NFL Football Lines Explained
The line is the number of points a team is handicapped by to make the game more even for betting. In other words, it is the estimated points difference between the favorite and the underdog in an NFL game
As an example, if a team starts the game at -3.5 points, it must win by 4 or more to win the game. The line as such an important betting market because generally people back themselves to make an accurate prediction of the points difference they expect between teams.
When you wager on this market you typically get odds of 10/11, so you would have to bet $110 to make a profit of $100. In American odds this is presented as -110 (the amount you have to bet to win 100). In some cases a team will be -3 points but -120 at that line, which will always be indicated next to the line (the absence of any odds means the default of -110 applies.)
In terms of reading the lines, most sportsbooks will typically list the home team at the bottom of the two teams playing. The favourite will be indicated with a minus sign (e.g. Cowboys-7). So in this case the Cowboys are giving the underdog a seven point head start. A bet on the Cowboys will win of they end up winning by more than seven points. Betting on the underdog will be a winning bet if they in turn win the game by any margin, or they lose the game by less than 7 points. If the game finishes and exactly matches the line, i.e. a 7 point difference, this results in a "push", or a refund to the player.
The line, or point spread, may move in the lead up to the game. Heavy betting, injuries, weather conditions and other factors may result in the line moving or being adjusted by the sportsbook. Your bet will however stand at the spread you initially backed.
Sportsbooks set the line to encourage action on both teams.
Betting NFL Totals
In addition to the line, NFL Total, or over/under betting is also a popular market. This is simply a bet that the total number of points scored will either be over or under the given total.
Say the total on the Chargers and the Broncos is 41, the under bet will win if the total is less than 40. An over bet wins if the total is 42 or more. If the final scores added up total 41 points, is declared a "push" and the money is returned to the player.
Total bets are typically decided by punter based on the average points scored for and against involving the two teams.