American Football Betting

A comprehensive guide to American Football betting, how to bet on NFL, CFL, and College Football. Learn from our tips, strategies, and examples.

American Football betting is a multi-billion dollar market and the most important sport in the North American sports betting and fantasy sports industries. This is expected from a sport that is hugely popular in the US and Canada, with raving fans across the world.

In order to be betting on American Football with hopes of making a profit, you must absolutely understand the ins and outs of the sports. Additionally, you must be familiar with the different betting systems and strategies available to you, and when to use them.

American Football Betting Explained

american football player (icon)

American football is, by far, the most popular sport in the United States. Locally, it is commonly only referred to as “football,” without the nationality moniker attached to it. Among various leagues, the highest-grossing professional football league in the US is the National Football League or the NFL.

The NFL, on its own, earned a total league revenue of $15.26B in 2019. The league’s biggest event, The Super Bowl, is one of the biggest single-day sporting events in the world that is watched not only within the United States but as well as overseas. 

Aside from that, the NFL is also the #1 professional sports league in the US in the number of attendance per event. The 2019 season alone was able to bring together an average of 66 thousand people per game as spectators, and a total of 16 million throughout the season. The annual championship event, the Super Bowl, is known not only for the game itself that will take place but also for the highly-anticipated celebrity performances and appearances.

Whether you are a new fan of the sport, or someone who is planning to start betting on American football in the latest NFL season, or on the XFL football league, here is a comprehensive guide that can get jump-started on the sport. 

American Football Rules

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American Football is played on a 100-yard field by two teams of 11 players each. An average NFL squad is composed of 53 players, with the squad divided into three-player classifications–the offense, defense, and special teams. With this, each player would have their specific role in the field once they are called into action.

Here are some of the most common terms used in American football. These terms are also often used when it comes to NFL Betting.

Drafting

In American Football, “Drafting” refers to the chance of the squads to pick a player or players to join them. The NFL has set its rules of the draft, which dictates how drafting would take place, and which teams would take the first and last picks, and how picking would be processed. 

Touchdown

A touchdown gives the biggest score in the game, which is six points. To score a touchdown, the team should either advance the ball across the goal line and into the opposing team’s end zone or if any player in the team catches the ball thrown in the end zone of the opposing team.

Scoring

In a field goal, a placekicker has to kick the ball from the field of play to the crossbar and finally, in between the uprights. This is worth three points.

After a touchdown, a team can get an extra point by having their placekicker kick the ball in the same way as a field goal. In a two-point conversion, which is similar to a field goal, the offensive team can earn two extra points after a touchdown.

Even the defensive team can score a safety for one point. It can be either when the defense tackles the offensive player, forcing him out of bounds, or when an offensive player commits a penalty within his team’s own end zone.

Formations

Some of the most common team formations are:

  • I-formation – The quarterback is lined up behind the center, following the fullback, with the running back behind him. This formation allows the fullback to have a headstart and an opening for the running back to follow through.
  • Singleback – A single running back is placed at least five yards behind the quarterback, without a fullback to help in blocking.
  • Pro set – This is similar to the I-formation, but the two backs line up behind and on to the sides of the quarterback.
  • Shotgun – There are several variations of this, but the typical formation will have the halfback next to the quarterback, with two wide-receivers and tight end players.

Offense

There are two types of offensive groups in a team: one is responsible for blocking opponents and protecting the quarterback, and the receivers, who move the ball by passing or running with it.

Defense

The main objective of the defense is to prevent the offense from scoring and, if possible, win possession of the ball. The defense can either play by forcing a fumble, and out of bounds, or intercepting a pass.

Special Teams Unit

This refers to units that are utilized during kicking plays. There are kicking specialists, and other positions such as a holder, a long snapper, an upback, a gunner, a jammer, and a kick returner and punt returner.

American Football Odds

Odds refer to the probability of an event happening, or in the case of sports, the probability of a team winning over the other. There are three types of odds–American (Moneyline), fractional, and decimal. They all tell the same thing, only in different formats.

