What is the Over/Under in Sports Betting?

by JP Sio

What is the over/under in sports betting?

The first step you might take as a sports bettor is to predict the straight-up winner of any type of game -- the moneyline bet.  Now, the next step might be to start making predictions based on the total number of points scored in the game.  You can choose between the point spread bet or the totals bet, also known as the over/under bet.  Many sportsbooks use the term over/under, but totals bets are common in the media as well.  In this type of bet, you are wagering on the total points scored at the end of the match -- the game total.  You choose whether the final score is over or under the number of points provided by the oddsmaker.

Over/under odds are not provided for every sport, but the over/under bet is common in the major sports leagues: the NFL, NHL, MLB, and the NBA. You might wonder how does over/under betting work?  Let's dive right in!

How does the over/under bet work?

The totals bet -- or the over/under bet -- is basically wagering whether the combined score at the end of the match will be over or under the total posted by the oddsmaker.  Now, that sounds simple and, usually, it is.  But to thoroughly understand the way over/under betting works, you should understand how to structure an over/under bet.  As an example, let's take the Super Bowl 52 matchup between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles.  The betting line at BookMaker looked like this:

New England Patriots vs. Philadelphia Eagles

  • Over 48.5
  • Under 48.5

The oddsmakers used 48.5 as the over/under line for the game.  It's up to each gambler to determine whether there will be a lot of field goals and touchdowns, or a game where both teams struggle to score.  The under bettors would be happy with a conservative game, while the over bettors would want a match full of fireworks.

Usually, the total number of points in the matchup ends up being under or over the number provided by the oddsmaker.  But it’s also possible for the game to push (tie).  The possible scenarios of an over/under bet are the following:

  • The final score is over the set number of points - over bettors win
  • The final score is under the set number of points - under bettors win
  • The final score is the same as the set number of points
  • The final score of the game is tied through regulation, and the match goes to overtime

That leaves us with a couple of unanswered questions.

What if the set total is a whole number?
In the Super Bowl example above, the betting line was not a whole number, but it’s also possible for an over/under line to be a whole number (e.g., 48 points). When the posted total is a whole number, then the game could end as a push.  As an example, you could have the Steelers play against the Rams with the betting line being 50 points.  Let's say the final score is 30-20, meaning the total number of points is also 50.  That means there would be no winning bets, and both over and under bets end up as a push.  The sportsbook would refund your wager in that case.

Keep in mind that if the over/under bet has a whole number instead of a half-point, your chance of not losing your bet is higher as you have a little extra safety net with the possible push of your bet.

What if the game goes to overtime?
When you have a thrilling matchup where both teams are tied with each other at the end of regulation, then some additional time is added to the regular playing time.  For your over and under betting, this does not change anything.  The only thing that counts is the total of the match when it's finished, including possible overtime (or extra innings in Baseball).  So, when games are tied at the end of regulation, but have yet to reach the posted total, then over bettors are happy as there's more time to score.  Especially in sports like Basketball or Baseball, where there’s no limit to how much scoring can take place in the extra time.

How to read over/under odds

To completely understand the over/under bets, you have to understand the way the betting odds work.  You now know the oddsmakers give you a point total with every matchup, and bettors then have the chance to pick whether they chose the final score will be over or under that amount.  Usually, the betting odds are attached to a team, but in this case, it's attached to an outcome of the match, disregarding both teams.  Let's take an example of a matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens:

Dallas Cowboys vs. Baltimore Ravens

  • Over 43.5 -110
  • Under 43.5 -110

You should know that some sportsbooks or betting sites have different ways to display the over/under odds.  Some betting sites show the betting odds in one single line, including the moneyline odds.  You should note that the over/under disregards which team wins -- it only looks at the point total.  The other way to display the odds could be:

  • Dallas Cowboys 43.5 (-110) O
  • Baltimore Ravens 43.5 (-110) U

In essence, these betting odds say the same thing, but in a different structure.  Now that you understand the way the betting odds work, let's have a look at calculating your payout.  Given the betting lines of the NFL over/under bet in the example, let's see what your potential payout could look like.  In general, there are three possible outcomes.  But in this case, the point total has half-points, which means it cannot end up in a push.  The two outcomes are:

  1. You are wagering the over bet, and the point total is above 43.5, your initial stake should be $110 to win $100.  Your total payout is $210.
  2. You are wagering the under bet, and the point total is under 43.5, your initial stake should be $110 to win $100.  Your total payout is $210.

As you can see here, it does not matter which team wins.  The only thing to look at is the point total.  In general, bettors love over/under betting as the total number of points is often easier to predict than the winner of the match.

How to use over/under betting in your sports betting strategy

You now know how the totals bets or over/under bets work and how to read the betting odds.  But to be successful with these types of bets, you should know how to use it in your sports betting strategy.  To get you started, we want to share a couple of tips:

Start with the statistics
There's not a single seasoned sports bettor who makes a bet without basing it on proper research.  No matter which sport you are wagering on, you should start by looking up the statistics for each of the teams involved in the match.  Some stats to look up before placing your over/under bet are:

  • Overall offense rating
  • Offense rating against the opposing team
  • Overall defense rating
  • Defense rating against the opposing team
  • Availability of individual players with a high scoring ability
  • The point total being realistic for the matchup

Besides that, make sure to analyze both teams individually.  Are the teams in their best form?  Are the teams in a favorable or unfavorable scheduling situation?  For example, maybe an NBA team is playing its third game in four nights, and also went to overtime the previous night.  Thus, they might not be in the best shape to perform as they would if well-rested.  So always keep that in mind as well.

You should know that for the over/under bets, you need to have access to a lot of statistics.  For College sports, it makes sense that there are fewer reliable historical stats than for the professional leagues.  College teams change more often, and a team’s best players might be in their first full season.  Thus, the over/under may be easier to predict in professional sports where there’s more continuity.

Don't take it too far
As we always recommend, make sure you keep your risks in control.  Don't over-do it.  When wagering on a game between an upper-tier team against a lower-tier team, you might expect the better team to score loads of points.  But what if the better team gets out to a big lead, and takes its foot off the gas?  Does that mean your over/under bet collapses?  It doesn't have to work out that way, but you have to consider it.  When you're a parlay bettor who's not shaken by a little risk, go for it.  But don't end up making a 4-team parlay bet with just over/under bets.

With all that being said, we want you to go out there to find a match between the two teams you like.  Then, start doing your analysis.  We have shown a big list of factors to take into consideration when predicting the combined score of both teams.  Once you feel confident and you are ready to place your totals bets, go for it.  Now, when your bet is in place, it's time for you to get comfortable and wait for the game to commence.  Sit back and feel the adrenaline rush through your veins, with each score being tallied.  Whether you're betting over or under, each score can make a difference.

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

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