NFL Playoff Betting vs. Regular Season

regular season vs. playoffs nfl betting

Part of what makes the NFL so special is that each team only plays a single game per week. That gives each game the feel of a special event. It also helps to explain why the NFL is king in the world of sports betting.

When it comes to betting on the NFL playoffs, things get kicked up several notches. This is true for coaches, players and the fans. It’s a fact of life for sports bettors, too.

The NFL postseason attracts tons of betting interest, and it rises to astronomical levels by the time the Super Bowl rolls around. In short, the interest level gradually ratchets up to a crescendo from the opening kickoff of the first game of the NFL regular season. The same goes for the intensity level on the field.

So how does that translate into sports betting? Does the increased interest level and intensity of play have an impact on how you should approach the games? Would it make sense to focus on one portion of the season over the other?

We’ll cover all those questions right here. If you want to jump right to the NFL Playoff Betting section, follow the link below:

Betting on the NFL: Regular season vs. NFL playoffs

First things first, you should know that you can make the same basic types of bets for both the NFL regular season and the NFL playoffs. Here’s a run-through of the main NFL bet types:

  • Moneyline betting: Straight bet on who will win the game.
  • Point spread betting: You need to account for a point spread set by oddsmakers when picking a winner. Game winner has to cover the added points as well to win the bet.
  • Totals betting: Also known as over/under, this revolves around the total points scored in the game.
  • Prop betting: These are side bets on something that may happen during the game from a team or player perspective.
  • Parlay betting: Bets in which you include one or more outcomes on a single betting ticket.
  • Teasers: Multi-team bets in which you can shift the point spread more favorably in your direction.
  • Futures betting: A bet on something that has yet to happen, such as the winner of the Super Bowl or the MVP.
  • Live sports betting: Bets you can place after the game has already kicked off.

Keep in mind that you may also see various promotional offers from sportsbooks for both the NFL regular season and playoffs. Examples include odds boosts for specific games, special parlays and expanded prop betting opportunities. As for the major differences, here are the biggest things to keep in mind.

nfl betting regular season playoffs1. Number of games

NFL regular season: For 2021 a full slate of games is now 17. In weeks in which some teams are on a bye week, there will be between 13 and 15 games.

NFL playoffs: The new expansion to 14 postseason teams means that there will be 13 NFL playoff games in total. Fewer games allow you to narrow your focus, but it also means increased betting action on each individual game.

2. Rest

NFL Regular season: Bye weeks need to be accounted for as teams perform differently heading into a break and afterward. Naturally, that all depends on the overall quality of the team.

NFL Playoffs: The new format in play since 2020 means that only the top seed in each conference gets a bye for the opening weekend. That can be an advantage, but it can also be a momentum killer.

3. Momentum

Speaking of momentum, it’s a big factor to keep an eye on for both the regular season and the playoffs. Teams get on hot streaks, and that can be a difference maker when they face off with teams that are struggling.

In the NFL playoffs, momentum heading in is even more important. A team that excels at the end of the regular season is in a better spot than a team that backs into the postseason.

4. Overall team strength

As part of your handicapping for any NFL game, one of the first things you should look at is the overall strength of the teams involved. After about the third week of the regular season or so, the differences will become easier to spot.

By the end of the year, you’ll have a clear sense of which teams are entering the postseason on a high note and which ones look like they’ll be making a quick exit.

5. Odds and lines

Two big things to keep in mind: Oddsmakers are very good at what they do, and the NFL is the biggest money-maker for sportsbooks. As such, NFL odds and lines are going to be on point for every NFL game regardless of time of year.

That said, you have a better chance of finding a line that’s “off” in the regular season since there are simply more games on the docket.

Now that we have a good handle on differences to watch out for, let’s take an even deeper dive into both facets of NFL play, starting with the regular season.

NFL regular season betting

From the opening kickoff of Week 1 to the mad scramble for playoff positioning in Week 18, the NFL regular season captures the imagination of tons of fans. Many of them are sports bettors, a good portion of whom consider this to be the best time of the year.

Most popular ways to bet on the regular season

There are three main bet types that attract the largest amount of NFL betting action and capture the most attention by extension:

nfl moneyline bettingNFL moneyline: These are standard bets in which you are simply choosing which side will win. Favorites are designated with negative odds, while underdogs have positive odds attached, e.g.:

  • New York Giants        +120
  • Dallas Cowboys          -130

The number is how much you can expect to win on a $100 bet or how much you need to bet to win $100. For the favorite, or negative (-) number, this is how much you need to bet to get a $100 return. In this example for Dallas at -130, that means you have to bet $130 to win back your stake and an extra $100.

The positive (+) number is what you’ll win alongside the return of your original $100 bet — in this example for the New York Giants, it’s $120.

