Among the three most common ways to bet on the NFL or college football, and the most popular bet type used by handicappers and tipsters for NFL football picks and college football predictions, is the point spread. Next to moneyline betting (which is simply picking which team will win the game), the point spread is far and away the most popular way to bet on the NFL and college football.
The point spread is an equalizer in sports betting: by using a point spread (ex. New York Giants to beat the Green Bay Packers by X points or more), that a heavily favored team must beat over simply winning.
The point spread allows for a level of comfort in choosing the underdog, who can lose by a three-point (or X point) margin while the bettor or sports investor still wins his bet. While the betting strategies are largely the same for both the NFL and college football, local rivalries and storied alma maters color the dispositions of unwary bettors even more so in college football, so the strategies often work as well or better with the college game.
What is the Point Spread?
The point spread remains the bet of choice for most NFL and college sports investors, bettors and fans. Also known as the line or spread, is simply a number chosen by oddsmakers at online sportsbooks or traditional sportsbooks such as in Las Vegas, that will encourage an equal number of sports bettors or sports investors to wager on the underdog as on the favorite.
You’ll see at any sportsbook on an NFL line, a negative value (ex. -3.5) that indicates the team is favored to win by 3.5 points. The positive value (+3.5) indicates the underdog team, and the team can still lose the game, but no more than by 3.5 points.
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Betting on the favorite means the team must win by at least four points to cover the point spread. The underdog team can lose by three points and still cover the spread.
The sports bettor will also see a moneyline value associated with the point spread (such as -3.5, -115). The moneyline value shows how much a sports bettor must risk in order to place the bet (also known as the vig or juice). Consider the vig or juice as the commission or cost at the sportsbook. This means a sports bettor or sports investors will have to risk $115 to win $100.
But for the underdog team, the sports bettor may see a value such as +3.5, +105. This means the bettor would risk $100 to win $105 if the team covers the spread. The spread is by no means a static number, as it will change or move during the days leading up to the game.
Thus Team A may be favored by 3 points on Tuesday and by 4.5 points on Friday. This indicates more people are betting on the team, thus an online sports book or bookie increases the underdog value hoping to encourage more wagers on the underdog.
The above gives any new sports bettor a common understanding of what is the point spread, but for the novice to the more advanced sports bettor and investors, the following outlines a more advanced point spread betting strategies; the pythagorean theorem betting strategy. For a more detailed overview of spread betting and the point spread, see Wikipedia’s overview of spread betting.
Using the Pythagorean Theorem For First Week Picks
Most of us remember the Pythagorean Theorem from school, using it to calculate the area of a triangle (a^2 + b^2 = c^2). However, a variation of the theorem can also be used to calculate the overall strength of a team for a first-week pick by using Points For and Points Against, dividing it against the number of games and the expected wins (EW= PF^2 / PA^2 + PF^2).
The concept of this NFL betting strategy is that it aims to give you a better indication of the team’s previous year general strength as opposed to their record, which may include luckier or closer wins. This allows you to see records in terms of team results over expected results, and can therefore simplify choosing who has a stronger overall chance of victory. It’s important to remember that the reason for this is because systems such as drafts are largely to equalize the playing results.
Rather than romantically base arguments on a signing, you can use the formula to “even out” what the teams’ real results were, giving you an advantage in what their general ability as a team and psychological advantage they come in with in week 1. (It should be noted that football often uses an exponent of 2.35-2.5 as opposed to just 2, which sometimes has better results.
With that information handy, you now can begin to tackle the betting sheet in earnest.
Leveraging the Realistic Advantage Gains Better Results
Once you have a better performance assessment, overhyped matches that don’t match the numbers in the theorem have a stronger chance of success by betting on the underdog.
Why is that? Because everything tends towards 50%, it’s usually a mistake to expect a blowout, meaning that there is a higher chance the underdog could win or cover the spread. This allows you to spot underrated underdogs at home as well, where in fact their chances are actually better than immediately apparent due to homefield advantage.
Notice immediate blowouts? Consider that 7-10 point or higher blowouts, unless something huge is weighing heavily for the favorites, are often uncommon, so unless there’s a really good reason, make use of the underdog.
It’s important to consider that the majority of sports bettors will often play the favorite. If this was a successful betting method, everyone would be rich. So by using a little bit of preparation, you’ll be able to spot the underdogs more easily and balance your bets more easily. And that, long term, will produce profitable returns from investing or betting on the NFL or college football.