Betting on American Football Guide | How To Bet On The NFL

For Intermediate
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Ultimate US Football Betting Strategy Guide

If you live in the States, then you are no stranger to the strong football presence among sports fans. Betting enthusiasts waste no time in wagering on the game as soon as the season kicks off. There are many strategies and approaches to football betting. It provides great excitement for the fun-seeking punter. It also has very high odds, so those in it for the money will find lots of value here.

In this guide, we will cover:

  • Basic football bet types
  • The best betting strategies for the game
  • Finding the hidden value in bets
  • How to find advantages betting on Favorites and Underdogs
  • The most important tricks of the trade for betting Over/Under
  • Betting the lines: our 7-step formula to profit

Background On Football

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The NFL and the NCAA are the main leagues to bet on - and all mainstream games are drafted from these associations. Football season is relatively short, running from September to February, and this is because the teams don't play so many games.

The NFL has 32 teams separated into 8 divisions, and each team plays 8 away games and 8 home games, making a total of 16 matches. College football, on the other hand, is slightly more varied and has about 100 teams. Still, there are only 12 - 14 games in a season. The limited number of games is the reason why bookies, as well as bettors, hardly have a concrete idea of who the favorite or underdog is. You can benefit from this! Read this guide to learn how.

Getting the Lay of the Land

As we have discussed previously in our other betting guide, the number one thing you have to know when entering a sports bet is your intention. Are you placing a wager for the fun of the gamble and to add some extra excitement to watching the game, or are you joining to make a profit? There is not necessarily a wrong answer to this question but it will give you a solid starting point and some guidance in placing your bets. Football is one of the biggest betting markets, with a relatively short season and dramatic storylines.

  • Decide to play for fun or profits and stick to your decision!

Now that you have decided which betting approach you will take as your main one, we can get started. If you have chosen to bet for fun then our tip is really simple. You know what type of plays you like best, so enjoy betting from the USA and maybe even going to a few games! When playing for fun you can enter any bet or prop that you like, you make sure you don’t play more than you can afford to lose. For the ones reading this to make some extra side change, strategy is key in your approach.

  • Pick a main strategy and stick to it and refine for the season. Reassess your main approach only after the season ends!

If you are trying to make some profit it is probably best to stick to the main lines. Because of the low number games and betting opportunities that are available each season, accuracy and return on your investment is extra important! One football Sunday the large majority of the games that week takes place within 10 hours of each other. With team rankings being important at the end of the season this leaves little time to place your bets. The best approach is to do your homework and get all your bets placed before the first game starts.

Favorites & Underdogs

What makes a good favorite or a good underdog? This is a difficult question to answer and your own homework will come in handy here. Nowadays most lines can be lacking value and just like the over/under bets you can find an advantage in early lines when the bookmakers have not made any adjustments to their first estimations. In the end, markers for a good bet vary from team to team. Some teams are very strong at home, others have a good track record of playing strong games on the road. In general, you do want to stay away from the biggest differences in the line, unless of course, your own analysis shows a clear advantage. These are some good rules to use when looking for underdogs and favorites:

  • Look for one-score underdogs with lines around +3
  • In general, avoid big favorites (-14 or more)
  • Consider taking moneyline on small favorites
  • Always take the points on underdogs

Football Betting Options

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The basic types of football bets are directly related to the outcome of the game. They are the money line, point spread, and over/under bets. 

The Moneyline

One of the less popular bets in football is the moneyline bet but we think this is unjustified. It is true that moneyline bets can be less profitable in football betting when there is a large spread available. You might only want to incorporate low odds moneyline bets and combine them into a small parlay, but the risk/reward ratio is not solid on those. Moneyline really becomes interesting when the line is anywhere up to five points. In these cases, you will find the most profitable move lies in identifying the underdog teams that make a solid chance of winning straight up.

The key is that you only need the underdog to win a certain amount of times because the higher odds will compensate for the occasional loss and will still keep you profitable. Also in close matchups, you can be better off with moneyline bets and not risk losing your bet on just a few points. Sportsbooks set their own odds, which usually highlight the favorite and the underdog. The odds are also very straightforward. 

For example,

+250 for the underdog means that if you stake $10, you will win $25 extra.

Moneyline bets are the most common kind for most major sports, but football is the exception. Moneyline football bets usually present less profitable odds. However, they become interesting when the line is anywhere up to five points.

Spread Betting

These are the most popular football bets for the NFL and ACCA because players feel that it is the bet type where the most mistakes are made by the bookmakers. Spread betting can definitely be profitable but keep in mind that the betting lines and spread numbers are set fairly accurately for most games. You may have heard the terms, handicaps, or betting lines; they all refer to spread bets. It is basically a bet on the margin of winning. The sportsbook sets a margin by how much the favorite will win, or the underdog will lose.

