICAN FOOTBALL LINES
The Point Spread is the most popular and certainly the most traditional way to bet on American football games.
Football in America Point spreads (also known as betting lines or handicaps) are estimates of the final margin for an American football game. The margin is calculated as a 50/50 bet by bookmakers. In other words, they believe there is a 50% chance the result will fall on one side of the estimated margin and a 50% chance it will fall on the other side.
Bettors can place wagers on which side of the margin the game will finish on.
WORKING OUT A WINNING AMERICAN FOOTBALL SPREAD BET
If you believe the Redskins will win or, at the very least, will not lose by more than 6.5 points (6 points or less), you should bet on Washington +6.5 points.
It is simple to determine whether your NFL point spread bet was a winner. For example, assume Dallas wins the game 30-20 against Washington.
If you bet on the favorite, say Dallas -6.5, you take 6.5 points off their final score. In this case, the adjusted final score would be Dallas 23.5, Washington 20. Dallas is still a winner after the handicap, so your bet on Dallas -6.5 points is a winning bet.
If you bet on Washington +6.5 points, we add 6.5 points to their final score, yielding an adjusted final score of Dallas 30 Washington 26.5. Unfortunately for us, even with the handicap applied to Washington’s score, Dallas wins the game, so our wager on Washington +6.5 points is a loser.
When a team wins a point spread bet, it is known as ‘covering the spread.’
SPREAD ODDS FOR AMERICAN FOOTBALL
American football point spread odds range from 1.90 to 1.95, depending on your bookmaker. If you intend to focus on American football point spreads, we recommend that your bookmaker offer at least 1.92 odds on American football point spreads.
If you bet on American football point spreads at random, you will have a 50% strike rate over a large enough sample size. The table below shows the strike rate required to make a profit in relation to the available odds.
The majority of serious American football bettors aim for a strike rate of 54%. As you can see, the difference between failure and success when betting on American football point spreads may appear minor, but those few percentage points mean everything.
HOW TO PLAY OVER/UNDER BETS ON AMERICAN FOOTBALL
The total points market, also known as Over Unders, is another popular American football bet type. But what exactly is over/under bet?
An Over/Under bet is straightforward. A bookmaker sets a total number of points that they believe will be scored in an American football game, with a 50% chance that the game will end with more than that many points scored and a 50% chance that the game will end with fewer than that many points scored, similar to a point spread.
For example, the Over Under points total at Coral for a game between the Arizona Cardinals and the Atlanta Falcons is shown below. As we can see, bettors can place wagers on either side of the game’s total point total of 50.5.
If you bet on Over 50.5 points, the two teams must score at least 51 points for your bet to win. If you bet on Under 50.5 points, the two teams must score a total of no more than 50 points.
Bookmakers, like point spreads, offer odds of 1.90 to 1.95 for American football point total bets.
Individual team point totals can also be bet on. This is similar to the game total, but instead of taking into account the total combined points scored, you are only concerned with the points total of a specific team.
HOW TO PLAY MONEYLINES ON AMERICAN FOOTBALL
American football moneyline bets are simply head-to-head wagers on the final outcome (including over time). There are no handicaps or point totals. The only thing that matters is who wins.
For example, if you believe New York has value, you bet on them to win the game at odds of 1.34. If you believe Cleveland has value, you can bet on them to win the game at 3.35 odds.
Many American football bettors enjoy combining moneylines and point spreads. For example, the point spread for this game in Cleveland is +7.5. Many bettors like to use the point spread to hedge the moneyline. For example, they will wager $50 on Cleveland to win the game at 3.35 odds and £55 on them to cover the point spread at 1.91 odds. You win both bets if Cleveland wins the game. If Cleveland loses by no more than 7 points, you win your point spread bet and make a profit of around £50, which covers your stake on the moneyline bet.
HOW TO BET ON AMERICAN FOOTBALL OUTRIGHTS AND FUTURES
You can bet not only on American football games but also on NFL and college football futures and outrights. Betting on American football futures entails picking the winners of the following events:
- NFL Super Bowl Champion
- NFL Conference Winners
- NFL Division Champions
- Most Valuable Player in the NFL
- National Champions of the NCAA
- Winner of the NCAA Heisman Trophy
STRATEGIES FOR BETTING ON AMERICAN FOOTBALL
American football is one of the most difficult sports to bet on in the world. The NFL and NCAA seasons are so short, and the level of personnel changes from season to season; determining team potential can take time and effort.
