What are NFL Point Spreads: NFL Betting Explained

American Football – and specifically the NFL – is one of the most watched sports around the world with nearly 100 million people tuning in to watch the 2022 Super Bowl between the Rams and the Bengals proving just that.

That gives bookmakers a massive pool of punters to tap into with one of the most popular markets being point spreads.

What are NFL point spreads though and how can you use them to turn a profit? Here we look to answer those very questions.

What are NFL point spreads?

Let’s keep this brief – initially. The term NFL point spreads simply relates to the difference in the score. A team has to either win by – or remain within – a certain points threshold.

What do NFL point spreads look like?

When you are betting on NFL point spreads there are two formats that you will see. They are ‘+’, which means plus a certain number of points and ‘-‘, which means minus a number of points. The number that follows this symbol can vary from small to massive. For example, in the opening NFL weekend of the 2022 season the Indianapolis Colts face the Houston Texans; the available points spread on this game ranges from +/- 1.5 all the way through to +/- 27.5.

Of course, you have a couple of key things to take into account as you move through the spreads. The larger your spread becomes the more you increase or decrease your probability of winning and therefore the odds on offer flex accordingly giving you a potential bigger or smaller return.

An NFL points spread example

Let’s stick to the aforementioned fixture of the Colts vs the Texans. Forget spreads for a second, the raw odds for the game I.e. the money line reads as:

– Colts to win @ 5/19

– Texans to win @ 3/1

That makes the Colts pretty heavy favourites to win. So, now there are four ways you can tailor your bet with the NFL points spread bet.

Give the Colts a handicap

When we talk about giving the Colts a handicap what we really mean is you can back the Colts to win minus a certain number of points. This means the Texans will be awarded the points they score during the game whilst the Colts will have their tally reduced by the number of points you define.

This form of NFL points spread betting is popular with a strong favourite as it offers more favourable odds. Remember the original odds of 5/19; a -4.5 points spread banks you odds of 10/19 whilst a more ballsy -14.5 sees the odds soar to 9/5.

Supercharge the probability

The next option you have with respect of betting on the favourite – in this case the Colts – is to give them a head start or a positive points spread.

This would be a less popular option though as whilst probability grows exponentially the already low odds plummet further. A +4.5 points spread makes the Colts 1/9 whilst a +14.5 wager isn’t even worth betting on with odds dropping into the region of 1/100.

The flip side

We mentioned earlier that you have four options where NFL point spreads are concerned. The two we have not mentioned yet work very similarly to what we’ve just discussed but for the other team.

For instance, you could boost the Texans score if you think they’ll keep the game tight by betting on them plus a certain amount of points; this would decrease your starting odds of 3/1 because you’ve given them extra points from the start. If you fancy them to find a win though and apply a minus handicap to an underdog then your odds will ramp.

What about in a closely competed game?

We have discussed how point spread betting works in games where you have a heavy favourite but, of course, not every game is like that. The methodology of placing your bet though doesn’t change in the slightest. You apply a plus or minus points spread to one of the teams as you effectively say to the bookmaker ‘I think the game will be decided by X points.

How to know what points spread to opt for

Quite early on we spoke about how vast the NFL point spread options are within any given game. Whilst that is true, there are a couple of rules that help you lock down the region you should be wagering in.

One element in the form of the teams involved; might be looking at a recent patch of form or, in the case of early season games, based on performance last season. Probably the season why teams with Mahomes and Brady are always among favorites is that these players deliver consistency.

What you’re looking for is a guide to how heavily they’re winning or losing. Do this for both sides and if the two-point spreads are similar then you have a decent platform from which to work. The other element to consider is the head-to-head form of the teams I.e. what has happened the last few times they’ve faced off.