FOOTBALL BETTING BASICS
Welcome to the second in a series on betting football. In this installment we
review and comment upon the basic and exotic types of bets available to players
who want action on the NFL. First, a couple of "warnings"
1) Not all bookies offer all of the bets below.
2) Not all bookies offer the bets at exactly the same odds. The odds listed
are what I perceive to be the industry standard, and rarely should you accept
worse. Occasionally you'll find shops offering more generous odds, be it on a
week-in, week-out basis or as a short-term "special".
OK, for the purposes of explaining the bets we'll assume the following first
week lines in the NFL. For more info on what a line is (and isn't), see the
first article in the series.
GREEN BAY 10
Now here we go:
This involves the smaller number listed by each pair of teams. The team
beside the smaller number is favored by that many points. (So the Jets are favored
over New England by 6.5, Green Bay is favored over Oakland by 10, Seattle by
7.5, and so on.)
Pick the team you like to win the game, including the handicap. You risk $11
for every $10 you want to win from the bookmaker. If you choose Seattle, Seattle
must win by more than 7.5 points (so 8 points or more). If you prefer Detroit,
Detroit either has to win on the field or lose by 7.5 points or less for you to
win your bet. So it doesn't only matter, sometimes, who wins the game, but who
wins including the handicap or "spread".
If Detroit wins, Detroit bettors win.
If Seattle wins by 8 or more points, Seattle bettors win.
If Seattle wins on the field by 7 points or less, Detroit bettors win because
Seattle "didn't cover the spread".
Suppose in the Pittsburgh–Cleveland game Pittsburgh wins by exactly 7
points, the line. In that case all bets are considered off, and risked money is
just returned to bettors. This is called a "push", "wash",
"jerk", and other things I can't print here.
This is the most common bet in football. If you're risking $11 to win $10 on
each bet, you must be right 52.4% of the time to break even.
This involves the larger number associated with each pair of teams. This is
the "Over/Under" number, and it's listed beside the underdog.
Envision the total final score of both teams in the Pittsburgh–Cleveland
game. If you think it'll be "OVER" 41.5, risk $11 to win $10 from your
bookie. If you think it'll be 41 points or less, bet the same amount on the
"UNDER". Overtime counts!
If the Minnesota–Atlanta game ends 28-20 for a total of 48, that's a push
treated the same way as a side that pushes. Bettors just get their money back.
Another common bet, the "TOTAL" can see the bettor cheering both
teams' offenses, or both teams' defenses. At the dorm one year in university I
had the over on the Super Bowl. More than a few people were confused why I
wanted both the Bills AND the Giants to run it up!
3) PARLAYS (in Europe, "ACCUMULATORS")
Number of Teams .......... Odds
2 ........ 13/5
3 ........ 6/1
4 ........ 11/1
5 ........ 20/1
6 ........ 30/1
7 ........ 50/1
8 ........ 70/1
In a parlay, you pick two or more sides, totals, or a combination of sides
and totals, and if they all win, you win at the odds quoted. If one or more of
your picks loses, your bet loses. A popular bet is one that parlays the side and
the total in the same game often "favorite and over" or "underdog
Pushes in Parlays: If one of your picks pushes, most places use "ties
reduce": that one part of your parlay that pushed was deemed not to have
been played and you now have a parlay with one pick less. So if you played a
5-team parlay and 4 of your picks won and 1 pushed, you would be credited with a
winning, 4-team parlay. Avoid any shop where ties on parlays lose.
In general, multiple team parlays are BAD BETS! The true odds of hitting a
2-teamer is 3-1 and a 3-teamer 7-1, so the standard odds above give the bookie a
modest edge. The bookie's cut gets big thereafter though: The true odds on a
4-teamer are 15-1, on a 6-teamer 63-1, and on an 8-teamer 255-1; the payoffs
aren't nearly that good! Some people say "Well it's like the
Lottery...maybe the jackpot should truly be $20 million, but who's going to
complain about winning $7 million?". Take that philosophy if you like, but
take it at your own risk.