Now, let's look at a typical illustration:

A bookie sets a margin of +5.5.  - This means that the favorite team needs to win by 6 points or higher, while the underdog has to lose by 5 points or fewer. If the underdog wins the match, you still win the bet, making it a 50/50 chance.

Point spreads are a fan favorite, and the odds the spread gets on the best sportsbooks range between -111 and -118.

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Spread betting is still the most popular in sports betting in the NFL and with good reason. When trying to find an advantage the bookmakers try to make the matchup equal by handicapping the teams in their score. You and the bookmaker are trying to predict the difference in the score between the teams and here you can find good opportunities to make money.

Moneyline bets can be useful when the spread difference is small or when you expect a close game. Still, especially with underdogs, you want to take the points, this way you always have less risk on your money. To find consistent value in the betting lines we use the following approach:

  1. Research - Throughout the week take note of injuries, trades, special events and unexpected news to be up-to-date on the league.
  2. Generate Lines - Make your own lines for favorite and underdog including the spread before looking at what the bookmakers offer.
  3. Compare - Compare your own lines for the games to what the bookmakers offer. Select the lines where is more than a one score difference (3 points spread difference at least).
  4. Look for value - Pay special attention to games where bookmakers have selected a different favorite/underdog.
  5. Selection - Select four games that you like the most, if there are less that is fine too. It is better to be selective in your bets and avoid unnecessary risk.
  6. Devil's advocate - As a last check, try to find arguments against your own lines to see if there is any important information you missed.
  7. Size and placement - Set your betting size and place your bets at the start of the day so you can drop bets with last-minute news if needed.

Of course, you can always have a look at what other bettors have as their picks and see if you missed any value. In the end, it is most profitable to learn and make your own bets, we want to teach you how to fish so you can eat for a lifetime. Just as with the mental part of football betting, you also have to be selective with your spread bets. Because the lines can be set very tight and with little margin it can be tempting to buy points on the lines.

We strongly recommend not to buy points in all sports, but for football betting this applies even more. Buying points is exponentially expensive and when the lines are set at full scores (3 or 7) buying even half a point will leave a lot of value and profit on the table. Remember, even if going for profits, to keep it fun.

Over/Under Totals

Another solid bet type is to make a play for the total score of the game, or more commonly called and over or under bet.

The Over-Under market is a lot smaller than spread bets are and totals are usually a bit more difficult to get a hold of. Most lines are between 42 and 52 points for both teams, which is also the range for the average game during the regular season. If you want to be profitable making these bets you will have to find a clear edge. If you don’t, you are basically flipping a coin.

Football bettors can get lost in the betting lines and investing all their time even if the spread offers very little margin in a specific week. Do not force yourself to find a spread bet, many times if a game is expected to be a close call you can make more money by placing money on the totals. Especially in the games where outlier scores are expected, you can make your money with the high- and low-scoring games.

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Many punters consider this to be the easiest and safest kind of bet. They are 50/50, just like spread bets, but don't require you to predict who will win. Instead, you will be betting on the number of points scored in the match. The bookie sets the margin at a decimal, usually of 0.5, so that bets fall on either side. US online sportsbooks also offer a riskier variety of the totals bet. You have the option to place a stake on the exact number of points a team will score. These are correct score bets, and they offer the biggest individual payouts.

If you decide to go for an O/U be,t be on the lookout for any discrepancies not shown in the line, like short term injuries or major offset in the expected total. Especially with injuries or changes in the starting line-up there is an adjustment period for bookies and this is one of the edges where you can profit. Besides those changes the following tips can help you find a line that might be set incorrectly:

  • Look at the most points allowed for both teams in the past three games
  • Look at the minimum points scored for both teams in the past three games
  • Find totals with 5 points difference between the expected total 

Parlays

These are multiple bets in a single bet slip. Parlays let bettors combine up to a dozen or more games and wager on them all at once. Because all bets go into one bet slip, the odds multiply each other, resulting in jackpot-sized winnings.

With the possibility of such hefty returns, it would be too good to be true if there wasn't a caveat. All individual bets must be successful for you to win the money from a parlay. If even one game fails, you lose the entire bet.

Parlays are risky even for the most experienced pundits, so for first-timers, it is advisable not to place large stakes on parlays. Only wager what you can afford to lose. Better still, avoid them altogether.

Other available bets are props and do not directly impact the match results. We do not discuss them in this write-up, but some examples are, most passing yards by a quarterback, total number of sacks, longest field goal, and last team to score.

Finding Value In Bets

Punters often get lost chasing betting lines and investing all their time and money into point spread offers. Precisely because spread bets are so popular, bookies pay a great deal of attention to them. They fix very accurate odds, and you may find yourself scrambling for a lucrative betting line.

