How to Read Football Odds

by JP Sio

How to read football odds

It's a cozy Sunday afternoon.  You and the boys want to get together for a classic game of NFL action.  On some game days, you would go to the stadium, and spend lots of dollars on tickets.  But more often than not, you would choose to be in the comfort of your house, and tune in through the television.  Of course, any money saved from not having to purchase a game ticket, can be used as your betting money.  And with the advent of online sportsbooks, getting down on a football game couldn’t be easier.

A few minutes before kick-off, you hop online to visit one of the popular online sportsbooks to explore the possibilities.  You immediately notice that you can bet not only on your hometown team, but also on all the other NFL games, as well as college football, baseball, and even soccer games across the pond.  You just found an entirely new world that's welcoming you with open arms.

The first thing to understand when you place your bets are the betting odds.  And because there’s not a ticket writer who could educate you on the odds (like you might find in Las Vegas at the Wynn sportsbook), you need to understand the numbers yourself.  In this guide, we'll take you through the betting odds and show you how to get started betting on football straightaway!

What are the different types of betting odds?

Sports betting is a global industry.  It started centuries ago with sports like horse racing and gladiator fights, and now extends to all sports played, world-wide.  As there are many cultural differences, there are also differences in the way people approach sports betting in different countries and regions.  We'll take you through some of the most popular forms of betting odds, including those used in the United States.

Fractional odds
In the United Kingdom, fractional odds are the most common odds used in sports betting.  Bookies in the U.K. display their sports odds in the form of a fraction.  This shows your potential winnings as a proportion of your stake, indicated by a slash (/).   Let's say the Kansas City Chiefs play against the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.  Each team would get certain odds, so your betting lines might look like this:

  • Kansas City Chiefs 4/5
  • San Francisco 49ers 11/10

This means, for every five dollars you wager on the Chiefs, you would receive four dollars profit.  When you're wagering $100 on the Chiefs, to learn your potential profit, you would use the following formula:

  •  (Stake / Denominator ) x Numerator = Profit
  • ($100 / 5) x 4 = $80

The fractional odds can be quite difficult if you're not used to them, or are poor at math.  Luckily, most bookmakers and oddsmakers in the United States do not use fractional odds.

Decimal odds
Another major part of sports bettors in the world use decimal odds.  It's another way to display the odds of an individual matchup between two teams.  The decimal odds are the most simple form of betting odds, as they take into consideration a 1 dollar bet instead of otherwise.  Let's say you have a match between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots.  You like the underdog Jets to pull the upset and win.  Thus, your betting slip might look like this as an example:

  • New York Jets 2.65

This means that for every dollar you are wagering on this bet, you would get $2.65 in return.  Thus, a $100 bet would bring in $265 as a total payout, so your net profit would be $165 after you subtracted your $100 stake.

American odds
If you've ever been to a Las Vegas sportsbook, you have probably seen the American-style odds.  These are also called the moneyline odds.  In the moneyline odds, the bookmakers clearly show which team is the underdog and which team is the favorite.  The underdog carries the plus sign, while the favorite is associated with the minus sign.  The betting lines might look like this:

  • Minnesota Vikings -175
  • Chicago Bears +155

The American odds are based on a wagering amount of $100.  To calculate the probability of winning a game for both teams, you get two formulas:

  • Chance of the underdog winning = 100/(positive odds +100) = implied probability
  • Chance of the favorite winning = Negative odds/(negative odds - 100)

When we fill these formulas in with the example above we get the following chances of winning:

  • 100/(155 + 100) = 39.21% chance of winning
  • -175/(-175 - 100) = 63.63% chance of winning

Now, the very first thing which you will notice in our example above is that the two percentages, when added together, exceed 100%, as they’re 102.84%.  On the surface, that makes no sense.  But the reason for this is that any sportsbook needs to make a profit, so the amount above 100% is its vigorish, or juice.  Here’s a different way to think about it:  the oddsmakers will overvalue the chance that a team has to win, and then they pay out slightly less than the “true odds.”  So, to calculate the true odds, just divide each implied probability by the total of all probabilities added together, or 102.84%.  Thus, the Vikings’ true odds would be 63.63/102.84, or 61.87%, while the Bears’ true odds would be 39.21/102.84, or 38.13%.  And whether you’re playing at an online sportsbook or at a brick-and-mortar one, the odds take into account the amount needed by the house to cover its operating costs per bet.

How to calculate your payout with moneyline odds
With sports betting, it all comes down to the dollar signs, doesn't it?  Let’s say you make 10 NFL bets, and want to know how the final scores will impact your bank account.  Some games might win, while others might lose.  To give you a handle on the potential payout when using the moneyline odds, let's take the following example:

  • Jacksonville Jaguars -160
  • Cincinnati Bengals +140

As we illustrated above, the Bengals, at +140, are the underdog, while the Jaguars, at -160, are the favorite.  With moneyline odds, we assume each bettor wants to win (or lose) $100.  Thus, you have two possible scenarios for a winning bet:

  • You bet $160 on the favorite, and they win.  Your total payout is $260, which means your profit is $100, over and above your initial stake of $160.
  • You want to risk $100 on the underdog.  Thus, if you wager $100 at +140 odds, you would win $140 on top of your initial stake.  Your total payout would be $240.

