4 Most Common Football Bets and How to Win Them

NFL Game - New England Patriots vs Pittsburgh Steelers - Mobile Phone Showing a Betting Site and Bills Coming out of it

Each September, millions of sports bettors can barely contain their excitement as America’s most frequently bet sport returns in all its glory. Saturday and Sunday mornings are now occupied by looking at the day’s odds, and countless financial choices are made on the couch.

The only people more excited about football’s return than gamblers are the sportsbooks. After all, modest profits are made where there is modest action, and major profits are made where there is major action. Both on the field and in the sportsbooks, action is in abundance during football season.

While there is a myriad of ways to place a wager on a football game, I’ll stick to the basics in this article. Unless you have a true strategic grasp on the more nuanced betting plays, it can be overwhelming and lead to unnecessarily risky bets. In addition, I’ll offer tips on how to capitalize on the plays discussed and hopefully help you in the quest to grow your bankroll.

1 – The Bet: Point Spread

The most popular way to bet on football is undoubtedly the point spread. The spread will be listed as a one- or two-digit number following the team name. For example, you’ll see something like Cleveland Browns (-3.5). If a team’s number has a “-” sign before it, that team is the favorite. If it’s a “+,” that indicates a team is the underdog.

The spread works like this. The number in parentheses is the amount of points a given team has before kickoff. In the above example, the Browns would start the game with -3.5 points. Another way to think about it is by adding or subtracting the spread number from the final score. In order to win, the team you picked must still win the game after accounting for the difference.

In the example, if the Browns win the game 21-17, they would “cover,” meaning they would win the bet. If they won the game 20-17, they would not win the bet, because 20 – 3.5 = 16.5, which is less than the 17 the opponent scored.

The Tip:

Keep in mind that a number of factors can contribute to what the spread number will be on game day. Weather, injuries, matchups, and history between the coaches can all play a role. Be sure to do your research, including taking a look at the schedules. Who each team played the week before (and the week following the current game) can play a role in performance.

It’s also important to consider that the spread is where the books make a great deal of their money, be wary of betting the same way as the general public.

2 – Moneyline

The moneyline, in my opinion, is one of the most underutilized betting options in football. Unlike the spread, there’s no math involved in knowing if you won or lost; the team that wins the game wins the bet.

However, as any good sports bettor knows, it’s not just about winning, but about the value in the play. The moneyline can provide tremendous value that the spread typically won’t for any single bet. You do need to be careful however, as a bad moneyline play can ruin a weekend.

Because the moneyline winner is simply determined by who wins and who loses, the real gamble is with the amount of money risked vs. the amount of money you could potentially win.

For example, the Patriots (for the sake of the example, a good team) might play the Dolphins (for the sake of the example, a bad team) and the moneyline odds might look something like Patriots (-260) and Dolphins (+240).

These numbers are based on what you would win if you bet $100 or what you’d need to be to win $100. Similar to the spread, the team with the “-” are the favorite, and the “+” the underdog. The numbers work like this. In the example above, you would need to bet $260 to win $100 if you bet on the Patriots, and would win $240 if you bet $100 on the Dolphins. It might seem a little tricky at first, but once you look over it a few times, you’ll get comfortable pretty quick.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to bet $100, it’s just a baseline number because percentages are based out of a hundred. In the example, you could bet $50 on the Dolphins to win $120 or bet $130 on the Patriots to win $50.

The Tip:

Making good moneyline decisions means finding the perfect balance of value and likelihood of winning a game. Generally speaking, if you have to bet $200 to win $60, the value just isn’t there. Not to mention, it’s football betting. On any given week (especially in the NFL), there can be a major upset.

Do your best to find a game where the two teams are somewhat evenly matched, and over time, you can profit if you bet on underdogs in the +130 to +150 range. Remember that when you frequently play the moneyline, you can still come out ahead on the financial side even if you lose more games than you win overall. Keep track of your progress by monitoring money, and not just wins and losses.

3 – The Over/Under

One of the most important numbers for sports bettors is the over/under. If you’re unaware of what this bet deals with, the good news is that it couldn’t be easier to understand.

The over/under is simply the total number of points in a game. Bettors choose whether or not the combined points will be more or less than that number and place their wager accordingly.

This bet can also be parlayed with a spread or moneyline bet, even within the same game.

The Tip:

Deciding which way to bet on the over/under requires some research and you’ll need to incorporate a range of factors into your prediction. For example, weather, especially in football, can play a major role. However, remember that the sportsbooks are also aware of the weather and set the odds accordingly.

In addition to weather, the history between the two coaches, prior performance throughout the season by each team’s offense, and any injuries might impact the overall number.

It’s also important to monitor the total number as it moves leading up to the game. As with almost all other lines, the public’s money will shift the number one way or the other. Typically, the public bets on the over, meaning the sportsbooks will make the total slightly higher in order to even out the action.

I don’t mean to make this bet sound overly simplistic, but whichever way the line “looks,” strongly consider the counterintuitive play. Meaning, if the line looks unusually low, the public will bet the over, meaning it’s a good idea to take the under. If the line looks unusually high, the public will likely be betting on the under, which means your best move is to do the opposite.

4 – Props

Prop bets are like the dessert of the sports betting day. They’re nice, but shouldn’t be the main source of your nutrition.

Examples of prop bets include things like whether or not Tom Brady will throw for more than 300 yards, whether or not the RB for Alabama will have two touchdowns, or whether or not a team will have an interception in the game.

The Tip:

Because prop bets don’t receive nearly as much action as regular bets, you might be able to get a slight advantage at real money sportsbooks. If you see a matchup advantage, feel free to throw a little money down if you’re able to find good value. Just be sure you don’t get carried away. Prop bets are hard to win consistently.


Gambling on football is taking off at record numbers for sports bettors across America. Utilize these football betting tips and you might just be able to capture some of the magic for yourself.

Tim Johnson / Author

Tim has been a sports fan for as long as he can remember. The Vermont native has lived in Las Vegas for the last two decades, and he uses his experience in the industry to try and give readers the best possible advice when it comes to betting on sports. Football is Tim’s primary area of expertise, but he also dabbles in other sports like horse racing and basketball. Tim uses his wealth of knowledge to try and make the reader a better bettor.