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understanding nfl betting lines

Understanding NFL betting lines

Understanding how to read and interpret NFL betting lines is an ongoing experience whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at it for years. If you’re just beginning, all you want to know is what the heck the numbers mean. If you’re more experienced, you need to be able to understand line movement, how to interpret it, and then how to take advantage of it.

Depending on who you talk to or what you read, there really is a sweet science to understanding NFL betting lines (or they may be called NFL odds, NFL point spreads, NFL lines, etc.). It starts with getting a good grasp of how to actually read them and then going from there.

If you’re wanting to know the NFL betting lines for this weekends games, then just click here to go to our up to date sports betting odds page.


NFL Betting Lines From
The Perspective Of The Sportsbook

First off, the NFL point spread isn’t a prediction of how much a team will win or lose by, as most people think. But it’s also not set to have an equal amount of action on each side either…again, as most people think.

In reality, the sportsbooks take uneven action on around half of NFL games (along with other sports as well). They really don’t care about the uneven action, they’re just in it to make a profit any way they can.

As stated in an Stanford Wong’s book, Sharp Sports Betting, when a sportsbook manager was asked why they don’t try to balance the action, he stated that “it would result in less profit for the book.”

“It’s a myth that balancing the action is the purpose of the line, except in the case of the Super Bowl” (simply because of the amount of money being bet on that one game. At times, for more public games, the sportsbooks are actually happy to take uneven action “if the manager thinks that the side with the most action is the side most likely to lose.”

As Stanford Wong states, “sportsbook managers think like sharps; they are happy to have their books take risk as long as higher risk is accompanied by enough expected payout. They strive to achieve better than the theoretical hold percentage by setting lines so that the excess action is on the side that is less likely to win.”

“It’s easier to do this on games with a higher proportion of money being bet by unsophisticated bettors. If the manager can set a few NFL betting lines that will attract some but not a lot of sharp action on the unpopular team, the resulting spread will win more money for the business than if the line splits the action evenly.”

The sportsbook manager is happy to set NFL betting lines that will take advantage of squares resulting in more action from sharps on the other team. As you’ll realize, sqaures love betting the favorites, so betting on a dog is typically where you will find the superior value.

Again, the book manager is simply wanting to make as much profit as possible and this means taking advantage of the squares betting favorites. It’s a delicate balance for the sportsbook to attract as much money from the sqaures without “attracting to many bets from the sharps on the other side.” This is why I always stress that it’s typically best to be on the same side as the sportsbook.


The Basics of NFL Betting Lines

Let’s take a look at an example of a typical NFL betting line:

101 Kansas City 49 o -110
102 Denver -5 -110

The numbers 101 and 102 are there so the sportsbook can easily identify the teams when accepting wagers. The first part of the NFL betting lines that we’ll examine is “Denver -5 -110.” This means that Denver is favored to win by 5 points at -110 odds.

The majority of the time, for the NFL and NCAA Football, the odds will be -110 for both the point spread (-5 in this example) and the total (49 in this example). This means that you would be risking $110 to win $100. However, it doesn’t mean that you have to bet $110, it is just written this way for simplicity sake (you can wager whatever amount you’d like depending on the limits of your sportsbook).

If you were to bet on Denver at -5, then they will need to win by at least 6 points or more for you to win your wager. However, if you were to bet on Kansas City at 5, then they will need to lose by 4 or less (or win the game outright) for you to win your wager. If Denver wins by 5, then this is considered a push and no money is won or lost.

Now let’s take a look at the “49” in our example. This is what’s called the total or over/under (the total amount of points scored between both teams). You can either bet that the total amount of points between both teams will be more than 49 or less than 49. However, if the total amount of points scored between both teams is 49 exactly, then this is considered a push and no money is won or lost.

That’s basically how NFL betting lines work (it’s the same for NCAA Football as well). It’s really pretty simple once you understand what the numbers mean and how to properly read them.


NFL Betting Lines- Line Movement

Once the line is set for an NFL game, it rarely will stay the same. Depending on how much money is coming in on each team, the line or the total will adjust accordingly (similar to supply and demand).

Also, the line can be adjusted differently at each sportsbook since the amount of money being bet on each team will be different at each sportsbook. This is why it’s so important to have multiple sportsbook accounts in order to take advantage of the best line for the team or total you’re wanting to bet.

For example, if more money is being bet on Denver at -5, then the sportsbook may adjust the line up to -5.5 to try and draw more money on Kansas City since they will now be getting 5.5 points instead of 5. Remember, the sportsbook simply wants an equal amount of money on each team so they can sit back and collect their juice/commission.

However, line movement is not an exact science and every sportsbook will adjust them differently depending on the amount of money that is coming in on each team. A key factor that comes into play a lot is something that’s called smart money or sharp money.

These are bets being placed by extremely sophisticated/professional handicappers (trust me, the sportsbooks know who these bettors are and very quick to adjust the line when they see smart money being placed on one team)

There may be times when the majority of the money is being placed on Denver at -5, but the smart money is being placed on Kansas City at 5, and the line gets adjusted to Denver -4.5. This is where understanding NFL betting lines and line movement can be confusing because normally when more money is being bet on Denver at -5, the line should be adjusted to Denver -5.5.

However, since the smart money is coming in on Kansas City at 5, sportsbooks will adjust the line the other way. This is what’s called reverse line movement and is something very important to look for when researching games.

If you’re able to find a game where the majority of the money is coming in on Team A, but the line is being adjusted the other way, then this is definitely something to look into further because most likely the smart money is being bet on Team B. You definitely want to follow the smart money (or at least pay close attention to it).

Understanding how to read NFL betting lines is the easy part, but knowing why they are being adjusted a certain way is the most important and more difficult part. Like I said before, it’s definitely not an exact science and will take some time to learn and comprehend.

My favorite site for the most up to date NFL betting lines is Sports Insights. They do a great job at showing how much money is being bet on each side (by percentage), but more importantly where the smart money is being bet. You’ll also be able to see line movements in real time which can be a huge advantage for getting the best NFL betting line at the sportsbooks where you have accounts.

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