NFL Betting Guide: Point Spread Explanation

Jason Lake

Monday, July 14, 2014 12:17 PM UTC

Monday, Jul. 14, 2014 12:17 PM UTC

Are you new to the wonderful world of betting on football? We’ll help you figure out what a point spread is and what to do with it – and we’ll even throw a couple of helpful NFL betting tips in your direction.

Believe it or not, we’re just 10 days away from the start of NFL training camps. So are you ready for some football betting? With each passing year, more and more people have the spare cash to bet on sports via different kinds of picks, and naturally enough, they want to bet on the NFL. It’s easy to do, and you don’t have to be a football genius to make a little cash on the side. Let’s get you started with a look at the engine that drives NFL betting: the point spread.


Between the Lines of Age
Lots of people place football picks without knowing exactly what the point spread is and what purpose it serves. Here’s what the spread looks like (as we go to press) for the 2014 season opener between the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and the visiting Green Bay Packers:

Green Bay    +5.5 (–110)

Seattle          –5.5 (–110)


Notice the home team – the Seahawks in this case – is listed at the bottom. Seattle has their NFL odds priced at –5.5, which means if you place a bet on the favored ‘Hawks, they have to win by at least six points in order for your wager to cash in. On the other side, the Packers are 5.5-point underdogs; if they beat Seattle, or even lose by five points or fewer, your bet on Green Bay will be a winner.

Of course, there’s no way for a team to score half a point. But this is a good thing – that means your bet won’t end in a push. There’s another Week 1 game where the Chicago Bears are 6-point home favorites against the Buffalo Bills, which means if Chicago wins by exactly six points, it’s a push – all monies are returned to the bettor, nobody gets anything. That’s a lousy result for everyone, including the sportsbook.


The Juice is Loose
Yes, sportsbooks need to make money, too. But betting on football isn’t a contest between you and the bookies. They’re not claiming that Seattle is 5.5 points better than Green Bay; rather, they think that enough people will bet on Green Bay +5.5 so that the amount on money bet on both sides will come out the same. If too many people are betting on the Seahawks at any one book, it can move its line to Seattle –6, or Seattle –6.5, or as big as it takes to get more of its customers to bet on the Packers.

This is where that (–110) comes in. This number represents how much of a commission you have to pay the sportsbook to process your bet. We call this commission the juice, aka the vigorish or simply the vig. Most point spread bets you encounter will be at the standard –110 juice, which means you’re betting $11 to win $10, or $110 to win $100. Like any financial institution should, a reputable sportsbook makes its money on commissions, not by gambling with its customers. And sharp bettors make money by taking it from square bettors.


Straight Cash, Homey
Here’s the idea: Let’s say 100 people bet $110 each on Seattle –5.5, and another 100 people bet $110 each on Green Bay +5.5. The sportsbook is now holding onto $22,000. The Seahawks win by a touchdown, so the 100 Seattle bettors get their original $110 back, plus $100 each in earnings. That’s $21,000 in total. The bookie keeps the remaining $1,000 for doing business with everyone, and the Green Bay bettors get nothing. In essence, the people who bet on the Seahawks have taken $10,000 from the people who bet on the Packers.

We’re not necessarily saying you’d be dumb to bet on Green Bay in Week 1. But casual fans who bet on football tend to make very common mistakes in the way they value teams, and by doing so, they make it more likely that they’re going to lose. Stay tuned to find out how you can take advantage as our NFL betting series continues. 

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