NFL Spread Betting Explained – Tips, Variations, and Where to Bet

If NFL spread betting is new or confusing to you, you’ll be happy to hear we break it down to pieces and dissect every one of them on this page. We show you how it works and highlight the most popular variations on the concept that you might find interesting.

In addition, we give you key tips on betting on the spread in the NFL to improve your chances of winning. Finally, we share the best places online to make these popular football wagers. If that sounds appealing, let’s dive in to find out how NFL spreads work!

What Does Spread Mean in NFL Betting?

Point spread betting in the NFL is based on the concept that one of the teams starts with a handicap that’s added to the final score of the game. For example, let’s say that Baltimore plays against Pittsburgh, and the bookmakers offer a +3.5 (or +3½ in some betting sites) spread for Baltimore.

For the purpose of the spread betting market, the game doesn’t start at 0:0 like it normally does, but at 3.5:0 for Baltimore. For Pittsburgh to cover the spread, they must win the game by at least four points. For Baltimore to win for the purpose of the market, they must stay within the spread, meaning they must either win or lose by three points or fewer.

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If the game ended in a 21:20 win for Pittsburgh, adding the handicap to the Baltimore score would make it 23.5:21 in favor of Baltimore.

The two main options for NFL spreads are to bet against the spread (if you bet on the team starting with a handicap) or to bet on the spread, which is also called covering the spread. Let’s find out more about them.

How to Bet Against the Spread in the NFL

Betting against the spread means you are backing the team with the handicap in an NFL game to either win or lose by fewer points than the spread. Let’s use our example above and imagine that you want to bet against the spread, meaning you want to choose Baltimore +3.5 points.

Let’s explore a few scenarios to make it even easier to understand.

  • Baltimore wins the game 21:20: You win your spread bet because the score of the game for the purposes of the spread line you picked is 24.5:20 for Baltimore (actual score + handicap).
  • Pittsburgh defeats Baltimore 14:12: You win your spread bet because the score of the game, with the spread included, is Baltimore 15.5:14.
  • Pittsburgh defeats Baltimore 27:7: You lose this bet because Baltimore lost by more than 3.5 points.

How to Bet on the Spread/Covering the Spread

If you bet on an NFL team to cover the spread, it means you need the team to win the game by more points than the given handicap. Let’s form a new example. Here is another typical spread:

  • Minnesota -10.5
  • Green Bay +10.5

If you believe that Minnesota is going to cover the spread, that means you believe that they’re going to win the game by 11 points or more. Here is how that might turn out:

  • Minnesota wins 42:7: You win your spread bet because the final margin of 35 points is greater than 10.5.
  • Minnesota wins 14:10: You lose your spread bet. Even though Minnesota won the game outright, they only won by four, which isn’t enough to cover the 10.5 handicap.

Full Point vs. Half-Point NFL Spread Betting

The examples of point spread betting in the NFL we’ve given so far have included half-point lines. There can also be full point spreads in football games. A full point line makes it possible that the score can be tied for the purpose of the spread, which is also known as a push or void. In the case of a push/void, your bet is returned.

Take a look at the following NFL spread line:

  • Dallas -7
  • Philadelphia +7

Let’s imagine that you bet against the spread and take Philadelphia. Here are some possible outcomes:

  • Dallas wins 35:31: You win the bet because Philadelphia lost by fewer than seven points.
  • Dallas wins 28:17: You lose the bet because Philadelphia lost by more than seven points.
  • Dallas wins 21:14: Since the margin is exactly seven points, this bet is a push. You don’t win, but you don’t lose either, so your wager is returned.

Half-point lines eliminate the possibility of a push, because there’s no way the outcome is tied for the NFL spread line you picked.

Variations of NFL Spread Betting

The classic NFL point spread line is based on the entire game (which includes overtime, if it happens.) However, there are certain spread bet variations based on partial portions of the game. In addition, live betting and alternative spread lines are often available at online sportsbooks:

  • Quarterly Spreads: Each NFL game is broken into four quarters. NFL sportsbooks may include spreads based on just one quarter of play.
  • Half-Time Spreads: You can also make NFL spread bets based on the result of each half. Keep in mind, if you’re betting on the second half spread, this will only include the third and fourth quarters, and not potential overtime.
  • Alternative Spread lines: The main NFL spread line for each game usually is set at odds of around -110/-110 for both outcomes, meaning the probabilities of both outcomes are around 50%-50%. However, most bookies offer alternative lines with bigger and smaller handicaps. Choosing an alternative spread line allows you to either make a conservative bet that’s more of a sure thing or go out on a limb with a wager that could pay more, even if it’s riskier.
  • Live NFL Spread betting: Live betting occurs during the NFL games. Football sportsbooks will usually offer all types of spread bets mentioned above in the live betting format. The live odds will change based on what’s happening in the game.

How Do the Betting Sites Determine NFL Spread Lines?

