How To Bet On NFL - NFL Betting for Beginners

OddsChecker's guide to betting on the NFL. We explain it in the simplest and easiest way so that you can get betting quickly and safely.
Published: May 06, 2021 - Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

The NFL is the country's most-watched sports league, so it should come as no surprise that it's also one of the most bet-on. As more and more Americans get access to legal sportsbooks, the number of people looking to bet on the NFL for the first time continues to grow.

At OddsChecker, we've made it our mission to make it easy for fans to wager on their favorite sports, including the NFL. That's why we've put together this comprehensive, but easy-to-follow guide so you have all the information you need to help you get started.

So no matter whether you want to know the difference between a parlay and a prop bet or you're a little unsure what "betting against the spread" means, we've got you covered.


Understanding The Terminology

The key to getting your head around how to bet on NFL games is understanding the terminology. Most terms are usually used to describe the different types of bet that you can place on the NFL. They are similar to ones you'll find in some other sports, so once you understand how to place a bet on NFL games, you'll be pretty much up to speed with basketball, baseball, hockey, and soccer too.

Betting Against the Spread

Betting against the spread is by far the most popular way to bet on football games. It's sometimes referred to as "point spread betting" or just "ATS" (against the spread).

It seems complicated at first, but it's actually pretty simple. Betting against the spread is a way to "level the playing field" so that it's possible to back a losing team and still win your bet.

In a points spread bet, the sportsbook will give you a certain number of points shown with a + or - sign next to it. The favorite to win the game is denoted by the -, while the underdog has the +.

For example, in week 1 of the 2020 season, the Buffalo Bills hosted the New York Jets. The Bills were the favorite going into the game and most sportsbooks set the spread at 6.5. By betting on the Bills, you would need them to win the game by 7 or more points for your bet to pay out, 6 or less wouldn't have been enough. Similarly, a bet on the Jets would pay out provided they won the game by any number of points or by lost it by 6 points or less.

Typically, the odds on betting either way will be the same as the spread evens out the likelihood of either outcome. Sportsbooks use the points spread to try to keep the number of bets placed for both teams roughly equal.

Moneylines

While betting against the spread is the most popular kind of wager, moneylines are the easiest bets to understand. In fact, if you've ever made a bet with a friend about something like who can run the fastest or who can fit the most chips in their mouth at once, it will have been a moneyline.

When placing a moneyline wager, you simply pick the team that you think will win. If they do, the bet pays out. If they don't, it doesn't.

Unlike point spread bets, a moneyline bet will have different odds for the underdog and favorite. However, it's still just as easy to see who is who.

In the Bills-Jets game we discussed above, the Bills were the favorite so their odds would have been shown with a -, while, as the underdogs, the Jets would have been shown with a +.

If the Bills had odds of -150, that would mean you'd need to bet $150 to receive $100 (plus your original stake) if they won. Meanwhile, +200 for the Jets would mean you'd receive $200 (plus your original stake) from a $100 bet.

While moneyline bets are easy to understand, they offer lower returns than other types of wager because the outcomes are more certain.

Over/Under Betting

Over/under bets are sometimes called "totals" and work a little differently from the previous two. Instead of betting on a particular team to win (or beat the spread), your only concern is how many points are scored in the game. It doesn't even matter which side scores them.

A sportsbook will give you two numbers for an over/under bet: the odds (shown as a three-digit number with a +/- in front and a "total". In the Bills-Jets game, the total offered by most sportsbooks was 39.5.

You'll have the option to bet over or under the total and these are usually detonated with a single letter "o" or "u". The odds will often differ between these outcomes.

The game ended 27-17 to the Bills, meaning the total points scored in the game were 44. Therefore, an "over" bet on this game would have paid out.

Parlay Bets

Parlay bets are a little different as they actually combine multiple wagers into a single bet. Usually, a parlay will include between 2 and 12 games, though individual sportsbooks may have their own rules that vary this slightly.

Parlays usually offer much higher returns than single bets, but the trade-off for bettors is that they're harder to win.

