How Are Point Spreads Used In Sports Betting?
A point spread is a way that Arizona online sportsbooks and oddsmakers balance two uneven teams. In every game, whether it be an NFL game or an NBA contest, there is a point spread and one team is considered the favorite while the other is the underdog. The underdog will be given point, or runs, in baseball betting or goals in hockey bets) to help balance these two teams to make them evenly matched when it comes to the payout odds.
Point Spread Betting odds
The standard odds for a point spread bet is set at -110. What this means is that player would need to wager $110 to win $100. However, the odds on a point spread bet can vary from bet to bet and from operator to operator. Be sure to research and shop around for not only the best point spread for a matchup, but also for the best Arizona odds as they can vary.
The Favored Team
In any sporting event, one team will be considered the favorite. The favorite is the team that is expected or projected to win a given game. On the moneyline, the odds will be expressed with a (-) sign to show the favorite. In point spread bets, they will be the team giving points to the underdog. Here is an example of what the favorite might look like in an NFL game in a point spread bet:
Arizona Cardinals -3 (-110) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers +3 (-110)
Let us say you want to bet on the Cardinals. This team are three-point favorites over the Buccaneers. For the Cardinals (favorites) to cover the spread, they would need to defeat Tampa Bay by more than three points. If the margin of victory is only three points for the Cardinals, this bet would be considered a push and all bets would be returned to the bettors.
The Underdog Team
As there is a favorite in every game, there is also an underdog in every point spread. The underdog team is who is "expected" to lose. The underdog on the point spread is the team that is getting points and that is expressed with a (+) symbol. Here is an example of the underdog in an NFL betting scenario:
Seattle Seahawks -7 (-110) vs. Arizona Cardinals +7 (-110)
In this example, the Cardinals are seven-point underdogs to the Seattle Seahawks. For the Cardinals (underdogs) to cover the spread and for their bettors to win the bet, Arizona would need to win outright or lose by no more than six points. If the final margin of defeat was exactly seven points for the Cardinals, this would be considered a push and all bets would be returned to the bettors.
Not every NFL or NBA game will have big point spreads. Games between evenly matched teams will have spreads that are within a point or two or even games that are considered "pick 'ems." These happen when two teams are incredibly similar, and the contest is expected to be close throughout. However, a close point spread doesn't always mean that two teams are even, as where the game is played, injuries and weather can impact the betting odds and lines.
Throughout the week, especially in the NFL, a point spread change can happen because of several different factors. Injuries and weather can impact odds not only on the point spread and moneyline, but also on the point total as well. Be sure to check in on the lines every day and track the latest movement in your favorite sport.
Outcomes On Point Spread Betting
While point spreads can seem simple, there can be several outcomes:
If you are fortunate enough to win your NFL or NBA point spread bet, it means that your team is covered. Most of the Arizona sports betting sites pay out winners quickly after the contest has ended and funds are immediately deposited into your account. A winning bet of $110 on a -110 line will earn the player $100. They will also receive back their initial $110 bet, so the total amount back into the account will be $210 ($110 initial bet + $100 winnings).
A losing bet on the point spread can be tough, especially if you had the winner right. If the favorite doesn't cover the spread or the loser can't keep the final score within the pre-game point spread, this bet will be considered a loss. If you were to wager the typical $110 bet on a point spread and your team doesn't cover, the sportsbook keeps the bet. It's also worth mentioning that a point spread wager that is deemed a "loss" that is combined into a parlay bet will also turn the entire parlay bet into a loss, as well. The same is true for teaser bets, as well.
This occurs in spread betting when the margin of victory exactly matches the spread. This is not an uncommon outcome in both NFL and NBA bets where the margin of victory is usually very close to the final point spread. When the outcome is a push, all bets are returned to the player.
Covering The Spread
The term covering the spread means that a team has won (or lost by no more than a certain amount of point) by more than the pre-game point spread. For example, a favorite with a -3 point spread will need to win by four or more points to cover the spread. An underdog with a pre-game point spread of +7 would need to win outright or lose by no more than 6 points (losing by 7 points exactly would be considered a push) to cover the spread.
