How to bet and cash in on NFL point spreads

NFL, Odds

Let’s look at the Hall of Fame game between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals to learn how to bet on spreads in the NFL.

Are you ready to bet on some football? America’s favorite sport returns to active duty this month; Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game in Canton marks the beginning of the NFL preseason, while Week 1 of the FBS college football season gets underway on August 26. Billions of dollars will be wagered on these games. Not millions – billions. We’ll be here all season long, helping you make sharper bets and enjoy the games more in the process. But first, here’s a quick primer on how to deal with the NFL odds and NCAAF odds you’ll find at Sportsbook Review.

Let’s start with that Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals. What we’re looking at here is the point spread between the two teams. Here’s how the spread looked when the betting market opened:

Dallas    -2.5  (-135)

Arizona +2.5 (+105)

The Cardinals are the designated home team for Thursday’s game, so they’re listed on the bottom. The first number you see is the point spread; the Cowboys opened as 2.5-point favorites, meaning they have to win this game by three points or more to cover the spread. Arizona is a 2.5-point underdog, so losing straight-up (SU) by one or two points would still be good enough to win against the spread (ATS).

The second number represents the vigorish (aka vig, aka juice) that you’re paying on your bet. This is a very important number, but not everyone pays attention to it. You definitely should. The main reason the point spread is the most popular way of betting on football is that it takes every game and turns it into an “even money” situation. But it’s not quite even money. In this case, to win $100 on the Cowboys, you have to bet $135, while a $100 bet on the Cardinals would pay out at $105. Capisce?

It’s All About Balance

Like we said, this is very important, so let’s take a step back for a moment and look at how this whole football betting thing works. Every wager is a financial transaction between you and the sportsbook. In order to do business, you pay a transaction fee, just like a commission when you sell stocks. The books (if they’re smart) don’t make their money by gambling themselves – they make money on the vigorish.

Most of the time, you’ll see the number “–110” listed for both teams. That means you’re risking $110 to win $100, no matter which team you bet on. Ideally, the book will collect the same amount of money on both sides, and the winning bets will be paid off by the losing bets, leaving the juice as the book’s profit for the game. If a book collects too much action on one side, there’s a risk of exposure if that team wins and there isn’t enough money lying around to pay the winners. Not good.

Push It

In order to “balance” the action and avoid exposure, the books will move the betting lines, giving bettors more incentive to take the other side. They can do this by changing the point spread, and by changing the vigorish. You’ll often see the vig move when the spread is 2.5 points or 6.5 points because moving the spread to 3 or 7 is a really big deal. Those are the most common winning margins in football – 3 points especially. By the way, if the spread is 3 and the favorite wins by exactly a field goal, that’s called a push, and all bets are returned. Books don’t like pushes, because they don’t collect any juice.

As it turns out, the betting lines have indeed moved for Thursday’s Hall of Fame Game. At press time, it’s a pick ‘em at most books; you’ll see Dallas PK and Arizona PK on the odds board, each at –110 juice. That move tells us that people have probably been betting on the Cardinals, and indeed if you look at the consensus numbers at Sportsbook Review, the survey says 54 percent of bettors are on Arizona.

Once you understand how the betting market works, reading the football odds is a cinch. Then you’ve got firm ground to stand on when you make your football picks. We’ll be back to tell you more about that part of the betting process; in the meantime, best of luck, and may the prolate spheroid be with you.

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