What’s the Best Bet for Football?

Football betting is the main attraction at US sportsbooks, live or online, with plenty of different ways to get in on the action. But what’s the best bet you can make each week?

The NFL takes center stage for most of the Fall and Winter with over a dozen games on Sundays plus primetime tilts on Thursdays and Mondays. Saturday games join the party midway through the season.  When college football gets underway, there are jam-packed slates on Saturdays to look forward to all leading to College Bowl season and the National Championship playoff.

Add it all up and you have hundreds of football games to bet on from week-to-week for several months. With dozens of ways to bet on each game – either before or during the game – you certainly won’t lack for options.

So what’s the best football bet to pick out of the big three offered by US online sportsbooks: moneyline, spread, or totals? Are there other more profitable bets to consider? We’ll walk you through all the essentials right here.

How to bet on football

You’ve gone through the weekend football schedule and picked out a handful of games you want to bet on. Now what?

nfl public bettingFirst up, it’s time to break down the games and choose your sides. Or maybe even find some advice from sources you trust. We’ll cover some handicapping tips you can use in a bit.

Once you have made your selections, it’s time to place your bets with a legal and regulated sportsbook. For each game, you’ll have several online betting options to consider including prop betting and live betting.

For our purposes, we’ll stick to the big three of football bet types here. They are:

Each of these bet types will be part of the featured listing for football games at online sportsbooks. Here’s what you’ll see.

How to read a football game line

Since football is a featured attraction at legal US online sportsbooks, you won’t have any trouble finding bets to choose from. NFL betting and NCAAF betting are front and center in the main lobby of the sportsbook or betting app. If you want to drill into all of the games on the schedule, you can click on the tab labeled “NFL” or “NCAAF.”

Once you have all the games and bets in front of you, you’ll see the teams listed and a series of live odds next to each. The teams involved are generally listed with the road team on top and the home team on the bottom, but keep in mind that there are occasionally some neutral-site games.

Here’s what a standard game listing looks like:

All told, you have six choices to consider. You can place a bet on each of three bet types or just stick with the one you feel best about. Here’s what you need to know about all three options, starting with the simplest one on the board.

Check our dedicated page for more on NFL futures betting.

How to read a football moneyline

The moneyline bet is one of the easiest bets to understand. All you need to do is pick the side that you think will win the game. The odds will reflect the most likely outcome in the eyes of the sportsbook.

The favorite will have negative odds, while the number will be positive on the underdog side. The closer the two numbers are, then the tighter the matchup is perceived to be.

Football StadiumLet’s consider an NCAAF game between two similar teams.

  • Michigan Wolverines            +110
  • Ohio State Buckeyes             -130

For this game, the Buckeyes are home favorites over the Wolverines. There’s not a huge span between the odds on both sides, so we can deduce that oddsmakers aren’t expecting a blowout. When we make our pick, we’re simply predicting the winner of the contest.

The live odds also let us know what the sportsbook will be willing to pay for winning bets in either direction. If you add the bet to the slip and plug in your wager amount, you’ll see the potential return. There are also several free handicapping calculators to be found online.

In this case, a winning $100 bet on the Michigan side would return a total of $210 (your wager amount plus a return of $110). For Ohio State, winning $100 bets would return $176.90 (the stake and a profit of $76.90).

Pros of football moneyline betting

  • Simple to understand
  • Clear cut handicapping goal
  • The nice profit potential for winning underdog picks

Cons of football moneyline betting

  • Returns on winning favorites can be muted
  • Popular picks can be nearly unbeatable due to spike in odds
  • Tight profit margins for volume bettors

How to read a football point spread

The point spread is one of the biggest conversation drivers in the world of football betting. Lines for the next slate of games are released as the current week is winding down, and handicappers then have days to digest and dissect the spread posted by oddsmakers.

nfl moneyline bettingBettors can take the favorite minus the points or pick the underdog plus the number. For the bet to be a winner, the chosen side must cover the spread. For an average NFL game, a spread might look something like this.

  • Green Bay Packers           +2.5 (-110)
  • Dallas Cowboys                  -2.5 (-110)

The Cowboys are slight favorites here, and they’d need to win by a field goal or more to cover the spread. A 30-27 victory for Dallas gets it done, but a 24-23 win for the home team does not. If we flip the script, the Packers cover with the latter, but not on the former.

Right next to the spread is the odds for the bet itself. Upon release, many sportsbooks use -110 as the default for spread bets. The number will move throughout the week based on betting action. We’ll walk through how that happens in a bit.