Moneyline odds are categorized into two. The favorites come with a minus (-) sign, while the underdogs come with a plus (+) sign. Regardless of the sign, Moneyline odds tell you the amount you need to wager to win a $100 profit. If you bet $100 on the favorites with odds of -100 and won the bet, you get a total payout of $200.

Fractional odds are usually written with either a slash (/) or a hyphen (-) between two sets of numbers in fractional odds, the numerator tells you the amount you can win for every amount you bet as shown by the denominator. Thus, an odds of 6/1 means you can win $6 for every $1 wagered.

Decimal odds are easier to understand. The numbers presented represent the amount a bettor can win for every $1 wagered. A decimal odds of 5.00 can yield a total profit of $5 if $1 was wagered on it and won.

Ways To Bet On American Football

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There are several ways that you can bet on American football. There is no right or wrong way to bet, nor is there a “better” option that applies to everyone. Ultimately, it will all come down to what option is most accessible to you and how you are most comfortable wagering your money.

Here are some of the ways you can bet on American football.

Land-based Bookmakers

This is the traditional way that most longtime punters are familiar with. If you are familiar with any local bookmakers near you, you can drop by and check them out. What makes land-based bookies a good choice is the in-person experience and social interaction it brings you (although, practice safety measures during the time of the pandemic) and the availability of personal assistance on the spot.

However, unlike online betting sites, land-based bookmakers operate on limited hours only, unlike online apps and sites that are accessible 24/7.

Fixed-Odds Bookmakers

In the simplest terms, fixed-odds betting means that you are essentially “betting against the house.” Fixed-odds bookmakers often have a trader or a group of traders that help formulate the odds for them for an upcoming game. As punters start placing their bets, the odds can change depending on how many are betting on either side of the match.

Betting Exchanges

Instead of placing bets that are limited to the odds that bookies present punters, betting exchanges give more opportunity for bettors to have a more diverse and competitive market. On a betting exchange, one has an option to back or lay. Similar to a stock exchange, only that people back (buy) or lay (sell) results rather than commodities and shares.

A lot of punters prefer going to betting exchanges as bookies do not usually offer “true odds,” since odds are often adjusted to maintain profit margin for the bookmaker.

In-Play American Football Betting

Also called live betting, in-play NFL betting refers to the type of betting wherein the punters get to place their wagers while the game is being played. In this type of betting, the odds can and will change throughout the game. Each play by either team, each possession, and each development in the game will often trigger the odds to change. This means that a major favorite can eventually become an underdog, depending on how the actual game would play out.

This is slightly different from in-game betting, where odds can only change either after each quarter or the halftime break.

Daily Fantasy

Daily fantasy betting is a subset of fantasy sports or a type of betting that involves a “make-believe” set of teams and players that are based in real-life leagues. In daily fantasy, an entire season can be played in an extremely short period of time, usually several hours to a whole day, thus the name. Right now, DraftKings and FanDuel are the two top daily fantasy sports betting platforms in the US, with combined revenue of around $25 million back in 2018.

Types of American Football Bets

American Football offers plenty of active and liquid betting markets to punters. Especially when it comes to main events and competitions, bettors can go for the standard moneyline or get more exotic proposition bets.

Here is a breakdown of the most common types of bets in American Football.

Outright Markets

Outright markets is a type of American football betting market that involves the bettor predicting an outcome for an entire leg of a competition, or the entire season. In other common terms, this is also known as futures bets.

Since they take a longer time to be determined, these types of bets usually pay a higher margin of profit. Stil, with the higher possible rewards, also comes higher risks as the outcome of what you’re betting on can easily be changed by a lot of things.

Conference Winner

In this type of bet, you will wager your money on which college for a certain conference you predict to be the conference winner as per the final record by the end of the conference year. In the NFL, this means betting between the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC).

Example: If you choose to bet on college football, and went with the Ivy League, you may bet that Yale would get the conference championship this year. Or, you can bet that the Minnesota Vikings will be the conference champions for the NFC.

