Last Updated: November 21, 2013

Betting the NFL

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Introduction

This page assumes the reader already has a good grasp of sports betting terminology. If this is not the case, I recommend reading my general page on sports betting first.

Point Spread Bets

I admit "point spread bet" is not a common term in sports betting, but I'm trying to change that. What I call a point spread bet is a basic bet against the point spread. Many people call this a "straight bet" but this term can also be used, and is printed on tickets for, money liney bets, total bets, and any other bet involving just one game. So I invite the rest of the world to adopt this term.

In the NFL home underdogs have historically done well against the spread. The following table shows the probability of winning, losing, and pushing according by various breakdowns. The table covers every game from the 1983 to 2008 seasons. The expected return is for the standard laying 11 to win 10. The expected return when laying 105 to win 100 is about 2.2% more than when laying the same odds.

Expected Return against Point Spread in the NFL

Event Win Total Push Exp. Ret. (-110)
All favorite 47.19% 50.05% 2.76% -7.15%
All underdogs 50.05% 47.19% 2.76% -1.69%
All visiting 48.71% 48.57% 2.72% -4.29%
All home 48.57% 48.71% 2.72% -4.56%
Home favorite 47.56% 49.75% 2.70% -6.51%
Visiting underdog 49.75% 47.56% 2.70% -2.33%
Home underdog 50.70% 46.39% 2.91% -0.30%
Visiting favorite 46.39% 50.7% 2.91% -8.53%

For more on betting home underdogs I recommend Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong. Also visit my sports betting appendix 2.

Total Bets

Following are the result of every NFL game from the 1983 to 2008 seasons:

  • Over wins: 48.00%
  • Under wins: 49.52%
  • Game ends exactly on total: 2.49%

Overall the house edge on over bets is 5.89% and on unders is 2.98%, assuming the bettor risks $11 to win $10.

Money Lines

I often find what I believe to be a good bet on an underdog on the money line. The following chart shows the probability of winning by point spread, based on historical data (from the 1994 through 2012 seasons).

The following table shows the actual data. The estimated probability of winning is based on smoothing out the ups and downs. The fair money line is based on the estimated probability of winning. This table does not factor in "key numbers" in the NFL. In other words, some margin of victories are much more likely than others, especially 3 and 7. It is a much bigger handicap to be given 3.5 points compared to 2.5, thus the 3.5-point underdog is going to have a significantly lower chance of winning compared to a 2.5-point underdog. I'll leave adjustment to the reader (sorry).

To find the fair money line on a favorite, just multiply by -1. For example, a 7-point underdog shows an estimated probability of winning of 28.9%, which corresponds to a fair money line of +249. Thus, a 7-point favorite would have a 71.35% chance of winning, for a fair money line of -249.

Probability of Winning in the NFL by Point Spread

Spread Wins Loses Actual Probability Estimated Probability Fair Money Line
0 68 136 50.0% 50.0% 100
1 85 170 50.0% 46.7% 114
1.5 84 193 43.5% 45.0% 122
2 86 154 55.8% 43.4% 130
2.5 125 279 44.8% 41.8% 139
3 369 900 41.0% 40.2% 149
3.5 165 413 40.0% 38.6% 159
4 63 215 29.3% 37.1% 170
4.5 63 159 39.6% 35.6% 181
5 44 129 34.1% 34.1% 194
5.5 60 195 30.8% 32.6% 207
6 81 231 35.1% 31.2% 221
6.5 72 250 28.8% 29.8% 236
7 93 355 26.2% 28.4% 252
7.5 48 151 31.8% 27.1% 269
8 21 115 18.3% 25.8% 288
8.5 21 97 21.6% 24.6% 307
9 26 125 20.8% 23.3% 328
9.5 27 122 22.1% 22.2% 351
10 26 123 21.1% 21.1% 375
10.5 20 103 19.4% 20.0% 400
11 9 56 16.1% 19.0% 427
11.5 3 26 11.5% 18.0% 457
12 3 24 12.5% 17.0% 488
12.5 7 32 21.9% 16.1% 521
13 7 46 15.2% 15.2% 557
13.5 11 56 19.6% 14.4% 595
14 13 58 22.4% 13.6% 635
14.5 3 25 12.0% 12.8% 678
15 1 16 6.3% 12.1% 725
15.5 0 12 0.0% 11.4% 774
16 0 13 0.0% 10.8% 827
16.5 0 13 0.0% 10.2% 883
17 0 4 0.0% 9.6% 944
17.5 1 4 25.0% 9.0% 1,008
18 0 3 0.0% 8.5% 1,077
18.5 0 3 0.0% 8.0% 1,150
19 0 0 7.5% 1,229
19.5 0 2 0.0% 7.1% 1,313
20 0 1 0.0% 6.7% 1,402
20.5 0 1 0.0% 6.3% 1,498
21 0 1 0.0% 5.9% 1,600
21.5 0 0 5.5% 1,709
22 0 1 0.0% 5.2% 1,826
22.5 0 0 4.9% 1,950
23 0 0 4.6% 2,083
23.5 0 0 4.3% 2,226
24 0 1 0.0% 4.0% 2,377