NFL bookmakers use a large set of statistical data and key factors like the home field advantage or player injuries to determine their initial NFL spread lines. For example, they might come up with an estimate that Team A is expected to score approximately 31.5 points and Team B is expected to score around 21.3 points. That makes for a difference of 10.2 points, which means that the oddsmaker could make a preliminary spread of 10 points.

The next step is to estimate how the public will bet based on that preliminary line, knowing that the majority of casual users often bet more on the strongest and most popular teams.

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Bookies ideally want about the same amount of money placed on both sides, so they can make money no matter what. If they think that will be the case, they set the spread at 10 and provide fairly equal odds of -110/-110.

If they expect more bets on one of the sides, the bookies adjust their lines or odds. They could move the spread to 9 points, for example, or keep it at 10 but offer more favorable odds on one side (such as -120/+100). That incentivizes people to place more bets on the other side, balancing the books.

For example, if the 10-point favorite is seeing way more action than the underdog, the line could move to 10.5 or even 11 points. Again, it’s the goal of the oddsmaker to keep the amount bet on both sides as close as possible.

One note on line movement: If you bet early in the week before an NFL game and the spread moves after that, your initial spread doesn’t change. For example, let’s say you bet the favorite to cover the spread by 10 points on Monday. On Tuesday, the spread goes up to 11. That doesn’t affect your spread wager, which remains at the level it was when you placed it.

Basic Tips for NFL Spread Betting

Forming a winning strategy for betting on the spread in the NFL is hard but possible. You should start with the basics. Consider paying attention to the following factors to give you a foundation for making your football spread wagers.

Explore Performance Stats for Both Teams

Statistical information on the three main parts of each team’s performance (offense, defense, special teams) can pave the way to finding an advantage on your spread bets. For example, if you find that the passing game of one team is particularly strong, while the pass defense of their opponent is a weakness, it could be an edge that will be exploited in the game.

Many websites feature up-to-date NFL stats to help you with this process. ESPN provides excellent information that’s updated regularly. For a site that goes a little bit deeper into historical NFL stats, Pro Football Reference is an excellent choice.

Consider Against the Spread Stats for Both Teams

It can be helpful to find stats for each team that are focused on betting numbers. For example, there can be a team that has an excellent win-loss record. That doesn’t matter much when it comes to the spread, however, and if they struggle to cover the spread as a favorite, it could be time to go with the underdog.

By the same token, some teams with losing records have a knack for rallying late for scores that have little to do with the outcome of the game but can help them against the spread. In addition, some quarterbacks will try to pad their stats at the end of a game, which can help their teams cover the spread. Spread records can bring all of this to light and help you when it’s time for you to make a bet.

Don’t Ignore Injuries and Suspensions

You always have to check the most current information on each team involved in a game you’re planning to bet. That goes beyond knowing what players are out of the game due to injuries or suspensions. It might also relate to players who are playing but could be affected.

For example, imagine a scenario where the favorite in a spread bet has a quarterback playing who is dealing with a bad ankle. That could affect his mobility, and the underdog, especially if they have a strong pass rush, can exploit that. Following the injury reports closely can make a huge difference with your spread bets in NFL games.

Look at the H2H Matchups

This tip is especially relevant for divisional matchups. In the NFL, teams within their own division play each other twice a season. In some cases, that first matchup can be a good indicator of how the second matchup will go.

The further back you go with head-to-head matchups for your NFL spread betting, the less reliable they’ll be. However, there are some cases where a team having an edge over another over the course of several years can be useful. For example, if one coach consistently outsmarts another, no matter how the teams stack up, you might be able to trust it to happen again and again.

Check How the Teams Did in Comparable Games

This is an underrated strategy, but it’s one that savvy spread bettors know how to utilize. Comparable games means facing teams with similar styles of play.

For example, imagine that Team A is getting ready to play Team B, which is led by a defense that likes to blitz a lot. If Team A has had success against other blitzing teams recently, it could mean that they’ll have a better chance of being a winning spread bet.

Where to Bet on NFL Spreads

All sports betting sites offer NFL spreads, but we suggest you choose Bovada first when considering which of them to use. They feature the best variety of alternative lines and excellent odds with only 5% margins.

If you want more alternatives for NFL spread betting, all top football betting sites are worth your attention

More NFL Betting Guides

If you like our page on how to make NFL spread bets, we have you covered with much more NFL betting information. Check out the following pages:

  • NFL Betting Strategy: The best basic strategies for making all kinds of NFL wagers.
  • In-Game NFL Betting: How live NFL betting works and tips for successful in game bets
  • NFL Totals Betting: Guide to over/under NFL bets.
  • NFL Halftime Betting: How halftime NFL bets work and strategy for winning these specific wagers.
  • NFL Line Movement: An explanation of why line movement happens in NFL games and how you can use it to your advantage.
  • NFL Forecasting Lines: A look at how predicting NFL lines can help you win your bets.

In addition, don’t forget to check out our NFL blog, which features evergreen NFL betting content and articles on current events.

Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.