What Does ATS Mean?
With online wagering, "ATS" is short for "against the spread," which means a team's record covering the spread. In point spread betting, this can be a very useful stat as it helps show how a team has played recently in relation to what oddsmakers' expectations were. ATS stats can be quite in-depth as you can find ATS numbers on just about everything, including how a team performs at home vs. road, as an underdog or favorite or even in certain weather conditions. Before placing a point spread bet, make sure to check out all the latest ATS data on your favorite team.
Short for vigorish, the "vig" is what the sportsbook charges for accepting bets on the point spreads. Another name for the vig is "juice," which is a term commonly used by sports bettors when talking about sports odds. The standard odds on the point spread (for both sides) is -110. That means that a $110 bet would win $100. The extra "$10" is what the sportsbook keeps for hosting and allowing players to bet on their site.
It's worth noting that the standard -110 odds for a point spread wager can change from site to site. Sportsbooks will often lower the odds down to -105 or +100 to attract more betting or raise it to -120 if the wager becomes a tad unbalanced to one side.
The "hook" refers to a half-point in the betting line that can swing the betting outcome (and help sportsbooks avoid a push). It's very common to see a "hook" in NFL or NBA betting, where the final outcome usually is within a few points. Here is an example of the "hook" using the NFL:
Arizona Cardinals -7.5 vs. Dallas Cowboys +7.5
In this example, the Cardinals are favored by 7.5 points. Let's say that the Cowboys scored a late touchdown, but still lost the game with a score of 27-20. Dallas would have covered the spread due to the "hook," and Cardinals bettors would have lost due to the 0.5 point. In football betting especially, the hook can be critical as the final margin of victory is commonly 3, 6, 7 or 10 points. Adding half points or "hooks" can often the difference in a win or a loss in point spread betting.
NFL Point Spreads
As mentioned above, the NFL has a few key numbers that bettors need to remember. Because field goals are worth 3 points and touchdowns (with an extra point) are worth 7 points, most NFL point spreads will loosely follow those two margins of victory/defeat. Here are three of the most common lines you will see in NFL point spread betting:
A "PK" or pick 'em means that the line is the same for both teams on the point spread. In this case, there is no favorite and there is no underdog. The spread is zero because the two teams are very similar, and operators believe the contest should be very close. Whenever there are "PK" lines, the bet is simple; you are just selecting and wagering on the team that you believe will win the game outright. Here is an example of what a "pick 'em" bet looks like in the NFL:
Arizona Cardinals - PK (-110) vs. New York Giants - PK (-110)
As usual, the odds are a standard -110, but that can differ from site to site. Be sure to shop for the best odds and lines before placing your NFL point spread bets.
-7 and +7
A "bigger" spread will often hang around 7 points, which means that a team is favored by a touchdown. These spreads are usually reserved for two very unevenly matched teams. Here is what a point spread of 7-points would look like for an NFL contest:
Kansas City Chiefs -7 (-110) vs. Arizona Cardinals +7 (-110)
In this example, the Chiefs are a 7-point favorite over the Cardinals. That means they are expected to win by about a touchdown. These point spreads are the most difficult to wager on due to the high spreads and potential for late-game covers. Be careful when betting on point spreads at or above 7 points.
-3 and +3
The most common NFL point spread you will see is 3-points. Traditionally, the team with home-field advantage is awarded 3 points on the point spread just for playing at home. That will result in a lot of lines at 3 points or around there. Here is an example of a 3-point spread in an NFL game:
Green Bay Packers +3 (-110) vs. Arizona Cardinals -3 (-110)
In the example above, the Cardinals are the home team and are getting the traditional 3-point spread. We can assume that sportsbooks believe these two teams are similar, and if it were the Packers at home rather than the Cardinals, they would be favored by 3 points. As always, be sure to shop around for the best betting odds and lines before placing your point spread wager as they can vary from site to site.
Why NFL Spreads are Lower than College Football
NFL games typically have lower point spreads than college football for several reasons, but the biggest is due to the teams being much more equal at the professional level. In the NFL, all 32 teams must abide by a salary cap and the NFL draft and free agency help create parity. NFL point spreads will usually have close lines that are similar to the final score of the game. That isn't the case for college football betting, as the top three or four schools win the National Championship nearly every year.
