Reading Football Lines

Football betting lines can be confusing to the novice because of the way the odds are expressed. To begin with, although it seems counterintuitive, the favorite in virtually any football betting line is indicated by a negative number, -110 in a money line, for example, or -6 in a point spread, two of the most common football betting lines. Conversely, the underdog is express by a positive number +110 or +6 to relate to the previous example. A typical football betting line would look something like this:

GameDateTimeTypeBodogBookmakerBetUS
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings2010-08-2817:00:00Away Spread51106-1105-110
Home Spread-5110-6-110-5-110
Over/Under38o--110
u--110
38o--110
u--110

These numbers represent not just one sportsbooks odds, but a comparison on odds on a specific football game. In this case, Minnesota (the home team) is favored over Seattle (the visiting team) by 5 or 6 points, depending on which sportsbook you choose. This is indicated by the -5 or -6 in the home spread box for the specific sportsbook. Looking strictly at the spread for this football game, if one were wanting to bet on Minnesota, Bodog or BetUS would be the best sportsbooks to use. If you wanted to bet on Seattle, Bookmaker.com would offer the best odds.

I will get into more detail about the types of lines in the next section of this article.

The Money Line

The number on the money line shows how much you have to bet to win $100.

The Point Spread

GameDateTimeTypeBodogBookmakerBetUS
Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings2010-08-2817:00:00Away Spread51106-1105-110
Home Spread-5110-6-110-5-110
Over/Under38o--110
u--110
38o--110
u--110

The point spread is a way of handicapping opposing teams. In the example, the Vikings are handicapped by 5 points at Bodog. This means that the oddsmakers expect the Vikings to beat the Seahawks by 5 points. At Bookmaker.com, this spread is 6 points. Depending on how you wager, you're hoping that the final scores of each team are more or less than 5 points apart at Bodog and 6 points apart at Bookmaker.com. By comparing these odds at the various sportsbooks, you can gain an advantage in football betting by finding the best odds for your wager. This is the main reason why I recommend that you have funds in 4 or 5 different sportsbooks.

In this example, let's say you bet on the Vikings. To win your bet, you would need the Vikings to win by 6 or more points at Bodog or 7 or more points at Bookmaker.com. Obviously, Bodog offers the better odds. If you win your bet, you have "covered the spread". If the Vikings don't cover the spread - that is, they win by 5 points or less - you lose the bet. If they win by exactly 6 points, the bet is considered a push and your wager is returned.

Now let's say that you've bet on Seattle, there are a number of ways you could win. Of course, you would win if Seattle pulls off an upset and wins the game by any margin. You would also win if Seattle loses by less than 5 points or if the game ends in a tie.

Point spreads are prone to change many times between the initial posting of a betting line and the start of the football game. It's important to note, as mentioned in my article on how the lines are set, if too many people are betting on the Vikings or the Seahawks, the sportsbook may increase or decrease the point spread to discourage people from betting on one team and encourage bettors to wager on the other team.

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