A Complete Guide to Betting on the NFL

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NFL full betting guide

The NFL is the most popular professional sports league in the world and generates more sports betting action than any other league. In this article, you will learn the basics to get started with NFL betting, including how the odds work, what types of bets you can make, how to choose the best NFL sportsbook and some advice for betting on the NFL.

How do NFL odds work?

Throughout this NFL betting guide, we will discuss various ways to bet on the NFL and the betting odds associated with each type of NFL bet. Before we get into examples of different bets, let’s start by briefly explaining how betting odds work and how to read them.

Betting odds describe the payout for a winning bet. In American sportsbooks, betting odds will begin with either a plus (+) sign or a minus (-) sign, followed by at least a three-digit number (but they could have 4+ digits, which we will explain later). Some common examples are -110 or +100.

When the odds begin with a minus (-) sign, those odds are less than even money, which means you will win less than $1 for every $1 you wager. The number following the minus (-) sign is the amount you would have to wager to win $100 on the bet. If the odds are -110, then you would have to bet $110 to win $100. At -120, you would have to wager $120 to win $100, and so on.

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Betting on an NFL game

There are countless ways to bet on NFL games, but the three most common types of NFL bets are the moneyline, point spread, and the total (which is also called the over/under). When looking at the betting odds for a week of NFL games, sportsbooks will display all three of these bets for every game on the schedule. 

These three bet types make up the foundation of NFL betting, and they are perfect for novice bettors, so let’s discuss each of these three basic NFL bets in more detail.

Moneyline

A moneyline bet is simply a bet on which team will win the game. The odds for the favorite will be less than even money, indicated by the minus (-) sign, while the odds for the underdog typically will be listed with a plus (+) sign, indicating they are better than even money. In some cases, if the teams are very evenly matched, both teams will have negative moneyline odds.

For example, let’s say the New York Jets are playing the Miami Dolphins, and the Jets are the favorite. The odds might look like this:

TeamMoneyline odds
New York Jets-120
Miami Dolphins+115

If you place a $120 bet on the Jets and they win the game, then you would win $100. Your total payout would be $220 including your original $120 bet. If you bet $100 on the Dolphins and they win the game, then you would win $115 and your total payout would be $215.

Miami Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert (31) spikes the ball after scoring a touchdown past New York Jets safety Tony Adams (22) during the first half of an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Dec. 17, 2023.
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In this example, both teams’ moneyline odds are fairly close to even money, which means they are pretty evenly matched and the game could realistically go either way. If the Jets were a much bigger favorite, then the odds could be more like Jets -200 and Dolphins +160.

It’s also possible that both teams could have negative moneyline odds, such as -105 or -110 on both teams. This would happen if the teams were very evenly matched, and the odds of either team winning are almost exactly 50%.

Point spread

One of the most important NFL betting terms to know is the “point spread” (or just “the spread”), which is the expected margin of victory for the favored team. If you hear someone in an NFL betting conversation ask “what’s the line on this game?”, they are likely referring to the point spread, which can also be called “the line.” 

The point spread differs from the moneyline because you are not just betting on which team will win the game, but rather on the margin of victory. Continuing our above example with the Jets and Dolphins, the point spread could look like this:

TeamSpread
New York Jets-2.5 (-110)
Miami Dolphins+2.5 (-110)

This spread means the Jets, who are the favorites in the game, are expected to win by 2.5 points. The team that is the favorite will always have a minus (-) sign before their point spread, while the underdog will have a plus (+) sign before their spread. The spread will always be the same number on both sides, with the only difference being the minus (-) or plus (+). Occasionally, the spread will be even, or a “pick ’em”.

Miami Dolphins safety Brandon Jones (29) intercepts a pass from New York Jets quarterback Trevor Siemian (not pictured) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium
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If you bet on the Jets “against the spread,” then you are betting on them to win the game by at least three points. If they win the game by just one or two points, or if the Dolphins win the game outright, then bettors who took the Dolphins +2.5 would win their spread bets, even though the Jets won the game. If the Jets won by three or more, then you would say they “covered the spread.” Otherwise, you would say the Dolphins covered.

Since you cannot score half of a point in football, the 0.5 in the spread prevents the bet from being a “push,” or tie, which guarantees the bet will either win or lose. Sometimes the spread will be a whole number, like Jets -3. In that scenario, if the Jets win by exactly three points then the bet will push and all bettors will get back the money they wagered with no profits or losses.

