Learn the Lingo: How to Bet on Football

For those who aren’t quite sure on how NFL spreads work, I’ll take you through a little crash course before we begin our weekly column.

Two Ways to Bet

When Las Vegas makes the odds that people bet on for each game, there are two different ways to do it: the “money line” or the “spread.”

For the money line, you just choose the winning team. Depending on how badly the odds makers think the favorite will beat the underdog (the team favored to lose), the amount of money wagered and the payouts vary.

Picking the spread is a little more challenging. Instead of merely picking the winning team in a given game, a handicap is installed.

Spreads are listed with the home team written in caps (Ex: GIANTS (-4) over Redskins). This format is the common way of listing the spread and your pick when you place a bet. The first team listed is your choice, and the handicap is listed next to their name.

Picking the Favorite

In the example, GIANTS (-4) over Redskins, I picked the Giants. The spread is four points in this game, which means for my pick to be correct, the Giants have to win by five points or more. As the favorite to win, they are “giving four points.”

If you are still having trouble grasping this concept, imagine subtracting four points from the total number of points scored by the Giants in the game the game and see if they still win.

For a moment, let’s assume the score of the opening game was Giants 27, Redskins 21. If you picked the Giants and the spread, you would adjust the score to read Giants 23, Redskins 21 (by subtracting four points from the Giants’ score). Even after the four-point handicap, the Giants beat the Redskins, so you would have picked correctly and won your bet.

On the other hand, what if you wanted to take the underdog?

Picking the Underdog

In this new example, Redskins (+4) over GIANTS, you pick the Redskins. As the underdog, they are “getting four points.” For your pick to be correct, the Redskins must beat the Giants or lose by three points or less.

Assume the opening game’s final score was Giants 17, Redskins 14. You read the score as Giants 17, Redskins 18.

After the four-point handicap is assigned, the Redskins have come out ahead, and you have picked correctly and won your bet.

If the score was Redskins 24, Giants 10, then I also would have picked correctly because the Redskins won outright, even without the handicap in their favor.

In addition, if the Giants win by exactly four points, then it is considered a tie, more commonly referred to as a “push.” Frequently, spreads will be listed with half-points (Ex: Cowboys (-6.5) over BROWNS) so that a push is not possible. You either pick correctly or incorrectly depending on the score of the game.

Any Questions?

If you have any more questions about how betting works, leave them in the comments below. Nick or I will do our best to answer them. You can also consult Wikipedia for more information.

Editor’s Note (from Jacob):

If you’ll be following our picks articles here at FantasyFootballFools.com, please note our disclaimer below.

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