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Tips for Betting Football Point Spreads

Betting Football Point Spreads

Have you ever heard of point spreads? If you are familiar with betting, then your answer to that question is probably a firm yes. Point spreads are one of the most popular wagers when it comes to betting on US sports: football especially. Actually almost everyone who bets on American Football has used point spreads at one time or another.

Why are point spreads so popular? The answer is simple; it’s because they are so easy to understand. Simple wagers are ALWAYS appealing, particularly for recreational bettors.

People who bet for fun usually don’t want to spend too much time or energy worrying about the wagers they are going to place, which makes football point spreads the perfect wager for them. They really don’t have to think too hard when it comes to making selections. They have close to a 50/50 chance of picking the right outcome, which means they have a pretty good shot of winning even if they’re only guessing.

This brings us to the second reason why people like football point spreads. It’s widely believed that they’re relatively easy to make money from. As we’ve just said, there’s approximately a 50% chance of a winning a point spread wager. So it stands to reason that most bettors will win such wagers with a reasonable level of frequency. They then convince themselves that it’s not too challenging to make a profit from point spread wagers.

This is actually a common misconception. Although there is a little truth to it, it’s not 100% accurate. There’s a big difference between winning a few wagers and actually showing a profit in the long run. Football point spreads are certainly not the hardest wagers to make money from, but it’s a still a challenge to make profits on a regular and consistent basis.

Don’t let the challenge put you off the idea of betting on football spreads though. We’re only pointing this out to make sure your expectations are realistic. You’re on a road to disappointment if you believe that football point spreads represent easy money. That fact is that the bookmakers are very good at setting the spreads in a way that makes them very hard to beat. Plus there’s the fact that you’re effectively paying a commission (the vig) every time you bet.

Now, none of this means you CAN’T make money from these wagers. It’s not easy, but it definitely can be done. The key is to approach them in the right way. The strategy tips we offer on this page will you help you do just that, but you must also be prepared to put in significant time and effort.

Please Note:

If you’re not particularly familiar with point spreads and how they work, please read our article on football point spreads and totals.

Our Top Three Tips

We offer a number of tips for betting football point spreads on this page. We’re going to start with the three that we feel are especially important. Check out our list below!

  • Shop for the best value
  • Choose games carefully
  • Know which factors affect results

Each one of these tips is pretty basic: maybe even obvious. Regardless, they are all worth following. Please note that if you’re not doing these things, then you’re harming your chances of making money.

It’s also important to remember that these tips apply to most forms of sports betting: not just football point spreads. You’ll see them repeated throughout our sports betting guide for this reason. They’re important and relevant enough to mention here as well, which is why we’ll now spend some time covering them in more detail.

Shop for the best value

This is an invaluable piece of advice. It’s something that all sports bettors should do for all of their wagers. It can have a big impact on overall results in the long run. Best of all, it’s very easy to do.

The basic idea is simply that you check the spreads and odds available at different bookmakers or betting sites before putting your money down. This is because bookmakers and betting sites don’t always offer the same spreads and odds. The differences aren’t usually huge, but they’re significant enough to matter. Taking the time to compare what’s available allows you to place wagers that offer the best value.

Gaining an extra point on the spread, or even half a point, can be the difference between winning a wager and losing it. Getting just slightly better odds, and therefore better payouts, can have a noticeable impact on your bankroll over time. There really is no easier way to improve your overall betting returns.

Choose games carefully

There’s a lot of football games to bet on. The NFL alone features 256 games in the regular season: then there’s the playoffs and of course the Super Bowl. When you take into account college football too, this all quickly adds up to a lot of opportunities for placing wagers.

It’s vital that you’re selective in which games you bet on though. Many bettors feel the need to bet on as many games as they possibly can, figuring this is the best way to make more money. But it isn’t. In fact, the opposite is true. You stand a MUCH better chance of winning money if you only bet when you’re genuinely confident it’s the right move to make. This means picking and choosing which games to bet on and when.

The golden rule here is to only bet when you’ve identified value in the betting markets.

When we use value in this context, we’re referring to the value represented by the odds of any given wager. A wagers only has positive expected value when the estimated chances of it winning are higher than the odds suggest. This might sound a little confusing, but the concept of value in a betting sense isn’t especially complicated once you learn the basics. You can learn more by reading our article on betting for value in football.