Division Winner

There are four divisions in each conference–North, East, West, and South. At the end of each season, there would be four division champions according to place standing, along with the usual two wild card teams that had the best win-loss records.

Example: You place a bet on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be the NFC South division champion.

Super Bowl Winner

This is a simple and straightforward wager. You simply place your money on the squad that you think would bag the Super Bowl this year.

Example: You place your money on the Seattle Seahawks to win the Super Bowl this year. For you to win the bet, the Seahawks need to qualify for the playoffs, get through it, be one of the two teams at the Super Bowl, and eventually win the championship.

Match Markets

This is the type of betting market that most newbies tend to go to, as it yields results in a short span of time, and often requires little to no complicated betting system at all. These are called “match” bets since you are essentially betting on who you think would win the match, and sometimes other aspects and details of the match by the end of it.

Here are some examples of match bets.

Moneyline

The Moneyline bet is betting on who will win the match. No other necessary details are needed to win the bet, only a choice of a winner between team A and team B. Most newbies and casual bettors choose this type of bet as their go-to wager.

Example: In a match next week between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys, you can bet on the Cowboys to win the match. Regardless of how many points is the spread, as long as they win, you win your bet.

Point Spread

There are different subtypes of a points spread bet, but in a simple definition, point spread betting is similar to a Moneyline bet in that you will predict who will win the match. However, you will also predict the score difference between the winning team and the other team. You can also bet for the losing team with a specific points spread they need to cover in losing against the other team.

Example: In a match between the Tennessee Titans and the Atlanta Falcons you can either bet for the Falcons with an odds of -10 -100 or the Titans with odds of +15 +100. Either the Falcons win with a score difference of higher than 15 (<16), or the Titans lose with a score difference of lower than 15 (>14).

Totals

A total bet is simple and straightforward like a Moneyline bet. In this type of bet, you simply place your money on whether you think the total score of both teams combined by the end of the match is over or under a certain number. In the case of a tie resulting in overtime, the scores earned in overtime will not be included in the computation of the over or under for the bets.

Example: In a game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, the totals odds are 50.5 OVER -100 and 50.5 UNDER +100. If you bet on OVER, the total scores of both teams should be at least 51 and above for you to win. If you bet on UNDER, the total scores should be no higher than 50 for you to win the bet.

Parlays

Parlays are a little bit more complicated than a moneyline, points spreads, or a totals bet. This is a combination of more than one type of bet when you need to have the two conditions fulfilled for the bet to payout.

Example: Consider a match between the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. A parlay may be a combination of a moneyline bet in favor of the Lions, and a totals bet of 40.8 OVER. For you to win your bet and get a payout, the Lions have to win the latch with a combined score of the two teams at least 41 and above.

Teasers

A teaser is simply a parlay with a modified point spread. Usually, the industry-standard 2-team 6-point teaser. There are also teasers for 2-team with a spread of 6.5 points and 7-points. This may sound complicated at first but once you get the idea of it, it can be a fun way to wager for a match.

Example: Considering the above point spread and odds, the spreads move in six points in your favor. In a match between the Cowboys and the Titans with a spread of 8.5 on both sides, you’d then have the Cowboys at -2.5 and the Titans at +9.5.

Players

This type of bet is simply betting on the players landing the first of something, doing a specific play, or achieving something. It could be the first touchdown of the match, the quarterback with the most touchdowns in a season, or even the MVP of the year.

Example: You bet on Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay to be named MVP of the season. In a single match, betting on which quarterback will land the first touchdown is the most common bet, but other categories like the first interception are also a popular choice.

Props

Proposition bets, or props, are bets that are not about the actual outcome of the game. Some bettors love doing props bet as it takes away the massive pressure of strategy that comes with betting on match results. It is a simple, harmless, and fun way of wagering while enjoying a game or event. Here are some types of popular prop bets and some examples:

  • Yards total (the total passing yards of a quarterback)
  • Yes/No (will the Cowboys score the first touchdown?)
  • First score of the game (will it be a touchdown or any other score?)
  • Last score of the game (will it be a touchdown?)
  • Super Bowl prop (will the coin toss be heads or tails, what would be the color of the Gatorade to be used on the coach of the champion team, how long will the national anthem be)

Draft Markets

Drafts betting also exists, though you cannot bet on it in some states, due to complications with their gambling rules. There is not much to it, as betting is mostly about the first pick on the draft. 

