If all the major sports leagues were Mount Rushmore, the NFL would be God looking down on the NBA, NHL, MLB, and PGA. The gap between the NFL and the rest of the sports leagues has never been wider. Gambling and Fantasy are probably the two most significant factors attributing to that fact. However, many people still don’t know how to bet NFL games, or what NFL betting platforms to use.
While most people are familiar with Fantasy, betting used to be shrouded in taboo. However, with sports betting gaining legality in the United States, the topic isn’t near as controversial as it used to be. If you’re looking to get your feet wet in NFL betting for the first time, this article is for you. I’ll breakdown all different types of NFL bets and NFL betting platforms as well.
How to bet NFL
If your state allows sports betting, you can simply walk into any casino with a sportsbook (otherwise known as a “brick-and-mortar” shop) and place a wager. You’ll see a screen like the one below when you walk into the sportsbook area.
You’ll be given a ticket with your bet on it and can collect it as soon as the game ends. Not every state is at this level, however. If your state doesn’t have legalized sports betting, there are other NFL betting platforms you can use.
The top alternative NFL betting platform would be offshore sportsbooks. These include NFL betting sites such as Bovada, Bookmaker, BetDsi, BetOnline, and many more. These sites offer very similar bets as brick-and-mortar sportsbooks do, only online. Online sportsbooks often have a wider variety of betting options since they don’t adhere to the Nevada Gaming Commission. New Jersey has been innovative in this sense as well as they try to compete with Las Vegas.
FanDuel and DraftKings sportsbooks are a popular choice in states where they are legal. FanDuel is especially enticing as they let you parlay (we’ll get to that term in a moment) player-props. The player-prop betting market is the softest in NFL betting. Parlaying these bets can yield some immense value if you know what to target.
You can use a personal bookie as well; you’d just have to find one. I’d stick to online betting before I searched for a bookie, however.
I have never used a credit shop myself, but the outline of it sounds sketchy at best. You can place a bet without making a deposit, though I imagine there is some limit that you can “lose” before they stop you from making another bet. I’ve also heard of players being “ghosted” by these online gambling sites. Needless to say, using a credit shop doesn’t sound optimal.
Podcast: Moneyline and Wine Note: This article continues after the podcast player. To subscribe to Moneyline and Wine with Jessica Gridiron and Anita Marks, find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.
Types of bets
Now that we have a quick outline of where to go to bet, let’s break down the different ways you can “get down” on an NFL game.
If you type in “how to bet NFL” in google, “spread” is the second suggested fill-in. It is by far the most popular way to bet the NFL. The spread (or line) represents the number of points sportsbooks expect a particular team to win by, and the odds of that happening. For example, if you see the Denver Broncos listed as (-3, -110) point favorites hosting the Las Vegas Raiders, that means sportsbooks expect the Broncos to win by three points 52.38% of the time.
If you were to bet the Broncos (-3), they would have to win by four or more for you to win your bet. A one- or two-point win (or outright loss) would result in a lost bet, while a three-point win would result in a push. Some key numbers to remember are three, seven, ten, and (to a lesser extent) 14 and 17. The six has become more prevalent as well since the extra point rule change.
An old rule of thumb was to give three points to the home team. In this instance, that would mean sportsbooks view the Raiders and Broncos as even. If you don’t believe that to be the case, you have the basis for a wager in the purest form. This rule is dying, however, as upgrades in technology lead to a better chance to prepare for the road team, as well as home crowds not being what they used to be. Some organizations still deserve the three-point home rule, but I’ve found that most teams deserve a one or two-point advantage instead.
Even though the NFL betting market is the most efficient market in the sports betting world, pro sports bettors still place wagers as no other sport allows you to bet as much as the NFL does. Professionals are the main reason why NFL betting lines are the most efficient of all the major sports leagues.
Another common way of referring to the money line is “straight up.” Money line bets involve you picking a winner, without a spread attached. The bigger the favorite, the higher odds you’ll have to lay to bet the money line.
Let’s take our above example of the Raiders and Broncos. In this scenario, the favorite (Broncos) would be about (-160) on the money line. Most will tell you this means you’d have to bet $160.00 to profit $100. While that is true, that isn’t how you should look at it.
Instead, realize that odds represent a percentage of that “event” happening. You can go to the odds calculator at Odds Shark to convert odds to percentages. In this case, sportsbooks are saying the Broncos will win 61.5% of the time. If you believe they win more often than that, then there’s value in the money line. The inverse applies for the Raiders, of course.
