We are at the stage of the sports betting calendar where you constantly hear the phrase “good teams
win, but great teams cover”. For those of you new to sports betting -- and in particular betting on
football -- that phrase may seem like an oxymoron, but it holds truer than ever. If you ask any
handicapper who attempts to be successful while betting on the National Football League, you will
quickly learn that it’s simply not the team that they believe will get them in the money; it’s the number
(spread) they bet into. If you’re asking yourself why or how that’s even possible, you must first
understand the concept of key numbers in sports, specifically NFL spreads.
Since the NFL scoring format is different than every other sport (two points, three points and six points +
an extra point), the final results are bound to have some sort of relevant patter to them. Which brings in
the importance of “key numbers”. The most important key number in the NFL is three. What this means
is that the final result is a difference of three more often than any other number; whether it be 50-47,
31-28, 17-14 or 24-21, etc. So many football games end on a game-winning field goal, which makes
three the most important number. The next “key” number in the NFL is seven, since that is the
difference in games decided by a touchdown and extra point.
How Often Do Key Numbers Hit?
Because the NFL is among the most popular betting sports in the world, the data available for it dates
back quite some time, and thankfully there are people out there who have tracked the most common
margin of victories in the NFL. Here is a quick look at the Top 10 NFL key numbers:
3 points: 15.81 %
7 points: 8.80 %
10 points: 6.06 %
4 points: 5.41 %
6 points: 5.41 %
14 points: 4.77 %
1 point: 3.93 %
17 points: 3.85 %
2 points: 3.58 %
5 points: 3.15 %
As you can see, after the first trio of key numbers (three, seven, and 10), there is a huge drop off in
occurrence. However, that doesn’t mean that you should throw those numbers out the window
altogether. You should be wary about these numbers and understand how line movement can affect –
both positively and negatively – the line you are trying to wager on.
Why It’s Important to Bet Key Numbers
Nothing in this life is free. That’s especially true when talking about sports betting as there are no “locks,
guarantees or sure things”. If there was, we’d all be rich, and Vegas wouldn’t be the place it is today.
Sportsbooks are 100% in the business of making money and putting out key numbers for you to bet on
very rarely (if ever) happens – without a price. In order to get off a key number, sportsbooks will charge
you a premium for it.
For starters, most sportsbooks offer their point spread lines at -110 each way. If you are in the market to
buy points and turn that -3 favorite into -2.5 or the underdog to +3.5, you’re going to have to pay
upwards of 20 cents just to turn a would-be push into a possible win. If you know even the slightest bit
of bankroll management, it’s imperative that you understand the extra 10 cents here, or the extra 20
cents there, will add up over time and a losing sport bettor (which 97 percent are) will burn their
bankroll quicker than ever. So, what does this mean? Well, for starters, it means you should be shopping
around for lines and finding the best possible line to bet into. Some books will offer key numbers of
three or seven without the option of buying points. Remember, the main goal of the sportsbook is to
create equal action on both sides so that they mitigate their risk. With that said, it’s sometimes best to
pass on a game and save your bankroll if you are thinking about paying a premium for a point spread
that may or may not even factor into the equation at the end of the game.