Moneyline betting is one of the most popular ways to gamble on the NFL, and one of my favorites. I like moneyline betting because it’s so straightforward: in simplest terms, moneyline betting strategy is just picking which team is going to win the game – straight-up. No handicaps, no line, no adjustments – just choose one team or the other.
Of course, things get a little more complicated – I’ll use the rest of this page to explain.
But before I get into the details, the first thing I want to remind you is that moneyline bets are one situation in which every single part of my general three-stage NFL Betting Strategy applies fully and completely. In order to make moneyline bets, I utilize the three-stage process you’ll find outlined in that page: gathering information, utilizing checks and balances, and visualizing the game. If you want to know the specifics of what information you need to gather for placing moneyline bets, check out that page.
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In this page, in addition to this general NFL betting strategy, I’ll go through the following details, specific to moneyline betting:
- How moneyline bets work and how to interpret the odds
- How to know when to place a wager on a moneyline bet
- How to find good value and make money in the long run
Let’s get started by talking about what a moneyline bet is, and how the odds work.
What Are Moneyline Odds?
As I mentioned above, moneyline is a very meat-and-potatoes way to wager on NFL games. Tons and tons of people across the world place moneyline wagers on every single NFL game, every single week – both regular season and playoffs.
A moneyline bet is simply a wager placed on one team or the other to win the game. To explain further, let’s take an in-depth look at a typical moneyline bet.
This example comes from Week 16 of the 2016/17 NFL season: on Sunday Night Football, the Denver Broncos took on the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas Day. The Broncos were 8–6 under first-year quarterback Trevor Siemian, being a year removed from winning the Super Bowl and having won the division for 5 straight years, while the Chiefs were 10–4 under veteran QB Alex Smith, having won 10 straight games against their division opponents and gunning for a first-round playoff bye.
Despite hailing from the best division in football at the time, when the game kicked off both teams were coming off a loss: the Chiefs had lost 17–19 to the Titans in Week 15 – a poor offensive showing – and the Broncos had lost 3–16 to the Patriots – that game only a week removed from their own loss to the Titans. The last time the two AFC West teams met, in Week 12, the Broncos had won in overtime 30–27.
One final piece of information that helps us truly understand the situation for this bet: at this point in the season, going into Week 16, the Oakland Raiders had already clinched a playoff berth at 11–3, the Chiefs had a greater than 99% chance to make the playoffs, and the Broncos needed a miracle to limp into the postseason – their playoff chances were at only 17%.
The more interesting race was for the division title: going into Sunday Night Football, the Chiefs already knew that the Raiders had won earlier that day, but they also knew that Derek Carr had broken his leg during the game. If the Chiefs could polish off the Broncos on SNF and then the Broncos could turn around and beat the Raiders (sans Derek Carr) the following week, the Chiefs would win both the division and the coveted first-round playoff bye.
In this context, the Week 16 moneyline odds at the Bovada sportsbook included the following odds for the “MONEYLINE” portion of their Broncos-Chiefs listing:
- Chiefs -185
- Broncos +165
What did this line signify? This means that the Chiefs were favored to win the game. Intuitively, we understand that Kansas City had a better chance to win this game: the Chiefs were the better team, with the better record, with more to play for. Not to mention the fact that they were at home, on Sunday Night Football, with a league-leading defense facing off against a first-year quarterback.
But how, exactly, did the odds reflect this? Remember the golden rule of sports gambling: the goal of odds-makers is always to promote even action on both sides of a wager. Due to the fact that the Chiefs were the obvious choice to win the game, sportsbooks needed to incentivize gamblers to take the Broncos, and disincentivize gamblers to take the Chiefs.
This is why the Chiefs were getting negative odds while the Broncos were getting positive odds. Don’t be mistaken: the “negative” and “positive” here don’t refer to getting a negative or positive return for your investment. What it means is that in the case of the Chiefs, you have to wager $185 to win $100. In the case of the Broncos, you win $165 on a $100 wager.
Put another way, these odds mean that a $100 wager on the Chiefs (the favorite) would earn only a $54 profit. The same $100 wager on the Broncos (the underdog) would earn a $165 profit. So if you bet $100 on the Broncos, and they won, you would end up with $265 in your pocket at the end of the day. If you bet $100 on the Chiefs, and the Chiefs won, you would end up with $154, once you got your initial principle back along with your profit.
In short: negative odds disincentivize the more likely outcome; positive odds incentivize the less likely outcome. This is how the system of moneyline odds work. Because this odds format is favored in the United States (as opposed to European/decimal odds or UK/fractional odds), this format is also called American odds.
Now that we’ve got a basic understanding of how moneyline odds work, let’s take a look at how to know whether the odds offer good value, and when you should place a moneyline bet.
When Should You Place a Moneyline Bet?
