I’m personally crushed to admit that after decades of reading everything I can, looking all over the betting world, and trying every harebrained betting scheme I could, I’ve still not been able to work out a fail-safe way to place bets on the NFL and the NCAA and win every single time. To be honest, even if I had worked out such a system, I would not be handing it out for free on my blog. It simply doesn’t exist.
Winning at football betting means having a lifetime of sports fandom and experience in your head. It means knowing what and how to research and it means watching lots of sports. Winning at football betting means being consistent with whatever betting strategy you choose. It usually means managing your money like a lunatic, setting a unit bet size, and tracking all your bets so you can evaluate your performance over time. It means mounds of data and the ability to do something with it. Being a successful football bettor doesn’t mean being smarter than every oddsmaker in the world or befriending an athlete to gain some serious private insight into their upcoming games. Those ridiculous things I made up on the spot would certainly help, but they’re not necessary.
Let’s start with the basics of football betting and move on to some sound strategy tips you can apply to your bets right away.
NOTE – In this post, “football” refers to both the NFL & NCAA games, unless otherwise noted.
Types of Football Bets
We’ll start with the simplest and most common type of football bet and move downward toward the more esoteric ways of wagering on the game.
Money Line Football Bets
We’ll begin with the simplest type of football bet – the money line. A bet on a game’s money line is a bet on the overall winner regardless of the final score. The money line sets a favorite (the team the book thinks will win) and an underdog (the team the book thinks will lose). The underdog is marked with plus-odds, while the favored team is listed with minus-odds.
A heavily favored team would be listed like this: “Buccaneers (-220).” That minus-odds number means you have to bet $220 on the Chiefs to earn a payout of $100.
A team that’s a heavy underdog would be listed like this: “Texans (+240).” That plus-odds number means you would win $240 for a successful $100 wager on Houston.
Point Spread Football Bets
The money line is easy to understand, but it isn’t the most popular way to bet on football. That honor belongs to the point spread.
The oddsmakers set a point spread for every NCAA and NFL game indicating a game’s expected margin of victory. If Alabama is playing a non-conference cupcake opponent early in the season, they may be listed with a point spread of something like (-27.5). That number indicates that a bet (usually at -110 odds) on the Crimson Tide would only pay out if ‘Bama wins by 28 points or more.
Game Totals Football Bets
Totals bets, also known as over/under bets, are wagers based on the combined point totals of both teams at the end of a game, or in some cases at the end of each quarter or half. Oddsmakers set a point total and bettors can take the “over” or “under,” betting on which side of the oddsmakers’ number the real total will land.
Over/under betting is a little more volatile in the NCAA game, where there’s less parity across different conferences and divisions. NFL game totals tend to hover around the same number, as the league’s teams are generally evenly matched. As a result, game totals betting is more popular for college football bettors.
Bankroll Management for Football Betting
Before I can give someone good advice about managing their football betting budget, I have them answer a few questions. My advice changes depending on their answers.
For example, if a person is a college football bettor, I need to know how many regular season games they want to bet per week. I just looked at a week early in the 2021 NCAA football schedule and counted 82 games – and that’s just the ones involving D1 schools.
A week of regular season NFL play involves thirty-two teams playing sixteen games. That’s more than 1,500 games in a single season of college football. You could fit three full NFL regular seasons inside that number. This year, we’ll see a total of 544 NFL regular season games.
Another important consideration – how much do you want to spend for the entire season? A college football bettor with a $10,000 bankroll is going to behave differently from someone looking to drop $1,000 on the entire NFL season, and they’re both a world apart from people dropping $1 million over that same period of time.
I’ll use my own budget as a micro-example: I like to bet on 2 NCAA games every week for the fifteen weeks of that sport’s regular season. That’s 30 bets against my NCAA betting budget of $5,000. If I round down to $150 per bet, I’ll have enough cash left over to double my bets three times when I really feel a good opportunity. This is a sensible way to make sure I have money all season, even if I lose my shirt in every contest.
A guy who has $10k to spend on the NFL who only wants to bet one game a week will have 18 bets to place for an average of $555.55 per bet. If he rounds that down to $500 each, he’ll have enough cash left over to double up twice and bet $1,000 on two games that he thinks give him an advantage. Again, sensible play that lets him bet the entire season, even if he’s the worst NFL bettor in history and loses for 18 straight weeks.
General Tips for Football Betting
Follow these general pieces of advice for football bettors as you develop your own betting strategy and gain more experience. These will help you avoid the most common pitfalls for new NCAA and NFL bettors.
- Fade the Public
This is the oldest sports betting strategy in the book, but it still holds true. The idea here is to bet against the grain, often even when your bet goes against your own intuition. The thinking behind this advice is that the gambling public as a whole is a stupider entity than any one individual. Fading the public means betting in different kinds of advantage situations – like when a point spread moves heavily in one direction. Strong movement in any one direction is a sign to public-fading bettors that the opposite is more likely to happen.
- Embrace Analytics
“Analytics” is a dirty word because it was trendy for a while and people who didn’t know what they were talking about were misusing it. If you want insight that other bettors don’t have, you need to embrace analytics. I’ll share a few publicly available statistics from the world of football analytics that have helped me: Pace is the underdog of the analytics world. It’s a number representing the average number of plays a team runs per game. This is a killer analytic tool for point spreads and game totals betting but can be helpful in all forms of college and pro football wagers. Look for mismatches (fast vs. slow) that will influence other important stats. Comparing Strength of Schedule to FPI is a simple and powerful tool that anyone can use. Strength of schedule figures are available all over the place. The FPI is a team’s Football Power Index, which rates a team against an average opponent on a neutral field. Using these two figures, you can make a decent prediction of how tough a team’s given schedule will be. DVOA is defense-adjusted value over average, a numerical representation of a team’s success on each offensive play compared to a league average. This is a jam-packed stat that considers variables like down, distance, field location, score gap, and opponent quality, and can be used to judge an entire offense or the play of any individual or scheme.
- Find a Reputable Sportsbook
Americans who want to bet and win on football games usually turn to offshore sportsbooks for their bets. That’s because few Americans have easy access to full-service land-based sportsbooks. Some states sell parlays and teasers alongside lotto tickets, and some states have limited mobile sports betting options, but only bettors in and around Las Vegas can bet on the same range of games and odds as the offshore sportsbooks offer.
It’s important to find a sportsbook that comes with good reviews from real customers, a place that accepts deposits and pays withdrawals using a financial method that you have access to, and one that offers bets in your favorite sports markets.
The most successful sports bettors in the world struggle to claim a win rate of 54%. That would be considered a very successful year for a professional bettor, since after accounting for vig, he’d turn a small profit. Winning at football is tough – it requires a lot of skill, a vast amount of knowledge, and some degree of luck.
The tips in this post are designed to help you win even when you lose. Being a successful sports bettor can just mean having fun, making few if any mistakes, and getting a good amount of entertainment for your budget. If you feel confident about your bets, and you control your spending, you’ll feel like a winner even when your bet doesn’t come in.