Football spread betting is the most popular market in the world of sports gaming. Betting the spread in football is especially favored.

Gamblers are always going to rejoice with the National Football League season rolls around in the summer and with things heating up for the start of fall, simply because that means it’s an open city for NFL Bets to be made. And once you start checking out the odds and are ready to make some money, taking a look at your options for NFL Point Spread Betting will be highly important. But, what does the spread mean in football?

What Is Spread Betting In Football?

For newcomers, this can be a daunting question, which is why we’ll ensure we leave you with a football spread explained comprehensively and provide you with some solid examples of how football spreads work. So, without further adieu, let’s explain how do football spreads work.

Oddsmakers determine the perceived difference between two football teams on the scoreboard. They use formulas, power rankings, and consider factors like home/away, injuries, weather, and public perception. The goal is to balance the talent gap and encourage equal betting action on both teams. The stronger team becomes the favorite (negative value) and the weaker team becomes the underdog (positive value).

In an NFL bet, the favorite team is given a spread of -6.5 if they are perceived to be six points better than the weaker team. To win the bet, the favorite team must win by more than six points, also known as “covering the spread”. On the other hand, the underdog team is given a spread of +6.5. This means they must lose by less than seven points or win the game outright in order to win the bet.

Point Spread Examples

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s delve a little deeper and try to iron out any doubts or complications you may have regarding what does spread mean in football by using a few examples.

Example A

Let’s take the 2023 Super Bowl as an example:

  • Philadelphia Eagles : +4.5 (must win by 5+)
  • Kansas City Chiefs : -4.5  (can win or lose by 1-4 points)

Result: If the Chiefs were to win with a final score of 30-26, the Eagles spread bettors would win their bets. If the Chiefs stomp the Eagles and win 27-5, then Chiefs spread bettors would win.

Example B

Let’s take a weekly fixture as an example:

  • Dallas Cowboys : -12.5 (must win by 13+)
  • New York Jets : +12.5 (can win or lose by 1-13 points)

Result: Cowboys win 38-12 (Cowboys cover 13+, because they won by a clear 26 points)

Example C

Let’s create an example based on the 2023-24 season:

  • San Francisco 49ers : -3.5 (need to win by 4 or more)
  • Buffalo Bills : +3.5 (need to lose by 3 or fewer, or win)

Result: 49ers win 36-22 (49ers cover -3.5) because they won by a clear margin)

Points spreads are where you’re going to make or break yourself with your bets. With things constantly being moved around when it comes to odds, the point spreads for teams will consistently be shifting around as well. If you’re still not sure how does the spread work in football, read on as we’ll dig a little deeper.

NFL Betting Lines

The NFL Betting Lines and the Point Spread Betting football will go hand in hand for your wagers regardless of which team you’re thinking about going with. In essence, these are the numbers that you’re going to be betting on. It may sound confusing, but it’s actually incredibly easy to follow and break down. Allow us to do that for you.

If your team is the Pittsburgh Steelers, you’ll be able to find the different odds for bets every single week they’re in action. In addition, you can also find prop bets and futures bets for Pittsburgh too. Staying in line with the point spread in football, though, here’s an example to better help you understand exactly what will be going on.

How Is a Point Spread Calculated?

This isn’t a question with a short answer. But, given that there are a variety of influential factors, we’ll break it down into bite-size bullet points to make it more palatable for our readers. Here’s the process in it’s most simplistic terms:

  • Oddsmakers create mathematical ratings for each team before the season starts, and continuously adjust them as games are played.
  • The ratings, along with factors such as home-field advantage, rest, and injuries, are considered to create a point spread for a scheduled game.
  • After the initial point spread is determined, bettors start placing their wagers. These bets can influence the spread and cause it to move towards the most accurate number.
  • Many sports books do not independently set their own betting lines and instead, they replicate the movements they observe at market-making books.

When you check out one of our sportsbook partners, keeping the Steelers in mind, you might see a point spread that lists Pittsburgh at -4, and their opponent the LA Chargers have their number set at +4 for this particular matchup.

What this tells you is that Pittsburgh is a four-point favorite for that game, with the Chargers being four-point underdogs. If you decide the Steelers will have no problem covering this particular spread, you can bet on them with confidence with our partners. However, remember that they must win by five points for you to win.

If the Steelers take down LA 28-21, you’re in the clear. If the score is 28-26, though, you’d lose. With that same 28-26 score, those who picked the Chargers to cover at +4 would win because LA only lost by two.

