The Basics
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reading odds

NFL betting lines refer to the barometers set by sportsbooks in order to encourage equal action on both sides of the wagering ledger for certain NFL markets such as moneyline, spread and totals bets.


To make things clearer, let’s take a look at exactly what the ‘the line’ means when discussing each of these particular bet types:

  • For NFL moneyline bets, this is done by attributing odds to each team based on their likelihood of winning the game. The favorites are represented by a minus sign in front of the odds (e.g. -190), while the underdogs are represented by a plus sign in front of the odds (e.g. +160).
  • For NFL spread betting, the line refers to a points handicap designed to level the playing field between the favorite and the underdog. This is essentially an estimation of how much the oddsmakers expect a team to win or lose by.
  • For NFL totals betting, the line refers to the total number of points the sportsbook estimates will be scored in the game. Bettors can choose to wager either over or under this line.


Now that’s out of the way, it’s time to dig a little deeper to understand of sportsbooks set their NFL betting lines and how you, as a bettor, can take advantage of this and maximise your profits.



Each sportsbook has their own system, but to start with they will generally assign a baseline number that reflects how much better or worse they are than average. For example, a top NFL team such as the reigning Super Bowl Champions Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be considered seven points better than average, while a team that has struggled such as the Jacksonville Jaguars might be seven points below average. In this instance, a meeting between these two teams would see the baseline spread set in the vicinity of 14 points.


Other factors such as home-field advantage, injuries, weather conditions and previous matchups will then be considered and the line adjusted accordingly. 


In some cases, if the sports book expects most of the betting activity to come on one side of the ledger, they might adjust the line to encourage more wagers on the other side of the betting market. betting calculator



Betting lines are generally set early in the week leading up to an NFL game, but they usually fluctuate before kickoff due to the factors mentioned above.


The biggest influence on line movement is when there’s heavy action on one side of the ledger. However, occasionally the line will move in the opposite direction of the majority of bets placed. This generally occurs when professional gamblers wager large amounts on the opposite to what the general public is hammering. This means even though the majority of bets are on one side, the majority of money is on the other. In this instance, it pays to follow the ‘smart’ money of the professionals (they’re pros for a reason!) with your own bets.



Timing your bet to capitalise on these odds fluctuations is known as ‘beating the number’. The aim of this is to get  ‘closing line value’ whenever possible. 


For example, say you wager on a -6.5 NFL favorite early in the week, and the line movement sees them end up closing as -7.5 favorites before kickoff. In that case, you would have beat the number to the tune of one-point of closing line value.


While it might not seem like a significant amount, being able to accomplish this on a regular basis is likely to end up leading to long-term profitability.



The dream scenario when looking to capitalise on NFL line movement is to give yourself the opportunity to ‘middle’ the line.


For example, say you bet the over on an totals line set at 50.5 early in the week, but the number increases to 54.5 in the hours before kickoff. You’ve already ‘beaten the number’ by 4 points, but now you have the opportunity to middle.


From here, you’d wager on under the 54.5 line. The worst case scenario is one of those bets will lose and the other will win, ideally cancelling each other out. The best case scenario is that the total lands in the middle of both bets and you collect two massive payouts!


Now you’re an expert when it comes to understanding NFL betting lines, it’s time to maximize your profits! 

We recommend having accounts with multiple sportsbooks so you can always cash in on the best lines available and increase the possibility of being able to ‘middle’ the line. Some of the top sportsbooks recommended by the team at Bet Basics are PointsBet, BetMGM, FanDuel and DraftKings. Check out our full list of Bet Basics list of 100% licensed & regulated legal sportsbooks.

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