Oct 20, 2017
Oct 20, 2017

How to bet on the NFL: The ultimate NFL betting guide

Learn how to bet on the NFL and what the odds mean

Understand the different NFL betting markets

What strategies can you use to inform your NFL betting?

How to bet on the NFL: The ultimate NFL betting guide

NFL betting is becoming increasingly popular outside of the United States. With even more regular season games planned on UK soil and talk of a London franchise, the popularity of NFL betting will only continue to rise over the next few years. Read on for a comprehensive guide to NFL betting.

The NFL has consistently built on its International Series over the past few years and this season, the UK will host a minimum of three overseas games. Whilst games in UK only make up a fraction of the regular season fixtures, football fans can still watch the NFL all year round, so with more and more fans watching, this is the perfect time to learn about NFL betting.

NFL betting: Available markets

There are three basic bet types in NFL betting; Money Line, Handicap and Totals - the same as basketball betting.

Money Line

The Money Line (1X2 without the draw) is also commonly used amongst novice bettors because it is simple and straightforward - it is essentially betting on who will win the game.


Opposing NFL teams vary in strength so in order to counter the perceived bias in abilities, bookmakers offer a points handicap to level the playing field - this is often referred to as “the spread”. 

Experienced bettors will most likely think about things like how the weather can impact the result or whether a team is playing at home or on the road.

The handicap market is popular with more advanced bettors as it balances each team’s chances and offers more value - it is used as the standard reference point for referring to relative chances in a game.

By using a hypothetical example, we can explain how betting on a handicap works. Both teams are offered associated odds on either a plus or minus points score, so for example the Indianapolis Colts might be offered at -6 1.909 against the New York Giants at +6 2.020.

A bet on Indianapolis would win if the Colts win by six or more points, and similarly a bet on the Giants would have paid if they win the game, or lose by less than six points.

If the result was 29-17 to the Colts, those bettors who bet on the Colts to win -6 1.909 would have a winning bet as the point difference is 12. Six more than the handicap offered.


Totals NFL betting focuses on how many combined points will be scored by both teams during the game. Bookmakers offer an option to bet on whether or not the total points will be either over or under the totals mark. This is why this form of betting is often referred to as the Over/Under.

In both the handicap and totals markets, when a team exceeds the required points for a successful bet it is called ‘covering the bet’.

Alternative NFL betting markets

In addition to the more common betting markets, NFL bettors can also bet on time specific markets within a game (first quarter, first and second half), adjusted handicap markets (alternative handicap) and individual team totals. These markets are merely variations of the basic bet types mentioned above and work in the same way.

Outright NFL betting is also an option for bettors. These bets will usually run over a longer period of time and often span across an entire season. Examples of outright markets in NFL betting include season win totals for individual teams, Division winners, winner of the Super Bowl and the Super Bowl MVP (most valuable player).

Because the Super Bowl is such a big occasion in terms of NFL betting, there are often special markets posted for the event - these include scorer of the first touchdown and winner of the Super Bowl coin toss.

Developing an NFL betting strategy

Once you have mastered the basics of NFL betting, you may want to explore some more advanced strategies like a spread betting strategy. Bettors looking to bet on the NFL handicap must take into consideration a number of factors about the game, instead of just the chances of team X beating team Y.

By understanding what the key numbers are, you can avoid betting on a bad handicap and can even work out which team the bookmaker wants you to bet on.

The spread in NFL betting refers to how many points X is better than Y and an experienced bettor will most likely think about things like how the weather can impact the result - as this could effect the number of points scored - or whether a team is playing at home or on the road (away). 

Professional NFL bettors spend time building power ranking systems to evaluate teams’ relative strengths and calculate who will have the advantage in any given game. This is then measured against the handicaps and odds offered by bookmakers – looking for discrepancies that represent value.

Collating reliable information is an integral part of any successful betting strategy. However, for those bettors new to NFL betting, there are some accessible handicapping systems that can produce accurate results in the short term.

Yardage differential

At the most basic level, the NFL is about the battle between offensive and defensive units. So one simple way to evaluate the strength of an NFL team is to look at the average offensive yards gained per play and the average defensive yards allowed per play.

As you would expect, teams that gain more yards than they allow tend to win. While this isn’t exclusively accurate, this measure can be used as a tool to predict future performances using a yards per play betting strategy.

Home-field advantage

NFL operates in a unique ‘closed’ league system, where relegation and promotion do not occur. From a statistical point of view, the data from successive seasons for such factors as home-field advantage (HFA) is robust.

To work out HFA for each franchise competing in the NFL you should subtract the total points scored by visiting teams from the home teams and divide by the total number of games played.

You will notice after working out the HFA for the past 20 years, each Franchise HFA is close to a 3-point mark, which has become standard for handicapping purposes - find out which NFL teams have the biggest home field advantage.

Key NFL betting numbers

In terms of the handicap in NFL betting, there are a few key numbers that bettors should be aware of. By understanding what the key numbers are, you can avoid betting on a bad handicap and can even work out which team the bookmaker wants you to bet on. 

Similarly to the Run Line in baseball betting, most games in the NFL are decided by specific margins. The is the most common margin of victory in the NFL as most games are decided late on by a field goal (three points), while seven is the second most common winning margin, as this is how many points a team is awarded for a touchdown plus an extra point for a successful conversion.

It is estimated that around 30% of NFL games are decided by three or seven points. This means that -2.5, +3.5, -6.5 and +7.5 are perhaps the most important numbers when it comes to betting on the handicap in the NFL. Sharp bettors will often wait for the handicap figure to fall around this mark before placing the bet they want to make.

Betting Resources - Empowering your betting

Pinnacle’s Betting Resources is one of the most comprehensive collections of expert betting advice anywhere online. Catering to all experience levels our aim is simply to empower bettors to become more knowledgeable.