Guide: How to bet on American football/NFL

For American football fans who want some skin in the game or are looking to make some money from their football knowledge, wagering on the sport can provide great entertainment. NFL betting can be fun and exciting – and it also gives you the chance to make a profit if your wagering strategies are successful.

There’s plenty to know when learning how to bet on American football. BetCompare has you covered with the different football bet types, NFL parlay tips and the biggest American football events of2020. But for overall betting strategy, read our comprehensive guide below, as we explore all the main aspects of wagering on American football and the NFL.

The basics

When learning how to bet on basketball and baseball, our main advice is to do as much research as you can before placing any of your wagers. With American football, our advice is no different.

There are a number of factors to consider when betting on the NFL or college football. Important ones include player matchups, coaching strategies, line-ups, home and away records, head-to-head records and which teams turn the ball over more often.

We will explore some of these in closer detail later; but if there is just one piece of advice you take away on how to bet on American football, it’s to look at the above factors, and a team’s overall form, before you place a bet on them.

When looking at form, a team who have a stronger passing game in football will typically hold the advantage over their opponents. A key metric to read up on is the ‘pass yards per attempt’ measure. Teams who rank higher in this category over the course of a season tend to have more possession and stronger offense, so a statistic like this is worth knowing when choosing which team to bet on.

The weather

As arbitrary as it may seem, knowing what the weather will be like at the location an NFL or college match is taking place can help the success of your American football wagering. This can apply especially to bet types such as point spreads and totals.

So, if you have seen a particularly bad weather forecast ahead of a game, you will have unknowingly put yourself at an advantage. Weather can affect the quality of pitch, for instance, as wetter conditions lead to more mistakes with the ball.

Rain or snow can lead to less touchdowns being scored, while overall bad weather may point towards betting on lower points totals. Strong winds can equally affect an American football game, making it harder for players to pass and receive the ball.

The quarterbacks

When evaluating team line-ups, the position most likely to affect your wager is that of the quarterback. Quarterbacks are the most important position on the field and knowing the form and ability of a team’s quarterback can not only help you with money line, point spread or over/under betting, it can equally help you with player prop bets.

For this reason, it’s useful to generally research how many injuries a team is carrying. If a team has several players out injured, it can be half as formidable as it usually is. This applies especially to its quarterback. The best quarterbacks in the business are so influential that an injury to them would completely alter their team’s chances of winning.

Think of how good Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots are; then think how you can use their ability to your advantage when NFL betting.

Stats worth analyzing are how a quarterback performs in the fourth quarter of a game, their interceptions per attempt, their amount of fumbles, their sack percentage and their rushing attempts per game. With an in-form quarterback, it’s likely totals will go higher, while their team will have a higher chance of winning on the money line or covering the spread.

Knowing how good a team’s quarterback is can also help with futures betting. If a team has traded a strong quarterback, or lost an in-form quarterback due to injury, their odds to reach the NFL playoffs or win the Super Bowl will change accordingly.

Beating the spread

With point spread betting so common in NFL and American football, a key part of wagering on the sport is beating the spread. This essentially means knowing when an underdog is likelier to defy the odds – and the point spread – or whether a favourite will be far too strong for the game to even be particularly close.

Like with any NFL bet, the basic factors discussed so far will help you prepare when trying to beat the spread: injuries, quarterbacks, tactics, form, weather and more. Pooling them all together to assess a team’s expected points can help you paint a clearer picture of whether you agree with the lines set by a sportsbook for a game’s point spread.

Ultimately, there is nothing stopping you setting your own lines, otherwise known as handicapping, and then comparing them to the ones offered by the books. If there are examples where your predicted lines are several points over or under the lines offered, this can be a good indicator of where to stake your money.

Betting early is another method of potentially beating the spread. Although you will be wagering with less information to hand, such as accurate line-up or injury info, line movements could benefit you as time goes by. Sure, you are equally prone to the line moving the other way; but when done right, betting early can help your point spread betting considerably.

Example: If the Las Vegas Raiders are @ the Carolina Panthers, Play SugarHouse is offering odds of -110 for the Raiders -1.5 on the point spread, a few weeks before the game. But if the Raiders become stronger favourites as the weeks go by and are the same odds -4.5 on the point spread, betting early gives your bet more chance of winning.

If the Raiders win by 3 points, your wager would be successful – but anyone who took the -4.5 line would lose their bet.

Key numbers

Something else to bear in mind when learning how to bet on the NFL and college football is the sport’s key numbers. Assessing key numbers can assist you with a range of bet types, although commonly it can be very helpful when looking at point spreads and over/under.

Point spreads: Key numbers to look out for are -2.5 to -3.5 and -6.5 to -7.5 – and their reverse equivalents. With these key numbers in mind, the most common winning margin in NFL over the years has been three points, with the second-most common margin seven points – worth considering when point spread betting. By wagering on lines that reward wins of three and seven point margins, you can boost your chances of success.

Over/under: Key numbers here are the most common team points totals at the end of matches. There are a handful of most frequent points totals in American football, due to the scoring system (3 points for field goals and 7 points for touchdowns). Generally, key numbers in NFL for totals betting are considered to be 41, 43, 37, 44, 51, 33 and 47.

