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How To Read Football Betting Lines

Picture this – your friend tells you that the Bengals are a huge favorite at -200 over the Jaguars at +120. This may seem confusing for a newbie, but these numbers simply represent American football betting lines.

Once you learn how to read football betting lines, you’ve made the first step towards making better and more strategic bets.

Reading American Football Betting Lines

An American football next to a gold coin

A betting line refers to the numbers set by the bookmakers to represent an implied probability to the punters and determine an underdog and a favorite in an upcoming match. Most of the time, bookmakers need to adjust the betting lines to balance the action – or the number of bets – on both sides while staying close to the “true odds” of the game.

To better understand how a football betting line works, consider this example. In this week’s game, the Bengals are the favorites at -6.5. This is the point spread, and this means that they need to win the game by 7 points or more to make it a winning bet.

On the other hand, the Jaguars are the underdogs at +6.5 spread. To make a winning bet, they need to lose by 6 points or less or come out in an upset and win the game outright.

Several factors affect the betting lines that the bookmakers would give to their punters. Including statistics, home-court advantage, the level of popularity of both teams, injuries, previous performances, and even the expected weather condition on game day.

Understanding and Reading Other American Football Sports Bets

Aside from point spread, there are several other ways bookmakers can present American football betting lines. Here are some of them.


The total for American football refers to the combined final score of both teams. For this type of bet, the bookies give a projected number for the totals, and you can wager on whether you think it would be over or under that given number.

Consider a game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cleveland Browns, with the total points odds set at 43.5. This means that the game should finish with a combined score of 43 or below, the “under” bet wins, and if it finishes with a combined score of 44 or over, the “over” bet wins.

When you’re betting on totals, it doesn’t matter who wins the game unless you are betting on a parlay of totals and moneyline. Sometimes, betting lines for totals are presented in combination with a point spread too (this type of bet requires a specific winner). Some bookies also offer halftime odds, which can be easier to bet on.


In NFL Betting lines, a moneyline bet is where you simply place your money on who you think would win the game. If your chosen team wins, you get the payout depending on the value of the betting line.

In a moneyline, teams are categorized as either the favorites (with a – sign) or the underdog (with a + sign). If you’re betting on the favorite, you would have to wager the equivalent amount according to the odds listed in order to make a profit of $100 (should you end up having the winning bet). If you’re betting on the underdog, the odds posted is the profit you’d make if you bet $100.

Take a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Texans:

The Texans are the favorites with an odds of -135, and the Bills with +120 as the underdogs. If you bet $100 on the underdogs at +120, your profit would be $120. However, betting on the favorites at -135 would require you to place a wager of $135 to win $100.


Handicap betting is where the bookies give a point advantage to one side of the game, thereby balancing the line to the point where there is no clear favorite or underdog. This is the same as the point spread. Most of the time, handicap betting lines provide better chances for bettors to make a winning wager.

To better understand how this works, take the example of a game between the Atlanta Falcons and the New York Giants with the following odds:

Falcons: +3.5

Giants: -3.5

In this example, the handicap is in favor of the giants, denoted by the favorites minus sign. This technically means that the Giants have a 3-point head start against the Falcons.

If you bet on the Giants, they have to win the game by 4 points or more for you to win the wager. If you bet on the Falcons, they have to with by 4 points or more, too. A draw is not possible in this example.

Live Betting

Live betting, or in-play betting, is a type of sports betting where you place your wager after the game has started. There will be live odds available as the game gets played, and these odds change throughout the match. For example, odds may change as a team gets closer to their opponent’s end zone, thereby increasing the odds of a touchdown.

Unlike most betting markets, live betting odds can change rapidly or stay the same depending on what is happening in the game. A team that is a huge favorite at the start can become the major underdog if they start to lose.

For a lot of punters, live betting is where the real value can be found, as it’s harder for bookmakers to post accurate lines whilst the game is constantly changing.

How to Read Football Betting LInes
How to read the different types of football betting lines.

How to Profit from NFL Betting Lines

No matter what the doubters might say, there is profit to be made in every betting market, it’s just that some are easier to beat than others. So how do you maximize your profit, regardless of the market you choose to place your money on?

Here are some tips.

Consistently Line Shop

In sports betting, “shopping” refers to checking out what other bookies have to offer, instead of staying with just one bookie and settling for whatever odds they give you.

By shopping for lines, you maximize your options and find the most profitable line on the market.

Shopping for lines has never been easy, too, since you can do it now by just switching between apps or sports betting sites. Back in the day, shopping for lines would mean literally traveling from one betting place to another.

Make Value Bets

One of the most common misconceptions in sports betting is that you should win more bets than you make. However, the truth is that you should not chase wins. Rather, chase value. There is no point in having a good win-loss record, only to realize after the fact that you have actually lost money in the process because the odds are so low.

Take for example a bet on the favorites with an odds of -500. You wagered $500 four times on these odds, and you won three out of four. That record may look impressive on paper, but actually, you profited $300 from the winning bets and lost $500 from the losing bet – meaning an overall loss of $200.

Research the Teams and Players

Since odds are often adjusted by the bookmakers to ensure they make a profit, most of the numbers you see on the lines do not represent the real probabilities in a game.

This is where personal research is valuable. Knowing the stats, history, and recent performance of each team and individual player can help a lot in determining the true odds of the game. Once you are able to look beyond what odds the bookies give you, you’ll start making more strategic and sounder decisions on your wagers.

Certain other factors may be part of your personal research such as injuries from past games, who the home team is, and the travel time for the visiting team.

Take Advantage of Betting Bonuses

One of the many things that make online sports betting better is that bonuses and freebies are now more common than ever. With thousands of betting apps and sites competing for the attention and sign-up of bettors, the fight sometimes comes to how generous and attractive freebies offered are.

So, make the most use of these freebies. They can come in the form of a free bet, deposit bonus, and most commonly, a new user bonus.

American football betting lines may look complicated and complex for a newbie, but once you get the hang of how to read football betting lines, you’ll see that making a profit in NFL betting is indeed possible.

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