First To Be Drafted

As the bet name suggests, you will wager on the player to be the first one picked for this year’s draft. Usually, bookies will be able to present the odds with the name of players that are the most popular choices for the draft. 

Example: There are several possible subtypes of this type of bet. Of course, the choice of who will be the first player to be drafted overall is there. There is also the bet on who would be the first player drafted on a team, as well as the position of the first pick of a team (will he be a wide receiver? A cornerback?). There are also options for second legs of drafts, though these bets are less popular.

different types of american football bets and wagers
List of the different types of American Football betting markets.

American Football Competitions To Bet On

You can never have a shortage of games and leagues to bet on, should you wish to give American football betting your serious dedication.

Here are some of the competitions you can bet on.

NFL Betting

The obvious and most popular choice in American football betting is the NFL, as it is the most popular football league in the United States. There are several types of bets you can make in the NFL, too.

Regular Season

In this season, all NFL teams will participate. The regular season usually begins by the weekend after the first Monday of September and will end sometime in early January. Odds and lines for the regular season, especially before it kicks off, can be volatile due to pre-season developments.

In a regular season, the teams will play a total of 272 games collectively. Each team will play 17 games throughout the season in a span of 18 weeks. At the end of the regular season, seven teams in each conference of the league will be qualified to move forward to the next level, which would be the playoffs.

Betting early on in the regular season can be easier as odds and lines are more on opinions than actual predictions of probabilities. However, as the season progresses, bookies present the odds based on the facts of the current season.

NFL Playoffs

This is what the regular season is for. While all of the 32 teams compete for the regular season, only 14 teams can qualify for the playoffs, split across brackets. It follows after the regular season and follows a single-elimination tournament format.

The aim of the playoffs is to come to the final two teams that will compete for the Super Bowl. Future betting is available for the playoffs, as punters can place their personal predictions on which teams from the regular season will make the playoffs.

Unlike in the regular season, the lines for playoff games are usually tighter, as the competition is tougher and more intense. This is when a bettor should be sharp, as you would need to find the balance between factoring in the bookie odds as well as doing your own research and making your own judgments about the upcoming games.

The Super Bowl

Finally, the Super Bowl. This is where it all leads to. After the elimination rounds during the playoffs, the two remaining teams will face off against each other in the Super Bowl–the most awaited event of the entire league since the beginning of the regular season.

What makes the Super Bowl different and special compared to the final event of other professional sports is that the two teams face off in a do-or-die situation, where the winner immediately gets declared the champion. On the other hand, other sports, such as the NBA, often decide the champion of the season in a best-of-seven game rather than a single-elimination format.

Betting on The Super Bowl is tough. There are too many emotions, it’s almost too big of a deal in sports to be bet on. Many will place fun bets and just use gambling as entertainment rather than actual smart betting. The maths are not necessarily on your side either.

College Football Betting

College Football is a haven for bettors from September until the early part of the following year. Happening around the same time as the NFL regular season, there are at least 50 games happening every week across various major and minor leagues. 

Currently, the National Collegiate Athletic Association or NCAA holds the most number of colleges and universities under their umbrella that are all competing for various student sports, both for Men and Women. Currently, there are at least 10 conferences and 130 schools that are under the Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA.

The rules and mechanics of College Football are essentially the same, and the way you would bet on the NFL is mostly the same as well. The only difference in College Football betting is that there are more games played every week, giving you more chances to wager your money and thus more chances to make a profit, too.

College Football Conferences

These are the currently ten College Football conferences collectively known as the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision, or simply the FBS. These are the colleges and universities that are playing consistently every season.

