NFL Betting Terminology

NFL Betting terminology can sound confusing – just ask any novice bettor who has spent time in a Las Vegas sportsbook or listened to a football talk show on the radio.

To the uninitiated, it can sound like the “handicappers” (outcome predictors), “sharps” (pro gamblers) and “touts” (NFL pick sellers) are speaking another language when they talk shop.

The good news is, they aren’t. Understanding NFL wagering terminology is actually quite simple when everything is explained properly. Here is a glossary of some common NFL Wagering terminology to help with your bets this season. For more information, click on the NFL wagering term in question or visit one of our recommended sportsbooks.

NFL terminology

> Point Spread

> Against the spread ATS

> Straight Up

> Over Under

> Favorite

> Underdog

> Handicapping


Commonly called ‘the spread’, the point spread is the number of points that the Vegas favorite has to win the game by in order to win the bet. For example, say the Patriots are 4.5 point favorites over the Dolphins – New England has to win the game by 5+ points to pay out, while a wager on Miami pays out with anything better than a 4 point loss. Point spreads are commonly used to even the playing field in sports with high scores, such as American football and basketball.

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One of the more common terms used by NFL bettors, ATS, or against the spread, refers to a team’s record measured against the spread. Instead of tracking wins and losses, ATS looks at a team’s propensity for covering the spread. For example, last season the Cleveland Browns failed to win a game at 0-16, but finished 4-12 ATS – this means that there were 4 games in which they lost by less than the point spread, and actually paid out for their backers that week.

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Straight up refers to a fixed price win-loss wager, with no point spread. When betting straight up, bettors get less return for betting on favored teams, but the bet becomes easier to win. A teams straight-up record is simply it’s win-loss record, ripped directly from the standings. Straight-up bets can pay out a lot when underdogs win, but typically are used in “pick-em” games or games with a small point spread.

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Over and under are signifiers attached to a specific point total, with the purpose being to predict which side the outcome will fall on. A typical over/under wager will consist of bettors predicting whether the combined score of a game exceeds a particular number. For example, if the total is set at 41.5, bettors must decide whether to bet the over (>42 points) or the under (<41 points). Over and under bets can also be applied to a single team point total, a single quarter point total, a player’s individual rushing yardage and so on.

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In NFL wagering terminology, as with other forms of betting, the favorite refers to the expected winner. In the NFL, the favorite is the team that lays points, meaning that they will have to cover a certain amount in order to pay out. For example, if you see Seahawks -3.5, Seattle is a 3.5 point favorite – not only will they have to win their game, but they will have to win by 4+ points. When looking at moneyline odds, the team with the negative number, or greatest negative number, is the favorite.

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The underdog is the team considered least likely to win – the opponent of the favorite. In NFL wagering, the underdog will be given points, and will be listed with a positive number next to their name. An example of this would be Cowboys +4.5 – this means that the Cowboys pay out as long as they don’t lose by 5 points or more, even if they lose the game. In moneyline bets, underdogs typically have a positive number next to their name (Dallas +145, for example).

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NFL handicapping can refer to two similar, yet distinct, practices, both related to predicting outcomes. There are NFL handicappers who are employed by Las Vegas sportsbooks and work as, or with, oddsmakers. In this version of NFL handicapping, advanced models and knowledge are used to predict the outcome of a game, and this information is then used to set the lines/point spread. Outside of Vegas, NFL handicapping is an attempt to predict results, then use the acquired information to find and exploit errors in the Las Vegas lines.

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