NFL Betting Explained: How to Read NFL Odds

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Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) runs with the ball during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots Saturday, Dec. 18, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
(AP Photo/Aaron Doster)
Chase Kiddy @chaseakiddy Apr 10, 2024, 9:04 PM
  • Spread, moneyline, and over/under totals are the most popular NFL betting types.
  • There are hundreds of different kinds of NFL prop bets.
  • NFL parlays are high-risk but can be extremely profitable.

When it comes to NFL betting, there are a lot of different styles of bets. Some are more popular than others.

To a well-trained bettor, though, there is nearly always some kind of interesting betting angle for most NFL betting games. 

Odds are set by the online sportsbook for thousands of events each year, including all NFL preseason, regular season, and postseason games.

Here, I’ll explain many of the basic kinds of NFL betting markets. After reading this, you should be able to comfortably approach a variety of different types of odds and betting lines.

NFL Betting: Spread

Probably the most popular betting market in football, NFL spread betting is a common style of gambling where one team (the favorite) must win by a certain number of points. If they do, the favorite is said to have “covered” the point spread. 

The spread for a Colts-Bills game might be Bills -6.5 points, meaning Josh Allen and the Bills must win by at least 6.5 points (i.e., seven points or more) to win a bet on the Bills’ spread. 

Conversely, Jonathan Taylor and the Colts must lose by fewer than 6.5 points (i.e., six points or fewer) to win a bet on the Colts’ spread. Underdogs can cover the spread by losing inside the margin or winning outright.

Spread odds are displayed as: Colts +6.5 (-110) at Bills -6.5 (-110). The (-110) is called the vigorish, or vig, and it describes the return for your money. Here, on a bet of either Bills -6.5 or Colts +6.5, an $110 bet would return $100. 

If, for example, the Bills won 31-24, the margin of victory is seven points, which is enough to cash tickets for those who bet on them.

On the other hand, If the Bills won by a score of 31-29, they’d win the game but lose against the spread. 

NFL Betting: Moneyline

Moneyline bets answer a simple question: Which team will win the game?

An NFL moneyline bet is a bet on the winner, regardless of the margin of victory, in either regulation or overtime. For most moneyline markets, if the game ends in a tie, the result is a push, and bettors are refunded their money. 

Because teams are not created equally, and there is no point spread modifier to account for the market gap between teams, moneyline bets pay out each side of a game at different ratios. The price of the favorite will include a minus (-) sign, while the price of the underdog will include a plus (+) sign.

American moneylines (and spread market vigs) revolve around the number 100. For any number with a minus (-) in front of it, you must bet that number for a $100 return. For any number with a plus (+) in front of it, a $100 bet will return that number. 

Bets don’t have to be made in $100 units, but the rate of return will remain the same. For example, if a $100 bet at +150 returns $150 of profit, then a $50 bet at +150 will return $75 of profit. 

Now, let’s look at another hypothetical game between the Bills and the Colts. The Bills might be a -280 moneyline favorite, while the Colts could be a +220 underdog. A winning $200 bet on the Bills would return $71.43 of profit, plus your initial $200; a winning $200 bet on the Colts would return $440 of profit, plus your initial $200. 

Thus, the gambler’s dilemma is born. Favorites might be “supposed” to win, but successful moneyline underdog bets can be extremely profitable. 

NFL Betting: Over/Under Total

Sometimes, NFL bettors aren’t interested in taking a side, but they do have a feeling about how much scoring will take place in a game.

In these cases, the over/under, or total, becomes a relevant number. Here, bettors are simply betting on how many combined points will be scored in a given game. 

The Colts-Bills over/under total might be 51.5. You could’ve bet they’ll combine for more than 51.5 points, i.e., over (-110), or fewer than 51.5 points (-110). 

For example, if the Bills won 31-27, the over would hit and return $210 on a $100 bet. However, if the Bills won 24-20, the under would’ve hit and return $210 on a $110 bet.