This bet is so named because it can tease the player into thinking he has the
advantage over the house. We'll discuss 2-team teasers, but teasers of more
teams are also available and work the same way.
6 Points: 10/11
6.5 Points 5/6
7 Points: 10/13
Pick two sides, two totals, or one of each. Like a parlay both must win, but
you get to move the line in your favor by 6, 6.5, or 7 points depending on how
much you bet.
If you like Seattle and the over in the Pittsburgh game and you choose a
6-point teaser, then you lay $11 against your bookie's $10 and you need Seattle
to win by (7.5 - 6) only 1.5 points or more and the total in the Pittsburgh game
to go over (41.5 - 6) only 35.5.
If you like New England and the under in the Pittsburgh game on a 7-point
tease then New England has to win or lose by (6.5 + 7) at most 13.5 points and
the Pittsburgh total has to go under (41.5 + 7) a score of 48.5.
Books treat pushes within teasers differently from place to place. Check out
the shop's rules before you bet. Be sure to avoid a place where "ties
Is the teaser a good bet? A teaser is a lot like a cello recital. Done
properly, with attention to subtleties, it can be beautiful. Done incorrectly,
it's the ugliest thing ever. A future article will be entirely devoted to
5) MONEY LINES
Some people prefer to bet on which team will win the game without the use of
the spread. This is called "betting on the money line" or
"betting straight up".
On the Patriots–Jets game you might see a money line of:
The minus number goes with the favorite. That is how much you must risk on
that team to win $100 of your bookie's dough.
The plus number goes with the underdog. That is how much your bookie would
wager against your $100 if you took that team.
If there is no favorite, each team is listed at -$110. For either side you
must risk $110 to win $100.
Money lines can be parlayed; consult a book on sports betting for how to
calculate payoff odds. (All baseball odds are money lines, so a book on betting
baseball would have this for sure.)
Most shops have a fixed conversion table for spread odds to money line odds.
3-point favorites are near -$150 on the money line, touchdown favorites near
-$300, and 10-point favorites near -$500. Most shops won't have a money line on
a game where the spread is more than 14 points.
Most shops have all the above bets available. The following bets are slightly
more "exotic" and are hit or miss. Some books cover exotics, some
don't; those that do may have some and not others.
6) 1ST HALF and HALFTIME LINES
These are very common now. Before the game the book will offer a line on the
first half side and total. Once again you lay $11 to win $10 and the bet is
"finished" at halftime. Similarly, at the half, bookies will deal a
line on the second half of play only (but this does include overtime, if any).
Many people beat these lines with great frequency. I haven't figured them out
yet. Worse, they can be abused by dummies like a guy I know in town: ESPN's
Sunday game comes on here at 9pm, and this year MNF has unfortunately reverted
to its old time slot, 10pm. If he has a long day ahead of him my friend will
just best the first half numbers so he won't "have to stay up to see if he
With apologies to Rudyard Kipling, the "if" bet is more about being
a manager of money than about being a man. You call in two bets at once but the
second one only plays "if" the first one wins. Usually the second bet
is on a game that will start before the bet on the first game is decided. Be
very clear with the clerk that you are placing an "if" bet. (Say
"if" a LOT!).
You may decide you like the Jets and Detroit in Week 1, but you want to limit
your risk. So you decide to bet $110 to win $100 on the Jets -6.5, and then
instruct your bookie to put $110 on Detroit +7.5 on the West Coast game, but
only if the Jets win for you in the early game.
If both teams win, you win $200...$100 from the Jets and $100 from Detroit.
Nice. If the Jets win but Detroit loses on you, you're out $10: The Jets won you
$100 but you lost $110 on Detroit. If the Jets don't win by 7 or more, you lose
$110–your Jets bet. The Detroit bet doesn't happen because the Jets didn't win
So you can win $200, or lose pennies, or lose at most $110.
8) REVERSES (Sometimes called "if-and-reverse")
The reverse is two "if" bets on the same two teams, with each team
on the front end once (and so each team is on the back end once as well). A
"Reverse" on the above teams is simply the addition of a mirror
"if" bet: one that puts $110 on Detroit no matter what, and if Detroit
wins, puts $110 back on the Jets.