Despite the difficulties of betting on American football, there are still bettors who enjoy long-term betting on both the NFL and the NCAA. In this section, we’ll show you how to increase your chances of being one of the few American football bettors who finish the season with a profit.
1. ONLY BET WHEN THERE IS VALUE
It may appear to be excessive, but we cannot emphasize this enough. Identifying genuine betting value is the key to successful American football betting. That’s all there is to it. You will lose money if you place bets on the NFL or NCAA with no regard for betting value.
And by considering betting value, we don’t mean spending five minutes reading the opinions of mainstream football analysts or sitting in front of the TV nodding along with the talking heads’ opinions.
2. BE READY TO LEARN
Many inexperienced American football bettors need to correct the mistake of conflating American football knowledge with American football betting knowledge. Please get us right. Understanding the NFL or NCAA and the American football game is a great place to start. However, it is only the first step toward developing a mindset for recognizing American football value bets. Understanding the football game and knowing how to bet on football is different.
It is true that knowing how the NFL or NCAA works, as well as having a deep and intricate understanding of how the game is played, puts you in a great position to learn about American football betting.
However, only with time and experience dealing with various NFL and NCAA betting markets will you be able to truly adapt your understanding of the NFL and NCAA to your newfound knowledge of the markets that you want to bet on.
3. KNOWING AMERICAN FOOTBALL MARKETS
Consider it this way. Understanding the NFL is similar to learning how to bake a cake. Does knowing how to bake a cake help you understand how much that cake is worth on the market? Probably not. The point is that determining that a particular NFL game is likely to be high scoring is one thing, but determining the value in the over underline odds is quite another.
Many bettors enter American football betting with a lot of confidence. They know everything. They are never defeated. They are in charge when it comes to picking NFL and NCAA games against the spread. It’s one thing to boast and talk a big game, but it’s quite another to see a profit from your American football betting. So be modest. Recognize that you don’t know everything. Be prepared to make errors. Be ready to learn.
4. BEGIN BY BETTING ON TEAMS YOU KNOW.
Begin by betting on the teams or divisions you are most familiar with. Of course, our ultimate goal is to be able to cover the entire NFL and the majority of the NCAA. If you’re new to betting on American football, start by focusing on the teams and/or divisions you’re most familiar with.
Most American football fans follow a single team and are thus more exposed to that team’s fortunes. This usually results in a better understanding of that team’s regular divisional opponents. So while we may want to jump right in and start betting on NFL and NCAA games, it’s a good idea to start by focusing on the teams you’re most familiar with.
5. BET THE MARKETS YOU ARE AWARE TO
- The most popular American football betting markets have already been discussed. They are as follows:
- Point differentials (betting lines, handicaps)
- Moneylines (head to head, match winner) (head to head, match winner)
- Total Points (over unders)
Many more markets are available, but most American football bettors concentrate on at least one of the markets listed above. Each American football betting market has its own quirks and nuances, and as you learn more about NFL or NCAA betting, you’ll realize that some markets make more sense to you than others. So follow your betting instincts.
The most successful NFL and NCAA bettors usually concentrate on one or two betting markets. It’s not uncommon for seasoned American football bettors to concentrate solely on point totals while others focus on point spreads. Long-term betting requires concentration and specialization. Find and stick to the American football markets where you can consistently find value.
6. USE GOOD MONEY MANAGEMENT
While identifying value is the most important factor in long-term American football betting success, sound money management is just a little behind. What does this entail? Simply put, it entails managing your betting bankroll and determining how much to stake on a single bet.
If you want to bet on the NFL and NCAA, you must be serious about managing your betting bankroll. You must consistently apply your bankroll and staking strategy. If you bet random amounts based on your ‘gut instinct,’ that’s fine, but don’t expect to win money betting on American football games.
What size should your bankroll be? It should be only as large as you can afford to lose. Yes, we want to see returns when betting on NFL and NCAA games. Still, even with the most sophisticated value identification and money management strategies, outcomes can frequently go against us. Even the most successful American football bettors experience losing streaks. Using a good money management strategy is the only way to earn consistent returns while protecting yourself from losing streaks.