The numbers in parentheses next to the spread are the betting odds for betting on the spread for either team. Again, the betting odds describe the payout for a winning bet, but they do not determine whether the bet will win, which is based only on the spread. The betting odds for the spread are frequently identical for both teams because sportsbooks set the spread at a number where they expect roughly equal chances for either team to cover the spread. Occasionally there could be a small difference in the odds, such as -115 or -120 on one side and -105 or +100 on the other side.

New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) attempts to tackle Miami Dolphins running back De'Von Achane (28) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium
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Total

The third standard bet on NFL games is the point total, which is a bet on how many points will be scored in the game by both teams. The total is also called the “over/under” because you are betting on whether the total number of points will be over or under a certain number. You may see it listed in sportsbooks with the abbreviation “O/U.”

To wrap up our example with the Jets and Dolphins, the complete set of odds including the total would look something like this:

TeamTotal (O/U)
New York JetsOver 47.5 (-110)
Miami DolphinsUnder 47.5 (-110)

Just like with the spread, the total will include both the number of points (47.5) and the betting odds in parentheses. Also just like the spread, the betting odds are frequently identical for both the over and the under.

In this example, if the Jets won the game by a score of 26-23, then bets on the over would win because there were 49 total points scored in the game. If instead the score were 24-23, so only 47 total points, then bets on the under would win. It does not matter how far over or under 47.5 total points were scored – just a half point in either direction would determine the outcome of bets.

Also, like the spread, the total could be set at a whole number like 47, without the extra 0.5 to prevent a push. If the final score were 24-23 or 27-20 or any other combination with a sum of exactly 47, then all bets on the total for that game would push and bettors would get back their original wager with no profits or losses.

It’s worth noting that betting on the total is unaffected by which team wins the game or by the margin of victory. The Jets could win 48-0 or the Dolphins could win 25-23. Either way, if there were at least 48 points scored, then bets on the over would win.

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Other popular NFL bets

While the moneyline, point spread and over/under are the most ubiquitous types of NFL bets, there are many other popular ways to bet on the NFL that are worth discussing in this NFL betting guide. Some other common types of NFL bets include parlays, prop bets, and futures bets. It is also possible to bet on NFL games in real-time while the game is happening, which creates several other betting options. 

Let’s explore these other types of NFL betting in more detail. 

Parlays

A parlay is a combination of bets that must all win for the parlay bet to win. The individual bets within a parlay are called the “legs” of the parlay. If any leg of the parlay loses, then the entire parlay loses. Parlays win at a much lower rate than a single bet, but they are appealing because they offer much bigger payouts than individual bets.

There are essentially unlimited possibilities for the different ways you can combine bets into a parlay, although most sportsbooks put some restrictions on which bets can be used. You can combine bets from different games and even different sports. It is also extremely popular to build parlays with multiple bets on the same game, which is called a “same game parlay” (often abbreviated “SGP”). FanDuel Sportsbook was the first sportsbook to introduce the concept of a same game parlay to the sports betting market.

To understand how the odds can multiply exponentially in a parlay, and also how difficult they are to win, let’s take a look at an example of a simple two-leg parlay on two NFL spread bets. 

GameBetOdds
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati BengalsBengals -3.5-110
Detroit Lions vs. Chicago BearsLions -6.5-110

If you wagered $11 on each of those bets individually, and both bets won, then you would win $10 on each bet for a total of $20. On the other hand, if you took the $22 you wagered on those two bets and put it instead on a two-leg parlay with +264 odds, then you would win roughly $59.

Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff (16) passes against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field
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Certainly, if both bets ended up winning, then making a $59 profit is much better than making a $20 profit – about three times better, to be specific. However, there is a reason that sportsbooks are willing to offer you three times the value on this parlay – the potential of losing your full $22 bet is much higher. In that example, if you placed the two bets separately, and only one bet won, then you would only lose $1. But if those two bets were parlayed, then you would lose the full $22.

The potential amount of reward and loss gets exponentially higher when you add more legs to a parlay. If you added a third leg to this parlay with -110 odds, the odds would jump closer to +600, and they would double for every additional leg you added (assuming -110 odds for each one).

The bottom line is that parlays are very fun and very rewarding when they hit, but very few sports bettors can win parlays consistently enough to be profitable.

Prop bets

Prop bets are another popular type of NFL bet that offer the widest variety of betting options. Rather than betting on the outcome of the game itself (like in a moneyline, spread or total bet), prop bets focus on whether specific events will happen during the game. They can be bets on a team’s performance or on a specific player’s performance. The latter would be called NFL player prop bets, which are the most common type of NFL prop bets. 