NFL point spreads: Oddsmakers install a spread for each game. It’s helpful to think of it as an estimated margin of victory. To “cover,” favorites need to win the game by more than the spread while underdogs need to keep it closer or win outright.

  • New York Jets                            +4.5 (-110)
  • New England Patriots                -4.5 (-110)

Totals: These are wagers you can place on the total points scored in the game. Oddsmakers set a benchmark, and bettors are tasked with deciding if they think the actual number of points scored in the game will be over or under that number.

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

Most important stats for betting on the NFL

When it comes to handicapping NFL games, there are tons of stats for you to consider. Each of them has its own merits, but it can be quite easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of research.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some bottom-line stats that would make the process a bit easier? Luckily, there are. Here are some simple key stats to include in your research process.

  • Points for/points against: The object of the game is to put more points on the board than your opponent. Comparing the points for and against for a team gives you a quick snapshot of how well a team does just that.
  • Yards per play for/yards per play against: Teams that move the ball more efficiently have a tendency to score more points. Defenses that limit yardage gained by opponents generally allow fewer points. YPP is a quick snapshot on the efficiency of the two units.

While there’s a whole lot more to consider when handicapping an NFL game, examining these two facets helps to quickly put the matchup at hand in perspective.

After you have a handle on this, you can explore additional stats that move the needle. Particularly useful areas to spend time on include strengths and weaknesses of the respective running and passing games, sacks for and against, and turnover margin.

Secondary factors to consider

There’s more to breaking down an NFL game than just stats. For each game there are myriad other factors to consider. Here are some of the most important.

Home/away: You need to have a full understanding of how teams perform at home and on the road. The home-field advantage can be quite pronounced for some squads, but there are also teams that excel on the road each season.

Weather: Perfect football weather equals the forecast not being much of a factor, but tough conditions or extreme temps can have an impact. Take some time to review the expected weather conditions for each game on the docket.

Injuries: It’s a long season, and teams are going to get banged up along the way. The NFL does a great job of keeping teams accountable with the release of injury reports. Review them each week, and keep an eye out for injuries to key personnel.

Rest:  The weeks before and after a bye week can have an impact on how teams perform. For a general rule, stronger teams are likely to manage it well, while struggling teams do not. For a clue, look to the historical performance of coaches after a week off.

General news: The news cycle surrounding the NFL is constantly churning. Staying on top of what’s going on can help you find tidbits that are quite useful. Pay particular attention to head coach press conferences and issues surrounding playing time or injuries.

NFL betting for each part of the regular season

To fully stay on top of the current lay of the land across the league, it can be helpful to break down the season into three parts.

Start of season

For the first three or four weeks of the season, NFL teams are still getting their footing. To handicap these games, look toward:

  • Last season’s stats
  • Offseason changes
  • Futures market for expected performance

Middle of season

After we have some data from the current season in the books, we can more accurately figure out what’s what with each team for the season at hand. From this point through Thanksgiving, there’s a lot of jockeying for position.

End of season

Once we get to the stretch run, we should have a good handle on the trajectory of each team. Pay close attention to how teams are performing as of late as opposed to just relying on season-to-date records.

Betting futures in the NFL

The NFL futures market is very active. You can place your bets on what you think will happen for the season. It also makes for a great research tool as it helps to further emphasize the overall strengths of teams in the league.

nfl betting tipsHere are some of the most popular futures bets you can make.

  • Super Bowl winner
  • Conference winners
  • Division winners
  • Team win totals
  • Individual player awards (regular season MVP, Super Bowl MVP, etc.)

Futures betting requires a long-term perspective. The bets won’t be graded until the outcome is determined, so keep that in mind. It’s potentially lucrative, especially if you have a knack for spotting value on the odds board.

On the research front, studying the futures market can be very helpful heading into the season. You’ll be able to understand the overall league hierarchy just by looking at the odds to win the Super Bowl.

You can also get a handle on the lay of the land for each division, as well as a good benchmark of what to expect from each team by studying their estimated win totals.

Essential NFL regular season betting tips

Tackling a full slate of NFL games can seem intimidating at first glance. However, a little practice and seasoning will help you quickly get past the learning curve.

Getting together a game plan and sticking to it can be very helpful in that regard. For starters, stick to the basics and expand your horizons as skills and time allow.

Here are three key tips you can use to get off on the right foot.

1. Overall team strength

When handicapping NFL matchups, it’s imperative to put rooting interests and personal feelings aside. Take a realistic approach and examine the overall strength of the respective teams.

2. Recent form

It’s a long season, and there will be ebbs and flows as a result. You need to look past overall records and closely examine how teams have performed in recent games. This can help to key you in on which way the arrow is pointing for each team.

