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How To Bet High Totals And Low Totals In Football

A veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker once told me: “Bet the OVER on the high totals and the UNDER on the low ones and you’ll be OK.” 

Well, the data shows you won’t win or lose much that way but he does have a bigger point here and I’ll get to that in a second.  

The data shows that high totals and low totals both come out close to 50-50 on the OVER/UNDER in football. 

NFL OVER/UNDER records over last 10 years
O/U numberO/U RecordWin %
Totals of 40 or lower298-268-16UNDER 47.3%
Totals of 50 or higher106-105-4 OVER 50.2%
NCAA Football OVER/UNDER Records Last 10 Years
O/U numberO/U RecordWin %
Totals of 45 or lower468-503-24UNDER 51.8%
Totals of 65 or higher388-383-12OVER 50.3%

(The average total was 45.1 in the NFL last year, which is why I chose 40 and 50 respectively as the numbers for the data. The average total in college was 56.3 but NCAA totals tend to fluctuate more, hence the larger variance.)

Basically what the data shows is that the oddsmaker’s advice holds slightly more true in college than it does for the NFL. And that’s really no surprise because NFL betting data situations often turn out to be around the break-even mark. Sportsbooks will frustrate the hell out of you that way.  

The bigger point here is that he was trying to help change the mindset of the recreational bettor, which should ultimately help them in their handicapping. 

Recreational bettors or newer bettors are typically drawn to favorites and the OVER, especially with odds that tend to hover around the standard numbers. Our brains are just programmed to think like that as sports fans long before we ever placed a bet. 

As a result, our handicapping often centers around trying to find reasons to take the favorite and the OVER and our viewpoint adjusts as it uncovers information.

As the total rises, more often the casual bettor looks to play the UNDER and as the total drops, more often than not he looks to take the OVER. 

Sportsbooks know this and they set the numbers accordingly. 

So I agree with the veteran advice on this one. I feel it’s a good idea to try to adjust your paradigm of thought so you look first at reasons for taking the OVER on high totals and the UNDER with low totals. 

There are good reasons why the odds are set this way and typically there’s a better chance the games are going to play out along the lines of the way the numbers are set. 

The example that stands out most for me is the Cal-Washington State matchup from Oct. 5, 2014. I remember the total of 68.5 jumping off the board to me as shamefully low, even though this is a very high total, and I put a big bet by my standards on the OVER. 

Cal won 60-59 in regulation time with the total sailing OVER the number by 50.5 points. Jared Goff and Connor Halliday combined for 11 passing touchdowns and my ticket came through long before the third quarter was over. 

I wish they were all that easy. 

Hopefully though, you see my point. I’d recommend starting your handicapping process by looking at the OVER when examining games with high totals and the UNDER on games with the low totals.