Parlays

Here is my quick advice on parlays:

  • If you bet off the board, either do a pick-3 or mix in one leg that isn't at the standard -110 odds, to get off the lousy parlay odds table, and force a fair calculation.
  • If you bet a parlay card, I recommend the the "half point" cards, where ties are impossible. Overall, the best odds are the William Hill half-point card.
  • On parlay cards, try to capture as many points as you can compared to the "off the board" point spread.

I have much more information about parlays in my page on Parlay Bets in the NFL.

Teasers

Here is my quick advice on teasers:

  • If you bet off the board, the best odds are at Jerry's Nugget.
  • Try to cross the 3- and 7-point margin of victories with the extra points.
  • Teaser cards are a sucker bet.
  • If you must bet a teaser card, I recommend the the Ties Win Teaser Card at any Caesars sports book.
  • On teaser cards, try to capture as many points as you can compared to the "off the board" point spread.

I have lots more information about teasers in my page on Teaser Bets in the NFL.

Buying Half a Point

Sometimes a sports book will let you buy a half point off the spread for total. For example, moving a point spread from +10 to +10.5. The price for this is laying an extra cents, in most cases laying 120 instead of 110. However, rarely will a sports book let the player buy onto point spreads of 3 or 7, for example moving from +2.5 to +3, because 3 and 7 are frequent margin of victories in the NFL. To be specific, the margin of victory is three 15.9% of the time, and seven 9.5%.

The following table shows the fair price to pay for most spreads and totals. For example, moving the spread from +2.5 to +3, +3 to +3.5, -3.5 to -3, or -3 to -2.5, would be buying the 3. In these cases if the favorite won by 3, or the underdog lost by 3, then it would turn a push into a win, or a loss into a push. The table shows the fair price to pay for the 3 is 20.8 cents. In other words, the bettor should be indifferent between betting +3 -110 and +3.5 at -130.8.

Buying a Half Point Off the Spread

Spread Fair Price
0 0.4
1 4.4
2 4.4
3 21.4
4 6.7
5 3.7
6 7.4
7 14.0
8 4.6
9 2.2
10 10.6
11 5.2
12 3.2
13 5.4
14 9.9
15 2.9
16 4.5
17 7.9
18 5.6
19 4.3
20 3.5
21 9.8

My page on alternate point spreads shows what it is worth to buy or sell up to seven points off the spread.

The next table shows the fair prices to pay on NFL total bets. Like point spreads, there are key numbers in totals. For example, 37 and 41 points are the two most common totals at 4.4% each. However, the key number effect is not as strong in totals as point spreads, so there is not as much variance in the fair prices.

Buying a Half Point Off the Total

Total Fair Price
31 5.4
32 3.1
33 7.5
34 6.4
35 4.1
36 4.4
37 10.6
38 5.8
39 3.5
40 8.0
41 10.6
42 2.7
43 7.0
44 8.5
45 6.2
46 3.3
47 7.0
48 6.5
49 3.8
50 4.2
51 8.6
52 4.2
53 3.5
54 4.1
55 6.1
56 1.2
57 3.8
58 3.8
59 3.3
60 0.9
61 3.0
62 2.6
63 1.5

My page on alternate totals shows what it is worth to buy or sell up to seven points off the total.

Calculators

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