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What is Betting Against the Spread?

The spread, or handicap is a bet that attempts to even the playing field between two teams by adding or subtracting points from each team.

Making bets with a handicap, or betting against the spread, is popular in many sports but especially in football and bets on NFL games. Although learning new betting terms and styles can be difficult, betting 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 three points from the spread and effectively have beaten the spread. 

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

Margin of Victory

# of Games

% of Games











































Due to its popularity, it will be one of the markets listed on the main NFL betting lines of a football game, sometimes listed even before the regular main outcome of the game.

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. 

NFL Betting Spreads

A look at how the spread works on NFL bets. 

Let us begin by explaining the core concept of how spread betting works. In almost every NFL game, there will be an underdog or team that is expected to lose and a favorite, the team that is expected to win. What the handicap intends to do is even both teams’ chances of losing or winning.

It is normally very effective at its job. The NFL is a league known for its competitiveness, and every team is touted as having a chance to win each week it plays. 

Even if the game itself is not even on paper, the handicap is there to make 100% sure that it is, or at least the bookmaker hopes so. If a team is favored to win the game, then you may see a symbol like (-3.5) or (-7.5).

Since the number next to it is negative, you know that team is favored to win. Whatever number the favorite team has the underdog will always have the opposite. 

So, let us take an example in a game between Denver and Cincinnati where you will bet on Cincinnati. If the Denver Broncos are favorites with a -7.5 handicap, then the Cincinnati Bengals will have a +7.5 next to its odds.

If the actual game ends 35-28 in favor of Denver, then the score for your wager on the Bengals would be 35.5-35 in favor of Cincinnati. In this situation, you would have effectively used the spread to steal a win.

What will happen is that number of points will be subtracted from Denver’s final score and 7.5 will also be added to Cincinnati’s.

If the actual game ends 35-28 in favor of Denver, then the score for your wager on the Bengals would be 35.5-35 in favor of Cincinnati. In this situation, you would have effectively used the spread to steal a win. 

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.

So, when you are 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. 

NFL Spread Bets

Useful knowledge for betting on NFL spreads.

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

Take the previous scenario with a handicap of seven instead of 7.5. In the exact same scenario, the bet would end as a draw with both teams even at 35. This is where your bet will be saved, as rather than winning or losing your money, you will instead be given a 100% refund of your original stake.

Therefore, not only do you as the player need to get the spread exactly right, but the people setting the spread need to be even better. They will ultimately determine how much money the bookmaker stands to make.

Although many things will be considered when putting these handicaps together, the main focus will be based largely on the public’s perception of the game.

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 time difference between two NFL teams
  • The margin that the sportsbook is taking
  • Scoring trends of each team

After Sunday night’s games, spread numbers for the next week will be released. Although many things will be considered when putting these handicaps together, the main focus will be based largely on the betting public’s perception of the game. 

The bookmaker in most cases will stand to make a profit no matter what happens during the game. This is because of the built-in margin in the odds. With handicap betting, since the chances of both teams are theoretically equal, the odds are usually also very close.

Normally, they will be -110 for both sides. If the bets on the game also end up being equal, then the sportsbook will easily walk away profitable.

They will pay the winning side with the losing side’s money and take the margin home with them. If the margin is 10% or over, this ends up being a good day for the sportsbook, so long as the spreads are set right. 

So, you as the player, are not going to be taking home a guaranteed profit, and you do not want to be on the losing side of the game, so you will need to learn out to beat the spread.

A lot of the strategies you will implement to do this will seem obvious, but there are a couple of tricks that are necessary to know when betting on the spread.

Please note that none of these strategies will make you a winner 100% of the time. They are simply there to give you the player a much better chance at ending the night with a profit. 

NFL Best Bets Against the Spread

Facts and strategies for beating the spread.

Before even taking the handicap 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.

Once you know all of these, you will be ready to determine whether you want to take the added risk of a handicap as well. 

Home-field advantage is one of the first things that both you and the sportsbook will be looking at. This actually does give a big advantage to the home team. Especially in the NFL, where home teams will win games 57.1% of the time.

With one of the teams already having a seven percent advantage due simply to the location of the game, this will immediately give you insight into whether you will be adding a handicap or not. 

Below we have placed two tables displaying the teams who play the best and worst against the spread while at home since 2005: 







New England Patriots





Seattle Seahawks





Minnesota Vikings





Green Bay Packers





Pittsburgh Steelers











Oakland Raiders





Miami Dolphins





Tampa Bay Buccaneers





Denver Broncos





Jacksonville Jaguars





Another thing you must understand are the teams playing. Although this may sound like a given, there are a couple of factors in particular that the bettor should know. The first thing to be wary of is the team’s popularity. 

Popular teams will always attract a lot of bets no matter how good of a team they have or their current run of form. These bets will drive the markets away from their actual values.

If you have a good eye for these situations, this will help you become a successful bettor in any sport. 

The other thing important to note from the teams playing is whether they are division rivals or not. If they play in the same division, then the score of the game will likely be much closer than in non-conference games.

 There will also be a high chance that the team which won the first time (division rivals play two separate times) will lose the second game.

Just as it is important to look at every team’s previous games, it is even more important to look at team’s previous matchups with each other (especially true with division rivals).

Here is a look at the records of the ten oldest NFL teams against their divisional opponents since their first year: 

  • Cleveland Browns (106-151)
  • Philadelphia Eagles (209-232-8)
  • Los Angeles Rams (121-129-5)
  • New York Giants 228-213-8)
  • Chicago Bears (241-229-13)
  • Detroit Lions (183-267-14)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers (156-113)
  • Washington Redskins (194-245-12)
  • Green Bay Packers (252-215-15)
  • Arizona Cardinals (81-87-3)

While calculating for the average win percentage of all the teams listed (not considering draws), we find a number of 48.49%, or 49% rounding up. 

Therefore, it is easy to determine that teams playing their division rivals have the same chances to win as they do to lose every game. Of course, there are other factors, but it lays a fine base to begin with.   

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. 

Making both teams equal for a game means a heavier reliance on the knowledge of the player. Once you start to get a good understanding of the game at hand without the handicap, you can begin to look at more complex bets like adding a handicap. 

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, increasing your chances to win while also being able to undertake higher odds will give you a big advantage long-term. 

Beating the bookmaker is a nice feeling but being able to beat them for more money is even better. The right approach to sports 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.