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Sports Betting 101: Against The Spread Explained

Matt Brandon Aug 17th 2:16 PM EDT.

Anyone can succeed in the world of sports betting. It’s all about taking in all of the different factors before placing your final wager.

Most sporting events have a favorite and an underdog, therefore, bookmakers attempt to even the playing field by applying a point spread. This happens in just about every sport, but for our purposes, let’s look at the NFL. 

Points Spread Betting

When making an NFL wager, bettors either bet on the favorite to win by more than a specific amount of points or the underdog to lose by less than a specific number of points. Let’s say the Kansas City Chiefs are playing the New York Giants. Since the Chiefs are a far superior team, Vegas might list them as 13.5-point favorites. The bet listing would like as follows:

Matchup Spread
Kansas City Chiefs -13.5 (-110)
New York Giants +13.5 (+110)

When a team has a (-) sign next to them, they are the favorite. A (+) sign indicates the underdog since they are being handicapped the number of points that comes after the (+) sign. If you think the favorite will “cover the spread,” you are betting on the Chiefs to win by more than 13.5 points. If you think the Giants can keep the game close or even win, you would bet on the Giants to lose by less than 13.5 points.

Points spread betting is designed to keep things even between two mismatched teams. Since the Chiefs are so much better than the Giants, you could bet on the Chiefs outright, but the payout would be far lass than betting on them to “cover the spread.” If you bet on them outright, that would be called a moneyline wager, which we will cover in another article. The margin of victory determine the outcome of your wager when betting against the spread. So remember, even if your team wins the game, that does not mean that you necesarily won your bet. Your team must cover the spread if they are the favorite. To “cover the spread,” favorites must win by more points than the spread, while underdogs must not lose by more points than indicated.

Against The Spread Betting

Let’s walk through another hypothetical NFL game. Here’s the betting line, with the point spread, money line and over/under. For our purposes, we are only focusing on the spread.

Matchup Spread Moneyline Total
New York Jets +7.5 (+110) +175 48.5 (-110) O
Buffalo Bills -7.5 (-110) -220 48.5 (-110) U

 In the above example, the Bills are 7.5-point favorites since they have a negative number of points listed next to their name. Most sportsbooks set the spread at an uneven number (often with half-points attached) in order to avoid a “push,” which is the same thing as a tie. Since a team cannot win by 7.5 points, this prevents ties. 

In the matchup above, the Bills are “laying” 7.5 points. Once the game is over, you must subtract 7.5 points from their total score. If they still are winning the game, they “covered” the spread. That is why they need to win by at least 8 points for you to win your bet.

In the same way that Buffalo is “laying” 7.5 points, the Jets are “getting” 7.5 points. This means that you add 7.5 points to their final score at the end of the matchup. If the Bills still have more points than the Jets after adding the 7.5 points, the Bills “covered.” This means that the Jets cannot lose the game by 8 points or more if you bet on them to cover the spread. For example, if the Bills defeated the Jets 23-20, even though you bet on the Jets and they lost, you would actually win the bet so long as you bet the spread instead of the moneyline. When you add 7.5 points to New York’s final score, they would win 27.5-23, which means they “covered.”

Below are a few potential outcomes of the game with varying scores. The team bolded is the team that would have covered the spread in this scenario.

  • New York 21 -- Buffalo 28
  • New York 17 -- Buffalo 25
  • New York 7 -- Buffalo 28
  • New York 40 -- Buffalo 35
  • New York 28 -- Buffalo 34

Notice that in two of the above examples, the Jets lost the game but still won against the spread. This is because they lost by fewer points than the spread indicated.

What Can Change The Point Spread?

The “line” or point spread comes out early in the week and is subject to change based on where the early action is going, as well as lineup and injury reports. If one side is being bet on far more than another, oddsmakers will try to minimize risk by adjusting the spread. They will also do this if a significant injury occurs. 

For example, using the scenario above, the Bills came out at early 7.5-point favorites. However, what if Josh Allen is unable to suit up for the game after suffering a shoulder injury the day before the game? The oddsmakers would adjust the spread. Perhaps instead of being 7.5-point favorites, the Bills would only be 2.5-point favorites with Buffalo’s backup quarterback under center.

Calculating Payouts Against The Spread

In the scenario above, you may have noticed a three-digit number next to each spread. This number looks much like a moneyline and it sort of is. Those negative numbers (-110 for the Bills in this case) indicate how much you have to bet in order to win $100. So if you took the Bills against the spread, you would have to bet $110 to win $100. When you see a positive number, you would bet $100 to win that number ($110 in this case for the Jets.) Usually, point spread bets are even. However, in this case, the oddsmakers are giving bettors a premium if they bet on the Jets. Finding opportunities like that is critical to sports betting success.

Those are the fundamentals of points spread betting. Be sure to use FantasySP all year long to help you make the most informed decisions prior to making your final wagers.



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