There are two types of NFL prop bets: a yes/no style of bet and an over/under style of bet. 

As the name implies, a yes/no style of prop bet is a bet on “Will this happen in the game?” For example, “Will Christian McCaffrey score a touchdown?” or “Will the 49ers score the first touchdown of the game?” These bets would be listed in the sportsbook as a “Christian McCaffrey anytime touchdown” and a “49ers first touchdown,” respectively. Similar to moneyline bets, yes/no style prop bets will just be listed with their associated odds, like “Christian McCaffrey anytime touchdown (-110)” or “49ers first touchdown (+100)”. 

An over/under style of prop bet is based on a player’s or team’s statistical performance in different categories, such as yards, receptions or sacks. You are betting on whether a player or the team will be over or under a certain number in those different statistical categories. Here are a few examples for a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Los Angeles Rams.

Passing YardsOverUnder
Brock Purdy249.5 (-110)249.5 (-110)
Matthew Stafford271.5 (-110)271.5 (-110)
Rushing YardsOverUnder
Christian McCaffrey99.5 (+100)99.5 (-120)
Kyren Williams88.5 (-115)88.5 (-105)
Receiving yardsOverUnder
Deebo Samuel45.5 (-130)45.5 (+110)
Cooper Kupp90.5 (-105)90.5 (-115)

These are just a few examples for illustrative purposes, but most sportsbooks will offer more players and many more categories for player prop bets. There could be prop bets for almost every statistical category found in an NFL game’s box score.

It is very common to use NFL prop bets to build a same game parlay. A good strategy can be to pick prop bets that are positively correlated, such as the over on a quarterback’s passing yards and again on the receiving yards for his top wide receiver.

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Futures

Most of the NFL bets we have discussed so far in this NFL betting guide focus on a specific game, but another popular type of bet is NFL futures bets. As the name implies, futures bets are bets on something that will happen in the future. They are primarily focused on a player or team’s season-long performance, such as how many games the team will win, whether a team will make the playoffs, how many season-long yards a player will gain and who will win end-of-season awards like MVP. Perhaps the most common and popular NFL futures bet is who will win the Super Bowl.

While the betting markets for individual games are typically only available for about one to two weeks before the game, futures markets could be available up to a year in advance. For example, it is very common for betting odds to be available on the next Super Bowl champion within hours of the previous Super Bowl ending, oftentimes even earlier. That means you are usually waiting a very long time to find out if your futures bet wins.

Because futures bets are typically placed far in advance, there is a lot of unknown between the time you place your bet and the time it concludes. Various factors like injuries, player movement, or off-the-field issues could impact whether your bet wins, and those factors are unpredictable.

Additionally, when you place a futures bet on something like Super Bowl winner or MVP before a season even starts, there are a large number of possible outcomes. As a result, futures bets usually offer odds with the potential for high payouts, which makes them very appealing. For example, many NFL futures bets could have odds like +500 or even +1000 or higher.

Not all futures bets come with long odds, however. You can place a futures bet on how many total games a team will win, for example, Chiefs over/under 11.5 wins. In this case, there are only two outcomes, and sportsbooks set the line for the odds on either side to be around even.

The odds for NFL futures bets will change over time as more information becomes available, especially once the season begins. If one team or player is overachieving or underachieving early in the season relative to their expectations, their odds in futures markets will change accordingly.

Live betting on the NFL

Another great way to bet on the NFL that is becoming increasingly popular is live betting, which means you are betting on the games in real time while they are being played. When games are live, sportsbooks will generally have a “live” icon next to that game on their website or mobile app, which means there are live betting opportunities available for that game.

Many of the betting markets that are available before a game are also available during the game, but the betting lines and odds will change dramatically based on what is happening in the game. For example, let’s say the Indianapolis Colts are playing the Houston Texans, and the Texans are a small favorite with a spread of -2.5. If the Colts score two touchdowns in the first quarter and jump out to a big lead, then that line could flip to something like Colts -2.5 or possibly even higher. If you think the Texans can still come back to win the game, then you can get much better odds by betting on them in real time than if you had bet on them before the game. On the other hand, if the Texans are the team that jumps out to a big lead, the spread might move closer to Texans -7.5 or higher.