7. MAINTAIN A RECORD OF YOUR BETTING
Every serious bettor keeps a record of their bets, whether they bet on the NFL, NCAA football, or any other league. And if you’re not keeping track of your bets, you can’t expect to learn or improve your returns.
Your American football betting track record should include the following:
- Date Betting Style (market)
- Bet Specifics
- What’s at Stake
- Your Chances
- Your profit or loss
If you keep detailed records of your NFL and NCAA betting, you will almost certainly save money in the long run. Why? Because reviewing your betting history is critical to increasing your future betting profits.
Keeping records will show you that you are more profitable betting on specific American football markets. Similarly, you will be able to identify areas where you could have maintained your discipline and applied a consistent staking strategy. Keeping records of your American football betting will, in short, make you more self-aware of your betting performance and tendencies.
8. ACCURATELY EVALUATE TEAM PERFORMANCE
This is the point at which the rubber meets the road. Identifying betting value is dependent on your ability to assess team performance.
Unfortunately, this is a challenging task. Bookmakers have some of the sharpest analytical tools and minds at their disposal, allowing them to create NFL and NCAA odds that are often incredibly accurate. Fortunately for American football bettors, bookmakers are only sometimes correct.
In fact, bookmakers undervalue each season, one, two, or even three NFL teams. Similarly, there are teams that bookmakers overestimate. As an American football bettor, you must identify the bookmakers who incorrectly assessed the teams.
How are we going to accomplish this? There are several factors to consider when determining team performance and potential in NFL and NCAA football.
HOME FIELD POSITION IN THE NFL
The debate over home vs. away form is ongoing. Many people believe that certain teams have a fixed home-field advantage (such as Seattle, New Orleans, and Denver), while others argue that while some teams may exhibit an enhanced home-field advantage over a small sample size of games (perhaps as long as two or three seasons), home field advantage in the NFL is consistent over time, with no team truly having a greater home field advantage than any other.
In the NFL, home-field advantage is worth three points. What exactly does this mean? If two teams have equal potential, the home team is considered to be three points better simply because they are playing at home. This equates to a six-point difference between home and away performance.
Consider a game between the New York Jets and the Denver Broncos, which is being played in Denver. We believe the Broncos are a four-point better team on a neutral field than the Jets. If the game is then played in Denver, we add 3 points for home-field advantage, giving Denver a 7-point advantage over the Jets.
However, if the game is played in New York, we give the Jets 3 points for home-field advantage, making Denver a 1-point better team with the game played on the Jets’ home field. Overall, there is a 6-point difference between a team playing at home and a team playing away.
The most common explanations for home-field advantage in the NFL are:
- crowd noise (which affects the performance of the away team’s offense)
- officiating (with referees favoring home teams and displaying all kinds of very human psychological biases)
- weather (warm weather teams generally dislike playing in cold weather venues)
ROSTER ADDITIONS/SUBTRACTIONS AND INJURIES
Many seasoned American football bettors take advantage of early season odds by accurately assessing the impact of each team’s offseason roster additions and subtractions. For example, while the addition of a high-profile wide receiver may sound exciting to fans and TV pundits, the loss of two key offensive linemen may have a greater impact on a team’s fortunes, causing them to perform far below fan and bookmaker expectations.
Early in the season, being able to accurately assess the potential of a given NFL or NCAA roster can provide you with a significant advantage over the bookmakers for a number of weeks.
Another way savvy American football bettors take advantage of NFL and NCAA odds is by correctly assessing the impact of injuries. Although they are not household names, offensive and defensive linemen injuries can significantly impact a team’s fortunes.
Similarly, if a team is down to their third or fourth cornerback due to a rash of injuries, don’t expect the defense to contain the opposing team’s passing attack. Yes, an injury to a team’s quarterback, star running back, or hall-of-fame-bound wide receiver may make headlines, but if you want to bet on American football games, look at the depth chart for each team. You’d be surprised how often guys you’ve never heard of have a significant impact on the performance of a team.
Boxing has an old adage that “styles make fights.” This is certainly true in the NFL and even in college football. How often do we see teams with inferior talent defeat teams with far superior talent? This is especially true in divisional matchups where the teams are well acquainted.
While some teams may be lacking in certain areas, when it comes to facing a more talented opponent, they have exactly the pieces needed to cause trouble for the heavily favored opponent. This is where your knowledge of the football game will come in handy to identify betting value. Understanding how teams match up and their strengths and weaknesses can help you find NCAA and NFL value bets.
