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How NFL Lines Work

How NFL Odds, Lines, Point Spreads and Totals Work

When you wager on NFL football it’s important that you understand clearly and concisely how to read odds and how they work. This is basic information that you must know in order to make informed bets.

You’ll need to know how the rotation number, point spread, moneyline and over/under are used and what each means. Each of these terms may be called by another name. The rotation number if often referred to as the number or the rotation mark, moneyline becomes line, point spread is called the spread, and over/under becomes the total. When you come down to it, these are the major terms that can be lumped under the heading odds.

Bookmakers use odds to even out the bets, getting gamblers to wager on both sides of the line by leveling the playing field. Although there is overall parity in the NFL, there are teams that are haves and others that are have-nots. Indianapolis is still superior to Cincinnati but when they play each other the bookies have to get about half of the bettors to put cash on the Bengals. This covers the sportsbooks ensuring they’ll make a decent amount of cash on just about every game.

When you read NFL odds, you’ll first see the date and time of the game on the left and then immediately to the right, there will be two numbers with the name of each team next to one of each numbers. That number is called the rotation number.

Rotation numbers are standard from sportsbook to sportsbook. The number becomes a way to refer to the game and team without mentioning the teams name. It’s a sort of shorthand. Also, the rotation number allows each book to list the games in the same order—numerically. It is, in essence, a way to keep all of the games that are posted each day and throughout the week organized. That makes it easy for the bettor and the bookie.

As an example, let’s consider a matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals. In our scenario, the Bengals are the home team, which means they will be listed last and the Colts, as the visitors, will be on the odds slip first. If Indy’s rotation number is 101, then Cincy’s rotation mark would be 102. When you place a bet live at a Vegas sportsbook or over the phone, you would say the number of the team on which you want to wager and not the name.

Date/Time Rotation Number Team Point Spread MoneyLine Total
Sep 15 101 Indianapolis -10.5 -380 37.5
1:00 102 Cincinnati +10.5 +255 37.5

To the right of the team’s name are the different types of odds. Usually the spread will be first. You may then see the moneyline (although some books list these on another slip) and then, finally, the over/under. Thus, all of the basic bets are in one place, allowing for easy access.

The point spread, which is the most popular type of bet, lists the favored team with a minus sign and a number and the underdog with a plus sign and the same number as the favorite. (If neither team is favored, they will be listed as EVEN or PICK.)

The team that has the minus sign, which is the favorite, has points deducted from its final score, while the dog, with the plus sign, has points added. The favorite must beat the spread, which means they have to win by more than the negative number to pay off. The underdog pays off in two instances—if they win outright or if they lose by less than the spread.

In our scenario, Indianapolis is at -10.5 and Cincinnati at +10.5. If you bet on the Colts at -10.5, which means they are favored, they must win by 11 or more for you to collect on your bet. If you wager on Cincinnati, which is the underdog, your bet pays off if they win the game outright or if they lose by less than 11.

Sometimes with NFL odds you’ll see a spread posted as a whole number. Decimals or fractions are usually utilized to ensure there won’t be a tie. If in our example the spread was reset to 10 with the Colts favored and they win by 10, then the game is considered to be a tie, which in betting terms is called a push. If there is a push all bets are off and the sportsbooks return all wagers back to the bettors.

Many people will say that the odds on a spread bet are even, paying 1:1. But this is not true. The actual odds are 0.90:1. For every dollar bet, you can win 90 cents. When checking out the spread, you’ll usually see a number listed next to each spread. That number, which is your stake, is posted as -110. This number tells you how much you have to bet to win $100. If you put $110 on either team, you stand to win $100. If you bet $11.00, you can win $10.00. Every NFL point spread works this way.

The moneyline is different. First, with the moneyline whichever team wins the game pays out. There’s no giving or taking away of points. How do the bookies even the playing field with the moneyline? They do it by making bettors wager more on the favorite to win less and allowing them to bet less to win more on the dog. The favorite is posted with a minus sign and a number. That number represents the amount of cash that has to be wagered in order to win $100. The underdog, on the other hand, is listed with a plus sign in front of a number. That number shows how much a bettor wins when they bet $100.

Taking the exact same match up and odds above, Indy would be listed at -380 and Cincy at +355. When wagering on the Colts, the favored team, a sports bettor would be required to bet $380 to make $100. If they take the Bengals, who are the underdog, a $100 bet can result in a $355 profit.

By the way, there is a relationship between the spread and the moneyline. The exact relationship can vary a bit depending on the book, but the correlation works in this manner:

Point Spread Money Line
-1 -120/+100
-2 -130/+110
-2.5 -140/+120
-3 -155/+135
-3.5 -175/+155
-4 -200/+170
-4.5 -220/+180
-5/-5.5 -240/+190
-6 -270/+210
-6.5 -300/+220
-7 -330/+250
-7.5/-8/-8.5 -360/+280
-9/-9.5 -400/+300
-10 -450/+325

When considering NFL odds, the last type of basic bet you’ll see listed is the total or over/under. The over/under is a prediction regarding the total number of points that both teams will score. As it is with the spread, the total is usually posted as a fraction or decimal and the stake is the same as it is with the point spread (-110)

With NFL odds the over/under can vary but usually it’s somewhere between 35 and 47 points. Let’s say in the Colts and Bengals game that the total is posted at 37.5. If Indy scores 27 and Cincy gets 13 points, the total would be at 40 and the over would win. But if the Colts rack up 35, and they shut out the Bengals, the total of 35 would be under.

If, as it is sometimes with the spread, the total is listed as a whole number, the result may be a push. Let’s say the total is 37 and the Colts score 24 and the Bengals 13 for a total of exactly 37 points. If this happens all bets are returned on the push.

If you are able to interpret NFL odds and know what the various terms mean, such as the rotation number, point spread, moneyline and over/under, you’ll have a basic understanding on what you are betting. Prior to wagering make sure you see our NFL odds page, which carries all the latest odds from the top online sportsbooks. Remember that the odds makers are attempting to even the out the bets on each game. The sports bettor has to analyze each game and the odds and make their bets accordingly in order to win cash.

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