Whether your goal in football betting is to make the games more enjoyable or to make money, let’s get one thing straight: football betting isn’t easy.
In fact, unless you put in some research before you start gambling on football, you don’t have a chance. We don’t just mean researching the games, either. Before you start betting any significant amounts of money on football, it’s important to learn the basics so that you can avoid making the same mistakes that most beginners make.
Now, for the good news: you’ve come to the right place. In this football betting strategy for beginners, we list seven fundamental keys to success betting on football that are applicable to both the NFL and college game.
Keep in mind, this article is designed for beginners, so we’ve kept things fairly basic. If you have a lot of experience betting on football already and are looking for some more advanced advice and tips, you might want to check out our football betting strategy for experts page instead (although it probably wouldn’t hurt to give these basic fundamentals a review as well).
All right, it’s time to kick things off with the first of our seven football betting strategy keys for beginners.
The first thing you need to do before betting on football is make sure that you understand and are familiar with all of the betting options that are at your disposal.
Think of the many different ways to wager on a football game as being tools in a toolbox. Each of them has their own specific purpose, and the tool that you use depends on what you are trying to achieve.
Just like you wouldn’t use a hammer to cut a piece of wood, you don’t want to risk more than you have to on a moneyline when a point spread wager at better odds will do the job instead. And just like you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to drive in a nail, you are better off using a team total than a full-game Over/Under bet if you have a strong feeling about how many points one of the teams will score in a game.
We cover the various ways of betting on football elsewhere on this site (LINK TO THAT CONTENT HERE), but here’s a quick summary of the benefits of the various types of football wagering options:
This is a good option when you are confident that a team will win the game straight-up and don’t want to have to worry about how many points they win by. It also enables you to get a bigger return on an underdog that you think will win the game, rather than getting slightly less than even money on the point spread.
The point spread allows you to get close to even odds on favorites, so it’s a good choice when you like a favorite to win the game by a comfortable margin. You may also turn to the point spread when you think an underdog will keep things close but aren’t comfortable needing the outright upset to cash your ticket.
When you’ve got a strong feeling about a game’s potential to be either higher-scoring or lower-scoring than expected, the Over/Under is your best bet.
The big advantage of team totals is that you are only wagering on how many points one of the teams will score, since Over/Under includes the number of points scored by both teams combined. Also, if you like the favorite in a game but don’t think the point spread or moneyline odds are in your favor, you could take them Over their team total instead.
A first-half wager is in order when you think one team will come out strong early but are worried about them sustaining that high level of play over the entire game. You can also use it to bet on big favorites, since the first-half point spread will generally be slightly higher than half of the full-game spread.
If you don’t like the odds that are being offered before the game starts, you might be able to find better numbers available through live betting. For example, if a favorite falls behind in the first quarter (which happens a lot in football), you’ll be able to bet them at a smaller point spread or more favorable moneyline odds.
Teasers give you the ability to bet teams at more favorable point spreads without having to lay more juice by “buying points.” Once you’re finished reading this football betting strategy for beginners article, head over to our football betting strategy for experts page, where we explain the best strategies for betting teasers.
Instead of risking a lot to win a little on a pair of favorites, you can combine them into a parlay and reduce your risk. Parlays also make sense when you can correlate them, something we’ll get into in the football betting strategy for experts article as well.
Props allow you to focus on certain matchups within the game and not have to worry about anything else. Look to use these when you feel confident about one player’s ability to dominate or be shut down by the opposition.
Think all points in a point spread are created equal? They’re not. Due to the unique scoring system in football (six for a touchdown, three for a field goal), there are certain numbers in football point spreads that you need to be aware of at all times.
The biggest “key numbers” in football betting are 3 and 7 because they are the two most common margins of victory in the NFL. Even though the introduction of the two-point conversion has reduced the number of games that are decided by exactly a field goal or a converted touchdown, approximately 30% of football games end up with a score differential of either 3 or 7.
Why is this important? Because you want to make sure you’re getting on the “right side” of these key numbers as much as possible. There’s a huge difference between getting the favorite at -2.5 instead of -3.5 (if it’s a tie game late, you’ll win your -2.5 bet if the favorite kicks a field goal, but you’ll lose if you have -3.5). And while an underdog may look like a good bet at +7.5, most professionals wouldn’t pull the trigger if the best number they can get is +6.5.
Other key numbers in football betting include 10, 6, 4, and 14. Those numbers are, in order, the other most common margins of victory in the NFL over the past 15 years. They’re not as common as 3 and 7, but you also need to be aware of them.
As we just explained in the previous section, every point matters on a point spread. And while the points surrounding key numbers (i.e., +3.5 instead of +2.5 and -6.5 instead of -7.5) are the most valuable, there will also be times when getting +5 instead of +6 ends up being the difference between winning your wager and pushing it or pushing your wager and losing.
Those times can also be the difference between you making money or losing money this football season. Think we’re exaggerating? Here’s why:
So how do you get the best possible number on your football bets? Below are two ways.
Point spreads, Over/Under totals, and other odds often vary depending on the site, so you should compare the betting lines at as many sites as possible and bet the best number you can get. Before the days of the internet, professionals used “runners” to go from Vegas sportsbook to Vegas sportsbook looking to get an extra half-point on the spread. Now that it just takes a couple clicks of your mouse to get the best odds, there’s no reason not to take advantage.