There are also some NFL betting markets that are only available during the game because they are tied to specific moments in the game. For example, you could bet on the outcome of a team’s next offensive possession: punt, field goal, touchdown or turnover. You could also bet on which team will score the next touchdown, which player will score the next touchdown and countless other possibilities.

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NFL betting strategies and advice

Learning how to bet on the NFL is relatively simple, but winning NFL bets consistently is far more challenging. Most NFL bettors get started with sports betting because they are fans of the game and betting on games can make it even more fun and potentially profitable. Being an avid fan with strong knowledge of the game and the league is a good start, but on its own that is not enough to win money in the long term. 

Even the most knowledgeable fans will find it challenging to win money consistently, which is why the most important advice for betting on the NFL (or any other sports) is to be disciplined and to know your limits. That said, there are some tried-and-true NFL betting strategies that can help you find an edge. Let’s discuss a few important strategies and tips for betting on the NFL.

Pay close attention to the context of each game

When evaluating any NFL matchup, there are several important factors to consider that have nothing to do with the respective strengths of each team. They are factors that affect the situation in which the game is being played, which can be just as important (if not more so) than the matchup itself. Some of these factors include where the game is being played, weather, injuries and rest advantages or disadvantages.

There are several important elements to consider with the location of the game. Conventional sports betting philosophies assign a value of 3 points for home-field advantage, which means a home team that is a -3 favorite against the spread would be dead even against the same opponent on a neutral field. However, more advanced NFL analytics have shown that home-field advantage is actually worth between 1 and 2.5 points, so do not overestimate the value of home-field advantage.

Other important elements of the game location to consider include:

Turf: If the visiting team plays on natural grass at its home field but is playing on artificial turf on the road, that could affect their performance (either positively or negatively).

Travel and time zones: Teams that travel long distances could be negatively affected, and traveling from the Pacific Time Zone to the Eastern Time Zone (or vice versa) can affect a team’s internal clock and energy levels.

Weather: Teams from warm weather climates (or from dome stadiums) can struggle in cold weather climates, and rainy, windy, or snowy conditions can affect both the game outcome and point total.

The schedule can also create advantages or disadvantages. Teams receiving extra rest because of a Thursday night game or a bye during the previous week could have an advantage. On the other hand, teams that play road games for consecutive weeks could be negatively affected by the cumulative effect of that frequent travel.

Finally, injuries are perhaps the most important factor to consider. A key player being ruled out for a game or playing at less than 100% effectiveness because of an injury can have a significant impact on that team’s performance. Quarterback injuries frequently impact how sportsbooks set the odds, but most other injuries will not affect the lines much but could affect the outcomes. Pay attention to both official team injury reports and injury information from reliable reporters, which can be more informative than the often vague official reports.

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Monitor betting odds and shop around for the best value

Another key strategy that applies to any sports betting, and especially NFL betting, is to keep an eye on betting odds and lines throughout the week and to check multiple sportsbooks for the best odds.

Betting odds are usually released about one week before the game (sometimes earlier), and they will move as more information becomes available. To minimize losses, sportsbooks pay attention to where the “sharp” (i.e. professional) bettors are betting. They may move the lines or odds if more money is being bet on one team or if the sharps have identified an underdog that they like.

While betting odds and lines tend to be fairly similar across different sportsbooks, there are usually some small differences and it’s important to take advantage of those when you find them. A difference as small as 0.5 points on a spread or total can be the difference between a winning or losing bet, so make sure you have accounts set up at multiple sportsbooks and always look for the best lines and odds for any bet you make.

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How do you find the right NFL betting site?

On that note, let’s discuss some of the best NFL betting sites and best NFL sportsbooks. Every major U.S. sportsbook offers NFL betting, and most of these will offer many of the same betting markets. However, there are some differences from one sportsbook to the next, and as discussed above, using multiple sportsbooks and shopping for the best odds is a very important aspect of a good NFL betting strategy.

The table below summarizes some of the standout features for NFL betting at most of the top U.S. sportsbooks. It’s worth noting that for this NFL betting guide, we have focused on differentiating features that are specific to NFL betting at each sportsbook. There are other important differences to know for betting on any sport, such as the banking options, user experience and customer service, but we have covered some of those differences in our other sportsbook reviews. 

SportsbookStandout feature(s) for NFL betting
DraftKingsSuperior live betting experience includes live game trackers and extensive live betting markets
FanDuelWide variety of NFL futures markets including unique specials for both teams and players
BetMGMPre-built parlays for every game and great tools for building (and sometimes even editing) your own same game parlay
CaesarsFrequent odds boosts and game-specific promos
BetRiversAdvanced analytics features and integrated in-depth statistics

What type of promos are you likely to find for NFL betting?