For winning $100 spread bets at odds of -110, a user is looking at a total return of $190.90, which is the amount of the wager plus a profit of $90.90. Naturally, any odds shifts will impact the return that you can expect.

Pros of football spread betting

  • A popular way to bet on the games
  • Can make even games that look to be lopsided compelling
  • Odds range makes it easier to project potential returns

Cons of football spread betting

  • Can be tough to handicap
  • Even the smallest shifts in the spread can impact the wager
  • A tie on the spread results in a push

Football totals (Over/Under) betting

For a totals bet, you’re not concerned with which side wins or loses or by how much. The sole focus is on the total amount of points that will be scored the entire game by both teams. Sportsbooks set the bar with an estimated number, and bettors then get to weigh in.

You can go with the Over, which means you expect the points to exceed the benchmark, or choose the Under, meaning that you think the points scored will be less than the posted number. For an average football game, the total may look like this.

  • Over     51.5    (-110)
  • Under   51.5    (-110)

The bar is set at 51.5 points. If you go with the Over, you’re hoping for 52 points or more, such as a 28-24 final. When you like the Under, the goal is 51 points or less, such as with a final score of 34-17.

At most sportsbooks, the range of odds is just like spreads with the standard upon release set at -110. Once again, the odds will move in response to betting action from the public. The total itself can move as well, so keep your eyes on that too.

The calculation for potential return is the same as with spreads. Winning bets of $100 would return $190.90 in total, the stake of the bet plus the profit of $90.90.The totals market is very active, especially for standalone primetime football games.

Pros of football totals betting

  • No concern with winners, losers, or spreads
  • Focused handicapping can be less time-consuming
  • Returns more predictable due to the standard odds range

Cons of football totals betting

  • Totals and odds can shift all week
  • Heavy market action on popular games can lead to even bigger swings
  • A total that falls on the number is a push

Which football bet has the best odds?

The answer to this question will vary based on the situation at hand. As a general rule, spreads and totals are set in a standard range, so the odds can be viewed as more favorable. However, there’s a case to be made for moneyline odds in the right situation.

In a game that the oddsmakers deem to be a veritable toss-up, then the odds on the moneyline could be in the range of the other two bets with both sides set at -110 as a starting point. When it’s a moneyline situation in which you like the underdog, then you could be in line for even better returns.

The underdog in a moneyline bet will be set with positive odds. The exception to that rule is the aforementioned contests that seem almost too close to call. Typically, underdogs start at odds of +100 and climb from there.

In the case of a seriously lopsided matchup, the number on the underdog side can climb dramatically. This is especially true in NCAAF, as there are a good amount of matchups between powerhouse programs and smaller schools.

  • Note: It’s important to remember that your bet should not solely be based on the potential return.

Constantly betting on huge underdogs in hopes of a big score can be a bankroll killer, so taking a measured approach is the best advice. If your handicapping points you to the underdog on the moneyline side and you feel confident about it, then by all means go for it.

There’s always the possibility that you’re picking up on something the majority of other bettors may have missed.

Some handicappers focus exclusively on spreads and totals due to the consistency on the odds side, while others just like the straightforward nature of the winners and losers on the moneyline. Plenty of bettors also dabble in all three.

For a hard and fast answer, spreads and totals typically offer the most favorable odds, so many users view them as being the best. However, the choice on when to pull the trigger ultimately rests with you and the bets you feel most comfortable with.

Which football bet has the best payout?

The payouts for football bets are based on the odds for the bet itself. If you click on any bet in an online sportsbook it will automatically populate it in your betting slip and show you the possible return if you win. There are also plenty of handy betting payout calculators online that you can lean on if you don’t have an account yet.

You can also do the math yourself. At a minimum, it’s helpful to learn the calculations as it helps to improve your understanding of the odds and how they work.

For a bet where there are positive odds on one side, it’s a simple calculation that we can all do in our head. Let’s say the odds are at +150. For every $100 we bet, we’d see a profit of $150 on winners. Drilling down even further, every dollar bet on a winner at those odds returns $1.50.

Here’s a quick formula so that you can do the math as you need it

  • Stake*(Odds/100) = Profit

Now here’s the formula in action using our example numbers.

  • $100*(150/100)
  • $100*(1.5)
  • Profit = $150

The math gets a little trickier when it comes to negative odds. For the standard point spread and totals bets at odds of -110, it’s not too hard to remember that the profit potential is $90.90. However, the odds don’t stay still, and that’s where the math becomes helpful.

Here’s the formula to use when the odds are negative.

  • Stake/(Odds/100) = Profit

Now here it is in action, using a wager amount of $100 and odds of -120.

