How to Read Football Spreads

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Contributor, Benzinga
May 26, 2021

Football spreads are a type of gambling strategy used to forecast the outcome of a game. They are best described as the chance that one team will win or lose a game. 

The value of football spreads depends on the margin between the 2 teams and how long the game is expected to last. Football spreads can be found in magazines and newspapers, online sportsbooks, bookmakers and betting exchanges. 

As you might expect, they’re more popular in Europe (particularly Italy), America, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Learn more about some of the most common football-spread formats so you can learn how to read them if you don’t already know.

What is a Points Spread?

A points spread is a fraction of the amount that you wager on the side you think will win. For example, in the NFL, if you bet $100 that New England will win and the line is currently at −1.5 points (i.e., Patriots are +1.5 or Patriots are −1.5), then your margin would be $110. 

A team’s odds to win a football game are called its odds. The most common type of odds in football is called a moneyline. When you bet the moneyline, you’re wagering on your team to win without worrying about what the spread is.

What is the Moneyline?

The moneyline is betting in the same fashion that you would be betting on a normal game where there is no spread. You simply wager $100 on one side or another with no handicap added.

What is a Handicap?

In addition to betting on 1 team and receiving even odds (typically), you can also bet on a certain number of points to be added or subtracted from the final score of a game. 

When this happens, it’s known as putting a handicap on a line. The most common handicap in football is called the field goal handicap.

What is the Plus and Minus For?

Think of the plus and minus as a bankroll. If you have $2,500 in your bankroll for a game with a line of +3 points, then on that bet you will win $3 if your team wins but lose $3 if your team loses. The plus and minus are the amount of money that you have in your account for that game.

Why Do Points Spreads Matter?

As you might have guessed, the key to understanding football spreads is knowing how points spreads work and looking at the moneyline. There are 2 key points to remember about moneyline bets.

The 1st point relates to how moneyline bets work. If your team has a better chance of winning than its  opponent, or if your team has a worse chance of winning than its opponent, your odds will be better if you play on the moneyline rather than in the spread. For example, in each game between Oregon and USC in 2017, USC had an overall better record (8-4 compared to 7-5), but Oregon had a better chance of winning. This meant the spread was almost always in Oregon’s favor.

The 2nd point is related to the first and has to do with how much money you bet rather than which team you bet on. In most cases, if there is a large spread between 2 teams (i.e., 8 points), then it is better to play on the moneyline than in the spread. This makes sense because although the odds are greater and your winnings would be higher in the spread, the margin of victory could be small if it’s a close game so you would be losing out on some potential profits when compared with playing it safe with moneyline odds.

Why a Half Point?

Football spreads typically have 2 numbers – the 1st number is the number of points that a team will win by, and then there is a ½-point afterwards (for example, New England Patriots -3, New England Patriots -3.5). This is why it’s typically called in ½-point increments. If you look at those bets historically, you will see there are 2 types of common spreads in football: single-digit spread bets (7 points or less) and double-digit spread bets (7.1 to 14 points).

Single-digit spreads are common, but double-digit spread bets are rare. The reason the spreads for these bets is rare is because of how they work. If 2 teams have a spread of 7 points, the winning team needs to win by more than 7 points for a bet to return a profit. In other words, you would lose your initial bet if a team won by just 3 points and your bet was on it to win by 4 points. You would also lose money if the team won by less than 3 points.

Best Online Sportsbooks for Football

The 2 most popular places to bet on football are Draftkings and FanDuel, both of which are very popular with pro football fans. For a long time, DraftKings was the only book that allowed you to wager on more than 1 team at once, which is known as  a combination bet, but FanDuel has since opened up its own version of this type of wagering as well.

The reason it is so important to have both these sportsbooks is that with Draftkings, you can create tournaments and contests where you can narrow down the pool of games and teams that you want to bet on as well as choose from different types of odds such as the spread. With FanDuel, you can do the same thing without the tournaments and contests.

In both cases, you will have a good list of individual games to choose from where you can bet on what each team scores. You can also choose whether or not you want to wager in cash (real money) or just for fun with points that won’t affect your overall balance. There is no cost to sign up for FanDuel or Draftkings, and it takes time to get used to how everything works. After you are familiar with things, using either site will be fairly easy.

Here are some of Benzinga's recommended online sportsbooks. 

Make Sense Now?

Overall, football betting is not as easy as it may seem. In fact, it is often the hardest sport to bet on. The reason football is so difficult to predict is because there are so many games going on in such a short period of time. 

One moment, you can bet on the Steelers and be up $100 only to find out an hour later that they lost by 3 points and your money is gone. That’s just 1 example, but there are many other scenarios l where something completely out of your control happens and ruins your wager.

These are just a few things that could happen:

a) You could parlay certain teams together (e.g., Atlanta and Denver) or a different parlay altogether where the final game in your wager loses.

b) You could bet on the Bengals only to find out later (i.e., when it’s too late) that Andy Dalton is playing injured and might not play at all.

c) Someone may be playing injured, which means he won’t perform as well, but you have no way of knowing this before the game starts.

d) The weather could be absolutely horrible (too hot or cold, etc.), which will change the way teams are strategizing and how they will perform during the game.

Frequently Asked Questions


What does a +7 spread mean?


The +7 spread means that the underdog has to outscore the favorite by 7 points in order for your bet to win. For example, if San Diego was a 3-point underdog, and they beat Philadelphia by 2 points, you would win your bet because you had bet on them to beat Philadelphia by more than 3 points.


What does a +3 spread mean?


The +3 spread means that the favorite wins by 3 or more points. For example, if San Diego was a 4-point favorite, and they beat Philadelphia by 10 points, you would lose all your money because you would have bet on them to win by less than 5 points (i.e., 6).