How to Read Football Point Spreads: What the Odds and Lines Mean
If you've never set foot in an actual sportsbook before or logged into an online sportsbook, the chances of you getting overwhelmed when you actually do is very high. In an actual Las Vegas sportsbook, there is typically a lot of commotion and the odds and lines are displayed on a massive digital board for everyone to see. When a novice sports bettor looks at the massive digital signage, they will see a bunch of numbers, both positive and negative, some two digits, some three digits. They also won't have a clue what any of it means. The same can be said for the online sportsbooks. It looks like a massive spreadsheet with negative and positive numbers beside each teams' name.
The easiest way for me to describe what all these numbers mean to you is to define it as point spread betting. Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet on the NFL and NBA, and it is a way for a sportsbook to generate betting interest on both sides.
Linemakers who work for the sportsbooks must put out lines that will entice the "favorite" bettors to lay the points and take the favorite or entice the underdog bettors to take the points with the underdog.
As an example, let's say you are looking to place your very first wager on the Super Bowl. You look at the matchup either online or at a Las Vegas sportsbook and this is what you see:
Kansas City +4.5 (-110)
Carolina -4.5 (-110)
How Do Point Spread Bets Work?
Using the example above, the linemakers have determined that the Carolina Panthers are 4.5-point favorites over the Kansas City Chiefs. The favorite team can also be referred to as the chalk . The favorite will always be represented by a negative (-) number, while the underdog will always be represented by a positive (+) number.
Based on the line above and which team you decide to bet on, the Panthers must win by five or more points in order for those with a Panthers (-4.5) ticket to be declared a winner. As long as the Panthers win by five or more points, the final score itself does not matter. A 10-0 win is just as much a winner as a 56-50 win.
However, if the Panthers were to win the game by four or less points, then all Panthers backers can toss their tickets in the trash. A 17-14 or 21-17 Panthers win would cash the tickets with Chiefs +4.5 on them. A Falcons outright win as 4.5-point underdogs would do the same.
What is the -110 Line?
The standard price to pay when betting on point spreads is (-110). This is the sportsbooks way of ensuring a profit no matter which side covers the spread. The extra 10 cents is also known as the "juice" or "vig" . Paying the extra 10 cents is like paying a tax or commission to the sportsbook for brokering the bet.
The -110 line means that in order for you to profit $100 you must wager $110. Some sportsbook offer something called "reduced juice" , which means that you can still profit $100 but the risk is a few dollars less.
For example, if you see reduced lines such as -7.5 (-105) that means that you must risk $105 dollars in order to profit $100. If you see -7.5 (-102) then you must bet $102 in order to profit $100. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but saving a few bucks each time over the course of the season can really help your bankroll.
Which brings me to my next point. If you are serious about getting into sports betting, it is vital to have more than one sportsbook to make a wager at. Shopping around for the best lines will help your bankroll and you will be able to turn a bigger profit. If you see a pair of sneakers for $110 at one store, and the exact same pair is $102.99 at another store - which store are you buying them from?
What is a Push?
When betting the point spread, there is almost always a winner and a loser. However, in some instances sportsbook decide to put out a whole number such as -3 for bettors to bet on. If the final score ends with a differential of three points - no matter who wins - the bet is considered a "push" and all money is refunded to both sides since neither team covered the spread.
What does Pick'em or PK Mean?
When two teams are evenly matched, and the sportsbook can't decide which team should be the favorite, they will release PK lines which means neither team is favorite. The team you wager on must simply win the game by any score in order for your ticket to be graded as a winner.
What Happens When the Point Spread Changes?
This is a very common occurrence throughout the sports betting industry. Sportsbooks have the right to shift the spread or odds for any given match prior to it starting. Many factors play a huge role in this decision, and they include injuries, weather, the volume of bets on one side, and anything in between. Depending on the time you place your wager, the bettor may also have an advantage or disadvantage based on which way the spread has shifted.
Opening Line: Carolina -4.5 vs Atlanta +4.5
Thursday's Line: Carolina -2.5 vs Atlanta +2.5
If bettors were quick to jump on the Atlanta line at +4.5 when it first came out, they would have a distinct advantage over those who waited closer to kick off and were stuck with +2.5. The opposite holds true for Carolina. Bettors that were quick to pull the trigger are now laying two more points than they would if they were patient and saw the line movement before making their move.
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