American Football Betting Strategy: Moneyline, Spread and Totals

American Football Betting Strategy: Moneyline, Spread and Totals
© USA Today

American football has emerged as one of the most popular sports to bet on as the sport continues to grow across the world. With that comes the opportunity to get involved in American football betting with the leading NFL betting sites.

Whether you’re an experienced bettor who has been gambling on NFL games for many years, or whether you are a rookie, new to NFL betting, there are so many betting options to choose from when it comes to placing a wager on an NFL game. Most NFL betting sites offer moneyline bets and spread betting as well as a multitude of other betting options like prop bets, future bets and parlays.

Understanding what a moneyline bet is and how to bet on NFL spreads should help you get a better understanding of the NFL markets available and hopefully help you beat the bookies. The NFL season runs from the start of September and ends with the Super Bowl taking place on the first Sunday in February, so there are plenty of opportunities for NFL bettors to get their fair share of action throughout the season.

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What Is a Moneyline Bet in the NFL?

A moneyline bet in the NFL is a straight bet for one team to beat another. Let’s take a look at Super Bowl LV, for example, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the reigning champions Kansas City Chiefs at the Raymond James Stadium. A successful moneyline bet would be for the Buccaneers to win the game. Simple as that.

The bet does not depend on points scored or the margin of victory, it just needs the team selected to win. However the odds for this happening are usually quite low and offer little return on your stake. Therefore, it might be worth looking at other individual bets that you could add to it to boost your odds, or you could combine your selections into an accumulator/parlay bet with multiple selections.

The greater the odds, the bigger the underdog. If, after 14 games, a team has a 2-12 record and they are facing a team with a 12-2 record, then the smart money would be on the favourites to win.

But NFL betting can be tricky because of the nature of the game. The moneyline underdogs might have a strong defence that is good at stopping the run while the favourites rely on their ground game to beat teams, so in this case the underdog could be a bet worth looking at.

Underdogs and favourites are easily identifiable because of their odds. The smaller the odds, the more likely the favourite is to win, while the bigger odds will be reserved for the underdogs in any NFL game.

If you were to get your NFL betting lines from an American sportsbook, their odds would be presented differently. The favourites will have negative odds next to their name, while the underdogs will have positive odds next to them.


Have you got a pick for MVP or Rookies of the Year? Check out our guide to NFL betting strategy for individual awards markets


Returning to Super Bowl LV, the Chiefs were -165 favourites over the Buccaneers, who were +145 to win their second Vince Lombardi trophy. If you backed the Chiefs, you’d have to wager £100 in order to win £165. If you fancied the Buccaneers, you’d win £145 on a £100 bet.

Backing the Moneyline Underdog

Obviously the favourites do not always win, so backing the underdog can pay off. Philadelphia Eagles were handed the underdog tag when they sneaked into the 2018 post-season as the sixth seed with a 9-7 record. The players embraced it by wearing dog masks as they chalked off one play-off win after another.

Even before the Super Bowl against Tom Brady’s Patriots, the Eagles were +176 to cause an upset. With starting quarterback Carson Wentz sidelined by injury, Nick Foles led the underdogs to a stunning 41-33 victory. Whatever bet you choose, having a reliable NFL betting strategy will certainly help.

During the regular season, NFL bettors have 18 weeks of fixtures to bet on after the NFL added an extra game to the schedule for 2021-22, making it the biggest season in the history of the league. On top of that, there are four weeks of play-off action before the AFC and NFC Conference champions do battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

As mentioned, accumulators/parlays are a great way to win money during the regular season, where you pick winners from multiple games and put them on one bet slip. You can use NFL moneyline odds and the more selections you choose, the better the odds will be.

The oddsmakers base their prices on the premise that most NFL bettors will place their wagers on the favourite to win, so the moneyline odds for the underdogs will cover any losses in the event of an upset.

Two teams may be very evenly matched, with identical records and similar strengths and weaknesses, but there has to be a favourite and an underdog. In contests such as these, the odds for both teams will be similar and the American odds will still have a team with positive odds (+105) and one with negative odds (-105).

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How to Bet on NFL Spreads

Betting against your team might be too hard to do, especially if they are struggling to win games. So there is another popular way of betting on the NFL that means your team can win you money. It’s called point spread betting and focuses on the margin of points between the two teams at the final hooter.

The top online sportsbooks will have done their homework, studied each team’s form and come up with the point spread or handicap. The value is represented as a plus or minus, to distinguish the favourite from the underdog. Again taking Super Bowl LV as an example, the Chiefs were -3.5 favourites over the Buccaneers.

If you backed Patrick Mahomes to lead Kansas City to victory and cover the spread, the bet would win if the Chiefs lost by three points because the margin is within the 3.5 range. The Buccaneers were +3.5 underdogs and covered that easily by securing a 31-9 victory.


Wondering who to back against the spread this season? Find out which teams were best against the spread last season here


It’s unusual for the Super Bowl spread to be greater than seven points, or a touchdown, as the two sides are generally relatively well-matched. Regular season games in the NFL often have greater spread margins. An example of a huge spread in the 2020-21 season was the Jaguars at +18 ahead of their trip to the Ravens in Week 15. Baltimore covered the spread easily by winning 40-14.

Spread betting can maintain interest in a game longer than a moneyline bet as points can be scored at any time. If the Jaguars were -18.5 before that contest with the Ravens and they had the ball in the closing stages, those who backed Jacksonville to cover the spread would of course be hoping that the Jaguars could end the game with a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

When games are effectively over, the team with the lead is often guilty of giving up points in what is known as ‘garbage time’, as they switch off defensively because they don’t want to pick up any serious injuries. If the Jaguars were backed on the moneyline on that occasion, there would be little chance of the bet winning with such a commanding lead for the Ravens.

NFL Over/Under Totals Betting

The over/under market on total number of points can also hold some appeal for NFL bettors. Just bear in mind that NFL totals betting won't come with particularly high odds.

Take for example a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons. If you fancied more than 48.5 points to be scored in total (both teams combined) in this game, you would get 9/10 odds on the over 48.5 market. The same odds of 9/10 apply for a bet on under 48.5 total points, so the bookmaker's edge is coming into play here.

But it could be argued that it's safer to build an accumulator from the total points market than the moneyline, as stats on how many points a team scores/concedes tend to be more reliable than simple form.

Expert gamblers might want to consider viewing the lines by half, or even by quarter, to get extra value from statistical knowledge. Many of the top sportsbooks will provide you with statistics to help you place a savvy totals bet.

If you can work out which teams are fast starters, and which are slow out of the gates, you can maximise returns by betting on specific periods of the game. So, make sure to also keep totals betting in mind when considering your NFL betting options.

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