Another important thing to note as well is that you’re going to be able to find point spreads for different parts of the game. You can find lines for the first quarter and first half for example. So in this case, you might see the New England Patriots with a -7 line for the first half against the Minnesota Vikings.

In this case, it doesn’t matter one bit what the final score will be. What you’re going to be focused on is what the score is when the two teams enter the locker rooms for the halftime break. So, if the Patriots go into the half with a 21-14 lead, it’d be a push if you took either the Pats to cover at -7 or the Vikings at +7.

For the first quarter, you’ll have the same premise. In this case, the 49ers could be +4 favorites over the Giants. But again, it only matters what the score is after the first 15 minutes of action, and whatever happens the rest of the way will make no difference on your bet.

If the score after the first quarter between the 49ers and Giants is 10-7, and you took San Francisco to cover the +4, you’d lose your bet because they finished that first-quarter only up by three points. If the score was 12-7 in favor of the 49ers, then things would change and you’d be victorious in that wager.

nfl point spread

NFL Week 1 odds

It goes without saying, but the betting on NFL point spreads will be through the roof, especially from the moment the NFL Vegas Odds are officially released for everyone to take a look at. The point spreads will be available far in advance of Week 1 hitting the schedule, regardless of which NFL conference you want to focus on, with the spreads released typically the following Monday or Tuesday for the next week of games.

The Week 1 NFL odds will be subject to change, for every game, from the start of the week to the end. What will cause some of the spread to change? For starters, injuries are always going to play a pretty big role in things moving either up or down for a specific team.

On a Tuesday leading up to Week 1, the Miami Dolphins may have a -3 point spread for a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But, what if the Miami starting quarterback, running back and left tackle all somehow go down with injuries during practice on Thursday and are listed as questionable. With that injury diagnosis, you could see Miami’s spread drop a point or two.

Thinking worst-case scenario, imagine if all three of those players aren’t able to bounce back from their injuries and it’s announced about 24 hours before the opening kick on that Sunday that they’ve all been ruled out to take on the Jaguars.

Once this happens, you better believe that Miami would go from a three-point favorite, to potentially either a two or three-point underdog. While the home team will usually be the favorite, having three of your best players ruled out right before the action would be a nightmare for the team, and the spreads would of course fluctuate because of it.

This kind of example isn’t limited to just Week 1, though. In the NFL, because of how violent the game is, we are seeing countless players go down with injuries at any point during the season. It could be Week 5, Week 9, or even Week 17 for the last batch of regular-season games for the season. The bigger the injury, the more you’ll see odds and spread change as a result. This is something you should always be monitoring and keeping in mind before you hit submit on your respective bets, particularly for the biggest events of the NFL season.

NFL Betting Point Spread

NFL Against the Spread

While there might be times where you may think a team is going to cover the NFL spread and nothing will stop them from doing so, there's going to be plenty of upsets that go down each and every week. You haven't been paying attention to the game at all if you think the top-ranked teams will always come out with a victory.

So, if you do decide to bet against the spread, you're likely going to see some strong payouts. However, there are multiple things that you're going to have to research before doing so. For one instance, if the New Orleans Saints are five-point favorites at home, but they're going up against one of the top-ranked quarterbacks in the game, that could result in the Saints giving up plenty of points.

Their defense hasn't been known to be that strong over the years. While their high-powered offense could put up a lot of points as well, will you trust their defense to limit the standout quarterback they're facing late in the game? Sure, if the Saints win, you may be excited, but if they only win by four points and don't cover the spread, your emotions will surely change.

In a different circumstance, take a look at how teams are playing against the spreads as well throughout the season. If it's late in the year and the Bucs and Rams are meeting for a Week 14 tilt, do your research and see how each team has performed. Sure, the Rams might be the favorites because of the 8-5 record against the 6-7 Bucs, but Tampa Bay could actually be 10-3 against the spread thus far in the season, with the Rams at 5-8.

This will automatically be your signal to stay away from the Rams for the spread. If they've struggled to cover in previous games, this could once again be the case for them against Tampa Bay. And for the Bucs, if they've been so strong in covering, why would you want to bet against them? It's not a simple process when it comes to betting against the NFL spreads, but if you do enough research and study the teams involved in the bet you're hoping to make, you could find yourself in a good position to end up winning some money.

NFL Point Spread Betting FAQs

Meet the author

Dean Etheridge

Dean Etheridge has over ten years of writing experience in the world of sports betting. Starting out as a hobby on his own soccer betting website, Dean has now seen his picks published across various affiliate sites along with The Sun and TalkSPORT where he writes regul...