Over/Under (Totals) Betting Guide

One of the coolest innovations in the sports betting industry was the addition of the over/under bet. Sometimes referred to as a totals bet, the over/under bet is one that gives you a ton of added betting flexibility by letting you bet on the flow of the game independent from the actual game outcome. The simplicity of the bet makes it attractive to beginners, but don’t let that fool you. Seasoned veterans of the sports betting world utilize this bet every single day as a part of their winning strategy.

In this guide, we’re going to walk you through all the important aspects of the over/under bet. We’ll introduce you to the basics of what the bet is, how it pays out, and the benefits of using it. Then, we’ll transition into discussing the more advanced strategy concepts you need to be able to start winning totals bets.

Do keep in mind that we will switch back and forth between calling the bet an over/under bet and a totals bet. Regardless of the term we use, we are referencing the same bet. These are just two different names for the exact same bet. We want to make that clear to avoid any confusion.

Now that we’ve gotten the paperwork out of the way, let’s get into totals bets!

The Nuts and Bolts of an Over/Under (Totals) Bet

An over/under (totals bet) is a sports betting wager that allows you to bet on the flow of a game completely independent from who wins the game. As the name suggests, you are going to bet on the total number of something that happens in a game. Primarily, this is going to be the points, runs, or goals scored, but it can be other things.

This total number will be completely independent of the outcome of the game. That means it does not matter who wins the game. All that matters is how many points, runs, or goals are scored by both teams.

If you’re still confused, that’s okay. When we look at a few examples, you’ll realize how simple this bet is to understand.

Let’s take a look at an NFL football game as an example. Let’s say that the Washington Redskins are playing the Denver Broncos. The first thing the sportsbook is going to do in this game is to try and predict who the winner will be, and they’re going to predict what they think the final score will be. Let’s say that they predict that the Broncos are going to win, and the final score will be the following:

  • Washington Redskins 17
  • Denver Broncos   24

From this, the casino is going to create the over/under bet for the game. The over/under will be a bet on how many total points are going to be scored by both teams. Since the sportsbook thinks the final score is going to be 24-17, they think the total points scored should be 41.

They’ll now give you the ability to bet either over 41 points or under 41 points. If you take the over, you will be betting that MORE than 41 points will be scored in the game. If you take the under, you will be betting that LESS than 41 points will be scored in the game.

Now, it does not matter which team scores the points. If you decide to bet the over and the Redskins win 42-0, you will win your bet. If the Broncos win 42-0, you still win your bet. It does not matter what combination of points gets you over the 41 mark. As long as more than 41 points are scored in the game, the over will win. When you make a totals bet, you couldn’t care less which team wins the game.

If you bet the over, you are hoping for a high-scoring game. If you bet the under, you are hoping for a defensive stalemate that keeps the score low and under the threshold that you bet.

Now, you may be asking what happens if exactly 41 points are scored. If exactly 41 total points are scored in this game, both bets would be a tie. All bets would be returned, and you wouldn’t win or lose any money. For this reason, you’ll often find the totals line set at a half-point mark. So, instead of 41, you might see 41.5 or 40.5 as the line. That ensures that there will be no ties.

This is all there is to a totals bet! The sportsbook will set the line, and then you bet whether you think the total number of that occurrence will be over or under the line that they set. The most popular totals bets are scores of games. Additionally, you can bet on the total occurrences of other random things. For example, you can bet on the total number of birdies in a golf tournament or the total number of passes a QB will throw. Pretty much any stat that can be totaled up is fair game when it comes to over/under bets. It all comes down to how much variety the sportsbook wants to offer on a particular game or match.

Line Movement

The sportsbook’s entire goal with any bet they take action on is to get the right amount of money bet on both sides of a contest and then take a small percentage off the top for their profit. When they do this, they can use the losing side to pay off the winning side and guarantee themselves a profit from the small percentage they take as a house fee. As you’ll see in the next section when we talk about payouts, most totals bets pay out just below even money at a rate of -110. The small difference is the money the sportsbook takes as their profit.

How does the sportsbook achieve getting even money on both sides of a totals bet if the payouts are usually the same? Well, instead of adjusting the payouts to encourage and discourage action, the book will adjust the totals number to try and achieve their goal. For example, let’s say that in our earlier example, tons of money pours in on the over. Everyone and their brother think that the game is going to be a high-scoring affair and the total points will be well over 41.

In order to try and drive more action on the under, the sportsbook will adjust the totals line. Instead of it being 41, they might move it to 41.5 or even 42. Now, both teams have to collectively score more points in order for the over to win.