Before we move, let us reiterate the main point here. If you’re trying to predict the outcome of every game, or just betting on games for the sake of it, you ARE going to lose money in the long run.

Know which factors affect results

A lot of people who bet on football are recreational bettors. This means that they basically just bet for the enjoyment they get out of it. They still try to win money, of course, but they don’t put a great deal of thought into their wagers. They just look at the spreads and make instinctive judgements about which team has the best chance of covering. It’s absolutely fine to bet in this way, as it can indeed be fun. However, it’s very unlikely to bring forth a profit.

There are times when it’s right to simply rely on your instinct. For the most part, though, you should be carefully considering each and every bet that you place. It might appear obvious that a strong team is easily going to cover a six-point spread, but have you thought about WHY the spread is six points? If you do a little bit of analysis, you might actually be less confident in your initial judgement. The bookmakers generally have solid reasons for why they set a spread at a certain level.

Bookmakers consider a wide range of factors when they are setting the lines for football matches.

Bookmakers don’t make money by sheer luck. They are very skilled at what they do, and their lines are hard to beat. If you want to take them on, you need to take into account all the different factors that they do. This is the only way to make properly informed judgements about what’s likely to happen.

More Basic Strategy for Football Point Spreads

Following the above simple tips will immediately put you in a good position for betting football point spreads profitably. They are helpful, but there’s still a lot more you need to consider too. Here’s some additional advice that we recommend taking on board.

Know the key numbers

Knowing the key numbers when betting football point spreads is very important. In this context, the term “key numbers” refers to the most common margins of victory in games. We’ll explain why you need to know these in a moment. First, here’s a table showing the percentage of NFL games that have been won by specific margins over the years.

Winning Margin
Percentage of Games
3 points
15.6%
7 points
8.7%
10 points
6.0%
4 points
5.4%
6 points
5.4%

The five winning margins shown here account for over 40% of NFL games. This means that nearly half of all games are won by one of these margins.

Why is this information so significant?

Knowing these key numbers can be very helpful in deciding which games to bet on, and which games to avoid. It can help you choose which line to take when comparing your options, and it can even provide some insight into which way the bookmakers want you to bet.

For example, let’s say you’re looking at a game between two closely matched teams. Your bookmaker has made the home team the favorite, and the spread is -4. You’re confident that the home team is going to win, so you initially consider betting on them to cover the four points.

Then you take a moment to consider the key numbers. The most likely winning margin for this game is three points. So the chances of them winning by more than four points are probably not significant enough to actual make placing a bet worth it. This is why we would more than likely avoid placing a wager here.

This is a very simplified example, and you’d want to consider other factors too. However, it does serve to illustrate the basic point of referencing key numbers.

Now let’s imagine another game, where you’re thinking of backing the underdog to cover. You shop around, and find the following two options for placing such a wager.

  • +3 at -105
  • +3.5 at -110

Your immediate reaction might be to take the +3 at the more favorable odds. Remember, though, that a three-point winning margin is likely in this situation. So there’s a good chance that this wager would result in a push. Taking the +3.5 at slightly worse odds would probably be the better option here. If the underdog does lose by three points, you’re going to win.

In terms of gaining insight into what the bookmakers want you to bet on, be very wary of the following spreads when betting on the favorite.

  • -2.5
  • -6.5
  • -9.5
  • -3.5
  • -5.5

Let us be clear here. We’re NOT suggesting that you should never back favorites with these spreads. However, it is important to bear in mind that the bookmakers could be trying to entice you with numbers like this. They allow you to win on key numbers, which means the bookmakers probably think another outcome is more likely.

The same principle applies when looking to back the underdog on the following spreads.

  • +3.5
  • +7.5
  • +10.5
  • +4.5
  • +6.5

We must reiterate that we’re not advocating avoiding these spreads completely. There will be times when the right decision will be to bet on the spread listed above. Just remember that the bookmakers are not stupid. There are usually very good reasons for them setting spreads that allow you to win on key numbers. You can rest assured knowing that these reasons are not set in place for your benefit.

The numbers discussed above all apply to the NFL. There are key numbers for the NCAA too. These aren’t quite as significant, simply because the winning margins in college football aren’t quite as consistent. For example, the most common winning margin is still 3 points. But this only happens in just over 8% of college football games, as opposed to over 15% in NFL games.

Nonetheless, it’s still worth knowing the key numbers if betting on college football. Here’s a table with the relevant information.

