When most people think about betting sides in football their thought process starts and ends with the point spread. That’s unquestionably the most common and popular way to bet on the winner of a football team, but it’s not the only way. The moneyline is thought by many people to be just the way to bet on baseball, hockey, and tennis, but there is a moneyline set for every NFL game and most college games. I would never suggest that the moneyline should be bet instead of the point spread in football. The moneyline is definitely something that even casual football bettors understand, though, so that they can use it if it makes sense and gives them a better chance for profit. Simply, the moneyline is a very powerful tool to have in your football betting toolbox.
The biggest reason why people shy away from the moneyline is probably that they don’t understand them. They are really quite simple once you figure them out, though. The biggest thing to remember, and expert sports handicappers know this, is that unlike the point spread all you have to do is figure out which team is going to win. It doesn’t matter how much they win by – if you bet on a team on the moneyline and they win then so do you. In order to balance out the action – to get about as much money bet on the underdogs as the favorites – sports books charge different prices for the favorites and underdogs. The easiest was to understand this is with an example. If the Patriots were slight favorites over the Jets in a game then the moneyline odds might have the Patriots at -130 and the Jets at +120. That means that you would have to bet $130 to make a profit of $100 on the Patriots. You could obviously bet any amount you wanted on them, and the payoff would be calculated at the same proportion. Because the Jets are the underdog and therefore at least theoretically less likely to win you are rewarded more for betting on them – the +120 means that you would make a profit of $120 for every $100 bet. Because you have to bet considerably more to make a $100 profit at -350 than you do at -130 the team at -350 would be a significantly bigger favorite. On the other side, a team at +350 would be a much bigger underdog than a team at +120.
Here are five situations where smart sports bettors might consider using a moneyline bet instead of a point spread bet in football:
When betting on a slight underdog – Let’s say that you are betting on an underdog that is getting less than a field goal on the point spread. It’s certainly possible that the extra point or two you have in your favor are going to be relevant in the final score, but chances are good that you are betting on a slight underdog in a case like this not because you think that they are only going to lose by one point, but because you think that they have a good chance of winning the game outright. If you didn’t think that then your bet wouldn’t make much sense. In a case like that the moneyline make more sense than the point spread. You are going to lose on the moneyline if the team does win by one or two points (if the point spread is 2.5), so there is more risk involved. In exchange for taking on that slight extra risk, though, you have a chance at a nicer payoff. The point spread would generally be priced at -110, but the moneyline for the same team would be somewhere in the neighborhood of +120 (there is no direct relationship between point spreads and moneylines, so the best you can do is estimate). That’s a significant difference in potential payoff, and would certainly be attractive if you thought there was a good chance that the underdog was going to win outright.
When betting on a heavy underdog – If you have bet football for a while then you know that sometimes there are situations where you feel confident that a heavy underdog is not only going to cover a big spread, but has a very good chance of winning the game outright. Let’s say a NFL team is a 10.5 point underdog in a game, but you like their chances. If you bet them against the spread and they win outright then you get paid off at -110, so your $100 bet makes a profit of about $91. The moneyline on a 10.5 point underdog would be about +450, so that same $100 bet would generate a profit of about $450. You don’t have to be right very often to generate a better long term profit on the moneyline than against the spread. The trick, of course, is that the bet only makes sense if you think there is a good chance of an upset win. If not then you are just gambling, and smart bettors don’t gamble.
When you are parlaying – If you parlay three teams against the spread then you are paid off at fixed odds if you are right. Those odds are set by the sports books and are always significantly lower than the actual risk involved. For example, when you are betting a three team parlay there are eight possible outcomes – WWW, LLL, WLL, LWL, LLW, WWL, WLW, and LWW. Only one of those outcomes – WWW – would cause you to win your parlay bet. That means, then, that on the long term you would need odds of 7/1 to just break even, and better than that to make a profit. Most sports books pay off on three teams parlays at 6/1, or at best 6.5/1, though. That means that even if you can pick winners at the expected rate – harder than it seems – you are going to lose money over the long term. That’s called a negative expectation, and smart bettors hate negative expectations. Moneyline parlays don’t pay off at a fixed rate. Instead, the potential payout is essentially calculated by multiplying the odds of the games you are betting on together. If you were parlaying three games at +110 then the payoff would be exactly the same as if you bet on the first game, took all of your winnings and bet that on the second football game, and took all of the winnings from the that game and let it all ride on the third game. In other words, moneyline parlays payoff at true odds, and that’s always more attractive than negative expectations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that moneyline parlays are a good idea, but they aren’t as bad of an idea as point spread parlays usually are.