This also makes the under bet easier to win, as the teams can score more points, and you’d still win that bet. This should get more people to bet the under and fewer to bet the over. If it does not achieve this, they’ll keep moving the line until it does.

If it moves the action too much in the other direction, they’ll shift the line back and forth until they get their desired result.

Now, you will see in the next section that some sports (particularly lower-scoring sports) will keep the totals line relatively the same and shift the payouts to encourage and discourage action as they see fit. In these scenarios, they drive the action by changing the payouts.

Understanding and Calculating Over/Under (Totals) Bet Payouts

One of the great things about over/under bets is that not only are they simple to understand how to win, but the payouts are also easy to calculate and understand. Depending on the sport you are betting, the normal payout practices are going to vary. We’re going to group the sports into high-scoring and low-scoring categories and look at each category individually.

High-Scoring Games

When we’re talking about high-scoring games, we’re mainly referring to basketball, NFL football, and college football. These sports regularly have scores well into the double and triple digits. When you place a totals bet on one of these sports, you’re most likely going to get paid out at the exact same rate every single time no matter which game it is and no matter which side of the bet you take.

Most totals bets for high-scoring sports games are going to pay out at -110. This means that for a $10 bet, you will receive a profit of $9.09 on a correct bet. If you take the over, you’ll be paid out at -110. If you take the under, you’ll be paid out at -110. On rare occasions, you will see these payout odds shifted, but for the most part, they will always stay the same.

When you see the bet at the sportsbook, most likely they are not going to have the payout odds posted because they will want you to assume that it’s -110. If they do change it to anything else, that will be posted.

Low-Scoring Games

For low-scoring games, we’re referring mainly to hockey, baseball, and soccer. More often than not, the total scores in these games are going to be in the single digits. As you might imagine in a game where only a couple goals or runs are scored, it might be hard for the sportsbook to move the lines where they need to without making a drastic change. Changing the totals by half a goal in a soccer game would cause a landslide of action shifting to the other side.

So, instead, the sportsbook will usually leave the totals line the same and shift the payout amounts on each side. For example, in soccer, the over/under line is almost always +-2.5. If they think that it’s going to be a high-scoring game, they might shift the payouts to something like this:

  • Over 2.5  -180
  • Under 2.5       +150

In this scenario, you’ll be paid out at a rate of -180 for a correct overs bet and at a rate of +150 for a correct bet on the under. If you were to bet $10 correctly on the over, you would see a profit of $5.56. If you bet $10 correctly on the under, you would see a profit of $15.

The Benefits of Using Over/Under (Totals) Bets

We want to take a brief moment and make sure that you are fully aware of the benefits of betting over/under bets. You’re probably already seeing the benefits throughout this article, but we’d like to make sure it’s clear so that you don’t end up skipping out on what can be a powerful part of your winning sports betting strategy.

The Ability to Bet Game Flow Instead of Outcome

Hands-down the best benefit to this type of bet is the added flexibility that you’re going to get. Without these bets, what would you do if you had a prediction on how the game was going to go, but you weren’t quite sure who was going to eek out the victory? You would share that prediction with your friends, maybe earn a few cool points, but you’d see no change in your sports betting bankroll.

Thankfully, over/under bets allow you to capitalize on these opportunities. Anytime the sportsbook gives you more flexibility, it’s a good thing. While you might not always have a prediction about how things are going to go total score-wise, it’s nice to know that the option is there in case you do see an opportunity and want to pounce on it.

Unique Entertainment Betting Opportunity

Ever see two teams you despise and just wish there was a way you could root against both of them? Or maybe both of your favorite teams are playing, and you wish you could root for both of them to do well. Well, over/under bets give you that unique entertainment opportunity where you can bet against both teams or for both teams.

If you despise both teams, and you hope that none of them ever score in the game, you can take the under. On every single play on both sides, you can cheer for them all to fail miserably. If you love both teams and just want to see scores every single play or drive, take the over. You might look silly to some of your friends that don’t fully understand sports betting, but you’re going to be happy getting to root for what you want.

Now, this probably isn’t a sound profit-seeking strategy because anytime you are betting on emotion, you are probably not making a wise and logical decision. That being said, we’re just talking about entertainment here.

Over/Under (Totals) Bet Strategies

We’ve covered all the basics that you need to understand totals bets and start making your own. What we’d like to talk about now are the different ways in which you can enhance your chances of winning those bets! It all comes down to correctly predicting game flow patterns, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some tips and tricks that can make that process easier for you and help you to gain an edge. Below, you’ll find our favorite strategies to beat the books when it comes to over/under bets.