In the example above, the Chiefs were slightly favored to beat the Broncos. In the end, Kansas City did end up beating Denver by a score of 33 to 10 on Sunday Night Football, so those gamblers that placed a wager on the Chiefs -185 to win the game would have seen their wager pay off.
The reason I picked this game as a good example of a moneyline bet is because this is the range of odds that you will typically see for most evenly-matched games. Most of the time, the favorite will be getting odds between -100 (or EVEN) and -200, while the underdog will be getting odds between +100 (EVEN) and +200.
In the most evenly-matched games, (or alternatively in games for which the outcome feels completely unknown or meaningless – toss-up games), both teams may have odds that approximate even odds. Sticking with the same slate of games as the Broncos/Chiefs game above, Week 16 of the 2016/17 season also featured the Cincinnati Bengals getting +100 against the Houston Texans, who were getting -120.
This leads to our first principle: the closer together the two teams’ moneyline odds are, the less certain the outcome of the game is. In this case, betting the underdog has a higher payout because it is a higher risk.
And this makes sense when you think about things from the perspective of the odds-makers. Due to the fact that there are already a plenitude of arguments for both sides to win the game, there’s no need for odds-makers to push the action to one side or another. There will already be even action simply due to the mixed opinions on what the outcome of the game will be in reality.
On the other end of the spectrum, when one team is certainly going to win the game, and no one believes that the underdog could ever pull off an upset, the gap between the two teams’ odds can become quite dramatic indeed. Sticking with the same week of the same season, the Seahawks were getting -410 odds at home against the Cardinals (+375). Another game, pitting the 12–2 soon-to-be-Super-Bowl-champion Patriots against the 4–10 starting-a-rookie-QB Jets, had odds at +850 for the Jets and -1429 for the Patriots – among the worst moneyline odds you’ll ever, ever see.
This leads to our second principle, the converse of the first: the farther away the two teams’ moneyline odds are, the more certain the outcome of the game is. In this case, betting the favorite has a lower payout because it is a lower risk.
With these two principles established, it’s not too complicated to understand when it’s a good time to place a moneyline bet. First off, consider the payoffs involved in each of the situations listed above, presented from the least certain outcome to the most certain outcome:
- If you put $100 on the Jets to win at +850, you risk $100 for an $850 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Cardinals to win at +370, you risk $100 for a $370 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Broncos to win at +165, you risk $100 for a $165 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Bengals to win at +100, you risk $100 for a $100 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Texans to win at -120, you risk $100 for an $83 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Chiefs to win at -185, you risk $100 for a $54 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Seahawks to win at -410, you risk $100 for a $24 profit.
- If you put $100 on the Patriots to win at -1429, you risk $100 for a $7 profit.
Think about this last case: the Patriots were essentially guaranteed to beat the Jets (and they did, in spectacular fashion, 41–3). But with a payout of $7 on a $100 investment, even getting your original $100 back you’ve only made a 7% return on investment. Considering that the average rate of return in a growth market mutual fund is between 8-12%, you’re better off putting your money in the bank than gambling with it if the odds are this low.
These types of considerations fall into the category of value betting. For moneyline bets, the only thing that matters is whether you picked the winning team. In this case, if the Patriots win by 1 point in overtime, or by 38 points in regulation, you get the same $7 profit. You don’t get any more money for being more right about the outcome. If you’re right, you win; if you’re wrong, you lose.
So in this case, you should place a wager on a moneyline bet when you believe that the bet holds good value, which is to say when you feel certain that one team is going to win the game (i.e. low risk), and the moneyline odds still offer enough value to make the wager worthwhile (i.e. high reward).
At this point, you might be saying: but how do I know if I’m getting good value? When does this actually happen in reality? The short answer is that there isn’t really a great way to explain it – it’s not something you can figure out with some magic formula (though believe me, people have certainly tried). This is where the skill and experience portions of NFL moneyline betting strategy comes into play.
But even with this caveat having been given, let’s take a stab at some general guidelines that will help you bet on only odds that offer good value, and make money in the long run with moneyline betting.
How Do You Make Money with Moneyline Betting?
As I mentioned immediately above and as I explain in detail in my general NFL Betting Strategy page, making money with any kind of gambling is a long-term process. Like any other profession, it is a skill that takes time and effort to develop. NFL gambling provides a viable way to make money, and I’ve been employed for more than 15 years gambling on the NFL. But understand that it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme.
With moneyline odds, the biggest factor involved in making money in the long-run is being smarter and more disciplined at wagering only on good value bets. This is a skill that you will develop over time; as you place more wagers you’ll get more of a feel for it, and you’ll get better as time goes on.
I wish I could tell you something like when the favorite is getting -180 and the underdog is getting +240, bet X dollars on the favorite, say 10 Our Fathers, do a Mystical Rain Dance, and collect your guaranteed payout. But the reason I can’t be specific about the numbers is because there really isn’t really any specific formula based on odds and numbers that is guaranteed to work. It always depends on the situation.