There is a lot of value to be found in over/under bets, especially when two teams are equally matched. The same goes for money line bets. A close match-up will provide much better odds for the money line, and with live betting, you can make your move at the crucial interval when the tides are turning in favor of one team. You should also pay close attention to games where bookmakers have selected a different favorite/underdog. Chances are one of the two holds hidden value.

Bookies may be king when sports betting is concerned, but sometimes even they mess up when fixing the odds. If you've got a hawk's eye, you can detect such missteps and take advantage of those lucky odds.

Even though deciding on a football bet is not easy, the betting options themselves are rather simple. When playing for fun, you can enter any basic or prop bets that suit your fancy. While when playing for money, you will need to apply some key strategies.

Limit the kind of bets you make

For beginners, it may be better to limit the number of different betting types you play. Specializing in one or two kinds of bets gives you greater insight into finding the hidden value in those bets instead of wagering blindly. By doing so, you cut down on the number of losses you make. A good piece of advice is to check out our guide on Single Bets, it's the easiest way to get started.

Be consistent with your choices

The mind of the average punter wanders and becomes weary when a game is in play. The fear of missing out on profits brings one doubtful thought after the other. Did I make the right bet? Should I place another wager to compensate for a possible loss?

Live betting is a popular trend among online sportsbooks in the US. It is useful in hedging out pre-game gets and cutting down on losses. But they are more beneficial to seasoned vets than novice bettors. Beginners easily get swept up by anxiety and end up making uncalculated bets that do more harm than good to their bankroll. It is best to steer clear of live bets as much as possible when first starting out betting and instead be consistent with your pre-game choices. You can up the risk factor, once you get the hang of it. You can't win every single wager, but with consistent gameplay, you can make reasonable profits or at least break even.

Don't neglect money management

This is where the first two points conjoin.  It takes discipline and a strong mindset to develop a solid money management system, but opting for fewer bet variants and sticking with your initial wager both enable you to stay on track. At Sports Betting Guide, we recommend that you as a beginner do not play more than 5% of your total bankroll at once and that you limit your biggest bets to 10%. Also, try to be selective with your wagers and set a weekly threshold for the number of plays you make.  

With so many online sportsbooks across the United States, it is easy to go wild with betting, but by sticking to these gambling guidelines, you remain in control of your bets while steadily filling your pockets and, of course, having fun.

Discipline & Mindset

Two of the essential skills that you need in order to become a profitable football bettor with sport bookmakers is to develop both your discipline and the mindset that you approach the sport with. If you would have the choice between the best analysis and bets or having the strongest mental game you should go with the latter. Because if you have strong discipline and an average profitable strategy you can still be much more profitable than when you are playing the most profitable bets but is lacking discipline.
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Other Football Betting Strategies

Keep up with stats of matches and individual players. Teams make several changes during the season, and sometimes players may be injured. The favorite at the start of the season may then become the underdog before it ends.

Research past performances of the teams before a match. While this does not guarantee the outcome of the upcoming game, it goes a long way in increasing your win to lose ratio.

Bet against the favorite when there is hidden value. As mentioned before, the top team could end up losing badly if its performance is affected by injured players or other unfavorable changes. In that case, you should go against the crowd and put your money down for the underdog. Also, it is generally better to avoid big favorites of -14 of more.

Sign up to multiple online sportsbooks to get the best odds available. Instead of +200 odds on sportsbook A, +220 odds on sportsbook B lets you get the most out of your bet. Remember that joining multiple sportsbook sites allows you to fish out hidden value where favorites/underdogs differ.

Conclusion

Compared to sports like basketball and baseball, bettors making a profitable season in football depends highly on making the right plays.  You can recover from a few unsuccessful bets during the basketball season, but you may find yourself outrightly losing in football. With this guide, you can begin navigating football bets at any USA sportsbook. These strategies are aimed at helping you make quality bets. Quality bets, according to experts, guarantee a win over 50% of the time, which is perfect for bettors to profit from the game.

NFL Betting FAQ

  • .Are prime-time games more profitable to bet on?

    The Thursday, Sunday-night, and Monday Prime-Time games definitely stand out among the other regular-season games but does this mean that there is more value to be found in these games? In short: no, but there are some advantages that prime-time games can offer because of the extra attention. Most games are scheduled in such a way that the NFL expects interesting games. Now of course the season can always take some crazy turns but these spots offer a good opportunity for underdogs to shine or favorites to blow their opponents out. Be very careful of the spreads during these games and the extra pressure that teams can perceive with all eyes on them.
  • Should I bet who will win the super bowl?

