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Sports Betting Guide: What Is A Point Spread and How Does It Work?

point spread betting explained

A point spread in sports is a way for oddsmakers to make a matchup between two unbalanced teams more balanced by giving points to or taking points away from each team.

The favorite in a matchup, indicated by a minus (-) sign, will have a given number of points taken away from its final score, while the underdog, known by its plus (+) sign, will have the same number of points added to its final score.

Be sure to check out our sports betting glossary to assist you with some of the terms used in our sports betting guides.

NFL Point Spread | NFL Key Numbers | Point Spread Odds | Point Spread Results | Pick’ems | Line Movement | Live Betting | NBA Point Spread | Puckline/Runline

What Is An NFL Point Spread?

NFL spread betting is probably the most common and popular way to bet on football as it adds some excitement and better odds from just picking an outright winner. If you are new to betting the NFL altogether, be sure to check out our great How to Bet on the NFL guide.

Here is an example of a point spread for an NFL game and how it would look:

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-4.5-110
New York Giants+4.5-110

As you can see, Dallas is the 4.5-point favorite, which means the Cowboys would need to win the game by five points or more to win the bet. Conversely, New York is a 4.5-point underdog, which means to win the bet the Giants would need to win outright or not lose the game by more than four points.

If the Cowboys win 20-17, they win by three points and do NOT cover the 4.5 points, but the Giants have “covered the spread” by staying within 4.5 points. 

Point spread wagers often times will be put into parlays in which you make multiple bets on one slip for a larger payout. If you have a few games that you’d like to wager on and want to see how a payout changes by adding or subtracting games, feel free to play around with our odds calculator to help you learn how odds work.

Key Numbers In NFL Point Spreads 

There are certain point spreads that bettors should be aware of that are known as “key numbers.” These spreads are directly related to how points are scored in football such as a field goal (three points) or a touchdown (seven, assuming a successful one-point conversion). The three main key numbers in NFL point spread betting are 3, 7 and 10, representing a field goal, a touchdown or a field goal plus a touchdown.

The two most common margins of victory are three and seven because of the type of scoring in the NFL. This is why you should shop around at different sportsbooks to find better lines to maybe gain an edge over the key numbers like getting a +3.5 spread as opposed to just +3 – you can get a quick look at the different books at our NFL odds page.

You can also “buy” points with a “teaser bet” in which you can move a +7 line to +8 but the odds may shift from -110 on the +7 to -135 at +8, meaning less of a return on your winning ticket. You can have key numbers on OVER/UNDER totals as well.

What Are The Odds For a Point Spread?

The most common betting line for a point spread is -110. A -110 line on either side is like paying a tax or commission to the sportsbook. Bettors would pay 10 percent (aka juice) to the sportsbook, which is essentially a fee for brokering the wager. So, the -110 indicates that a bettor must risk $110 to win $100. Some sportsbooks will even reduce the juice for you, which means you can earn the same $100 payout but risk less money to do it.

For example, if you see -7.5 (-107), then you only need to wager $107 to win $100 (saving you $3). If you see -7.5 (-102), then you only need to wager $102 to win $100.

What Are The Results Of A Point Spread Bet?

There are three potential outcomes of your point spread wager: you win, you lose or you push (a tie). Typically, a point spread has odds of -110 for either side of the bet. In the example above between the Cowboys and Giants, the point spread is 4.5 points, while the odds are -110, meaning you would have to wager $110 to earn a profit of $100, or a profit of $0.91 for every dollar you bet.

A losing bet is quite simply you betting on the Cowboys -4.5 and they only win by four. You lose the money that you placed on that bet.

A push wouldn’t happen in the example above because a team can’t win by a half point. It is very common, though, to have a betting line of +3/-3. Let’s say a favorite wins by exactly three. That is called a push and you simply get your money back with no profit and no loss.

What Does Pk or Pick’em Mean in the Point Spread?

PK or Pick’em means that the matchup is so close that there’s neither a favorite nor an underdog. Whatever team you pick to win when betting on the point spread simply has to win the game and the margin of victory doesn’t matter. In these cases, there may not even be a point spread available for the game and you can only bet on the moneyline.

Why Does A Point Spread Change?

This is a very common occurrence in sports betting and sportsbooks have the full right to shift the spread or odds for any given match prior to its start. Many factors can influence a change of the spread such as injuries, the number of bets coming in for either team or the weather, to name a few. Depending on the timing of placing the bet, the bettor can also have an advantage or a disadvantage depending on which way the spread has shifted.

Here is an example of a change in the spread:

Monday

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-4.5-110
New York Giants+4.5-110

Thursday

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-3.5-110
New York Giants+3.5-110

If bettors had wagered on Dallas on Monday, that means they would be at a disadvantage compared to bettors who waited until Thursday because the Thursday bettors now only need Dallas to win by four points instead of five. But it can also go the other way:

Monday

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-4.5-110
New York Giants+4.5-110

Thursday

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-7.5-110
New York Giants+7.5-110

If bettors had wagered on Dallas on Monday, they would now have the advantage over the bettors who waited until Thursday because the Thursday bettors need Dallas to now win by eight points or more instead of only five.

Can you Bet on Point Spreads for Different Parts of the Game such as a Half or a Quarter?

Yes, in fact, sportsbooks also release spreads for different points in the match like after the first quarter or first half, which is called live betting or in-game betting. Oddsmakers will set spreads for those different checkpoints and it’s up to you as the bettor to determine which team will lead or trail by a certain number of points after that unit of time.

Here is an example of a first-half spread:

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants 1H Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Dallas Cowboys-2.5-110
New York Giants+2.5-110

As you can see, Dallas is a 2.5-point favorite to lead the first half by three points or more whereas New York is a 2.5-point underdog, which means the Giants would need to be ahead or not trail by more than two points at the end of the first half.

What Is a Point Spread In The NBA?

The popularity of the point spread bet in the NFL is equally shared by NBA bettors and it works essentially the same way. When Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks tip off at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks, the Bucks are going to be -800 on the moneyline but may have a point spread of -13.5 points with odds of -110, with the Knicks coming back at +13.5 with a -110 line.

Milwaukee Bucks vs New York Knicks Betting Odds
TeamPoint SpreadOdds
Milwaukee Bucks-13.5-110
New York Knicks+13.5-110

As seen in the NFL with line movement throughout the week, in basketball, you’ll see the line movement occur much faster in a shorter time frame. When we looked at key numbers in the NFL, it was in regard to scoring. A similar approach can be taken in the NBA but it’s more connected to possessions. Look for key numbers such as five and seven because they tend to represent two- and three-possession games.

Be sure to check out our How to Bet on the NBA guide for more options and assistance in getting you in on the action for basketball.

What Is A Puckline or Runline?

A puckline is what a spread is called in the NHL, while a runline is associated with MLB betting. In both cases, the spread is almost always -1.5 for the favorite and +1.5 for the underdog, however, the betting odds fluctuate a lot more than in NBA or NFL point spreads because the spread doesn’t usually change. There are instances in both the NHL and MLB where you see a 2.5-point runline or puckline but those are few and far between, typically between your league leader and a cellar-dweller.