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How to Bet on the NFL

Knowing how to bet on the NFL is an important part of … betting on the NFL. Every Sunday, Monday, Thursday and some Saturdays, people across the world are looking for NFL betting lines at various sportsbooks so they can place their football wagers.

NFL betting can be a very fun and lucrative endeavor, especially if you put a little effort into it. Luckily, we’ll do the heavy lifting – we’ve been working out – so all you have to do is read this page and you’re good to start betting on football.

Understanding NFL Betting Lines

Before you learn how to bet on the NFL, you’ll need to understand how to read NFL betting lines. Typically, they would look something like this:

New Orleans Saints -7

Atlanta Falcons +7

This means that the Saints are favored over the Falcons by 7 points. Favorites are always listed with a minus sign (-) and underdogs have the plus sign (+).

By the way, any betting site that does not use the plus/minus system to designate which team is the fave and which is the dog isn’t a real sportsbook and you should not give them your money.

The Vig

NFL betting sites need to make their money which is why they take a cut of your bet. Called the vig or the juice – no relation to OJ Simpson – this is the percentage of money from each bet that the sportsbook gets. The vig is generally $3 to $20 but can go higher depending on the gambling website and type of bet.

Learning How to Bet on the NFL

Making football bets is easier than you think. Plus, here at OddsShark, we do most of the thinking for you on our NFL pages.

These are the types of NFL bets you can make:


A moneyline wager is when a bettor picks which team will win the game. Moneylines are often called “straight-up bets” because you are choosing one team to win over the other. Since there are skill discrepancies between the two teams, betting the team more likely to win will come at a premium, aka less risk.

For example, if the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots, the Steelers might be considered a +140 (bet $100 to win $140) underdog against the Patriots at -160 (bet $160 to win $100). Pittsburgh would pay more than New England to win outright as this would be an upset. Betting on underdogs, in this case the Steelers, is considered a riskier bet but you get a bigger reward. Conversely, picking the favorite is less risky which means it comes with less reward.

Point Spread

A point spread in sports is a figure set by oddsmakers to provide an advantage or disadvantage based on the margin of victory or defeat for a given team. The favorite team would be at the disadvantage as they would need to win the game by a set number of points while the underdog team would be given an advantage to not lose the game by a set number of points.

An example of a point spread bet would be, the Philadelphia Eagles – or Iggles, as they say in Philly – would be a -3.5 favorite against the Dallas Cowboys who are listed as +3.5 underdogs. Bettors who take the Eagles would need them to win by four or more points to cover the spread, while bettors who take the Cowboys would need them to win outright or only lose by three points or less.

Spread and moneyline vary depending on the discrepancy between the two teams. A powerhouse team like the Patriots would see a huge spread when playing a less than stellar team like the New York Jets. In cases like this, the Pats would be a heavy favorite with a spread of -16.5. That means they’d have to beat the Jets by 17 or more points, which they could very well do since the Jets have been a garbage fire since Broadway Joe Namath put on his first fur coat.


The total in any given football event is a combined final score of both teams. The total is set by oddsmakers based on how they envision a game will unfold from a scoring perspective. This type of bet is also called an OVER/UNDER wager. As a bettor, you would need to select if the final score will be OVER the set total or UNDER the set total.

Typically, when a bettor plans to wager on an OVER or an UNDER for a game’s total, there are a lot of variables to consider:

  • Offensive and defensive trends for each team
  • Injuries
  • Matchup history
  • The weather (High winds + Kicker = heartbreak)

For example, let’s take a Seahawks vs Raiders matchup with the total set at 48.5 points. As a bettor, you would select if the game’s final score will be OVER 48.5 points or UNDER 48.5 points. So, if the game ended 27-20, that would combine to 47 points, meaning the game went UNDER.

Sometimes you’ll see a totals betting line that does not have a half point. Let’s say for the same Seahawks and Raiders matchup, the total is set at 49 and the combined score ends up being 49 on the nose – that’s called a PUSH. In the event of a PUSH, you get your money back because technically you didn’t win or lose.


We can’t go back to the future, but we can bet on it. A futures bet is made on events that could happen. You can bet on everything from which team will win its division, which team will win the Super Bowl and which player will be named MVP.


NFL prop bets are games within the game that many bettors play solely for fun and typically don’t have much bearing on the actual outcome of the game. Props on individual performances like passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards are some examples of a prop bet. You will also find props available for the Super Bowl on the length of the national anthem, coin toss and the color of Gatorade that will be used to drench the winning coach at the end of the game. Fun fact: Getting Gatorade in your hair is never fun.


A parlay is when you make multiple picks like a moneyline, spread and total in separate games with each play needing to hit for your bet to succeed.

You can also select two events to occur within the same game for a correlated parlay. For instance, you can take the offensively challenged Cleveland Browns to cover the spread at +10 against the Green Bay Packers. It might be worth it for you to parlay the Browns +10 with the UNDER on a total 45 points in the game because it is far more likely that the Browns keep it close with a big day on defense than it is that they keep the Packers offense in check. Like a good neighbor, a correlated parlay is there.


Teasers are the Diet Coke of parlays because you need to have all bets correct to profit, but you get to adjust the point spread or totals line to lower your risk level. Same great taste, with less calories. Teasers often start at 6 points and can go as high as 15 points depending on the betting site.

Finding a Suitable Sportsbook

Every sportsbook offers lines on every NFL game, and most of these lines are fairly similar across different sportsbooks. There are slight differences, however, including when lines are released, how quickly they move, and what prop bets are available. Evaluate these factors as well as others such as interface and bonuses when making the right decision for you. Check out our Best NFL Betting Sites page for more info.

Additional NFL Handicapping Pages