3. NFL Power Rankings

NFL power rankings list each team from top to bottom while assigning a numerical value to each. A good set of rankings can be invaluable when it comes to breaking down point spreads as it helps you quickly find a “fair” number.

If you add all three of these tips to your repertoire, you’ll be able to quickly get a good handle on each slate of games throughout the NFL regular season.

NFL playoff betting

Once the NFL calendar turns toward the postseason, all of the same principles apply. We can follow the same procedures for breaking down games, and we’ll have all of the same bet types widely available at legal US sportsbooks.

However, there are some differences that we have to factor. Interest goes through the roof even further, and the betting action for each game is even larger than normal.

Here’s a rundown of what else you want to keep in mind for betting on the NFL playoffs.

Understanding the NFL playoff odds and lines

Since oddsmakers do a fantastic job of setting lines during the NFL regular season, how do you suppose they do in the postseason? That’s right — they do just as well if not better with even fewer games on the schedule.

It can be challenging to consistently beat sportsbooks, and that’s especially true during the NFL playoffs. However, there’s a pair of things you can examine to help in your efforts:

nfl playoff betting

1. Line movement

Once lines are officially released, the betting public has its chance to weigh in. From then until kickoff, you may see some fluctuations in odds, spreads and totals. Pay close attention to the movements, as they can provide valuable clues on market sentiment and the action that sportsbooks are seeing. This is true at any point in the season, but it can be especially helpful in the postseason.

2. Public betting

Speaking of market sentiment, you’ll want to get in the habit of checking in on where the public is placing its bets. So how can you do that? Movement of odds and lines is one way, and there are also sites out there on the interwebs that do a pretty solid job of tracking betting percentages at certain sportsbooks. Take the time to work this step into your weekly routine.

Most important factors for playoffs

All of the factors we consider during the NFL regular season are also applicable to the postseason:

  • Home and road splits
  • Rest
  • Weather
  • Injuries
  • News

The same major betting tips apply, as well:

  • Overall team strength
  • Recent form
  • NFL power rankings

Said another way, we should absolutely follow the same process. However, there are some specific points that you should emphasize even more when handicapping the NFL playoffs.

Weather, rest, news and injuries

In short, you need to stay on top of what’s going on for each matchup on the schedule. Weather can be a much bigger factor once the calendar turns to January, while injuries to key players can be devastating this time of year.

Clubs that receive a bye or rested players after clinching playoff spots could see their momentum impacted. Stay engaged with the news cycle and make mental note of key points.

Overall team strength and recent form

The top playoff seeds are where they are for a reason, as are the lower seeds. Upsets can absolutely happen in the NFL playoffs, but remember to gauge the teams by their overall strength when handicapping matchups.

As for recent form, this is a critical step. Teams that enter the postseason on a high note could keep humming along, while those that struggle later in the year may see their troubles continue.

Betting strategy for the NFL playoffs

The strategy component of NFL betting goes beyond what to look for and how to handicap the games. If your goal is sustained success, then the importance of having a clear game plan and budget can’t be stressed enough.

During the NFL regular season, you should have a clear budget in mind that you’re looking to wager each week, and also have a good sense of the types of bets you want to target.

nfl playoffs betting factorsThe same applies in the postseason, even with a smaller slate of games ahead. Here’s an example of a budget strategy you can use to your advantage.

  • Think of the postseason as three separate weeks of action: wild card weekend, divisional round and conference championships.
  • Budget an amount that you are comfortable with for each of the three weeks.
  • Stick to the budget for wild card weekend and reassess once the games are in the books.
  • If you come out ahead, you can consider increasing your budget for the next two weeks by using some of your winnings and cashing out the rest.
  • If you break even or come up short, stick to the same budget amount for the divisional round.
  • Rinse and repeat once the next playoff week is completed as you get set to prepare for the conference championships.

As for a game plan, stick to what works best for your strategy. If you find success with money lines and spreads while struggling on totals, it’s clear where you should be allocating your funds.

The same applies for other bet types such as props and parlays. For those who like to spread things around, that’s perfectly fine too, but have a clear allocation in mind for how you want to spread out your bets. Here’s an example.

  • 80% on money line and spreads
  • 10% on props
  • 5% on totals
  • 5% on parlays

If you stick to the plan and track your results, you’ll have a great sense of what’s working and what’s not. From there, you can always readjust the percentages to further focus on your strengths.

Playoff props and futures betting

While there may be fewer games on the docket during the NFL playoffs, you’ll still have plenty of betting opportunities to sort through. For each of the individual games, there will be a whole slew of prop bets to consider. Some will be team-based, while others will be based on individual player performances. Here are a few examples of what you may see.

  • Range of actual margin of victory.
  • Which player will score the first touchdown in the game?
  • Will there be a defensive score in the game?
  • Over/under on QB passing yards.