Oftentimes, the over/under total is a whole number, e.g., 46. If the teams combined for that exact total, it’s a push, and all bets are refunded.

NFL Betting: Parlays

Parlays are high-risk, high-reward gambles that are extremely popular among bettors. 

Betting a single moneyline, spread bet, or total – all discussed above – is often called a straight bet. It’s one, singular bet on one, singular game element.

Parlays, on the other hand, are combination bets. You can string together multiple different bets from different games; you can also bet different elements of one game as a Same Game Parlay.

The trick of parlays is that it’s not good enough to hit a few legs of a parlay – you have to hit every single leg of a parlay in order to win the parlay. If your parlay has six legs, and you win five and lose one, you’ve lost your parlay. 

Thus, the risk levels of a parlay are very high. But the rewards are even greater, as the prices of each leg are multiplied together, creating an exponentially greater reward for a successful parlay. 

Let’s say you’ve built the following, four-leg NFL parlay on a Sunday:

  • Cowboys -4 (-110)
  • Seahawks +6 (-110)
  • Chiefs/Bengals Over 54.5 (-110)
  • Dolphins +125

As you can see, the parlay I’ve just described includes two spread bets, a total, and a moneyline underdog. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve set the first three bets at -110, but they do sometimes adjust up or down to numbers like -105 or -115, depending on the betting appetite of the market. 

If you bet $100 on each of these games, and all four bets were winners, you’d end up with $397.73 in profits, plus your original $400 of principal.

However, if you bet all four games together as a parlay, your winnings would be dramatically different: $1,465.53, plus your $400 principal. 

It really does pay to nail your parlays – if you can manage it. For that reason, many bettors choose to place a series of straight bets, then mix them all together in an additional small parlay.

That way, their winning bets aren’t unrewarded by a busted parlay, but the opportunity for an explosive payout from a long parlay is still available. 

NFL Betting: Prop Bets

Prop bets, or propositional bets, are regular bets on very specific facets of an NFL game. 

While spread and moneyline bets cover the actual outcome of the game, prop bets are far more narrow. For instance, you might bet on whether or not Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws for more or less than 299.5 yards in a single game, or whether or not the San Francisco 49ers defense will record a touchdown.

There are hundreds of different prop bets for every game, with even more available for major games like the Super Bowl. At BetMGM, you can check them out by reviewing the full odds table for individual games. 

NFL Betting: Teasers 

NFL teasers are like friendlier versions of a parlay. That’s because a teaser combines multiple bets together, but it also makes it easier to win those bets by adjusting the bets in your favor.

Let’s say you want to do a classic six-point teaser with the following two spread bets:

  • Colts +6.5
  • Cowboys -4

A six-point teaser would add six points to the spread of each games, so that you’re actually rooting for the following outcomes:

  • Colts +12.5
  • Cowboys +2

Because a teaser manipulates a point spread (or total) in your favor, the payout is reduced from what a traditional parlay would pay. But plenty of bettors still love the market manipulation that a teaser can create, which is why it’s one of the favorite bet styles of millions of gamblers!

NFL Betting: Futures Bets

Not everyone wants to bet on a game between the Bills and Colts. Instead, some handicappers might prefer to bet on what the Bills can win the AFC East, or whether or not the Cardinals will finish with the worst record in the NFL.

These are called futures bets. Rather than wagering on the outcome of a single game, or one aspect of a single game, futures generally cover bigger outcomes that take place over larger periods of time. You might bet Super Bowl odds, or conference odds, or another kind of exotic market.

Because futures often reward only one team out of a big group, NFL futures odds can offer very lucrative odds. Right now, for 2023, a futures bet on the Bills to win the Super Bowl would pay out +800, or $900 of profit for a $100 bet. 

NFL Betting: Promos

If this football odds explanation piqued your curiosity, then I’ve got some good news for you. The BetMGM online sportsbook is constantly running new promotions for prospective bettors to try out and enjoy. 

Make sure you go check out the best sports betting promotions that BetMGM has to offer.

NFL Betting Odds at BetMGM

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