  • $100/(120/100)
  • $100/(1.2)
  • Profit = $83.33

For spreads and total bets at the standard odds of -110, the return will be about $0.91 for every dollar bet. Each tick in the odds will impact the potential return. On the moneyline, payouts will vary based on the prices set by sportsbooks, so be sure to keep that in mind as you get set to wager.

Differences between NFL and NCAAF betting

In both the NFL and NCAAF, it’s 11 men on a side at all times. At the end of the day, the goal for teams is to post more points than their opponent. There are some rule variances to consider, such as how the two leagues handle pass interference, but the general concept is the same.

That’s true from a betting perspective as well. When handicapping the two sports, you’ll be looking at similar things. However, there are some big differences to keep in mind from a betting perspective, such as:

1. Size of the weekly schedule

heisman oddsIn the NFL, there are 32 teams, so that means a maximum of 16 games per week in the regular season. Each team gets a bye, so there are several weeks in which the total games are less than that.

At the highest level of NCAAF, there are 130 teams. Each program will have off weeks, but a weekly slate with 60+ games is not uncommon.

There’s no need to handicap the entire slate in either case, but you certainly can if you’d like. As an alternative approach, zeroing in on the matchups that you find most appealing can prove to be a big time saver. This also allows you to better focus your research efforts, which is something that can have a big impact on the bottom line.

2. Overall matchup quality

In the NFL, there are elite teams that jockey for playoff position. But there’s not a huge difference between the top and lower teams from an overall perspective. If there weren’t, then upsets wouldn’t happen.

Over in college football, there can be huge differences in the matchup quality, especially when it’s a case of a big-time program against an obscure school. The chances of an upset are slim in these games, but they do happen from time to time. Either way, you’ll see the difference in the game lines.

3. Point spread variances

Speaking of the game lines, the spread can be much larger in NCAAF at times due to matchups such as the one we were just talking about. In the NFL, it would have to be a really big mismatch for the point spread to be set at double digits. That’s a regular occurrence in college ball.

Most weeks, the overwhelming majority of NFL games will have spreads under 10 points. In NCAAF, it’s not uncommon to see numerous games with 20+ point spreads. The good news is that these games become more appealing from a betting perspective due to the spread, but huge numbers can be tough nuts to crack.

After you understand the nuances between NFL and NCAAF, you’ll find that the skills translate well between the two. If you’ve traditionally focused on one over the other, it’s certainly worth taking the time to expand your horizons to see if betting on other football games works for you.

When do football game lines come out?

A good part of the appeal for football handicapping is the length of time in between games. That provides extra time to analyze the matchups and the odds, and those with good systems in place can make more informed decisions as a result.

nfl game lines draftkingsDuring the regular season, odds for the next slate of games will start coming out as the current weekly schedule winds down. By the time all of the games are in the books, you should see odds and lines for all matchups on the next slate.

The exception to this rule comes in games that have question marks attached, such as one with a potential injury to a starting quarterback. If the oddsmakers can set a fair line, you can rest assured that you’ll see it as soon as possible.

For NCAAF, some books will start releasing lines on Saturday night as the current slate starts to wrap up. Generally, everyone will be on board with the college football betting lines and odds for the following week by Sunday morning.

NFL betting lines start coming in for the following week on Sunday night. By the time Monday Night Football is in the books, you should see lines for the next set of games. Checking out the lines for both sports upon release makes for a great start to the weekly handicapping process.

One other important note to keep in mind: football odds and lines don’t stay still after they are released. Once bettors begin to have their say, sportsbooks can respond by changing the odds, and even the spread or total.

When this happens, we can take it as a sign that a good amount of the bets have come in on one side. To avoid being lopsided, operators will make the side they want to see more action on a little more attractive to bettors while doing the opposite on the other side.

As part of your process, take a look at the opening lines and compare them to where they stand today. Do your best to decipher where the action has come in from there. Also, several sites track public NFL betting numbers in terms of both percentage and number of tickets. Knowing where the money is going is another important tool to have in the belt.

How to handicap football games

Another factor that needs to be considered when examining the three-bet types is the amount of handicapping that will be involved. No matter which wager you’re interested in, certain factors need to be examined while breaking down the games. Here’s a quick checklist to start with:

  • Odds and lines: Fully understand what the numbers are telling you
  • Matchup: Examine all facets of the game, such as offense vs. defense, etc.
  • Recent form: A closer look at how things have been going of late for the teams
  • News and notes: Noteworthy items that could impact the game
  • Public money and expert consensus: Gauging the general perception of what’s going to happen

If you can walk through those five steps, you’ll be very far ahead of the public bettors who just wing it. There’s valuable information to be found in each step, and what you uncover can impact your overall perspective on the contest.