These are the following:

  • American Athletic Conference
    Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Big 12 Conference
  • Big Ten Conference
  • Conference USA
  • Mid-American Conference
  • Mountain West Conference
  • Pac-12 Conference
  • Southeastern Conference
  • Sun Belt Conference

Most of the 130 schools of the FBS are under a conference, but there are some schools that are considered independents, with their group sometimes considered as the 11th conference.

College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff of CFP is the annual postseason knockout game of the NCAADivision 1 FBS football season. In comparison, think of it as the Super Bowl for college football.

However, unlike in the Super Bowl, the CFP has three games played in total. There are two semi-finals games and one championship game. Just like the Super Bowl, the games are played in a single-elimination system, where the losing team is immediately out of the game.

In the playoffs, four teams fight against each other in two semi-final games, and the winner of each game advances to face each other in the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

Canadian Football League

While most people are busy focusing on the NFL games from September to January, there is another huge professional American football league that is played all summer long–the Canadian Football League.

There are several things that make betting on the CFL a similar yet different experience for gamblers. Unlike betting on NFL, Canadian Football League betting has more lines, since games in this league usually end with high scores.

Also, unlike the NFL with more than 30 teams, the CFL is easier to follow with only eight teams under its wing. For an American Football bettor, this means more chances to study and analyze a team and its players.

The eight CFL teams are:

  • C. Lions
  • Calgary Stampeders
  • Edmonton Eskimos
  • Saskatchewan Roughriders
  • Winnipeg Blue Bombers
  • Toronto Argonauts
  • Ottawa Redblacks
  • Montreal Alouettes

Since CLF is also American football, betting options for it are essentially the same as that if you would bet on NFL or college football.

XFL

The XFL is a more recent football league in the United States, it has shown great growth recently. It is without a doubt that Americans love football, and they also love betting on football. It was just a matter of time until XFL betting became a sizeable market.

The XFL was first founded by Vince McMahon in 2001. It ran only for one season but eventually had to shut down. Later on, in 2018, he rebooted it and the debut season of the league was played in 2020.

The rules of XFL cut time by having a shorter play clock, one less timeout per half on each team, and shorter halftime compared to how the NFL does it. Coaches in XFL are also not allowed to contest the ruling of a referee or any official, which reduces the overall time of a game, too.

American Football Betting Tips & Strategy

American football or NFL betting, just like betting on any other sports, is just another form of gambling. As with all forms of gambling, a huge part of it involves luck and chance. However, this is not to say that you are never in control of your chances of winning. With enough knowledge of the game you are betting on and its wagering system, you can make smarter bets and increase your chances of making a profit for each wager, if not ensure your win entirely.

Use freely available statistics databases

Knowing the game does not end with familiarizing yourself with the game rules and mechanics. American football, as with all sports, are all about numbers, and these numbers can help you a lot if you learn to use them to your advantage.

The official NFL website offers helpful and up-to-date statistics for each individual player, as well as the current standing for each team in the current season played. Statistics and standings for previous seasons are also available if you wish to track the record of a player or a team.

The most popular football statistics databases include:

Try to find patterns and correlations between statistics and successful bets. Also, keep a spreadsheet of fictions bets following a strategy you come up with, and see if you had placed those bets whether you would have won. If your “dummy bets” yield a net positive return across several weeks, try them with real money.

Bet on the team and competitions you know

While betting blindly, or just throwing your wagers randomly and hoping for the best can get you somewhere, this will stop working in your favor at some point. Study the statistics and standings of each team prior to a game, and formulate your judgment based on logic, and not on personal preference.

This means betting with your mind, not with your heart. A smart bettor knows that it is never about their personal favorite but the smart choice depending on what the factors will tell you. Sometimes, your personal favorite may be the smart bet but sometimes, you may have to bet against your favorite team.

Learn how betting markets react to news

Game development does not refer only to the plays as it happens live on the field. Even before the game, developments and news can affect the betting market–adjusting the odds from time to time.