As a general rule, the best odds on favorites and Overs are usually available early in the week, while the best odds on underdogs and Unders are most commonly available right before kick-off. That’s because the betting public tends to wait until the day of the games to place their bets, and most of their action is on favorites and Overs, driving those lines up.
As we said, however, this is just a general rule. There really is no way to know with certainty when is the best time to place a bet, so a good practice is to monitor the betting lines throughout the week and see which way they are moving. If the odds on the bet you want to place are only getting better, try to hold off as long as you can to see how much extra value you can get. And if the lines are moving against you, lock in your bet early before any value on your wager is gone.
One of the biggest mistakes that inexperienced football bettors make is basing their wagers on last week’s results.
Let’s say that the Patriots are playing the Browns this week. Based on last week’s game, when the Patriots beat the Dolphins by 20 points while the Browns lost by 20 to the Seahawks, you may expect the Patriots to comfortably beat the Browns. However, there are two main problems with this line of thinking.
First, the oddsmakers know that the betting public’s tendency is to think this way, so the point spread on the Patriots will almost certainly be a bit inflated as a result. Anyone betting on the Patriots might now need them to win by 10.5 points to cover the spread, rather than the 8.5 point spread that it really should be. Any value here in the betting line is now on the Browns.
Second, just like our natural instinct is to think that the Patriots will easily beat the Browns, the Patriots’ natural instinct is to think so as well. That could lead to less focus in practice sessions all week and playing the game with less intensity as well. Meanwhile, the Browns could bring more focus than usual, knowing that they may suffer a humiliating loss if they don’t bring their “A” game that week.
Often times, these differences in mindset will lead to a much closer game than anticipated, even making the favorite vulnerable for an upset. (For more on letdowns and situational spots in football betting, check out our football betting strategy for experts article.)
Instead of just looking at last week’s results, look at each team’s full-season statistics and past history against each other. That will give you a much better sense of what to expect than simply judging teams by a limited sample size of their previous game.
When they’re hyping up a big upcoming game, the TV networks typically focus on the quarterback matchup. How many times have we heard how “Aaron Rodgers and the Packers go down to New Orleans to take on Drew Brees and the Saints,” or “Can Matthew Stafford and the Lions pull off the upset of Tom Brady and the Patriots?”
The thing is, however, that the quarterbacks actually don’t go up against each other at all. Instead of facing each other, they’re facing the opposing defense. So when you’re deciding which team to bet on in a football game, you need to be looking at how each offense matches up against each defense, not worrying about which quarterback is better.
In particular, you should focus on each team’s offensive and defensive rankings against the pass and against the run. If the Cowboys are one of the top running teams in football and the Giants are struggling to stop the run, it only makes sense that the Cowboys will enjoy a lot of success running the football against the Giants. But if the Cowboys are facing a Vikings team that excels against the run, they will probably have a lot more difficulty moving the ball on the ground.
Have you ever heard of the betting philosophy “Fade the Public?” While it’s a theory that you shouldn’t follow blindly, football might be the sport in which it’s best to be thinking the opposite of everyone else.
That’s because so much of the betting volume in football is from recreational players. While sharp money from professional bettors is the biggest thing that drives movement in baseball, basketball, and hockey betting lines, football odds are heavily influenced by the millions and millions wagered by public bettors.
Oddsmakers aren’t dummies. When they set the line on a game, they often know which side the majority of recreational bettors will be on and will inflate the odds accordingly. Any movement from that opening line will create even more value on the other side, and consistently getting the best value is the only way to profit over a long football season.
And if the oddsmakers don’t move the line despite the fact that they’re getting heavy action on one side, it’s an even stronger indicator that you should go against the public. By not adjusting the point spread, the bookies are inviting even more action on the side that is already getting all the money, showing you their confidence in the other side.
It’s easy to get carried away betting on football.
The regular season for both the NFL and college is just four months long, so we want to get as much of our football betting fix as we can before it ends. There can be more than 50 games on a college football Saturday and as many as a dozen games simultaneously on NFL Sunday, while those prime-time games feel like must-bet events. College bowl season is a smorgasbord of football over the holidays, when we’re too busy to research games and probably drinking more alcohol than normal. And the NFL playoffs are so thrilling and intense that we may feel we need to raise our betting amounts higher than usual, especially in the Super Bowl.
To stand any chance of profiting betting on football (or to avoid losing your shirt), you absolutely have to stay disciplined. Don’t just bet on a game because it’s on, and don’t wildly fluctuate your bet sizes based on how your most recent wagers have performed. Unless your only goal in football betting is to make the games more interesting (in which case you should keep all your bet sizes small), the only times you should wager are when you feel the odds are in your favor.
Protect yourself from getting carried away by establishing a betting bankroll (a fixed amount of money that you can afford to lose without having a huge negative impact on your life) and then limiting your bet sizes to no more than 5% of that bankroll. Another good rule of thumb is to identify (and even place) the bets you want to make at the start of the day, then resist the urge to add more bets throughout the day.
After all, it’s only natural to want to make a big bet on Sunday Night Football if you’ve had a losing afternoon or to press your winnings with a huge bet if you’ve had a successful day. But if you didn’t plan to bet on the game in the first place, you don’t want to end up making your biggest bet on a game in which you don’t have an edge.