What’s the Difference Between NFL Odds, Point Spreads, and Spread Betting?

Even seasoned gamblers can struggle to understand the world of sports odds. Perhaps the biggest question is: What are odds? They might seem like a no-brainer, but actually, odds can vary from sport to sport and from event to event, making them more difficult to grasp. Let’s try to shed some light on the matter.

A Quick Primer On How Sports Betting Works

It’s essential to know what kind of bets you’re making and what the terms of each one mean before you can begin to assess the betting odds. To that end, here’s a short primer on how sports betting works and what the lingo means.

The Basics

Depending on the bookmaker, betting odds for sporting events can be found in a variety of ways. For instance, you might want to bet on the total number of points scored in a specific game (ex: 49 points), the winner of a certain event (winner of the Triple Crown will pay you 6/5), or the visiting team in a professional sports matchup (Boston Red Sox vs Cleveland Indians). You’ll find a plethora of odds choices in these and other situations.

Point Spread

If you’ve ever watched a football game and seen the total points scored displayed at the bottom of the screen, you’ve likely seen the point spread mentioned. This is what the layman refers to as the spread between the point totals of the two teams, and it’s often found in newspapers and on TV news reports. One team might be favored to win the game, and the bookmaker will usually take the other side of the wager. For instance, if a 49ers-Saints matchup is billed as a battle of the titans, with San Francisco listed at a 1.5-point edge in the latest Madden odds, you might see the point spread listed as 4.5.


Some casinos and sports betting websites give you the option of wagering on the over or under of the total number of points scored in a game. For example, you could bet on whether the total number of points will be greater than (OVER) or less than (UNDER) the parley. Interestingly, the over/under option allows you to hedge your bet by using both options on the same wager, should the line move in the opposite direction of your selected outcome. For instance, if San Francisco is favored in the 49ers-Saints game and the line moves to 3.5 points at the time of the wager, you could choose to lay a 50-dollar UNDER bet, since 3.5 < 4.0.

NFL Odds

This is the quintessential form of odds for sports bettors. It stands for “New York Football League odds.” NFL odds are simply the odds set by the bookmakers for NFL (National Football League) games. For example, when the New England Patriots are listed as 3.5 favorites to beat the Atlanta Falcons in an upcoming game, this is what you’ll see in most places:

Game: New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons

Date: October 27, 2019

Time: 3:00 p.m. ET

Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Massachusetts

National Football League

Odds: 3.5 – Patriots

This is pretty self-explanatory. NFL odds reflect the opinions of the bookmakers, and as such, they can vary widely. However, in all situations, you’ll see the “favorite” and the “underdog” terms mentioned above. Favorites have the appearance of an odds symbol (“+”) next to their team, and underdogs have the appearance of an odds symbol (“-”) next to their team. Sometimes, the line will simply be listed as “Draw,” which means the two teams are even money.

Keep in mind: the above stats, standings, and odds are subject to change.

What’s The Difference In Sports Betting And Investing?

Now, it’s important to distinguish between sports betting and investing. Although you might use the same techniques for both endeavors, they’re quite different in nature. With sports betting, you’re trying to beat the odds; with investing, you’re more worried about earning a profit based on the performance of a certain asset.

For example, let’s say you’ve always wanted to be a successful investor. You’ve poured countless hours into learning the craft, and you’ve managed to accumulate a small portfolio of stocks. If you see that a company you follow is trading at an unusually attractive price, you might want to consider buying some shares in that company even though it’s not yet been listed on the major stock exchanges. You’re effectively engaging in short-term, high-risk, high-reward speculative investing.

On the other hand, if you’re a fan of a particular sports team and want to bet on them to win a specific game, that’s what you should do. Trying to time the market by investing in a handful of select stock is contrary to the purpose of betting, which is to get the best possible outcome as soon as possible, without over- or under-considering one’s investment.

Why Are Bookmakers Necessary For Sports Betting?

Bookmakers are necessary for sports betting because people want to bet. Without them, there would be no point in having odds or betting directly on the games because you couldn’t place a wager. Bookmakers make calculations based on past games and odds movements to determine what their customers might want to wager on in the future.

If a bookmaker ignores the odds for a specific game, it opens the door for manipulation by nefarious individuals seeking to affect the odds in their favor. In the past, people have tried to influence the odds for the World Cup, the Summer Olympics, and the Super Bowl. Thankfully, today’s bookmakers are much more sophisticated, and they use various methods to prevent against manipulation.

Fortunately, you don’t have to run away from the bookmakers as soon as you’ve joined a sports betting website. Instead, you can take the time to familiarize yourself with the various types of wagers available and the terms that go with them.

More Examples Of How Sports Betting Works

To further clarify the differences between sports betting and investing, here are a few more examples.

  • Boston Red Sox – 5.0 over/under; plus money
  • Cleveland Indians – 5.0 under/over; plus money
  • Denver Nuggets – 5.0 over/under; minus money
  • New York Knicks – 5.0 under; minus money
  • Washington Wizards – 5.0 under; minus money


One of the biggest questions for newbies is: What are props? When used in connection with sports betting, props are items that can influence a sports outcome aside from the strength of the teams and their records. For example, you might want to bet on whether a team will cover the spread in an upcoming game. Props can be anything that can make a difference in a game, like weather, injuries, or the playing surface. Some examples of props include:

  • Field Conditions
  • Date
  • Time
  • Wind
  • Game Location

Live Betting

Live betting is quite popular among sports bettors. This is where you place a wager while the game is still being played in real time. Most sports betting websites and apps allow you to do this. It can be highly rewarding if done correctly, but it also has the potential to be highly damaging to your financial health if not done prudently.

The key to live betting is finding a reputable sportsbook that has the odds you’re looking for and have the tools available to allow you to place wagers while the sport is ongoing. A live betting app can make this process much more convenient because you can place wagers from virtually anywhere. This is why most people who enjoy sports betting also have a love for smartphones. They can use their devices to access live betting odds from virtually anywhere. This might be particularly convenient if you’re traveling and want to place a wager at the airport while you’re waiting for your flight. Live betting opens up a world of convenience for sports fans who love to wager.