This is because for a parlay to pay out, each individual wager within it must win. Therefore, if you pick 6 different games to put in the parlay and the first 5 are successful, you still walk away with nothing if the last one loses.

Parlays can contain a mix of point spread, moneyline, and totals bets, though you can't usually combine moneyline and spread wagers from the same game.

A special type of parlay called a teaser can only contain point spread bets, but the sportsbook will let you "tease" (change) the spread slightly to make it easier to win the bet in return for a smaller payout.

Prop Bets

NFL prop (or proposition) bets are a little different from the others. Instead of betting on the outcome of a game, you bet on events within it.

For example, you may bet on what type of scoring play will come first, which quarter will have the highest score, or which team will score first. The list of potential prop bets is almost endless, though the types on offer will vary from sportsbook to sportsbook. They're most popular among people betting on the Super Bowl, though you can place prop bets throughout the season.

Futures

Futures bets focus on the outcome of a season rather than a single game. The most common NFL futures bet is on which team will win the Super Bowl, though you can also find futures for conferences and divisions, as well as what player will earn MVP.

Futures bets are usually available from the day after the Super Bowl of the previous season, though some bookmakers may stop accepting new wagers on some futures ahead of week 1 games.


How to read NFL betting lines

Now you understand the difference between each type of bet, it can be helpful to know how to read NFL betting lines and odds. If you haven't done this before, it can be a little daunting, but thankfully, it's actually quite easy.

In the United States, we display odds in the "American format" which uses a three or four-digit number preceded by a +/-. While this way of doing things makes it a little more difficult to understand the underlying probability, it makes it super simple to understand how much you can expect to receive if your bet wins.

For odds with a -, the number after it tells you how much you need to bet to win $100. So at odds of -200, you'd need to wager $200 to win $100 (though you'd receive $300 as you get back your original stake too).

For odds with a +, the opposite is true. +200 tells you that you'd win $200 from a $100 bet (though you'd also receive $300 as you'd get your $100 stake back).

For point spread bets, you'll also see another number with a +/- sign in front of it. For the favorite, a bet will pay out if they win the game by more than this number of points, while for the underdog, a bet will pay out provided they win or lose by less than this number of points.


NFL Betting Tips

If you're new to betting on the NFL, here are some handy tips that can help you stay on the right track.

  • Be disciplined - Don't get carried away, set a budget and stick to it. Don't chase losses and just make small bets to start with until you're more au fait with how it all works
  • Track your bets - Make a note of all the bets you place and their outcomes. You may want to do this with a spreadsheet, a piece of paper or an app. Once you have enough data, it'll help you understand where your strengths and weaknesses lie
  • Find picks - While you're getting to grips with how NFL betting works, you may want to take advantage of the experience, knowledge, and insight of professional handicappers who offer NFL picks and predictions that you can use when making your bets.
  • Find free bets - Free bets can help you get more for your money by taking away some of the risk. Most sportsbooks offer free bets to new customers, so check out our list of the latest free bets to find the ones that are right for you.
  • Compare odds - While most sportsbooks offer odds on most sports, they won't all be equal. Placing a bet with the best odds means you'll receive more if you're successful. At OddsChecker, we make this easy by comparing the NFL odds of all the leading bookies in the US, helping you to always get the best value from every wager you place

Where can I bet legally in the US

The number of states that offer sports betting is growing all the time. There are now more than a dozen states that allow you to legally bet on NFL games and most other sports. Each state sets its own rules and issues its own licenses to sportsbooks, so you may find that not all betting sites and apps are available where you are.

You don't need to live in the state to be able to wager, you just have to be there when you place your bet. That means anyone visiting one of the states listed below also has the opportunity to bet on the NFL.

All of the states that allow online sports betting right now are:

  • Colorado
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Mississippi (when you're in a casino)
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • West Virginia

Sports betting has been legalized in these states but no sportsbooks have launched yet:

  • Delaware
  • Tennessee
  • Washington DC

As more states pass legislation, we'll update this list. So we sure to check back regularly to be sure you know when you can start betting in your state.

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