What Are Over/Under Bets in Football (How Totals Bets Work and Strategy)

Over Under Football Betting Sportsbook Background

An over/under bet is like a moneyline bet and a point spread bet. The over/under is in the straight betting family. This differs from more complex bets like action-reversed bets, parlays, and round-robins.

The latter 3 you probably won’t place any time soon given their overall complexity.

This post is starting you off small, with just over/under bets. They’re among the most straightforward bets to place, but they also offer a twist in the straight betting landscape.

Over/Under Bets in Football Defined

Over/under bets in football are bets where, instead of betting on a winner outright or a winner to cover the spread, you’re betting on the point total. over/under bets are also called total bets.

Regardless of who wins and who loses, such as in money lines or who covers a specific handicap, as you see in point spreads, the over/under bet is the equivalent to the true/false tests you took in school. The opposing teams will either combine over the points total, or they won’t.

In a way, it’s like a moneyline bet, where your pick either wins or they won’t.

Here’s the difference:
You need to risk more money to make a little when you bet on the favorite and vice versa. If you’re looking to bet and win with no stipulation involved, over/under bets are for you.

Here’s more information on the over/under bet and how you can become well-versed in this type of betting almost overnight:

An Over/Under Bet in Football Example

The Arizona Cardinals are playing the Houston Texans. You can disregard the (-10.5) beside the Cardinals along with the (-250/+250) beside the teams, too. They’re irrelevant in over/under bets.

However, you need to pay attention to the (47.5) because it shows you the over/under.

Now, it’s important not to bet too early here because the over/under can change two days from the day you first saw it. If you first saw the (47.5) on a Wednesday, it can turn into (51.5) come Saturday.

Quite the difference.
And if you bet the over on Wednesday but did not account for the change, and you’d rather bet the under, most online sportsbooks will not allow for the change since you already submitted the bet. Books like FanDuel outline this in their guidelines, so be cautious of submitting.

The game is Sunday at 1 pm Pacific Standard Time, and the teams combine for a final score of 28 to 24, which equals 52 points. This covers both the 47.5 total AND the 51.5 total, assuming you either submitted the bet early or bet the over.

Now that you can visualize how total bets work let’s talk over/under betting strategy.

Over/Under Betting Scenarios in Football

Over/under bets in football can be deceptive, and they’re not always as clear-cut as they may seem. For example, you may notice that 2 opposing teams with great defenses but not-so-great offenses may face one another.

Take the Pittsburgh Steelers and Denver Broncos.
Let’s suppose they rank among the top 5 in defenses, and they’re gearing up for a head-to-head matchup. The Over/Under sits at a low 37.5 because neither team scores more than 19.5 points per game. However, they both allow 17.5 points per game. Despite the fact you’re looking at a low 37.5 over/under for the game, it’s not as desirable for picking the over as you may think.

The same goes with 2 teams with great offenses. Look at the Kansas City Chiefs and the Arizona Cardinals. Say each team averages 34 points per game, and the over/under sits at 65.5 points. Even though both offenses have the potential, it may fuel you to bet the under instead of the over.

Please Note:
You can see how deceptive the over/under bets are in football, and they don’t stop there. What if we use 2 teams from the example above in the following games – the Kansas City Chiefs play the Denver Broncos, and the Pittsburgh Steelers play the Arizona Cardinals. Now, we have 2 high-powered offenses going up against 2 high-powered defenses. You would see the over/under look something like this: 45.5.

Although the Cardinals score 34 points per game and the Steelers, 19, which equals 53 points, you need to be mindful of how many points the Cardinals and Steelers defenses allow. If the Cardinals have a good defense that allows just 22.1 points per game, and the Steelers still allow 17.5 points, it creates a new narrative.

Because the numbers add up to 39.6 and well below the 45.5 threshold.

Even though over/unders are more straightforward, just like the true/false test back in school, they can and will cause you to overthink things.

When to Bet the Over/Under

The best time to bet on the over/under is by following your intuition. But your intuition may tell you to consider other betting options like point spreads and moneylines before you tackle over/unders.

The scenarios laid out above provide a solid blueprint. For one, you need to ask yourself whether a game is worth betting an over/under. Sometimes, when 2 high-powered offenses get together amidst porous defenses, it’s easy to bet the over almost regardless of the number because they’re probably going to encroach.

But what if you get an example that shows one good offense versus one good defense? The over/under becomes murky because the great defense can beat a great offense, or the great offense can supersede the great defense.

Please Note:
This may prompt you to look at other betting avenues, such as the moneyline or the point spread. If the 2 teams are more evenly matched and you’re looking to minimize risk, then it’s wise to bet the moneyline, especially if, in our Cardinals-Steelers example, the Cardinals spot (-120).

In sports betting lingo, you would bet $120 to win $100 and walk away with $220. Or, if you bet the Steelers (+120), you would bet $100 to win $120.

Other times:
You may not like the over/under as much. Suppose a matchup comprising 2 teams spots a 47.5 over/under, but one team is good on offense and the other, defense. They’re the best in the league at their respective units.

But one team has one of the worst offensive units in football. Despite their top-rated defense, odds are they wouldn’t cover the spread. Especially since, in each season, they had not done so. In this case, it may be better to bet the spread rather than the over/under.

Recapping Over/Under Bets in Football

To recap, what is an over/under bet?

This is a bet where you don’t choose a winner or loser via a point spread or a moneyline. Instead, you’re picking the outcome of a game based on the total number of points combined scored by both teams.

The examples are easy enough to follow.
Let’s go back to our Cardinals v. Texans matchup in the second section, and we will say the over/under remains at 47.5. If you think the teams will combine for greater than that number, bet the over. If not, bet the under, and that’s it.

There are several scenarios, which make betting on the over/under in football deceptive. If you see 2 high-powered offenses play against one another, the over/under naturally sits higher. It will sit lower for 2 high-powered defenses.

Please Note:
And while you can make good on your intuition to bet an over/under, there are also point spreads and moneylines when we talk about straight betting. Sometimes, the over/under looks desirable, other times, you may find the moneyline or the points spread more desirable.


Over/under bets in football are great if you’re looking for a basic betting strategy. They don’t take long to become well-versed in since only one of 2 outcomes can occur.

They either hit the over, or they hit the under.

As you can see, the over/under bets in football can be deceptive, and there are other times to choose another form of betting over the other.

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Rex Hoffman / Author

Rex Hoffman is a passionate sports writer, with over five years of experience covering sports journalism in line with the Vegas betting landscape. His favorite subjects include football, basketball, and baseball. As a Las Vegas resident, he enjoys finding an edge against the local sportsbooks and aims to share his extensive knowledge with both beginners and experienced bettors. Rex also dabbles in horse racing wagering and enjoys typical casino fare like blackjack and poker in his spare time.

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