So if both teams win, you win $400–two times $200, the total winnings on a
If one team wins, you lose $120. Lets say the Jets win but Detroit loses. In
the "Jets first" side, you won $100 on the Jets, but you then lost
$110 on Detroit. Down $10. On the "Detroit first" side, Detroit lost,
so you lose $110, and the Jets bet never happened. So you lose $10 plus $110 for
If both teams lose, you're out $220. Both front-ends are losers so both
back-ends are thankfully void!
Some people like parlays, some prefer reverses. Get opinions on this in the
posting forum. I prefer single bets rather than parlays or reverses!
9) ACTION POINTS
Somebody once called this "the crack cocaine of wagering". I wish
people used more creative analogies. It's just another intriguing bet!
You not only back a team to cover the right side of the spread, but your
payoff depends on how well they do it. Suppose you like Atlanta -3 over
Minnesota. Figure out your unit-bet. Let's say it's $10. For every point more
than three that Atlanta wins by, you win $10. For every point Atlanta falls
short of winning by three by, you lose $11.
If Atlanta won by 10, you'd win $70: Take the winning margin (10), subtract
the spread (3), and multiply the result by your unit-bet ($10). If Minnesota won
by 3, you're out $66: Atlanta came up six points short of winning by three, so
multiply 6 by your unit bet to figure out your loss.
Most shops "cap" a win or loss at 15 or 20 points, and clients can
usually lower the cap number when the bet is placed. So if Atlanta loses 56-7,
you're not out $520. If they win in a rout, in this example you win a maximum of
$200 on a 20-point cap. Most people who bet action points bet them when they
smell a blowout.
Playing Action Points offshore requires a big bankroll because most shops
require you to have in your account enough money to cover an "absolute
loss" of the cap number of unit-bets.
10) SUPREMACY or SPREAD BETTING (European & some Australian Books)
This bet emerged from financial districts in London, Madrid, and likely other
stock exchanges. It's the European version of Action Points.
The term "Spread" here is NOT the traditional spread. In the
Atlanta example above, instead of booking Action points on Atlanta -3 (or
Minnesota +3) the bookmaker would list what he calls the spread here as
something like "Atlanta, 1-5".
The good news is that winners earn $10 a point and losers lose $10 a point,
not $11/point per action point loss. The bad news is that it's a split-line:
Atlanta-backers have Atlanta at -5 (the higher spread number goes with the
listed team, the favorite), and Minnesota-backers have Minnesota +1 (the lower
spread number). What happens if Atlanta wins by exactly 2, 3, or 4 points?
Supremacy, for this reason, is a poor choice for the bettor in comparison to
Action Points. When a game lands splat on the odds-maker's line in Action
Points, all bets are off. In Supremacy, the bookie collects a small sum from
everyone. This is particularly poisonous in pro football when the number 3 lies
within the spread...a disproportionate number of games are decided by exactly
11) BUYING POINTS
Suppose you like the Patriots at the quoted line of +6.5, but you
"really" like them +7. If you can't find +7 at another shop, you can
move the line half a point ("buy" a half point) in your favor by
laying $12 to win $10 instead of $11 to win $10. On a to-win-$10 bet, each
half-point move will cost you an extra $1 of risk. One exception is moving
"onto" or "off" the number 3, which usually costs $1.50 of
risk to move both on and off. (This is because lots of NFL games are decided by
exactly 3 points.) Places that offer point buying will usually let people buy up
to between 3 and 7 points.
This can be useful when the line is around the number 3 in football, but
otherwise is of questionable value. Check out opinions on the subject in our
12) PROPS ("Propositions")
Any other strange bet may be referred to as a prop. You may see something in
the Jets game like "Who will pass for more yards, Testaverde or
Bledsoe?" Odds are quoted with each possible outcome in money line format.
These are especially popular for the Super Bowl.
Play props that interest you, but if you're going to play a lot, look for
lines that don't give the bookmaker too much juice–or you may wind up being
Next : Selecting
Sportsbooks: Picking places to play
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