Totals Betting on Football
Of all the wagers you can place on football, totals are the simplest. They're also incredibly popular, in part because of their simplicity. In fact, it is only the point spread wager that is more popular for football. There are many football bettors who only ever place point spread and total wagers, and that's not a bad approach to follow. You'll want to consider other wagers if you're committed to maximizing potential profits, but there's certainly money to be made from sticking to just these two.
Regardless of how many different types of wager you use, you should most definitely learn how to use totals wagers effectively. There are many football betting experts who claim that they represent the easiest way to beat the bookmakers. That's up for debate in our opinion, but there's no doubt that they can be profitable.
This page covers all the basics you need to know about betting football totals. We start with a brief explanation for exactly they work, and then look at the pros and cons of this type of wager. We then offer some useful strategy advice that should give you a good chance of making some money.
Football Totals: How They Work
Totals wagers are also known as over/under bets, which is perhaps a better description of what they are. Quite simply, they involve betting on whether the total number of points scored in a game will be over or under than a particular. The relevant number is specified by whichever bookmaker or betting site you're using, and they offer odds on each of the two options.
Here's an example of a typical totals wager on an NFL game.
If you wanted to bet here, you've simply got to decide whether you think the combined total of the two teams' scores will be more or less than 39.5 If you think more, you bet the over. If you think less, you bet the under. If you're right, you're paid out at the relevant odds. In this case they are -110, which is pretty much the standard for wagers of this type. They can be different – for example -105 on the under and -115 on the over is common – but they tend to be reasonably close to even money.
You may be wondering why the total specified is includes a half rather than being a whole number. This is to prevent the possibility of a push, where a bet neither wins or losses. If, for example, the total was 40, then all bets would have to be refunded if the final total was exactly 40. So you'll see totals with half a point very regularly, although you do see them as whole numbers quite often too.
That's pretty much all there is to football totals. We did say they were simple!
Pros & Cons of Football Totals
In our opinion, football totals offer three primary advantages. These are as follows.
We've already highlighted the first advantage, by showing you just how simple wagers of this type are. There's nothing at all complicated about them, and even a complete beginner to betting would have no problem understanding how they work.
This simplicity is part of the reason for the second advantage on the above list. Recreational bettors who are primarily interested in having fun don't really want to get involved with the more complicated aspects of betting, so straightforward wagers such as totals are perfect in that sense. There's also the fact that everyone is likely to win a fair percentage of totals, even if they're not particularly skilled. You could expect to win quite even if you were just guessing over or under, or picking at random.
Of course, you don't want to be making your selections at random as that's hardly a recipe for success. You need to apply some strategy if you want a good chance of winning, and the other great thing about football totals is that you can apply fairly simple strategies that you can make consistent profits on.
In the interests of balance, we should point that there are a couple of disadvantages to wagers of this type too. Let's take a look at them.
As we mentioned earlier, you'd probably win a reasonable amount of totals wagers just by selecting over or under at random. This is because, in theory at least, a totals wager is roughly a 50/50 shot. That's partly the point of them, and what makes them such an appealing and simple wager. They're basically even money propositions, where you've always got close to a 50% chance of winning.
However, even if you won as many as half of your totals bets, you'd still lose money overall. This is because of the "vig" that bookmakers charge.
If you look back to the example of a point spread wager that we gave earlier, you'll see that the odds for each team are -110. As we subsequently stated, this is about standard for wagers of this type. With these odds, you have to risk $110 for the chance of winning $100. This extra $10 is effectively what the vig is. Even though you're betting on an even money proposition, you're not getting even money odds.
This means that, if you won half of your wagers, you'd lose $110 half of the time and win $100 the other half of the time. This would result in an overall loss. You therefore need to win more than half just to break even.
The vig is technically a disadvantage of ANY wager you can place, but it's particularly relevant for totals betting. This is partly because of the fact that the odds are always around the even money level, where the vig is particularly noticeable. It's also because the bookmakers are VERY good at pricing up totals betting markets though, particularly for NFL matches. They have a lot of experience, and a lot of available data to analyze, so the totals that they set are consistently very close to the actual number of points scored. This makes it challenging to determine just how likely a total is going to go over or under.
Don't let these disadvantages put you off though. Even though we won't go as far as to say that football totals are easy to beat, we do believe that anyone has a chance of making money from them with the right approach.
Recommended Strategy for Football Totals
We mentioned earlier that one of the advantages of betting football totals is that it's possible to win money with a relatively simple approach. We're now going to outline the approach that we recommend taking. Please note that this is only a broad outline of what you need to do, and you'll still need to put some effort into fine-tuning this strategy into something that will work consistently. It's not some magic system that will guarantee you.
The first step when trying to predict the total points for a football game is to apply some kind of fixed formula that gives you a base figure to work from. This can be as simple as working out the average points scored for each team over the last few games and then adding those two totals together. That's a fairly crude option, but it gives you something to work with. Ideally you'll be a little more scientific, and this is where you have to put the effort in.
You're unlikely to just stumble across a formula that works, so you'll need to do some research and analysis to try to come up with something suitable. Over time, though, you may well be able to develop a formula that is accurate with some degree of accuracy.
Once you have your base prediction, you now need to start making some adjustments based on various factors. Again, you'll need to do some serious research at this stage. The idea is to try to understand exactly what factors to consider, and how much of an impact they are likely to have. Here are some ideas for the kind of factors you should be taking into account.
A big spread might suggest a high scoring game is likely.
Certain weather conditions can affect the score. Strong winds, for example, can make it harder for offensive players to score points.
If a team is missing a key offensive player, they're possibly going to score less than you'd usually expect. Conversely, if a team is missing a key defensive player then they're possibly going to concede more than you'd usually expect.
You can't assume that a team will always score to their maximum potential. They might have a tougher game the following week, for example, and be conserving their energy for that one.
The way in which teams play, and how their styles will affect their opposition, will always have some impact on the number of points.
With all your adjustments made, you should end up with a range that you think the total for a game will fall into. Don't fall into the trap of trying to predict an exact total, because that's not realistic. A two or three point range is enough for you to then determine whether a betting opportunity exists. As a very broad guideline, if either end of your range is 5-10% higher or lower than the published total for a game, then you should look to make the relevant bet.
Let's say that you've predicted the total for a game will be 37-40 points for example. If the line is set at 39 points then that's right in the middle of your range and it's probably not sensible to make a wager. If the line is set at 41 points, then a wager is justified. There's now just one more step to take before actually getting your money on.
Having highlighted the games you want to bet on, and decided which way you're going to bet, it's time to shop around for the best lines. This is a vitally important step, and one that many bettors fail to take. The odds available for totals can vary quite significantly between different bookmakers and betting sites, and it should be obvious that you want to get the best odds you can. Better odds mean better payouts.
It's not just the odds you want to look at though. The actual totals can also vary. So one bookmaker might have set the total for a game at 40.5, for example, while another might have gone 39.5. If you've decided to be the under, then there's a clear advantage in betting under 40.5 rather than 39.5. It's only one point, but fine margins can make all the difference in sports betting.
The easiest way to shop for the best lines is to have sites at a few different football betting sites. Just make sure that you stick to the reputable and trustworthy places to bet, such as the ones that we recommend.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2016
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