How Does the Point Spread Work in Betting?

The point spread is one of the most interesting and, at the same time, most confusing betting options around. Most sportsbooks will be really happy to make your next bet and they will rush to give you the best prices possible, especially if you are a high roller who knows how to play the odds (in a good way). However, for those who are new to gambling and who haven’t figured out how betting on sports works, the point spread can seem a bit much. Let’s take a closer look at how the point spread functioned historically and how it works in practice nowadays so that you can have a better understanding of what is going on.

How The Point Spread Worked In The Past

The point spread was first used in American football in the 1870’s and it was originally designed to be a way for the home team to beat the visitor. The point spread was also meant to keep oddsmakers in business as they no longer had to pay out massive amounts to the casinos if the games were close. As a result, the point spread slowly started changing the way sports are played and viewed in this country. The original point spread formula was:

Odds The Home Team Will Score >= ½ Odds The Visitor Will Score

Let’s say you are betting on the Chicago Bears and their matchup with the Green Bay Packers this coming December 26. You get your odds from an online bookmaker and those odds are:

Bears +750
>V Packers -1200

You are confident the Bears will cover the point spread and you place a wager of $100 on the game. Now, the bookmaker will take care of the rest as they will collect their winnings from you if the Bears cover the point spread. If they don’t cover the spread, you will lose your $100.

How The Point Spread Works In Practice

Today, the point spread is used in a variety of sports and the way it works is basically the same as what we saw in the 1870’s. Teams that are deemed to be “lesser” teams by the oddsmakers will play at an advantage and this is how it should work in theory. Teams that are favored to win will cover the point spread and teams that are disfavored will try to beat the point spread in order to win the game. Let’s take a look at some examples.

NFL Football

In the National Football League (NFL), the point spread usually works like this: If a team is listed as an underdog, that means they are being favored to win the game by oddsmakers. As a general rule, if you are betting on the visitor in an NFL game, it is always a good idea to look at the point spread so that you know what you are getting into. The visitors will be listed as the team with the points after scoring more points than the home team. If the home team is a much better team than the visitor, that means the points will be very close to even and that is why it is always a good idea to check the point spread in NFL games whenever there is an upset possibility. In some cases, where one team is clearly superior to the other, the point spread can be used to predict a blowout, but in most cases, it will be very close. In order to calculate the point spread for NFL games:

Home Team PS Favorite Team PS Underdog Team

For example, the New England Patriots are 35-point favorites over the Los Angeles Rams in this year’s NFL season opener. That means that the Rams are only able to secure a 3-point victory in this game, no matter what they do. This makes sense as the Patriots are one of the best teams in NFL history and they are returning virtually everyone from last year’s team, which was also one of the best in the history of the league.

College Football

In college football, the point spread works the same way as in the NFL. However, the home teams in college football are always considered to be superior to the visiting teams, which makes the point spread a bit more volatile in this sport. One of the most famous examples of the point spread in action in college football was the 2006 Rose Bowl, where Michigan State defeated California, 21-14. The point spread for that game was:

Michigan State -3½ California

In that game, the Spartans covered the point spread and this gave them the edge they needed to win. California didn’t cover the spread and this is why they lost the game.

MLB Baseball

Baseball is another sport where the point spread is very important. Just like in the NFL, the home teams in MLB are usually considered to be superior to the visiting teams and this makes the point spread very volatile. This is exemplified by the fact that, in 2018, the New York Yankees opened as 7½-point favorites over the Houston Astros in the first game of the season and later that game, the Yankees covered the point spread by a score of 4-3. If you are looking to place a bet on the MLB, make sure you do your research beforehand and choose a team that you feel is likely to cover the spread. In most cases, the favorite will cover the spread, but it depends on a variety of factors, such as the match-up and who is the better team overall.

Final Takeaway

Betting on the point spread is always a riskier strategy than just placing your wager on one of the two teams involved in the game. Just remember that, in most cases, the favorite will cover the point spread and this is why it is always a good idea to check the point spread before placing your wagers in games that involve two pro teams. Even in cases where one team is superior to the other, the point spread can still be used to determine the winner of the game, but you should always consult an expert before placing any wagers on games involving international players or collegiate teams. Finally, always read the fine print before placing any wagers and make sure you are aware of the policies of the bookmaker you are using.