Be aware and stay updated on news about the upcoming game. If it is the start of a new season, draft picks and trades can affect the odds a lot. News of management change, retiring or returning players, as well as rumors of player injury, among others, can trigger reactions within the betting market.

Study each team and each player’s recent form

Always remember that a good bet is a strategic bet. Strategy in American football betting is more than just the odds by the bookies. At the end of the day, it will be what will go down in the field that will matter.

Thus, knowing how to study the playing style, field record, and form of each team and its individual players would help a lot in sizing up the actual chances of one against the other. More than the odds, this approach can help you get a better perspective in predicting the actual probabilities for the upcoming game.

Consider the home field advantage

Home field advantage is not a myth, as a lot of people will tell you, and it can make or break a game. Research and compare the numbers of each side when playing home versus when playing away.

Teams playing away from their homecourt can be at an immediate disadvantage due to a number of reasons including travel fatigue, time zone difference, crowd effect (especially if the home team has a passionate following present), and even possible bias of home team officials.

However, not all home advantages are equal. In some cases, this can give a team a huge boost but in other cases, it may not be much.

Don’t ever bet on ultra favorites

One of the most common mistakes, especially of a newbie in sports betting, is to think that betting on the favorites is the easiest way to wager. While it may prove to be an easy win, since bookie favorites are usually the public favorites that have a good track record of winning, but as a bettor, it does not give your wager much value.

The thing with going all-in for the huge favorites is that in order for you to make a good amount of profit, you have to wager a huge amount of money. This is because public favorites are often only given a small margin for profit, since there is a huge number of people expected to bet for them. Should the team lose the game, you will end up losing a lot. 

Zero in and specialize

American football can be a huge and complex sport if one would break down the details within it. Although the NFL is the biggest and the most popular professional league, American football is played across different leagues and brackets, too.

Aside from the NFL, other professional American football leagues include the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). You also have college football and high school football, with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) being the most popular student-athlete league in the country.

Try to find the league that you are most interested in, learn it well, and stick to it. Specialization is always better than having your money and strategy scattered all over the place. In this way, you can focus more on mastering your chosen “field,” and thus making your beating, hopefully, a more profitable experience.

Use multiple bookmakers to get the best odds

In all of sports betting, not just in NFL betting, there is no point in being “loyal” to your current bookmaker. Checking for better lines from other bookies is something that every punter should do, before finalizing their decision on where to place their money.

This is called “shopping” for the best lines in the market. There is no bookmaker that is the same as another. Every bookie has something different–even if it is just very slightly–to offer, and getting the best lines can mean the best possible profit for you.

nfl and football tips and strategies
Top American Football Betting Strategies & Tips

Betting On American Football: FAQ

Answers to the most common questions about betting on American Football.

Can you bet on the NFL draft?

You can, as long as the state you’re betting on allows sports betting. For example, you cannot bet on the NFL Draft in Pennsylvania, as the state does not recognize the NFL Draft as a sporting event.

Can you bet after an American Football match started?

This is called in-play betting. Usually, betting closes once the match begins, but there are bookies that only open betting once the match starts.

How to find the best American Football odds?

Shop around for the best odds. No single bookie can serve the best odds all the time, and you would have to look around and compare the odds from different sportsbooks.

How much money can you earn betting on College Football?

As with all forms of gambling, it can depend on a lot of factors including your betting strategy, the amount you will wager, as well as how luck will play out for you.

Is betting on The Super Bowl overrated?

Super Bowl lines can be tight, and some even believe that betting on the Super Bowl game is not worth it at all.

What does Moneyline mean in American Football betting?

Moneyline is the simplest and most straightforward type of bet. It is simply betting on who will win the game.

What is a betting line in American Football?

A betting line is simply what the bookies would present to you in the form of Moneyline odds, with one team as a favorite, and the other as an underdog.

Who makes the odds in American Football betting?

Odds are determined by the bookies. More than anything, it is to make sure that they still have a margin for profit no matter what the results of the game would be.

What does + mean when betting on College Football?

Odds that have a + sign pertain to the underdog.

Point spread bets are the most popular type of wagers in American football.