You can also look toward the futures market for additional betting opportunities. While the most action will be found on the winner of the Super Bowl, sportsbooks will also put other intriguing opportunities out there.

Last but not least, remember that NFL live betting continues to rise in popularity. These are bets you can place after the games start, and many of the opportunities resemble what you’ll find in the prop market.

NFL playoff picks

You won’t be lacking for opinions on how the NFL playoffs will shake out. Picks will be everywhere on the airwaves and interwebs, and scores of pundits will offer their services.

So should you consider paying for NFL picks? That really depends on you. If you’re the type who likes to do your own research and has a good handle on the league, then it may not be necessary.

You can certainly track opinions and compare them versus your own research, but folks who fall into this category generally like to make up their own minds.

As for those who are time-pressed, it can be worth further exploring paid picks. However, use caution and err toward only buying from those who have proven and verifiable track records.

While there are services out there that are quite good, there are plenty of others that do little more than tread water. Be sure to stick to a budget if you do choose to pay for picks.

Super Bowl betting

The Super Bowl is the biggest sports betting event of the year. You’ll be able to place all of the same bets as you normally would, and the same tried and true handicapping principles apply.

nfl super bowl bettingOne factor that stands out even more this time of year is public betting and how it impacts the odds. From the initial release, it’s not uncommon to see several ticks of difference by the time kickoff rolls around.

Pay close attention to which way the winds are blowing, and don’t be shy about placing your bets when you come across numbers that you find appealing.

On the betting front, while it’s true that it’s just a single game, you won’t be lacking for choices. The prop betting menu explodes for the Super Bowl. You’ll have hundreds of choices to sift through at legal and regulated US sportsbooks.

As always, be sure to set a game plan and have a budget in place. You can allocate a portion to the game itself, leave some extra for props, and even allocate some funds for live betting, for example. For a sample guide to how to bet $100 on the Super Bowl, check our advice here:

Betting on the Super Bowl MVP

Beyond the game and tons of props, you can bet on which player will win the Super Bowl MVP. You’ll find odds on the board for virtually every player slated to play in the game.

Super Bowl MVPFor one strategic approach, you can break the odds board down into three tiers:

  • Favorites
  • Mid-range
  • Long shots

You can place a bet on a player or two from each category to enhance the chance of a return and also to increase rooting interest for the game.

Of course, you can also just place a bet on the starting QBs in the game and hope for the best. Through 55 Super Bowls, a quarterback has won the award 31 times.

Running backs and wide receivers have won seven MVPs each, while the remainder have gone to defensive and special teams players.

How does the new NFL playoff system work?

Since the 1990 season, the NFL playoffs have worked in the same fashion with 12 teams in the tournament, but it increased to 14 teams in 2020 Here’s how it breaks down.

  • Seven teams from each conference, AFC and NFC.
  • Four division winners from each conference.
  • Three wild card teams from each conference.
  • Top seed in each conference receive a bye.
  • Six teams from each conference play on wild card weekend.
  • Winners advance to the divisional round to face teams that received byes.
  • Winners of the divisional round advance to the conference championship games.
  • Conference winners advance to the Super Bowl.

The opening round of the playoffs will is now larger since the playoff system change in 2020. Wild card weekend now includes six games instead of four, which gives bettors two more games to bet on than before.

NFL Betting FAQ

According to data from the American Gaming Association, a staggering $4.5 billion was wagered on Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs. As the legal sports betting industry across the United States continues to evolve, the number is expected to continue increasing dramatically.

In advance of the 2019 NFL season, the American Gaming Association estimated that 33.2 million US adults would be placing bets on the games. As for an actual dollar amount for wagers, that’s a little complex. While there are a number of legal and regulated states for betting, a good deal of money is still wagered at risky offshore operators. If you factor in fantasy football, the number climbs even higher. For total dollars, some estimates have pegged the number as high as $150 billion.

The wild card was introduced to the NFL playoffs in 1970. Since that time, six wild card teams have gone all the way to win the Super Bowl.

  • 1980 Oakland Raiders
  • 1997 Denver Broncos
  • 2000 Baltimore Ravens
  • 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
  • 2007 New York Giants
  • 2010 Green Bay Packers

Upsets can happen at any point in the postseason from the wild card round all the way through to the Super Bowl. On a prediction front, opinions will vary as to which round is the most unpredictable. In general, the quality of teams is improving the deeper the postseason goes, so the most unpredictable aspects will typically happen in the first two playoff weekends.

A good place to start is by looking at the recent form of the two teams involved. While overall records matter, the record in recent games is a more reliable indicator of the current state of play. For example, if a team that has won three straight to make the playoffs is matched up with a team that has a better overall record but struggled down the stretch, that could be a great place to look.

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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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