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The Truth About Betting The Biggest Key Number In The NFL

Schoolhouse Rock and Blind Melon were right: Three is the magic number – at least when it comes to betting the NFL. 

That’s because three is, by far, the most popular margin of victory in the NFL as far back as our OddsShark data goes (1984). A total of 13.95 percent of games are decided by three points in the NFL while 8.05 percent of games are decided by seven points, which is the second most common game differential. 

It’s vital in understanding this because it makes three the mother of all key numbers – which is why a 3-point spread can cause hyperventilation for NFL bettors. 

To help avoid any traumatic health episodes, here’s a little data to keep in mind that will help make for less stressful picks when you see spreads of 2.5, 3 or 3.5.   

Spreads of 2.5

Favorites SU (straight up): 145-115 (55.8%)
Favorites ATS (against the spread): 128-132 (49.2%)  

Spreads of 3 

SU: 291-220-1 (56.9%) 
ATS: 227-245-40 (48.1%)

Spreads of 3.5

SU: 156-85 (64.7%)
ATS: 128-113 (53.1%) 

The field goal with the hook (-3.5 spreads) is the most fascinating number here. Faves win and cover at far higher rates at -3.5 than they do at -3 or -2.5. 

That’s a little strange on its own but it makes total sense when you look at it from the sportsbook’s point of view. 

The added half-point to make the line to -3.5 rather than -3 is designed to make the bettor uncomfortable in taking the favorite.  The average recreational bettor would happily lay the three points with the cushion of a push floating around in his/her head but they hesitate when that number bumps to three and a half. 

What often ends up happening is bettors allow this discomfort to veer them toward taking the underdog. The data says that’s a mistake. Faves cover at a profitable number if you were simply to take the favorites at -3.5 in every game in our database going back to 1984. 

So my tip here is to try to embrace the hook rather than fear it when it comes to field-goal spreads. They tend to be decent moneyline sides to throw on a parlay and faves tend to have the edge against the spread here … and sportsbooks know it.

Follow me on Twitter @JonnyOddsShark

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