You can also spend some time with advanced stats, but be careful not to go too far down the rabbit hole. Stick with what moves the needle, a list which includes things such as yards per play on both offense and defense. Historical results can be helpful, as can taking a look at the team splits for home and away, and on the various bet types.

For the individual bets themselves, you can spend more time on a few key areas.

Handicapping football moneylines

The moneyline is all about which team will win, so you should be looking for clear advantages on one side over the other. Take a detailed look and determine which side is better at the following:

  • QB and Offensive line
  • Pass rush for and against
  • Turnover margin and penalty yardage allowed

When you can build a really strong case on a winner and the odds are favorable, that’s a good time for a moneyline bet. If you don’t have a good feel or if the odds aren’t very appealing, then that’s a good time to pass.

Handicap football point spreads

The point spread bet is one of the most challenging pieces of the handicapping puzzle. Beyond the winner and loser, you also need to project the margin of victory in comparison to the number set by oddsmakers. Here are some tips that can help:

  • Use football power rankings to help handicap a fair spread
  • Factor in the true home-field advantage
  • Study team records against the spread and for recent matchups between the two squads

There are some free to use power rankings on the internet which can be useful. For those with home-field advantage, some handicappers go with three points, while others are in the range of 2.5. Historical ATS record isn’t a guarantee of the future, but it makes for a good clue.

nfl bye weeks sports bettingHandicapping football totals

When it comes to totals, winners and losers don’t matter all that much, nor does the final margin of victory. It’s all about the baseline number set by oddsmakers and whether the teams will go Over or Under that amount. Here are some items to research.

  • Average points for and against on both sides, both for season-to-date and over the last three games
  • Team records on totals and how they lean for both home and away
  • Typical scoring at the venue and from any past meetings of the two teams

Line and odds moves are important for all three bet types, but they can be particularly valuable pieces of intel on totals. If you can get a handle on where the sharp money is going, there’s nothing wrong with following along.

For those new to handicapping, it can seem like a daunting and time-consuming task. The good news is that you can streamline the process and make it quite efficient, so you’ll get to the point in which it’s not an overwhelming time commitment.

If handicapping is not your thing, then there are plenty of resources to lean on for both NFL and NCAAF betting. Some are free, others are paid, and a handful from both categories can be useful.

Before you ever pay for NFL picks, be sure to do your due diligence and review verifiable performance results. If you come across a red flag or something that rubs you the wrong way, trust your instincts, and keep on searching.

Where can you find the best football betting odds?

In year’s past, the answer to this question was super easy. As the recognized sports betting capital of the world, Las Vegas was the place to go for football odds and lines. These days, that’s not necessarily the case.

Legal and regulated sports betting continues to evolve. Several states are fully up and running with sports betting, others remain a work in progress, and even more, at least have it on tap for the future.

In the markets in which legal sports betting is a thing, some leading operators have set up shop. The odds and lines they post for users are comparable to what you’ll find out in Sin City. If they weren’t, the market would speak out loud and clear by taking their business elsewhere.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worth taking the time to see what the folks out in Sin City have to say. Las Vegas casinos employ some of the top bookmakers in the world, and what they have to say in terms of odds and lines holds a ton of weight.

However, there’s a really good chance you’ll see similar odds in your neck of the woods. For verification, shop the lines at the books in your area, and then compare them to the Las Vegas odds posted. You should be pretty pleased with what you see.

Is it better to bet spread, moneyline or totals?

The most popular standard bets for NFL and NCAAF are the ones that you see front and center on sportsbook apps. The moneyline, spread, and totals for each game will see plenty of action.

Which one is best will vary depending on the situation, but it all ultimately comes down to your confidence level. Returns can be more predictable on spreads and totals, but the moneyline is the easiest of the three bets to place.

However, the returns on the moneyline can sometimes be less than stellar, especially when we’re talking about big favorites. On the other hand, returns on winning underdog bets can be great. That said, it’s important not to use potential return as the determining factor for your wagers.

You should be placing bets that align with your overall approach and strategy. When looking to go outside of your comfort zone, build up some familiarity before jumping in. Sports betting isn’t going anywhere, so you have plenty of time to hone your skills.

Chris Feery Avatar
Written by
Chris Feery

Christopher is a full-time evergreen writer located in New Jersey. His work has appeared all over the web and has covered numerous industries. In recent years, he has dedicated his focus to sports from an analysis, betting, fantasy, and general news perspective. Chris covers sports betting content and app reviews for PlayUSA and the Play site network. You can follow and reach him on Twitter @cmfeery

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