NFL Point Spread Picks, Trends and Spread Betting Strategies

The spread, or handicap, is one of the most popular types of sports betting in the country. Invented by Charles K. McNeil in 1940's Chicago, the spread signifies the perceived difference in the quality of two opponents.  

Spread betting is one of the three main types of bets available on game lines. The idea of spread betting is to attempt to even the playing field between two mismatched opponents by adding or subtracting points from each.

In this article, we will go through some information and basic tips for betting on the spread, as well as examples of where this bet is most popular. 

How to Bet the Spread

There should rarely ever be a problem finding a spread bet on online sportsbooks. Like we said, its one of the three main types of bets (moneyline, totals) included on the 'line'. Spread betting can be done on football, basketball, baseball and any other traditional sport. 

The concept remains the same throughout each sport. In each game with spread betting, there will be a favorite and an underdog. The favorite will be designated by a (-) and the underdog with a (+). This brings us to our first choice to make in how to bet the spread. 

  • Bet to Cover the Spread - this means we will be betting on the favorite. Even with points subtracted from its final score, the favorite will need to cover in order to win the bet. 
  • Bet to Beat the Spread - the opposite of covering, this is a bet on the underdog. This opponent will need to overcome the assumed quality gap. 

When we look at how to bet the spread, we are ultimately deciding between these two options. The way this bet works is by either adding or subtracting the spread from one of the two team's final scores. The favorite will have points subtracted; the underdog will have them added. 

In our example above, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are underdogs against the favored team, the Kansas City Chiefs. In the NFL, the spread is always on the main line, and is often the most popular. In order for Tampa Bay to beat the spread, they must either win or not lose by more than three points. 

For Kansas City to cover the spread, they need to win the game by four points or more. 

NFL Picks Against the Spread 

Making bets with a handicap, or betting against the spread, is popular in many sports but especially so on NFL games. Although learning new betting terms and styles can be difficult, making NFL picks against the spread is not a difficult concept.

Betting against the spread simply means making a bet and winning with the help of the spread, even though your team may not have even won the game. For example, if you bet on the New York Jets (+10) and they lose the game by seven points, you would still win your bet thanks to the extra ten points from the spread. 

Mastering spread betting takes focus, patience and total precision as the few points that you pick up or lose (depending on which side you pick) will go a long way. 

While picking the favorites to win may seem like the more sensible route to take, we must not forget how competitive the NFL is and how much the spread evens out two opponents. In reality, favored teams in the NFL only cover the spread around half the time. 

For this reason, both teams chances with the spread should be examined. NFL picks against the spread is a great place to look to find underdogs whom the experts are backing each week. 

These are not only available during the regular season, as NFL playoff picks against the spread are just as popular and widely found. 

NFL Point Spread Betting Strategies

Useful knowledge and strategies for betting on NFL spreads. Although NFL picks against the spread are available, we also want to be able to do our own research. There are a few specific things that we must look for when sizing upwhich opponent to back in our spread bets. 

We start with the most important information, the most common margins of victory in NFL games is of vital importance when betting on NFL spreads: 

Margin of Victory

# of Games

% of Games

3

418

15.67%

4

138

5.17%

6

148

5.55%

7

258

9.67%

10

161

6.03%

14

125

4.69%

So before betting against the spread on NFL games, it is important to take this into account. It is also important to note that around 30% of NFL games end with a difference of only three or seven points.

Understanding this, we know that when undertaking a spread of 3.5 or 7.5, this is no small feat. It is likely that these few extra points will actually end up determining your entire bet. 

Most sportsbooks will add .5 onto all of the handicap numbers to ensure that all bets will either win or lose. In the event that a particular sportsbook does offer spreads with solid numbers such as three, six or ten then you will have a little bit of added comfort.

If the final score with the spread is a tie, you will instead be given a 100% refund of your original stake.

Betting the Point Spread on Division Rivals 

Over the course of 100 years of NFL football, there have been a seemingly endless number of trends that have popped up.  These no doubt affect the way we bet on certain outcomes and lines, with the NFL point spread being no different. 

Something that stands out among these are the trends we see associated with win/loss records between division rivals. Since NFL teams play their division rivals twice each season, its something we need to think twice about before making NFL point spread bets. 

Let's start with our baseline and look at the records between division rivals for the ten oldest NFL teams.

NFL TeamDivisional Record*

Cleveland Browns

(106-51)

Philadelphia Eagles(209-232-8)
Chicago Bears(241-229-13)
Pittsburgh Steelers(156-113)
LA Rams(121-129-5)
Green Bay Packers(252-215-15)
Detroit Lions(183-267-14)
New York Giants(228-213-8)
Arizona Cardinals(81-87-3)
Washington Redskins(194-245-12)
  • *Records taken prior to the 2019 season

While calculating for the average win percentage for divisional rivals, we find a number of 49% rounding up. Therefore, it is easy to determine that teams playing their division rivals not only have around equal chance, but that a spread of any number could be a decider.

When the division rivals are located in close proximity of each other, like those in the NFC East, then the numbers become even closer. 

In 2020, these trends continued between division rivals. While there were exceptions, the majority of teams had a .500 win percentage against their divisional opponents. 

Betting on the spread between division rivals carries therefore higher levels of uncertainty, and should be avoided by new players. In most cases, regular bets on the moneyline will be the better option. 

What Else to Look for Betting on the NFL Point Spread

Although many things will be considered when putting these handicaps together, the main focus will also be based largely on the public’s perception of the game and of course the most common margins of victory.

However, there are plenty of other factors that end up affecting spread bets. These can differ from the factors affecting regular moneyline bets, so its helpful to know what to look for and understand. 

Things to understand before betting on the NFL spread:

  • The average margins of victory in NFL games
  • The history between two teams (conference or non-conference game)
  • The amount of travel difference between two NFL teams
  • The margin that the sportsbook is taking
  • Scoring trends of each team as well as defensive trends

Many of these are factors that should be looked at for the majority of bets, but are still useful for bets on the NFL point spread as well. Specifically for spread bets, factors like the previous records between two non-division teams, injuries and current form (last 3-5 games) should be taken into account.

One of the other factors that stands out are the games between close-proximity rivals (think New York and Philadelphia). These games tend to be very close and therefore the spread can play a major role. 

NFL Spread Betting Conclusion

Before even taking the spread into account, you must be well-prepared to bet on the NFL game itself without any added or subtracted points. This means that you need to study all of the varying statistics going into the game.

Understanding the spread is not only helpful for winning bets with better odds, it is essential to making bets on the NFL. The entire market for NFL games is driven by bets on the spread. 

In conclusion, with a better understanding of the sport as well as knowing what to look for when weighing a bet, you should be able to make more confident decisions.

Although no strategy is a guaranteed win all of the time, dont be afraid to check out expert NFL picks against the spread and other tip sites, but also do your own research.  

The right approach to NFL spread betting along with a fair amount of knowledge goes a long way. Simply remember to keep your head when betting and to enjoy it, win or loss. 

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