The NFL consists of 32 teams and is the biggest football competition in the world. It has two conferences, the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).
Teams are based all over the US. As an example, Ohio has to have two teams, with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals competing in the NFC.
With such a huge audience, it’s no surprise that NFL odds and betting are keenly followed. Avid football fans have a good knowledge of NFL matchups, so betting on the sport is commonplace.
But for those new to sports betting, where do you start? Read our complete guide to NFL odds and betting.
Before the NFL season officially starts, there is a three-week preseason. This is followed by the regular season and playoffs, as is often the case with most American sports leagues. The 32 teams in the league are split into two conferences, further divided into four divisions: North, South, East, and West. The Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals are part of the North Division in the American Football League (AFC).
A team will play 17 regular season games before it can make a playoff spot. Teams from the same division (four in each division) play each other two times. The rest of the league matches include six teams from the same conference and four from a division outside the conference.
Only 14 of the 32 teams qualify for the playoffs, seven from each conference. The eight division winners qualify automatically and are followed by six wild cards. The wild cards include the three best teams from the conference who didn’t win their respective divisions.
All the teams who make it to the playoffs will then be allotted a seed. The teams seeded 1 in the conference get a bye in the first round of the playoffs, also known as the wildcard round. The wildcard round includes three division winners from each conference playing wild card teams.
This is followed by the divisional round, where the number 1 seed of a conference plays the winner of the match, including the lowest-seeded team. The winners of the two other wild card rounds face each other.
The winners of these matches leave us with four teams, and the winners of the two matches will be crowned AFC and NFC champions. The winners of these matches will face each other in the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events in the world and the most-watched sporting event in the US.
It’s also gained recognition for its half-time shows, which often include performances from some of the biggest American musicians. The Super Bowl works as both a sporting extravaganza and a musical event.
The wildcard rounds, and the one-off nature of the playoffs, unlike most other major American sports like basketball and baseball, make betting on NFL odds, particularly challenging but exhilarating.
NFL Odds and Betting Formats
NFL odds will be presented on online sportsbooks as either American, decimal or fractional odds. American odds are whole numbers prefixed with minus or plus signs, decimal odds are presented in decimal form, and fractional odds are presented in fractional form.
Let’s use the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals as examples. If the two were to face each other, the sportsbook might offer odds that look something like this:
|Cincinnati Bengals||Cleveland Browns|
All the NFL odds here are the same, but they’re presented differently depending on the ease with which a bettor can understand the value of a bet.
With the American odds moneyline format, the favourite has a negative number, while the underdog is positive. The negative number represents how much you must bet to win $100, while the positive is how much you win from a $100 bet.
So, in the example above, we see the Bengals are favourites, and if you bet $120, you will make a $100 profit if they win. Conversely, if you bet $100 on the Browns, you would make a $120 profit if they win.
According to the decimal odds, a $120 stake in the Cincinnati Bengals multiplied 1.83 would pay out $220, which is a $100 reward. According to fractional odds, you would win six dollars for every five you bet on the Cincinnati Bengals. Ultimately, the rewards are the same. Most sportsbooks will allow you to display the odds as per your preference.
Types of betting in the NFL
Most beginners will start with moneyline betting for NFL odds. This type of bet isn’t too complex to figure out; you are betting on who you think will win or lose the match.
Fixed outcomes like these are a good starting point for new bettors. Picking a winner in a match between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns, like the table presented above, is an example of moneyline betting with NFL odds.
Spread betting in the NFL is not done on a fixed outcome like winning or losing. Instead, the spread includes a handicap to make the game more even on paper. Let’s take another example involving the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
|Cincinnati Bengals||-2.5 (-110)|
|Cleveland Browns||+2.5 (+110)|
Betting on fixed outcomes can be a bit uninteresting to long-time bettors. This is especially the case when there’s a clear favourite and underdog, which doesn’t allow for many big rewards.
Spread betting ups the stakes by asking the bettor to wager on the difference in points in a game result. In this example, the Cincinnati Bengals are the favourites and have to win the game by more than the spread number (-2.5) for you to have a successful bet. The Browns must get any result, even a win, as long as their margin of development is by the spread mentioned, +2.5 in this case. In simpler terms, you’ll have made a successful bet if they get any result better than a 3-point loss.
This is a popular but relatively simple form of NFL odds and betting. Your wager will either be on how many aggregate points will be scored by the two teams put together or on how much an individual team will score.
You won’t be betting on the exact score but on whether the total will be over or under a specific number that the bookmaker chooses. A simple example would be betting on the Cincinnati Bengals scoring over or under 20 points in a game. This market can be lucrative if you’re good at analysing defensive strategies.
With many NFL matches usually happening quickly, there is often an opportunity to multiply your winnings.
Say that you believe that the Cleveland Browns (-300), the Cincinnati Bengals (-160), and the Jacksonville Jaguars (-400) are all going to win their games on a particular gameweek. You can tell from the odds that all three are favourites because they have unfavourable odds. If you were to bet on them individually, you wouldn’t take home significant returns when they won.
In this case, you’d have to stake $300 on the Browns to win a $100 reward and $160 and $400 on the Bengals and the Jaguars, respectively, for the same. You’d need to have $860 to put down on these teams for a reward of $300.
Instead, you can use a parlay bet. Each parlay bet has multiple ‘legs’ – in this case, the result of each team’s match – that have to all win for you to win the bet at inflated odds and a smaller stake. But you would only make a profit if the Browns, the Bengals, and the Jaguars ALL won their games.
The odds on a parlay are calculated by converting each leg’s odds into decimal format and multiplying those odds. In this case, it would be like this:
|Teams to win||American odds||Decimal odds|
Parlay odds calculation
1.33 x 1.63 x 1.25 = 2.70
With decimal odds, multiplying the stake and the odds gives you the full payout. So, if you placed $100 on this parlay, your total payout would be $270, or the total profit would be $170 if all three teams won. For context, the $860 you previously needed to bet on these teams individually for a $300 reward would give you a total payout of $2322 or a reward of $1462.
Don’t worry about converting to decimals or working out your potential winnings because your betting slip will do this for you.
This is generally a bet on who will be the outright winner of either the AFC, NFC championship, or the Super Bowl.
Outrights and futures markets are generally open from preseason, which means an early bet on who you think will be the winner, especially if it’s not one of the favourites, can potentially pay off bigger than when the season is in its closing stages.
Futures bets can be bets on outcomes like MVP winners, conference winners, playoff qualifiers, and so on. If it’s an outcome that happens in the future, the odds are that you can find an NFL betting market for it.
Prop bets focus on isolated parts of a match that may or may not directly influence the actual result.
For instance, you could shop in the player prop market, which will offer NFL odds on how many passing yards a player may total, how many rushing yards, and so on. While a stat like that influences the game, many other factors must go one way or another for a team to win or lose.
So, if you spot someone on a losing team having the game of their life, you could cash in; alternatively, if you understand playing patterns, you could win big in the over/under prop bets.
What format are NFL odds presented in?
NFL odds come in three main formats: American, decimal, and fractional. You will likely encounter odds in the American format by default while betting from the United States. But if you don’t, a sportsbook will allow you to toggle the odds formats from within the platform.
Where to start with NFL betting?
Most beginners start with moneyline betting before getting into other forms of wagers. Once you get the hang of it and start raking in regular rewards, getting into alternative markets like prop bets shouldn’t be very difficult.