Betting Football Moneylines
If you want to bet on football, then you have plenty of options. There are not only lots of games you can bet on, there are also lots of different types of wagers you can place. Point spreads and totals are the most popular types, by quite a distance, and many football bettors stick solely to those. This isn't really the ideal approach, as some of the other wagers can be very useful in the right circumstances.
The moneyline is definitely one of those wagers. This is often viewed as an alternative to the point spread, and in some respects it is, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored just because you like betting on the spread. We explain why in this article, and we also offer some tips for betting football moneylines.
First, though, we'll explain exactly how moneylines work when betting on football.
How Football Moneylines Work
Betting the moneyline for a football game is simply betting on which team you think is going to win. There is no point spread involved. Whichever team you select has to win outright for a wager to be successful. In the unlikely event of a tie, your stake will be returned.
In most football games there is a favorite and an underdog. Very occasionally there are games where the two team are completely evenly matched, but for the most part one team is favored over the other to win. With point spreads, the idea is to create an even money proposition when betting on the game. So the favorite has to win by at least a certain number of points for a wager on them to be successful, and the underdog has to lose by no more than a certain number of points for a wager on them to be successful. The bigger the gap in quality between the two teams, the bigger the point spread.
Because there's no point spread involved with moneyline wagers, the odds are adjusted to reflect this. So whereas both sides of a point spread wager both have the same odds, or very close to the same (typically around -110), moneyline odds can be very different. Here's an example.
For this game, the Cardinals are the clear favorites. The bookmakers consider them very likely to win the game, so the odds are quite low. By contrast, the odds for the Packers are quite high because they're not considered very likely to win. Here's how the potential payouts look for the two wagers.
As you can see, you stand to make a much better return when backing the Packers. This is because the risks are higher, due to their chances of winning. The Cardinals are far more likely to win than lose, so a wager on them doesn't offer a great return.
This highlights a notable advantage of the moneyline wager. You get to control, to some extent, the risk versus reward. For example, you might be quite certain that the Cardinals are going to win this game, but not convinced that they're going to cover the spread. So a moneyline wager is the safe option. There's less money to be made, but less chance of losing. On the other hand, you might think that the Packers are going to cause an upset. Rather than betting on them to cover the spread, you can bet on them to win outright. There's less chance of winning such a wager, but the potential returns are much greater.
We mentioned earlier how point spreads change depending on the gap in quality between the two teams. The same principle applies to moneylines, but it's the odds that change. So, for example, if two teams are fairly evenly matched then the following odds might be available.
The potential payout for a bet on the underdog here is lower than in the previous match, because they have a better chance of winning. The potential payout for a bet on the favorite is higher because they're not AS likely to win.
When to Bet Moneylines
We're often asked a question along the lines of "why would I place moneyline wagers rather than point spread wagers?" There's no simple answer to this question really, as point spreads and moneylines shouldn't be viewed as "either/or" options as such. You don't have to decide that you're always going to bet on the spread, or that you're always going to bet moneylines. These are two different wager types that have their own merits, and any bettor should have them both in their arsenal.
We've already mentioned how moneyline wagers give you more control over the risk versus reward element of betting. There are also other reasons why you might choose this type of wager over a points spread. If you fully understand how both of these wagers work, you'll find that there are games when a moneyline wager is the right option, and games when the point spread wager is the right option. There are no definitive rules about which one you should use and when, only a general principle that you should try to follow.
This should hopefully make perfect sense to you. Successful betting, on any sport, is all about finding value, so you should always look to get the best value that you can. If a moneyline wager offers the best value on a football game, then that's the wager you should be placing. If a point spread seems the best option, then go down that route. There may even be occasions where it's viable to place both wagers on the same game.
With all that being said, there is one situation where we'd suggest the moneyline wager is usually a better option than a point spread wager. This is when you like three point underdogs in an NFL game. Only a small percentage of NFL games are decided by three points or less, so if you think a three point underdog is going to cover then you might as well bet on them to win outright. This will generally give you a much better return.
The Seattle versus Carolina game we showed you earlier is a good example of just that kind of situation. Here's how the point spread looked for that game.
Seattle are three point underdogs, and a bet on them to cover is available at odds of -110. If you liked that bet, it would actually be much more logical to place a moneyline wager at odds of +130. Let's look at the potential returns for the two bets.
This is a huge difference. The potential profit on the moneyline wager ($143) is over 40% greater than that of the point spread wager ($100). You're a little less likely to win, as there is a chance that Seattle would lose by one or two points, but there's a more than fair chance that if they did cover they would actually win the match. And, of course, if they lost by three or more then you'd have lost either way.
Tips for Betting Football Moneylines
Now that you know how moneylines work, and have some idea of when to use them, you can start to consider how to bet moneylines effectively. The following tips will help you with this.
As with any type of football wager, your best hope of making money lies in being able to handicap games effectively. This means analyzing each team's relative chances of winning, and then comparing those chances to the odds available. That's a slightly simplified explanation of how handicapping works, but it's accurate nonetheless.
Actually handicapping games is far from simple though. Or, at least, handicapping them well is. There are all kinds of different factors that can affect the outcome of a game, and you need to take as many of them as possible into account. You also need to assess just how much of an impact those factors will have, and try to accurately evaluate just how likely a team is to win. For more advice on how to do this, please see the following article.
One of the biggest mistakes that bettors make is trying to make a judgement on every single game that's taking place. This is especially true of those who only focus on the NFL. There aren't that many games each week, and bettors think they stand the best chance of making money if they can predict the outcomes in all of them. This is not an approach we recommend.
The key to successful betting lies in quality and not quantity. Your overall chances of winning are much greater if you pick your spots carefully, and only bet when you find real value. There isn't a huge number of NFL games each week, but there's enough that it's simply not realistic to think you can handicap them all. And if you're also betting on college games then this is even more of an issue.
Be patient, be selective, and only bet when you have justified reasons to do so.
This tip applies to placing wager of any type, on any sport. It's important enough for us to mention it here though. If you only bet with one bookmaker or betting site, then you're almost certainly hindering your chances of making money. At the very least you will be missing out on getting the best possible value.
This is because different bookmakers and betting sites price up games differently. So the odds they offer are not always the same. Remember the Packers versus Cardinals game we showed earlier as an example? We used the actual odds from a real betting site for that example. The following odds were also available for the same game, from various other sites.
- Packers +252 / Cardinals -285
- Packers +260 / Cardinals -290
- Packers +240 / Cardinals -270
- Packers +245 / Cardinals -280
As you can see, there's not an insignificant difference in what was available. By shopping around for the best odds you can ensure that your potential payout is always as high as it can be. This is a great benefit over time, and can even be the difference between winning overall or losing overall. Such as the fine margins of betting on football.
Moneylines are a viable alternative to point spreads when betting on football. If you're one of those bettors who only ever bets on the spread, then you could very well be missing out on some good opportunities to find better value. We don't recommend that you stop placing point spreads and only place moneyline wagers, but you should definitely consider both when betting on a game of football. Try to decide which one offers the better value, and then go with that option.
It's also worth backing big favorites on the moneyline if you like a low risk approach. Always take the odds into consideration though. The profit from winning a lot of bets at very low odds can soon be wiped out with just a couple of losing bets.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2016
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