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Football is, and always will be America’s favorite sport, so it’s no surprise that it’s the most wagered on too. With online sports betting rapidly growing in the US as more states legalize this activity, betting on the NFL and NCAA is now a multi-billion dollar industry.

This introductory guide is for both new football bettors looking to get some skin in the game for the first time, and those merely after a refresher in how to read football odds. We have a lot of yards to cover, so let’s get started.

Popular football betting markets

The top football betting sites online each offer 70 – 100 markets for each game. Of course, learning the ins and outs of every possible wagering opportunity takes time, so it’s best to stick to the main markets at first. Furthermore, these often have the lowest margins too, which means they offer more value to the bettor.

How to bet the moneyline

From all the types of bets at your fingertips, the moneyline is the most straightforward. All you are doing with this wager is betting on which team will win, for instance:

Kansas City Chiefs -275 vs Green Bay Packers +225

To understand football odds, let’s break this bet down. The side with the minus ( – ) number is the favorite, in this case when you read NFL odds, it’s the Chiefs. Moving to the other side; the positive ( + ) number is the underdog, which we can see is the Packers.

The sportsbook’s odds are its implied probability of which side will be victorious. As there is a margin (the sportsbook operator’s profit), these are not 100% true odds. Of course, as a bettor, you may disagree with the sportsbook’s implied probability, so you may feel there is value in this market. To find out more about this bet type, you can read our guide on moneyline betting.

Betting the spread: How do point spread bets work?

There are many football matches throughout the season in which one side is a heavy favorite. From the sportsbook’s perspective, this is terrible news because it’s difficult to attract betting on both sides of the market. This is why the point spread market is so important, and it’s now become the most popular football wager.

NFL point spreads are generally known as covering the spread, which means you are backing the favored team to win by more points than the team spread. The other option is betting against the spread (ATS), and this means backing the underdog in the game.

Here’s an example of the point spread betting odds for the same game:

Kansas City Chiefs (-7.5) -110 vs Green Bay Packers (+7.5) -110

Looking at this market, here’s how to read the spread. Kansas, are the favorites, which is why they have a minus spread (-7.5). Essentially, it means that they are starting the game 7 and a half points behind Green Bay. Therefore, the Chiefs need to win by 8 points or more to cover the spread for wager to win. If Kansas lose or they only win by a margin of 1 – 7 points, the bet is lost.

How to read football odds

The opposite applies to the betting spread for the Packers. They start the game up by 7.5 points. Here you are betting against the spread. If Green Bay win the match or lose by 1 – 7 points, then it’s a winning ticket. The half-point (0.5) is known as the hook. It’s used to avoid ties.

Lastly, you can see that the odds have changed dramatically due to the spread. Both teams are now equally priced, which makes the market more attractive to bettors wanting to cover or bet against the spread.

What does Pick’em or PK mean in football?

When the sportsbook feels there is nothing to separate the teams, it may list the spread as ‘Pick’ or ‘PK’, which is also termed Pick’em. This means that both teams will have zero (0), so a side only has to win by 1 point or more for the wager to win. PK is very similar to the moneyline, but because bettors cannot build teaser bets with moneyline selections, the sportsbook uses PK on the spread.

Total points betting

It’s important to note that you don’t have to bet on a team to win anymore. Among the most popular markets is betting on the total points scored in a game. This is often called ‘over/under’ betting. The sportsbooks will set the line, 54.5 points, for example. There will then be odds for the total points being under 54.5 and odds for the points being over it.

As a bettor looking at the odds on football, you merely need to choose which one you want. It’s an interesting market if you have two great offenses going head-to-head. Or perhaps, two strong defensive units. It doesn’t matter which side scores the points, for instance, an over bet would win if the match ended 55-0, it would also win if the match finished 27-28.

Futures

A far more traditional pro football betting market is to bet on the outright winner of the Super Bowl. Here you have Vegas odds for all 32 franchises, and you select the one that you think will get their hands on the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the season. This market is open before and during the season. For example, perhaps you fancy the Chiefs to win the next Bowl, but they begin the season in poor form, so their odds lengthen, you can then get better value on this bet.

Other common future bets are MVP, Defensive/Offensive Player of the Year, and Rookie of the Year. Also, when learning how to read odds in the NFL, look out for ‘field’ bets. This is where the betting site will circle the top three or four favorites and label the remaining teams as the ‘field’. You can then either bet on the field, meaning one of those will win the Super Bowl, or bet against the field.

Football odds explained

Having got to grips with how to read college football odds for some of the main markets, Let’s expand further on the odds and the different variations you may come across.

Types of football odds formats

There are many different formats of odds, and each country or region has its own preference. In the UK, punters (as they are known) prefer fractional odds, such as 5/2 and 7/4. With these prices, you can think of the stake as the right-side number and the winnings as the left. For example, if you wager $2 at 5/2, you would win an extra $5, so a total return of $7.

Over in Europe, decimal odds are commonly used. These are very straightforward. If the odds are 7.0, the bettor gets 7 units returns (stake included) for every 1 unit wagered. Therefore, if you bet $10 at 7.0, the total return would be $70.

American odds explained

Most sportsbooks allow customers to alter the odds format, which American, decimal, and fractional being the main options. Of course, for bettors in the US, the default setting is American odds.

Using the Kansas vs Green Bay moneyline, we’ll explain how these odds work.

Kansas City Chiefs -275 vs Green Bay Packers +225

For the favorite team – the one with minus odds, you need to wager the price, in this example, it’s $275, to win $100.

For the underdog, if you bet $100, then you would win $225 if the Packers won. When betting with round numbers, $10, $20, $50, $100, and so on, it’s easy to calculate your winnings, but if you bet $77, it may take a bit longer. All the best NFL betting apps have a built-in odds calculator, which can do all the math for you. Once you have experience of the odds for each market, you can use it productively for arb betting and matched betting if desired.

What are value bets?

With point spread explained and knowledge of betting odds, it’s time to focus on the purpose of betting. While it’s entertaining to have a small wager on the big Sunday game, all bettors want to win, but they also want betting value. A value bet is when the bettor exploits inefficiencies in the market to their advantage.

For example, you have read football spreads, and you notice that the sportsbook has the Dolphins as the slight favorites for a match against the Bills. However, your in-depth knowledge and research lead you to believe that the Bills will win. Therefore, this is a value bet, in your opinion. Be careful, however, sports traders know their stuff, and they are right more often than wrong, so you have to work extra hard to find solid value bets, but they do appear every now and then.