Winning Margin
Percentage of Games
3 points
8.3%
7 points
6.7%
10 points
4.2%
14 points
4.1%
4 points
4.1%

While on the subject of college football, you should know that NCAA games can sometimes have very big spreads. These games require a unique approach, which we address in the following article.

Dealing with Big Spreads in College Football

Beware of the hype

Throughout every football season there’s invariably a couple of teams that get continuously hyped up. Try not to get taken in by this. There’s nothing wrong with backing teams who are well-thought of, but don’t make betting decisions based solely on what other people think.

Do your own research to determine if the hype is justified or not.

It’s also worth considering that public opinion can have a significant impact on the spreads that bookmakers set. When a well hyped team is playing, the bookmakers will expect a lot of people to bet on that team regardless of the size of the spread. So they’ll probably want to make betting on that team less favorable than they otherwise might. The obvious way to do to this is to increase the spread.

Scenarios such as this can actually present opportunities for going AGAINST the hype. The underdog might be given more points than they really should be, meaning they’re the team to back. Of course, you can’t assume that this is always the right thing to do: not without more information on hand. This is where doing the necessary research becomes so important!

Study the schedule

A football team’s schedule has a greater effect on performances than most people think. The quality of the opposition they have to face is obviously important, but so is the order in which they have to face them. The schedule can easily effect a team’s performance on a game to game basis, and even their overall performance throughout a whole season.

Not convinced? Let’s use an extreme example to make the point.

An NFL team plays 16 games in the regular season. For the sake of this example let’s say that the average team has eight games against stronger opposition, and eight games against weaker opposition. Which of the following schedules do you think would be the best for a team?

  • The eight games against stronger opposition first, followed by the eight games against weaker opposition.
  • The eight games against weaker opposition first, followed by the eight games against stronger opposition.
  • Games against stronger opposition and games against weaker opposition spread out evenly throughout the season.

A team is likely to suffer if it has to play its eight toughest games consecutively at the start of the season. It would be hard to get any momentum going. Plus, the extra exertion required in these hard games could also prove mentally and physically draining. By the time the eight easier games come around, the team might have lost all confidence and energy.

Starting with the eight easier games is likely to result in a team putting together a good run of results early in the season. This could give them a psychological advantage. But, when the harder games come around, they might find it difficult to suddenly adjust to playing tougher opposition.

Having the easier and harder games spread out evenly throughout the season isn’t necessarily perfect either, but it doesn’t have the disadvantages mentioned above. So, overall, it’s probably the best case scenario.

Of course, the first two scenarios are incredibly unlikely. And the whole example is entirely hypothetical anyway. We’re just trying to illustrate the fact that the schedule can (and does) have an impact on teams. It’s definitely something to consider when you’re looking at games and choosing your bets. You should at least look at how difficult a team’s previous couple of games have been, and how difficult their subsequent games are. Then think about what impact that might have on a team for their upcoming game.

Understand the value of stats

The use of statistics can be very helpful when betting on football. Stats come in handy when betting point spreads, as you can use them to get some idea of how a game is likely to play out. This increases your chances of correctly predicting which team is going to cover.

You have to know how to use football statistics effectively though. Don’t expect to be able to just look at a few stats and instantly know the likely result of a football game. You have to know which stats to look at, and you have to learn how to interpret them correctly. The article linked above will help you with just that.

Expand your focus

We mentioned earlier how important it is to be selective when betting football points spreads, and how you don’t want to bet on every single game. That doesn’t mean you should have to narrow your focus either. Some people choose to focus only a few specific teams, and this can be a very limiting approach. Although a narrow focus increases the chances of accurate assessments, it also reduces the number of opportunities for finding value.

So it’s important to get the balance right here. The best approach, in our opinion, is to study as many different teams as possible. This includes college teams, not just NFL teams. You’re not going to want to bet on each of these teams every time they play, but a wider knowledge means you’ll be better placed to identify the right games to bet on when they come up.

Advanced Strategies for Football Point Spreads

One of the biggest appeals of betting football point spreads is that they are so simple. Knowing the basic strategy discussed above is more than enough to have a fair chance of making some money from these types of wager. It honestly doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

However, there are some more advanced strategies that you might want to consider using. These are a little more complex than everything we’ve covered so far, but you don’t have to be an expert to use them. We recommend reading the following three articles if you are ready to learn more specific strategies that can help you enhance your betting abilities.