CREATE A BETTING MODEL FOR AMERICAN FOOTBALL
Many successful NFL and NCAA football bettors have made a living by developing sophisticated statistical models that allow them to analyze and assess NFL and NCAA team performance and potential with greater accuracy than bookmaker American football odds suggest.
Creating an NFL or NCAA betting model or system takes time and dedication. However, the rewards can be enormous. Some American football betting models only consider point differential, while others examine various game data and statistical categories. Most American football betting models take into account at least one or more of the following:
- Points For/Against
- Total Yards For/Against
- Turnovers For/Against
- Yards per Rush For/Against
- Yard per Pass For/Against
- Yard per Play For/Against
Regardless of which statistics you use in your model, the goal is the same: to determine each team’s potential and, as a result, the probability of them winning a given game more accurately than bookmakers do.
While it would be ideal for creating an NCAA or NFL betting model that identifies value bets in every game, the reality is that any model will only find a value betting opportunity in one, two, or three games each week of the season.
9. PLACE BETS AGAINST FAVORITES
As we’ve repeatedly stated in this article, identifying value betting opportunities is the key to long-term betting success in American football.
Sure, a team may be in terrible form and facing a highly favored opponent, but while their chances of winning the game are slim, the fact that we believe they have a better chance than the long odds suggest makes them a value bet, regardless of how slim those chances are.
Consistently betting on situations like these will make you a successful NFL or NCAA bettor.
There are two primary market biases in American football betting. They are as follows:
- Point totals that are higher than average
- Short-priced home favorites
Let’s start with the total number of points. Because most football fans prefer high-scoring games, the majority of American football bettors will wager on the Over in the points total market. The average casual bettor is focused on something other than in-depth analysis. He places his bets based on instinct.
When it comes to point totals, most casual bettors subconsciously bet aggressively and thus want to see points scored. The weight of this casual money on the Over distorts the market, making the Over odds shorter than they should be, while the Under odds swell excessively, implying that betting on the Under is more often than not the value bet.
Similarly, most casual bettors seek a sure thing. They wish to avoid wagering on teams with long odds. They’re looking for a winner this week. As a result, many casual bettors place large bets on home NFL and NCAA favorites, often at very short odds. Again, the weight of casual money distorts the market, making the home favorite far shorter than it should be, with the long odds road underdog frequently being the value bet.
These are two simple biases in the American football betting market that you can use to your advantage. No, betting the Under on every NFL or NCAA game or every long-shot road dog will not make you money. However, keeping these biases in mind when putting together your weekly best bets is critical.
10. FOLLOW AMERICAN FOOTBALL PREDICTIONS
The question is, of course, how do you find reliable NCAA and NFL picks? This is the most difficult aspect of American football. Simply searching NFL picks on Google will yield an endless stream of websites and prognosticators claiming to offer reliable NFL tips, with many charging exorbitant subscription fees for their picks. But it is crucial to find the best gambling sites that not only offer betting on American Football but are also scam-free and have good tips.
We strongly advise you to avoid paying for NCAA and NFL picks. Whatever results tipsters brag about, it’s far too common for these to be falsified records. Following these so-called experts will only cost you subscription fees, not to mention the money you will lose at the bookmaker.
The good news is that you don’t have to pay for dependable NFL and NCAA picks. We have a number of successful American football tipsters who post their picks throughout the season at betting experts. And, yes, their advice is completely free. Every tipster’s track record is visible, allowing you to decide which tipsters to follow and which to avoid.
11. OPEN MANY BOOKMAKER ACCOUNTS FOR BETTING
While using more than one bookmaker for your American football betting may be convenient, you will need more than one to become a winning NFL or NCAA bettor in the long run.
For American football betting, we recommend having at least three accounts. This will give you enough leeway to take advantage of the best odds available for whichever team or outcome you intend to bet on.
Sure, betting on a team at odds of 2.10 may not seem that different from betting on the same team at odds of 2.20 at another bookmaker, but in the long run, it all adds up, and if you’re serious about your NFL or NCAA betting, it can add up simply by taking the marginally better odds on offer.
We hope this article was helpful to learn more about how to bet on American Football in the year that is ahead of us.