College football: Key numbers vary slightly for college football, as NFL action is usually more competitive, seeing closer games. In recent years, college totals have commonly been much higher, with their key numbers for over/under being: 55, 51, 45, 59, 58, 52 and 41. The key numbers for point spreads remain the same, as the scoring system is the same across all levels of American football.

Think for yourself

While research is an essential first step when it comes to enhancing your NFL betting, it’s important to distinguish between facts and stats – and media hype and opinion. The biggest games come with plenty of media noise, with relentless pundit comments and predictions. Try and filter these when focusing on your football betting.

To follow this up, one strategy you can pursue is fading the public. Fading, also known as laying, means betting against a specific outcome rather than backing it. When the public heavily favour a specific winner, they will back a team so heavily it will move a sportsbook’s odds or lines.

An advanced strategy is to monitor these movements and bet when there is most value offered by a book’s odds. This is not a strategy you have to use by any means but the option is there. If you prefer not to back against the public hype, it’s still worth filtering out anything subjective that can mislead your betting chances.

Live betting

While odds and lines can change frequently pre-match, they are bound to shift with every field goal or touchdown once a game has started. While momentum shifts will not be as frequent as in the NBA, where the basketball action will be more end-to-end, there will be plenty of opportunity to find value during a game.

Equally, if you are betting more for fun and entertainment, live betting lets you bet on an outcome during the action – when you can clearly see the game is going a certain way. For example, a team who were money line underdogs before a game could take a commanding lead at the start of a game. In these situations, the favourite will still be expected to come back and win, so if you think the underdog has a chance of holding out, you will usually find longer live odds on that team winning on the money line.

Something else that helps the live betting experience in the NFL is the amount of stoppages and longer average length of a game. When live betting on American football, always consider the following:

  • How much time is left?
  • How much has the line moved for the money line, point spread or total?
  • Have any injuries during the game changed how it is panning out?
  • Is the coaching strategy different to what was expected pre-match?

Overtime betting

If a game is tied and goes into overtime, it’s important to note it still qualifies in your money line, point spread and over/under betting. This counts for both pre-match bets and half-time bets on the second half. It does not count for specific quarter betting, such as fourth quarter betting, but it does not mean your original bet is disqualified.

With this knowledge, try to account for overtime if you think two teams are closely matched and a tie is likely. For money line betting, if you think overtime is possible, will the fitter team have the edge?

For point spread betting, if there is potential for a tie, perhaps the underdog has the edge. And, for totals, if overtime is a possibility, over would be a statistically better bet than under.

NFL Draft betting

When it comes to the specific competitions you can bet on, before the season even starts you can bet on NFL action that doesn’t involve any interceptions, touchdowns or field goals. With NFL Draft betting, you can wager on all kinds of prop bets to do with which players will be signed by which teams.

Although this can be considered more towards the ‘fun’ side of things, you can still apply all your research and player/team knowledge. For example, if you have a good knowledge of NFL players, you can apply it and wager on who will be selected first overall.

There are a number of different markets to bet on when the Draft comes around, so if you think you have a good grasp on who will go where, or if you simply want to make the Draft even more entertaining, betting can be a good way to go. Keep an eye out, too, for bonuses and sign up offers sportsbooks may be offering during the NFL Draft.

NFL Playoff betting

As is common throughout US sports, the postseason becomes a whole new home for wagering action in American Football. Just like the NBA and NHL, the NFL Playoffs provide a wave of new betting opportunities, with unique matchups and chances to find value.

Once the regular season is done, general tips when betting on the Playoffs are to account for home field advantage, which is particular strong in American football compared to other sports. Weather can often have more of an impact than usual, too, with the Playoffs usually played in January and February. Weather can affect travelling teams more heavily, even if it does not affect the actual surface itself.

Teams accustomed to warmer temperatures travelling to colder regions will feel the difference – and vice versa. Elsewhere, you’ll need to have a balance between the best teams on paper, the most consistent across the campaign and the most in-form teams in the last stretch of the regular season.

Super Bowl betting

The climax of the Playoffs is, of course, the Super Bowl – the biggest event in American football. No NFL team has ever played the Super Bowl in their own stadium, so home advantage is out of the equation for this one. Additionally, the Super Bowl has only ever gone to overtime once in its entire history, so plan for the game to be finished by the end of the fourth quarter.

With so much attention paid to the Super Bowl by NFL bettors, a sportsbook’s opening line will likely change in both directions until game time, so decide if you want to bet early, fade the public or wait right until kickoff – when you have as much information available as you possibly can.

However, one thing to take into account during the Super Bowl is that everyone else looking to bet on the NFL will be looking at exactly the same game, odds and lines that you are. Because of this, it is much harder to find betting value than usual – and professional ‘sharp’ bettors can tend to avoid one-off events like the Super Bowl, as they can be unpredictable and are subject to so much attention. On the flip side, that’s also what makes betting on the Super Bowl so much fun.

Responsible gambling

Whether your aim is to have some skin in the game for excitement, back your home team or to make a long-term profit with a specific betting strategy, always remember not to lose control. Wagering is about entertainment as well as the chance to make money, so don’t let a bad run ruin your betting experience.

Stake only what you know you can afford and always remember there’s a chance of losing. Don’t chase after your losses; instead, set limits for yourself to help your betting.

If you can do this and ensure you are gambling responsibly, your American football betting experience will be all the better for it. And you’ll be ready to take advantage of the world of NFL and college football betting out there. Remember, though, before you bet – always compare.