Focus on the Defenses

It can be so tempting when talking about point totals to only concern yourself with the offensive side of things. However, you may find a lot more success by starting with the defense or at the very least making sure not to neglect to look at the defensive side of things.

Now, you should always start by looking at the team-versus-team defensive matchup. But one thing that a lot of people neglect to do is look at individual defensive matchups. Who is going to be defending who? Who has the advantage? Do you see a mismatch somewhere that might result in a lot of goals or points being scored? Getting down to the individual level is a great way to find value that the sportsbook or other bettors might be missing.

By absolutely no means are we telling you not to pay attention to the offense. What we’re saying is that you need to make sure you approach each game with a balanced look. Spend some time looking at the offense, but also spend a considerable amount of time seeing how that offense fares against the other team’s defense. After you do this, break it down to the individual level. Aim small, miss small.

Factor in the Weather Conditions

One of the biggest factors in game flow is the weather. If the conditions are ripe for scoring, you can expect the total points or goals scored to be higher. If the conditions are garbage and favor the defense, look at the under.

Here’s the Tip
Often, this will be calculated into the total already. What you want to look for are times when the weather changes suddenly and the line does not update to reflect it. Remember, lines only move when people bet them in one direction or the other. The sportsbook might be well aware of the changing conditions, but they rarely are going to do anything about it until the bets start pouring in on the other side.

This means that if you’re quick to get to the book and bet, you can snatch up some easy value. The ability to pounce on these opportunities is one of the perks to betting online, unless you happen to live at the sportsbook, and then you’re good to go.

Take Advantage When Multiple Lines Are Present

For a lot of sports (especially the lower-scoring category), you will sometimes get the opportunity to bet on multiple totals lines for the same bet. For example, the standard totals line in soccer is +-2.5. But at times, you might get the opportunity to bet on more lines like +-3.5 or +-1.5. If you think that a game is going to be really low-scoring or really high-scoring, you’ll have a choice.

You can bet the normal line at +-2.5 and lock up what you think will be an easy win. But if you want to push your prediction, you could bet one of the higher or lower lines and get paid at a much higher rate if you’re right. The best advice is to make your prediction on the score before you take a look at any of the totals lines. If you see an opportunity to press your bet by betting one of the more specific lines, go for it.

It all is going to come down to what your betting strategy is. The more risk-seeking you are, the more you will want to hammer these alternate lines. If you are more risk-averse and prefer the conservative approach, stick with the standard line and take down an easy win. When it comes to sports betting, you are in the driver’s seat.

Understand the Coach’s History and Plans

What you may not have realized is that the coaches play a huge role in the totals bet process. The coaches decide how aggressive the game plan is going to be, which has a direct correlation to how many points, goals, or runs are scored. In order to master totals bets, you have to fully understand the coach’s tendencies, historical movements, and what you think their current game plan is going to be.

For example, betting the under against a coach that loves to run the score up might not be smart. Or betting the over with two coaches who love to play conservatively and immediately go in to protect when they get a lead would be a silly bet.

Look for patterns in how they coach and make a prediction about how they are going to approach a game. If you find that the totals line doesn’t match up with what you think they’re going to do, you may have found some value and a good bet. Remember, this should just be a part of your overall decision. Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket. While this plays a big role in the totals outcome, it is not the whole pie. Remember, the teams and players still have to get out there and execute the coach’s plan.

Break the Game Down into Segments

One of the best ways to approach totals bets is to take it all in small bites. When you look at the game as a whole, you might feel like you’re just throwing darts blindfolded trying to predict the total points scored. But what happens when you look at the game by individual period or quarter? It gets easier. What happens when you break it down to each individual possession or drive? It gets even easier.

Basically, you should be breaking games down into the smallest reasonable segment possible and making a prediction on how that is going to go. You don’t have to go all the way down to each individual play, but at least going down to quarters, periods, or even drives is a smart move. Before you make a totals bet, you should have almost a storybook script mapped out of how the game is going to go. When you do this, coming up with your predicted totals number should be a cinch.

The Wrap-Up

By now, you can probably go ahead and classify yourself as an expert when it comes to over/under bets. Okay, okay, maybe not an expert just yet, but you definitely have all of the necessary information to become one. While the bet is extremely simple to understand, it still is going to require some hard work to beat the books. You’re going to need to put in the time and effort into your research, but the hard work will pay off. Good luck!