In the NFL, it's fairly uncommon to see a double-digit point spread margin. That isn't the case for college football, as blowouts are more common than close games. Here is an example of a college football spread:
Arizona Wildcats +13 (-110) vs. Arizona State Sun Devils -13 (-110)
Generally, upsets aren't as common in college football due to the drastic talent differential between two teams. That is why the point spread is such a common college football bet as it helps keep games entertaining for bettors. College football betting on the spread can be very enjoyable too, but just know that most lines and games aren't going to be quite as competitive as the NFL.
NBA Point Spreads
NBA lines will often resemble NFL lines as most games come down to the final few possessions. NBA point spreads are often anywhere between 0.5 points to sometimes double-digits depending on the matchup. But just like the NFL and college football, point spread betting in the NBA can be very enjoyable. Here is an example of what an NBA spread may look like where the two teams are somewhat similar:
Phoenix Suns -2.5 (-110) vs. Los Angeles Lakers +2.5 (-110)
In this example, the Suns are a 2.5-point favorite over the Lakers in Los Angeles. And as you see in football both at the NFL and college level, the payout for both sides is the standard -110. But keep in mind that payout can change depending on the number of bets on each side and the operator. As you would in the NFL and college football, be sure to show around for good odds before placing your NBA point spread bets.
Run Lines And Puck Lines
While football and basketball are the most commonly bet using point spreads, other sports have similar spread betting. In the NHL, these are referred to as "puck lines," which is the number of goals a team would need to win (or lose by no more than) to cover the spread. Puck lines are +/- 1.5 goals, as scoring is often very low and can only come one at a time.
If you are getting +1.5 goals, that is known as the reverse puck line. Be sure to pay attention to the "vig" in these lines as they can vary drastically compared to NFL and NBA bets. It's not uncommon to say puck line odds of -180 or even -200 in hockey when you take the reverse puck line or +130 or +140 when you give 1.5 goals.
Likewise, in baseball a run line is set at +/- 1.5. Baseball is another low-scoring sport where the margin of victory is typical with a run or two. And like hockey, baseball run lines will have a higher "juice" and players can routinely see odds around the -170 to -200 range when getting the 1.5 runs. Be sure to shop around for the best prices and payouts when it comes to run lines and puck lines in the MLB and NHL.
Point Spreads and Moneylines
Another way to bet on the NFL, NBA, or NHL is via the moneyline. Unlike point spread wagers, the number of points scored or final score does not matter. All that is important in a moneyline bet is to choose the winning team.
Point spread lines will often show how balanced or unbalanced two teams might be when facing one another and that can impact the overall payouts. Before placing a moneyline bet on your favorite team, be sure to look at the point spread to see just how close (or not close) the two opponents are to one another and make sure you are comfortable with the risk/reward of the wager.
Point Spread Betting in Arizona FAQ
A point spread is a way for oddsmakers to balance two uneven teams ang give equal odds.
In this example, the underdog would be given an additional 7 points. That means for the underdog to "cover," it would need to win outright or lose by no more than 7 points to cover the spread.
Covering the spread means a team must win or not lose by more than a set number of points or goals or runs. If a team is a 3-point underdog and win straight up or lose by two or fewer points, it will have covered the spread.
"ATS" stands for against the spread and refers to how often a team covered or failed to cover the spread over a set period. Point spread bettors would be wise to research how a team does against the spread in every environment, such as when they are the favorites, underdog, on the road, etc.
The favorite is indicated by minus sign (-) followed by the number of points they would need to win by to cover the spread. The underdog, indicated by plus sign (+), shows the number of points that they must not lose by more than to cover the spread.
Marcus Mosher covers the NFL, NFL Draft and NFL news for BetArizona.com. The managing editor of The Raiders Wire is also a contributor to The Athletic DFW, Pro Football Weekly and FanSided, and previously wrote for FanRag Sports. He hosts Locked On Cowboys Podcast. During NFL season, Marcus tracks his picks as a handicapper for Bookies.com.