NFL betting on footballIn 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 on most bets.

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.


In American odds, favorites will be the team with the greatest negative number beside their name.

Houston (-105)

New England (-115)

In this moneyline situation, New England is slightly favored over Houston and will pay out slightly less.

In decimal odds, favorites will have the lower number beside their name.

Houston 2.00

New England 1.83

In fractional odds, the favorite will receive less money than their stake, and will have a greater number on the right of their fraction as a result. Using our game as an example, the odds will look like this:

Houston 1/1

New England 5/6

To make things simpler, let’s give New England a weaker opponent and make the Patriots a heavy favorite:

Buffalo 10/1

New England 1/17

In this example, a $17 bet on the heavily favored New England Patriots brings in only a dollar, while a $1 bet on the Bills pockets $17.


As seen in the Buffalo example, heavy moneyline favorites and the NFL don’t really mix. It makes little sense to risk $17 to only win a dollar and it makes little sense to take the Bills in a game they will likely lose.

NFL oddsmakers bridge the gap by including a point spread and forcing the favorite to lay points.

Let’s make the Patriots 14 and a half point favorites:

Buffalo +14.5 (-105)

New England -14.5 (-115)

The odds now resemble the earlier Houston/New England game, with the Patriots paying out slightly less than the Bills.

However, unlike moneyline bets, where the favorite always wins back less than the underdog, the point spread can pay out better to favorites.

Let’s increase the spread to 17 and see what happens:

Buffalo +17 (-120)

New England -17 (+100)

As you can see, New England now pays out better than Buffalo. Despite this, they are still considered the “favorite”.

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Like the point spread and over/under, there are a number of factors that go into determining favorites. A team’s recent performance and rank in the standings will be considered, as will their individual positional matchups and injury situation. When determining the spread, home field advantage is considered to be worth 3 points.

In New England, the game might look like this:

Houston +1.5 (-110)

New England -1.5 (-110)

In Houston, the teams could play using the exact same rosters, and the Texans would be favored to win.

It is worth noting that three points are just a general rule – certain teams see a bigger boost when playing at home while for others the benefit is less pronounced. The Seattle Seahawks get a boost from their crowd, the Atlanta Falcons do much better playing under a dome and the Denver Broncos are familiar with the high altitude.

It is also worth noting that the underdog doesn’t always pay out better than the favorite.

The favorite team is whoever is expected to win the game, regardless of the point spread. In the Bills +17 (-120) /Pats -17 (+100) example we used earlier, New England was a heavy favorite, even though they paid out better than Buffalo – the reason was based on the high 17 point spread they need to cover, not on their win probability.

In closer games, such as the Texans/Patriots example, it is possible for the favorite to change mid-week. Let’s say the Patriots open as -1.5 favorites on Monday, but several key players are ruled out on Wednesday. This may cause the Texans to become slight favorites. An injury to a key contributor such as quarterback Tom Brady might even cause the Texans to become heavy favorites.

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