Introduction to NFL Betting

by Shane Rivers on January 20th, 2016.

National Football LeagueBetting on NFL games can be fun and profitable for those who are willing to put in the time and effort. Casual gamblers, meanwhile, may find the experience frustrating and a drain on their bank account. While a lot of luck is involved, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to preparation and discipline.

This article is meant to be a primer for those interested in betting on the National Football League. We'll examine the different kinds of wagers, discuss the vigorish and tout services, and even offer tips for how to gamble successfully.

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Most Common Bets for NFL Games

The following are the most common wagers available to NFL bettors:

Point Spread - This is the most popular way to bet on American football games. Known as the "line" or the "spread," bettors place their wagers based on the margin of victory.

The favored team has a negative sign in front of their number, while the underdog has a plus sign. For example, if the Seahawks are the favorite at -6, then six points will be deducted from their final score. If this adjusted number still puts them ahead of the other team, then the bettor is a winner. If the Patriots are a +3 underdog, then 3 points are added to their final score. If this adjusted total is enough to put them ahead of the other team, then anyone who wagered on them will receive a payout.

In most cases, the handicappers who work for the bookmakers aren't trying to predict the actual score of the game. Instead, they try to arrive at a number that will bring in an equal number of bets on both sides.

Money Line - While this option has grown in popularity for NFL bettors, it's still more commonly found in sports such as basketball. Money lines are expressed with a plus (underdog) or minus sign (favorite) in front of a number. Unlike the point spread option, a team just needs to win outright instead of winning by a specified amount.

Let's use an imaginary game between the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers as an example. According to the money line, the Steelers are favored at -180, while the Browns are a +160 underdog. This means you'll need to wager $180 on the Steelers in order to collect $100, while a successful $100 bet on the Browns will earn you $160.

While not as popular as the point spread, betting the money line can often be more profitable. A wise strategy would be to mix in a few of these and track the results over a period of time. You may find that you come to prefer them.

Over/Under - The sports book sets a specific number, and the bettor must decide whether the combined score of both teams will be greater or less than this predetermined amount. For example, let's say that the Eagles and Redskins are playing on a Thursday night game and the over/under (also known as the "total") is set at 43.5. If you think the combined score will be higher than 43.5 points, then bet the over. Otherwise, bet the under.

The bets listed above are standard for most football games, but things get really crazy when the Super Bowl rolls around. During this annual spectacle, sports books are known to provide a wide array of proposition bets to draw the interest of casual fans.

A proposition (or "prop") bet means that the bettor is wagering that a certain event will occur. In the case of the Super Bowl, this can be the first player to score a touchdown, the result of a team's first possession, or one of numerous other options.

What Is the VIG?

The vig, also known as vigorish or "the juice," is the amount a sports book charges for taking a customer's bet. If a betting agent requires you to wager $110 in order to win $100, that extra $10 is the vig.

Sports books charge the vig in order to make a consistent profit. It also helps to offset losses when an underdog team upsets a Super Bowl contender in the final minute of a game.

The amount of vigorish can differ from one sports book to the next, but the $110 for $100 ratio is standard. The astute gambler should always be on the lookout for specials, though, as services sometime offer discounts to draw in new customers. If you're wagering $1000 or more on a game, you can rack up some serious savings.

What Are Tout Services?

Tout services provide their customers with sports betting recommendations in exchange for a fee. Customers can buy daily, weekly, monthly, or seasonal packages. Weekly picks usually cost between $40 and $100, while seasonal packages are anywhere from $400 to $500.

I suggest you stay away from such services. First of all, any tout service can manipulate their numbers in order to appear profitable. Secondly, it creates an even greater financial drain on bettors who are already risking their hard-earned cash on various NFL games. Finally, it's a profession filled with honest guys and unethical scumbags, and it's often difficult to distinguish between the two.

Tips for Betting on NFL Games

The following tips are designed to make your sports betting experience as painless as possible:

  1. Put Together a Realistic Bankroll - Your bankroll is the pool of money that you draw from for the purpose of gambling. You should always be realistic when setting this amount aside, and never gamble with money that you can't afford to lose. If you find yourself risking your kid's college fund, then it's time to seek help for a gambling addiction.
  2. Don't Be a Homer - In American sports terminology, a "homer" is someone who follows their hometown NFL team with fanatical devotion. Don't fall into the trap of betting on a team just because you like them. Remember: your goal is to make money.
  3. Take a Serious Approach - While your golfing buddies might get a kick out of hearing how much you dropped on the Cowboys, that's not going to get you very far in the long run. Even though it's a hobby, betting on NFL games should be approached as a profession. Do your research, put in the work, and then pat yourself on the back when the wins (and cash) start piling up.
  4. It's also important to follow the NFL as closely as possible. Is a star player currently suspended? Is a warm weather team heading up north to play in the cold? Knowing these useful facts should become second nature over time.
  5. Make Bets with Reputable Sources - Always place your wagers with licensed bookers. This ensures that winnings are always paid promptly. If they aren't, you'll be able to report them to a regulatory body. If you make a wager with a local unlicensed bookie and don't get paid, things could get quite unpleasant when you try to collect.
  6. Be Selective - When you begin your sports betting career, it's tempting to bet on every game possible. This should be avoided, as racking up numerous losses in the beginning can quickly lead to burnout.
  7. Analyze the Results - Once the games are finished for the week, it's a good idea to analyze your performance. If you find that you're consistently winning or losing on certain types of wagers, then adjust your strategy accordingly.
  8. Use Multiple Sportsbooks - If you do all your business with one sportsbook, then you'll be taking their odds regardless of whether better options exist elsewhere. I suggest creating accounts with two or three licensed betting agents. This allows you to pick and choose from various betting lines and find the ones that give you the greatest advantage.

A Final Word on NFL Betting

Ideally, gambling on the NFL is an excellent way to supplement your enjoyment of the games on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. It's not for everyone, however, and those who lack focus are likely to lose far more than they win.

If you're serious about becoming a successful sports bettor, this article should be the first of many that you read in your quest to gain a mastery of the subject. Just remember that even the most gifted handicappers lose wagers, so approach your new hobby like a marathon instead of a sprint.