Betting odds calculator
To give you a helping hand, many betting sites have a betting odds calculator to calculate the possible amount of money you can win.  You simply fill in the amount you want to wager and the odds provided by the oddsmakers.  Within seconds, you know the exact profits that your bet would deliver.  It's an easy way to check where you're at and whether a bet is worth a wager.

What are the most common NFL bets?

Understanding the odds is one thing, but making sure you understand football betting entirely is another.  You can understand the odds, but when you don't fully understand the different types of bets in football betting, there's less of a chance you'll end up with profits.  First, we'll show you the basic bets that most NFL bettors use; the more advanced bets will come afterward.

The moneyline bet is for gamblers who simply want to predict which team ends up with the higher score -- which team wins.  It's probably the easiest bet to understand.  The moneyline odds show you which team is favored and which team is the underdog, as assigned by the bookies.  Of course, just because a team is favored to win does not mean it will.  When choosing a winner, make sure you do thorough research before placing your bet.

The over/under is also known as a totals bet.  With this wager, you don't pick a winning team, but instead predict whether the game will be relatively higher or lower-scoring.  In other words, you pick whether the match's overall score will be over or under the number of points given by the oddsmakers.  As an example, let's take a matchup between the Washington Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The over/under could look like this:

  • Over 49
  • Under 49

You have to predict whether both teams would combine to score more points than 49 or less than 49.  It's as simple as that.  The odds for the over/under bet are usually -110, but that depends on the sportsbook at which you place your bet.

Point spread
The point spread bet is the most popular NFL wager with bettors all across the States.  People simply love betting the spread, and it's for a simple reason.  Unlike moneyline wagers, both NFL sides have a (roughly) 50% chance to cover the spread.  And when you're good at betting the spread, you could be in for a consistent cash-flow which turns your betting hobby into a full-time profession.  But, it does require some skills to get to this stage.

With a point spread, you're betting on the margin of victory for each team in any given matchup. The betting lines could look like this, as an example:

  • Cleveland Browns -5.5 (+110)
  • Baltimore Ravens +5.5 (-110)

Like a moneyline bet, the point spread has a favorite and an underdog, indicated by the positive or negative numbers.  The Browns are the point spread favorite, and need to win by six or more points to bring you a winning ticket.  On the other hand, the Ravens need to either win the game, straight-up, or lose by less than 5.5 points.  And one of the more exciting things about point spread wagering is that the result of the bet often isn’t decided until a game’s final moments, even if it was known much earlier which team was going to be victorious.

With point spreads, the spread number is either a whole number or a half-point number.  When using half-points, an oddsmaker can more easily balance the betting action.  Additionally, a half-point number removes any chance of a game resulting in a push (tie), which is a result not favored by the bookmaker.  Remember, bookmakers are in business to earn a profit, and they cannot earn their vigorish (profit) when they have to refund the bettors’ stakes.

How to find the best football odds

When you're finding a way to develop your winning sports betting strategy, it's essential to pay attention to the odds.  No matter what kind of bet you make -- whether it's a parlay bet or a moneyline bet -- you need the best numbers and the best odds.  It might not matter too much for one bet, but if you're in this long term, it's essential to find the best odds.  The first thing to understand is that sports betting is a marketplace.  There are hundreds of sportsbooks, and each offers slightly different point spreads and slightly different odds, depending on where its oddsmaker establishes the numbers, and how much vigorish it wants.  The vig, also known as the juice, is the profit a bookmaker needs to operate.  And some sportsbooks offer “reduced juice,” which is a huge benefit for the sports bettor.  For example, our #1-rated sportsbook is BetAnySports, primarily because it offers reduced juice on football and basketball games.  Thus, when you play at BetAnySports, you can lay -105 odds on football and basketball games, rather than -110 odds.

The best way to approach finding the best football odds is to shop around.  All sharp gamblers have accounts at multiple sportsbooks and keep a watchful eye on the lines.  The numbers constantly change, and the professionals will always be on the lookout for an extra half-point.  When you choose your sportsbooks, it’s critical to have accounts at those books that have unique odds -- that is, they post their own numbers, and don’t copy the odds of other sportsbooks.  That way, you give yourself the best opportunity to snag that extra half-point.  The best sportsbooks in this regard include BetAnySports, BetOnline, BetNow and Bovada.
Whatever you do, enjoy betting.  It can be emotional at times, but always remember to have fun.  Never wager more than you're able to lose -- both emotionally and financially -- and always keep your eyes on your bankroll.  We're here to give you the best advice with our betting guides, anything else to make you a winning sports bettor

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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