In addition to having a good NFL betting strategy, you can get value from NFL betting by looking for sportsbooks that offer unique promotions. Given the huge popularity of the NFL and the high volume of NFL betting action, sportsbooks offer more NFL betting promos than they offer for any other sport.

Most sportsbooks have welcome offers that change frequently, so conduct some research to find the best current new user bonuses before creating an account with any sportsbook. But, you can also take advantage of NFL betting promos if you already have an account. Some of the most common types of promos for NFL betting are odds boosts and parlay insurance.

An odds boost is when a sportsbook offers better odds for a specific bet (often a parlay) than it would normally offer. They do this to generate more betting action and more traffic on their website and mobile apps, with the hope that users will place more bets than just the boosted bets. An odds boost could increase the odds by as much as 25%. For example, a two-leg parlay with the Eagles moneyline and a Jalen Hurts anytime touchdown might normally be +300, but with the odds boost you can get it at +375. Caesars Sportsbook is one of the best NFL sportsbooks to find the best NFL odds boosts.

Parlay insurance is when sportsbooks return your stake on a parlay if it misses, assuming certain conditions. Usually, parlay insurance will apply to parlays with a minimum number of legs (often at least four) and if only one leg of the parlay loses. There are also usually limits on the maximum stake that can be returned through parlay insurance (up to $25, for example). BetRivers Sportsbook is one sportsbook that is known for offering good parlay insurance.

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Must be 21 or older and physically present in AZ, CO, IL, IN, IA, KS, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MI, NJ, NY, NC, OH, PA, TN, VA, WV, or WY. Void where prohibited. New users only. Must register using eligible promo code. First bet after registration must qualify. Max. Bonus Bet: $1,000 (amount equals to lost stake). Bonus Bet expires 14 days after receipt. Void where prohibited. See Caesars.com/promos for full terms. Know When To Stop Before You Start®. Gambling Problem? CO, IL, KY, MD, MI, NJ, OH, TN, VA, WV, WY, KS (Affiliated with Kansas Crossing Casino), LA (Licensed through Horseshoe Bossier City and Harrah’s New Orleans), ME (Licensed through the Mi’kmaq Nation, Penobscot Nation, and Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians, federally recognized tribes located in the State of Maine), NC (Licensed through Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise), PA (Affiliated with Harrah’s Philadelphia): If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, crisis counseling and referral services can be accessed by calling 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537) or MD: visit mdgamblinghelp.org or WV: visit 1800gambler.net; AZ: Call 1-800-NEXT-STEP; IN: Call 1-800-9-WITH-IT; IA: Call 1-800-BETSOFF. Data & text rates may apply. Gambling Problem? Call 1-800-GAMBLER. Hope is here. GamblingHelpLineMA.org or call (80‍0) 327-5‍050 for 24/7 support (MA). Call 1-877-8HOPE-NY or text HOPENY (467369) (NY).

Validated on: July 15, 2024

FAQ

How do NFL odds work?

Betting odds describe the payout for a winning bet. If the odds are negative (e.g. -110), then the number you see is the amount you would have to wager to win $100 (e.g. bet $110 to win $100). If the odds are positive (e.g. +120), then the number you see is the amount you would win on a $100 bet (e.g. bet $100 to win $120). 

What’s the difference between a moneyline and a point spread?

A moneyline bet is a bet on which team will win the game, regardless of the final score. A bet on the point spread is a bet on the margin of victory. If the spread is -3.5, then the favorite needs to win by at least four points for a spread bet to win. If they only win by three, then you could still win a moneyline bet, but you would lose the spread bet.

Can I bet on individual player stats?

Yes, you can bet on individual player stats with NFL player prop bets, which are very popular. Some common NFL player props include whether a player will score a touchdown and over/under bets on a player’s passing yards, rushing yards, receptions and more. 

What is the best sportsbook to use to bet on the NFL? 

Every NFL sportsbook offers its unique advantages, and it’s important to use multiple sportsbooks to get the best odds and promos. That said, our pick for the best NFL sportsbook is FanDuel Sportsbook because of its live betting features, extensive futures markets and highly competitive odds. 

Is NFL betting legal in the U.S.?

Yes, many states in the U.S. have already legalized sports betting including betting on the NFL, and more states are expected to offer legal NFL betting in the future. The legal age for betting on the NFL is 21 years old.