Every NFL game comes with a total. The total is simply how many points sports books project both teams to score. As with NFL spreads, NFL totals also have key numbers. These include 37, 41, 44, 47 and (to a lesser extent) 51. How to bet NFL totals is simple. All you do is pick whether a game will go over or under the projected amount of points.
Player props are one of the more enjoyable bets I like to make. You can wager on everything from yards, catches, interceptions, and touchdowns. This market is more exploitable than the primary markets, as sportsbooks don’t entirely trust their numbers. For this reason, they lower the limits (amount of money) you can wager on each prop bet. If you’re venturing over to betting from fantasy football, player props are the most natural transition for that.
A futures bet typically involves bets that won’t be graded until after the season, or when a certain plateau becomes mathematically impossible. The most common futures are Super Bowl odds and player awards, such as MVP, offensive player of the year, etc.
The “hold” (or amount of money the sportsbooks expect to make) on futures markets is often remarkably high. What does this mean for you? Well, the simplest explanation is you’re paying a higher price than you should for the bet you want to make. Naturally, this means the odds of your bet hitting are lower than they should be.
Some stay away from futures markets because they don’t want their money tied up for several months. You decide for yourself if you’re comfortable having pending bets for months on end.
Parlays are probably the most popular type of bet. It is simply combining two or more bets for a bigger payout. The caveat is, you must hit every bet (or “leg”) of a parlay to win your wager. The payout is more substantial, but the likelihood of winning is smaller.
Something I have learned is to calculate the odds of your parlay. This practice has revealed that I don’t need to expose myself to the risk of HAVING to hit each leg of my bet at the same time. For example, let’s say you like the Panthers money line at (-300) and the Steelers money line at (-150). Using the parlay calculator from Vegas Insider, we can see that combining these two picks would yield odds of (+122). If you bet $100 and win, you would yield a return of $222.00, profiting $122.00. What happens if you split the bets up? Let’s find out using Odds Shark Odds calculator.
[table id=129 /]
However, this only applies when games are taking place at different times. If both games occur at 1 pm EST, this isn’t possible. However, if one is a night game, there is no reason to parlay the two bets. Just take your initial bet amount and bet all of it on the earlier leg. If you win and feel so inclined, you can take your total return from the first bet and bet the would-be second leg of your parlay. You may lose a little bit of value having to wait for the first leg to settle, but I feel its worth the tradeoff for minimizing your risk.
Don’t bet parlays just for the sake of betting parlays, unless you admit you’re just trying to win a lot for a little. Otherwise, parlays are only worthwhile when each leg has value. If you were to parlay spreads or totals and push (land right on the number), it varies from sportsbook to sportsbook, whether they pay you. It’s at their discretion, so be sure to familiarize yourself with their policy.
A teaser is like a parlay in that you need to hit multiple legs to win your bet. The difference is, teasers are spread/total based. I’ll explain below when I break down how to bet NFL teasers.
Let’s pretend you like the Panthers (-7.5) and the Browns (+2.5). Both are on the wrong side of key numbers (three and seven). Throwing these two bets into a teaser would give you a certain amount of points in your favor. In this case, you can tease the Panthers to (-1.5) and the Browns to (+8.5). The two-leg, six-point teaser where you take the spread through the key numbers of three and seven is the most profitable teaser available. NFL betting platforms have recently raised the “juice” on this specific bet. You must lay (-120) to make this wager, but even at those odds, it is still a profitable wager to make.
The different point totals on teasers offered by sportsbooks include six, seven, 10, and 13. A teaser must consist of at least two games but can include as many as ten if you please.
A teaser is “adding” points in your favor, with the tradeoff of having to hit all legs to win your bet. Much like parlays, it varies from book to book on whether you get paid for pushing a leg.
There are several individual game props offered by sportsbooks as well. These bets range from what the first score will be (touchdown, field goal, etc.), team totals, and if there will be a safety or not. Plenty of other wagering options are available as well.
In-game betting might be the “wave of the future.” The spread, total, and money line odds change in real-time with each play. There are even play by play, and drive-by drive live bet options. You can bet on what the next play call will be, the result of that play, whether a drive will result in a touchdown or not, and many other possibilities.
I imagine the league will implement these kinds of bets into a new NFL betting platform, where you can place bets live in the stadium. This kind of “mobile betting” could attract the more modern wave of fan that is used to having information available at the “drop of a hat.” Whether it’s this option or something else, a new type of betting experience will become essential at some point.
James Aguirre is a writer for PFN covering NFL betting and Fantasy Football. You can follow him on Twitter @James_AG1.