NFL Spread Betting Explained

The point spread is the handicap, or head start, that oddsmakers give to the underdog. Betting against the spread can make a lopsided event more interesting – rather than just winning outright, the favorite must win by more than the point spread (also known as covering the spread) for bets on the favorite to win. As you can see, the point spread is designed to make betting on either side equally attractive.

Let’s say an NFL matchup has the Minnesota Vikings at home against the Denver Broncos. The oddsmaker might decide to give the Broncos a 3.5-point head start, which is expressed as Broncos +3.5, or Vikings -3.5. Here’s what that line would look like:

Denver Broncos +3.5
@ Minnesota Vikings -3.5

With the spread set at 3.5 points, if you bet on the Vikings, you’ll win your bet if they win the game by more than four points (or if their score is higher even after you subtract 3.5 points from it). If you bet on the Broncos, you’ll win your bet if they lose by no more than three points.

Sometimes oddsmakers will set the line on an even number like 3, 6 or even 10. In cases like these, if the favored team wins by the exact amount set for the spread, the bet would be considered a push and your risk amount would be returned. For example, if the San Francisco 49ers were 7-point favorites and they won by a touchdown (seven points), any wager on the 49ers at -7 would result in a push.

Every now and then you’ll come across a game without a spread. This is called a pick’em and both teams are given even odds to win the game. Since no points are given or taken away in a pick’em, the team that wins the game is the team that wins the bet.

Your payout is determined by the moneyline odds attached to the point spread. A negative number (such as -170) shows how much money you must wager to win $100, while a positive number (like +150) shows how much money you will win on a $100 wager.

Typically, the odds given on the spread are -110 unless otherwise noted. If one side is receiving a lot of action, oddsmakers may adjust the lines accordingly in an effort to balance the action.

You can place a point spread bet on the whole game or only a portion of it – when first half, second half or quarter lines are offered.

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