    This question usually comes up close to the end of the Nation Football League. The end of the regular season automatically brings up the questions about the Super Bowl and who will take home those championship rings. When you bet on the winner of the Super Bowl we would usually recommend doing this early in the season. When you make your analysis of the new line-ups you can select a few of your favorites to win the Super Bowl and the odds that you are getting will give you a solid return on your money. Close to the postseason you can still make these bets but keep your sizes small since there is less value in the lines. The unpredictability that the pressure of the one-and-done games bring are not the best investment of your money.
  • Are big favorites a good bet?

    Betting on the big favorites for their Moneyline is a big no-no since you will risk a lot of money if you want to receive at least a decent return. The risk of the favorite losing is simply not worth the bet. In the end, this is still sports betting we are talking about and crazy plays and games do happen! If you want to incorporate Moneyline bets into your betting slip maybe combine two or three favorites into a parlay but don’t make this your main bet type. Spread betting is not a good idea either if you are getting lines of -15 or larger. On average favorites just do not win by such big numbers consistently, maybe except for the Patriots… Even then, there are more profitable bets to be placed usually
  • What is the best betting type to start out with?

    4.When you first start out with sports betting in general, but especially with football, it is easy to get lost in all the different bets available. Especially the bets with high odds can look very attractive because of the high potential profit. High odd bets do hit from time to time but in general, the odds of it happening is a lot lower. As an aspiring football bettor it is best to start out with the more basic bets such as spread or Moneyline bets. The idea here is to really get a solid foundation to work from. Once you’ve got your bread and butter down and are seeing steady returns you can start experimenting with different types of bets with higher odds. Make sure you don’t get too hyped up and start to the basics when starting out!
  • What is the best betting type to start out with?

    4.When you first start out with sports betting in general, but especially with football, it is easy to get lost in all the different bets available. Especially the bets with high odds can look very attractive because of the high potential profit. High odd bets do hit from time to time but in general, the odds of it happening is a lot lower. As an aspiring football bettor it is best to start out with the more basic bets such as spread or Moneyline bets. The idea here is to really get a solid foundation to work from. Once you’ve got your bread and butter down and are seeing steady returns you can start experimenting with different types of bets with higher odds. Make sure you don’t get too hyped up and start to the basics when starting out!
  • Should I bet on alternative spread betting lines?

    In general, it is best to stick with the standard betting lines that the online bookmakers set out. At the majority of bookmakers, you will have to pay exponentially to get more or less points added to the standard line. Even half a point can cost you a lot in terms of lower odds. The most important thing when spread betting is that you want to pick the bets with the most value. Which lines that the online bookmakers have set seem off or unrealistic? It is much better to win comfortably when playing the standard betting lines than it is to buy points and still have to worry about your bet winning or not. In general, it is better to walk away from a betting line if it is not exactly what you are looking for. Pick out the best bets and leave the other games for what they are. Even in football, the season is still long, so you will find more than enough profitable bets.
  • Should I bet on alternative spread betting lines?

    In general, it is best to stick with the standard betting lines that the online bookmakers set out. At the majority of bookmakers, you will have to pay exponentially to get more or less points added to the standard line. Even half a point can cost you a lot in terms of lower odds. The most important thing when spread betting is that you want to pick the bets with the most value. Which lines that the online bookmakers have set seem off or unrealistic? It is much better to win comfortably when playing the standard betting lines than it is to buy points and still have to worry about your bet winning or not. In general, it is better to walk away from a betting line if it is not exactly what you are looking for. Pick out the best bets and leave the other games for what they are. Even in football, the season is still long, so you will find more than enough profitable bets.
  • What is most important when starting out with football betting?

    As mentioned in the first question it is important to start out with simple bets. Do not overcomplicate your learning process with a lot of high odds betting, prop betting, or even large parlays. This simplicity is not only so you can better get a feel for your own bet selection and analysis but also for another essential factor: discipline. In the end, it is not so much the bets themselves but your discipline that can make you profitable. When keeping your bets simple it will also make it much easier for you to stick to your plan, and eventually profit. A great tip that can help you to stay in control is to not bet on your favorite team for example. The benefit is twofold here, firstly you will not have to worry about your emotions affecting your bets. Secondly, when you are watching your team play there will not be an additional layer of emotion on the game so you can better enjoy plays.
  • Are all online sportsbooks in the US reputable?

    Not every online sportsbook is reputable, but there is a way you can differentiate between those that are and those that aren't. Reputable sportsbooks have to be licensed. Confirm this by scrolling down the site to see if the footer holds a logo of their license. You can also head to our list of top sportsbooks for bettors in the US, and read our expert reviews on them.
  • Should I start betting on mainstream games or minor ones?

    Mainstream games are the most common and have lots of betting options. 3Minor games often hold hidden value bets because bookies overlook them, but as a beginner, you do not possess the skill sets to uncover where they exist. That is why you will do better by starting with major league matches.