The National Football League, better known as the NFL, is the largest professional American football league in the world. Across the entire league, which spans across the entire United Sates, there are 32 teams, which are divided between the National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC). As one of the four major professional sports leagues in the USA (alongside the NBA, MLB and NHL), the NFL is huge for gambling, with billions of dollars bet each year.
The popularity of the NFL is not restricted to the USA with a growing audience watching the sport in Europe and further afield. The NFL is also in the process of expanding to games outside the US like those played in London or Mexico City. The league’s final, known as the Super Bowl, is one of the most watched television events around the world every year, and it too garners a massive amount of betting action thanks to the event's massive amount of prop bets.
Americans take a refreshingly pragmatic approach to their sport. Whereas football (soccer) teams in the UK are free to dominate a league for years, in the States the field is levelled out to a large extent by what’s known as the Draft system. The NFL Draft can be make-or-break for a team's season, as this is where they get the chance to pick from the best college players. The Draft consists of the 32 NFL teams taking it in turns to pick players through seven rounds, with the order based on the previous year’s standings - the last placed team goes first, working in reverse order to the top, meaning that the worst team should get to select the best players. The Draft is usually held in April, with the regular season running from September to December. The Playoffs then start in January, where six teams from each of the NFL's two conferences, the AFC and the NFC, compete in a knockout tournament for a place in the coveted Super Bowl.
The NFL prides itself on its competitiveness, so betting on the eventual league winner is not as simple as just backing the most successful teams from recent times, like you can do in the English Premier League, for example. The fact that there have been nine different Super Bowl winners since 2000 speaks for itself, and teams can clamber from the bottom to the top in a very short space of time - like the San Francisco 49ers did in 2011, turning around their 2010 record of 6 wins and 10 losses to a 13-3 record the following year. This type of variation means that you can find some very attractive odds in the NFL betting markets if you want to back a Super Bowl winner early on in a season.
Every February, America grinds to a halt in anticipation of the NFL season’s championship game, the Super Bowl. It is often the highest viewed broadcast of the year in the U.S. In fact, Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots produced a national record of more than 111 million U.S. viewers. But its popularity isn't just restricted to the United States - an average of over 150 million people across the globe tune in to watch the league's climax. Today, American football's European audience is growing significantly, especially the UK, which now hosts regular season games at a sell-out Wembley Stadium. Due to the rising popularity of the sport in this country, interest in betting on American football is also increasing, so here are some pointers on what to look out for when betting on the NFL.
While league betting might depend largely on a successful Draft, betting on NFL match markets is all about the smaller details. For example, a popular betting option is the Over/Under Total points scored market, where the bookmaker will set a value for each game and it’s up to you to bet on the points total being more or less than that. For this, something as trivial as the weather can make a key difference, as snowy, wet, or windy conditions will mean it’s harder to make passes and thus less likely for a lot of points to be scored.
Like most other sports, anyone looking to bet on an NFL game can wager on an outright match winner (known as Money Line betting), or on a Points Spread (handicap) market, which offers odds on teams to win with a points handicap. Given the length of NFL matches (they can often take around three hours to complete), there is also plenty of scope for in-play betting, and this can be very worthwhile as it allows you to spot trends within matches, or to make the most of things you've noticed in previous games, such as a team tiring or failing to defend leads. You can also bet on individual players' performances, such as a quarterback's passing yards, making the NFL betting markets some of the most varied out there.