The closest thing to a general rule I can give is this: the key to a good value bet is when you feel certain (or more certain) of a given outcome, while the gambling public (or the specific odds-maker) feels differently. Let’s take an example.
Let’s make up a narrative about the Cardinals/Seahawks game mentioned above. The Cardinals were getting +375 and the Seahawks were getting -410, indicating that the gambling public strongly believed that the Seahawks were going to win the game, and the odds-makers shifted the line in this direction in order to promote even action on both sides.
Without going into too much detail, though, let’s imagine that you believe the odds are totally wrong, and you’re even a little confused as to why the Cardinals aren’t favored. Let’s imagine that you are thinking back to the earlier matchup between these two teams, which ended in a tie, and you believe that due to the fact that it is a divisional game the outcome will be decided by one possession or less.
This hypothetical bet would constitute an ideal value bet. Once again, the two components you look for are:
- 1) Do I believe strongly that one team is definitely going to win?
- 2) Do the odds offer a satisfactory return on investment if I bet what I believe?
In this case, due to the fact that what you believe is contrary to the belief of the gambling public, both of these components are present, and it is a good value bet.
In my experience, this type of situation is fairly common. What I mean is that good value bets often arise when the gambling public is wrong about a game, and you happen to recognize this beforehand. Alternatively, odds-makers might flat out misjudge the opinion of the gambling public (especially initially), and you’re able to capitalize on their mistake before they have a chance to correct it.
One of the feelings that I have come to trust the most is disbelief: the feeling when I look at a line, do a double-take, double-check that the line I saw is correct, and then say to myself Why in the world is that the line? Or in the case of moneyline odds, Why in the world are the odds so high/low? It’s this feeling, that the odds-makers and/or the gambling public are just flat out wrong, that clues me in that I might have a good value bet.
As you progress as an NFL gambler, you’ll begin to find that some of these patterns for when the gambling public is usually wrong about a game can be predicted in advance.
Often times, touts and other gambling charlatans will codify these patterns into “systems” of gambling, that supposedly work perfectly 100% of the time. These systems include things like home underdogs on Monday Night Football, road team favorites coming off of a bye week, or teams that have played both incredible offense and incredible defense for three straight contests.
As I have mentioned on another page, these “systems” are not wrong, but they’re not always right. The gambling public will often fail to take into account some of the patterns that these systems pick up on, and for this reason, if you try out these systems and give them a go, they can help tip you off to finding good value bets.
But in the end, the way to make money with moneyline betting is simply to wager only on bets that offer good value. With time, practice, and experience, you’ll come to understand what makes a good value bet, and moneyline bets will become one of the best arrows in your quiver as a profitable NFL gambler.
Summary: NFL Moneyline Betting Strategy
Moneyline betting is one of the most straightforward and most popular ways to gamble on the outcome of NFL games. In simplest terms, moneyline betting strategy comes down to picking the winner of an NFL game straight-up – both regular season and playoffs. To make moneyline bets, I utilize my three-stage process: gathering information, utilizing checks and balances, and visualizing the game.
The system of “moneyline odds” (also called American odds) that sportsbooks set up for this type of bet usually involves a favorite getting negative odds (e.g. Chiefs -185) and an underdog getting positive odds (e.g. Broncos +165). Odds-makers use this system to prompt even action on both sides: the negative odds disincentivize the more likely outcome; the positive odds incentivize the less likely outcome.
Generally, when both sides have a fair chance of winning, the favorite will be getting odds between -100 (or EVEN) and -200, while the underdog will be getting odds between +100 (EVEN) and +200. This is because there is already even action for simply picking the game straight-up. When one team is heavily favored, and the outcome is more certain, the gap between the odds becomes wider and wider.
Accordingly, in order to make money on moneyline wagers it’s important to find good value. If a team is getting hugely positive odds (e.g. from +400 to +1000 and more), there is a massive reward but a high risk (i.e. the team is unlikely to win). Conversely, with hugely negative odds (e.g. -400 to -1000 and more), there is very low risk (i.e. the team is likely to win) but also very little reward.
Thus, the best value (i.e. the balance of risk and reward) is often found when your personal beliefs about the outcome of a game clash with the view of the gambling public. There is no magic formula for determining numerically what constitutes a good value (it’s a matter of skill, experience, and general feel), but I’m often tipped off by a feeling of disbelief – when I have to double-check the odds.
There are a host of betting systems out there on the internet that can help you find good value situations. But ultimately, like any profession, it takes time to develop the skill of finding good moneyline value bets. There’s no get-rich-quick scheme in NFL gambling. In order to make money, you have to be smarter and more disciplined at finding good value and wager only on good value bets.
With over 15 years of experience placing NFL gambling wagers – including more than my fair share of moneyline wagers – I can say with confidence that you certainly can make money with NFL moneyline betting. It takes time and it takes practice, but personally, I can’t think of many skills that are more fun to develop!