Oddsmakers are great at their jobs. They are uncannily amazing at predicting close to the exact combined total or setting a point spread within 0.5 points of where most bettors land in a key NFL matchup.
That’s why sometimes it can pay to sacrifice odds for an alternate point spread when betting on the NFL.
In preparation for Super Bowl LIV, we break down the basics and strategies on betting alternate spreads.
What are point spreads and totals?
Beginning with the basics, a point spread is a way for sportsbooks to handicap teams to encourage betting action on both sides of NFL games. Often in the NFL, the home team will be favored by 3 or 7 points, since those are the most common increments of scoring.
For example, the Chiefs could be listed as -7 with -110 odds. That means a bet on the Chiefs would be successful if they win by 8-plus points, and would pay out approximately $90 on a $100 wager.
With totals betting, the line is set at the combined projected point total between the two teams. Two high-scoring offense would produce a higher total than two top defensive teams.
What is an alternate line?
Say you believe that the Chiefs will win a game in which they’re listed as 7.5-point favorites, but aren’t sure if they’ll cover that spread.
Many sportsbooks offer alternate lines with diminished odds as other ways to wager. The Chiefs could have -110 odds with a 7.5-point spread, but could also be listed with -200 odds to cover a 3.5-point spread. Their odds would drop to -315 with a 1.5-point spread, and return to the same odds as a moneyline — which is a way to bet on the outcome without a spread — at around -385.
Alternate lines can go in the other direction as well. The Chiefs could be given +115 odds at a spread of -9.5 points, which means a $100 bet would pay out $115. Books will often offer lines up to three times the listed spread, with corresponding odds.
The same rules apply to underdogs. A 7.5-point underdog will have improved betting odds on an alternate line of 3.5 or even 1.5 points. And taking a 7.5-point underdog to cover a 14-point spread would create diminished betting odds.
Pairing alternate lines into a parlay is known as a teaser. A parlay is only successful when two wagers are correct, and a teaser often offers alternate lines, giving those bets a better chance to succeed, at diminished odds.
For example, in the 2020 Conference Championships, the Titans (+7.5) were underdogs and the 49ers (-7.5) were favored by more than a touchdown. A typical teaser would award six points to each side of the line, so that Titans (+1.5) and 49ers (-1.5) would become the new odds for the bettor. Instead of getting negative odds (-180 for example) on each alternate spread, a teaser gives bettors positive odds (+150 for example) since both bets must be successful to cash.
Where can I find alternate lines?
Most online sportsbooks will have a tab next to the game lines that is called “Alternate Point Spread.” Simply click on the tab to see a variety of alternate lines. There is also often a tab for Alternate Total Points where bettors can get different numbers on the Over/Under at varying odds.
Alternate line betting strategies
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into how alternate lines can give you a betting edge. As mentioned above, spreads usually open around 3 or 7 points. These are known as the key numbers because NFL games are often decided by a single touchdown or field goal and final point margins land on those two numbers more than any others.
Books will often list favorites as 7.5- or 3.5-point favorites rather than at the even number. This is known as a “hook” and it’s devised to elicit more action on the underdog.
Using an alternate line can help bettors get off the hook and move below a key number by turning a 3.5-point spread into a more favorable 2.5-point spread with different odds.
Usually, it makes sense to use alternate lines to get a lower number when betting the favorite. With the exception of the Chiefs’ insane comeback to beat the Texans by 20 points in the 2020 Divisional Round, favorites rarely overcome a slow start to cover a large spread (Chiefs were 9.5-point favorites on most books). Therefore, using an alternate line to get below a key number would help your bet remain successful if the favorite comes from behind to win by a single score, or if the underdog covers the spread with a late score.
While it’s a safer play to buy points for an underdog, that isn’t always the most effective means of using alternate lines. Especially in the NFL playoffs, when every team is competitive, underdogs routinely exceed expectations. If you see a 7-point underdog in a game that you believe is closer to a coin flip, it may make sense to take that team as 3-point underdogs with much better odds.
Feeling even bolder? If you predict a potential upset and want even better odds than taking the underdog on the moneyline (at +165 for example), an alternate spread in which the underdog is favored by a few points would offer payouts of up to +400 depending on the number.
As a recent example, bettors willing to take the Titans to not only cover the 10-point spread at Baltimore in the Divisional Round, but to cover a 3-point spread, cashed handsomely. Bettors bold enough to take the Titans on the moneyline or to cover a 10-point spread on their side of the line (extremely rare in this case) would profit considerably.
Alternate lines can also help bettors get to key numbers in closer games. The Packers-Seahawks matchup in the Divisional Round was another prime example of oddsmakers setting a competitive line with the Packers favored by 4 or 4.5 on most books. The Seahawks scored late, but failed on a 2-point conversion, resulting in a 5-point loss. Bettors that backed the Seahawks were out of luck, unless they sacrificed betting odds to raise the line to 5 or more points.