How To Bet On The NFL

10 min

American football is the most popular sport in the United States and it’s a bettor’s dream. So how do you bet on the NFL?

The NFL is becoming more and more popular with bettors on this side of the Atlantic, in part because of regular season games now being staged on our shores, but also due to the dizzying amount of stats that are available and the simplicity and value of the betting markets. If you like value and a level playing field when it comes to sports betting, then the NFL is where you need to be.

Handicaps & Spreads

You can bet on NFL games through three main bet types: the moneyline, total points, and handicap (spread) markets.

The moneyline market is a straightforward bet on the winner of the game.

The points total market is betting whether the game will go over or under a certain amount of points.

The handicap market is where one side is given a point advantage so that both teams are close to even money, and this is where the big action on NFL betting is.

You will often hear the handicap market referred to as the ‘point spread’ and it is used by everyone from professional bettors to the mainstream media when determining the chances of both teams winning. To counter the varying strength of each team in the NFL, the handicap betting lines level the playing field.

This gives two advantages to bettors: firstly you have a bet at close to 2.0 on either side in what can be one-sided matches and secondly it introduces an opinion into the market from the oddsmakers. This is important because this means they can and often will make mistakes and this is where you can make money.

Let’s use a week 3 game of the 2021/22 season to show how betting on an NFL handicap market works.

Here the handicap line is set at 3 and is in favour of the New York Giants as there is a minus next to their number. The market rates the Giants as 3 points better than the Falcons and so in the handicap betting the Giants begin with a 3 point head start.

A bet on the Giants -3.0 wins if the Giants win by more than 3 points. Similarly, a bet on the Atlanta Falcons +3.0 pays out if the Falcons win the game or lose by no more than 2 points.

If the Giants win by 3 points, bets on both sides of the handicap will be pushed and stakes will be returned as the handicap line wasn’t beaten. You will often see handicap lines with a .5 number at the end which are very popular as they eliminate the possibility of a push and ensure the handicap line will be beaten by one side.

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Beat the Spread

When betting on the handicap or spread lines there are a number of factors you need to consider:

1. It’s essential to assess the expected points that each team will score in any given game. A number of factors can impact on expected points such as the weather, injuries, home-field advantage, etc. It’s your job to assess these variables alongside the handicap lines and see who you think will cover their line.

2. You don’t need to bet on every game. Be selective. You may not be able to predict every NFL game, but you will likely see a few games every week where you are confident that one team will cover the handicap line with a better than 53% probability.

3. Bet early. One of the easiest ways to take advantage of the spread is to bet as early as possible, when the handicap lines for the games are first released. The handicap lines for NFL games will change often in the lead up to games, and the Giants at -3.0 at 1.91 a week before the game could be the Giants -6.0 at 1.91 a few hours before kick-off.

Avoid the Noise

The media’s primary job is to hype NFL games and create a buzz that draws ratings. Don’t be fooled by the noise created by outlets that are trying to sell a story about an upcoming game. A winning NFL bettor will be someone who can filter out all the media noise around a game and use the huge amounts of data out there to find winning bets.

When betting on the NFL, pay attention to the stats and historical data that is available. Pro Football Reference is a treasure trove when looking at individual to team match-ups. NFL players and teams are generally consistent and the statistically best teams will often be the ones fighting for the top prize at the end of the season.

One strategy for betting on the NFL is to fade the public. ‘Fade’ means to bet against. If the public really likes a team to win an upcoming game, they will back that team so much that it causes the oddsmakers to change the odds so that more money is placed on the other team.

What the oddsmakers are doing is trying to make the popular choice less attractive, less value, and move it away from the more likely probability of that team beating the margin. This is great news for bettors, however, and sharp bettors will watch these lines move out and bet on the team they like when the line is at its highest, and the most value is available.

Check out the Matchbook NFL Podcast each week as Drew Dinsick, Rob Pizzola and Fabian Sommer make the case for their weekly Best Bets.

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