The sports betting industry is on a meteoric rise in this country and we’re approaching one of the first NFL seasons where it will be possible to legally wager on most games outside of Nevada. Even in a largely illegal market, the American Gaming Association estimates that bettors wagered over $4.7 billion dollars on football last year.
With ample time between games and a wealth of strategy to consider, football is an understandably popular sport for mainstream bettors. Using analytics to gain an edge in predicting how games will unfold can help the savvy bettor go against the grain to earn big paydays. Conversely, the popularity of NFL betting can help bettors isolate a potential winner by piggybacking on research conducted by the masses.
This page can serve as a reference for residents of states that have legalized gambling. It will break down the basics of NFL betting, from various types of bets, to strategy, to tips on how to predict trends and think independently. If you heed this advice and weigh your options and bankroll carefully, you could turn a consistent profit throughout the 2019-2020 NFL season.
Where is NFL betting legal?
When the Supreme Court overturned PASPA in May of 2018, it opened the door for individual states to legalize sports gambling. Beginning with New Jersey (the original plaintiff in the PASPA case), several states quickly moved to legalize and regulate the industry within state lines. Betting on the NFL and other professional sports is still not federally legal, but residents of the following states can place bets at live sportsbooks:
The following states have passed bills to legalize sports gambling and are preparing to launch the industry. Some states are hoping to go live before the 2019-2020 NFL season:
Most other states in the US have introduced some sort of bill that would legalize sports gambling. Of course, some states are far closer than others to legalizing the industry. Visit our state betting pages at TheLines.com to get a look at the status in each state.
Best NFL betting sites and apps
There are a number of apps available for sports betting in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia and Nevada. Some of the best:
The top players in the industry are DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook, BetMGM, Caesars, PointsBet, and SugarHouse.
How does NFL betting work?
There are several ways to bet on NFL action. We’ll begin with the most simple type of bet: The moneyline. Taking the Moneyline means you’re betting on the winning team regardless of the margin of victory. Underdogs will get plus-odds on the moneyline and the favorites will have negative odds. For example, if a team is heavily favored they will be listed as Patriots (-230), meaning that a successful $230 bet on the Patriots pays out $100.
This differs from betting on the point spread, which accounts for the expected margin of victory. If the Patriots are heavily favored at home, they might be listed as -13.5, meaning a bet (likely at something close to -110 odds) on the Pats would only pay out if they win by 14 points or more.
Gamblers can also target the overall betting total of a game, which is usually listed as a number around 48.5 with the proposition of taking the Over or Under on a point total. Some sites offer the opportunity to bet on the expected point total of one team (23.5 points for example).
Then, there is often an extensive number of betting props (or propositions) where gamblers can wager on the individual performance of a player, the type of score to open a game, and the specific margin of victory. These options are often more expansive in prime time and playoff games.
Gamblers can choose to combine multiple propositions on a game, or multiple bets on different games, into a parlay. This wager is an all-or-nothing proposition which only pays out if all (anywhere between two and a dozen) bets are successful. The more bets added to a parlay, the greater the potential payout.
A teaser is a form of parlay that involves a combination of two to ten wagers in which you can adjust the point spread or total to your specifications. These bets are therefore more likely to succeed, but the payouts are smaller than in a parlay.
Finally, there is an option to bet on NFL futures. Rather than betting on an individual game, Futures offer gamblers the opportunity to bet on the eventual Super Bowl champion, divisional champion, or the number of wins that a team will accrue during the regular season. There are also futures bets available on postseason awards and other ongoing storylines.
NFL live betting
Another method of wagering on the NFL is live betting, also known as in-play betting. No longer are gamblers required to place their bets before opening kickoff and ride out the storm. Now users can watch a game unfold for one, two, or three quarters and place their bets based on updated odds.
The odds on online sportsbooks will shift throughout games and sometimes it won’t be possible to place a live bet until a team finishes their current drive and the odds can solidify. This can be a very effective method for the experienced sports fan. Those who can read how a game is unfolding in the opening minutes can target a line aggressively.
For example, the most recent Super Bowl between the Patriots and Rams turned into an offensive quagmire where neither team appeared poised to rack up many points. Those viewers that read into game flow and placed a bet on the Under (even as it shifted lower) were rewarded by a comfortable payout in a game that ended 13-3.
NFL betting trends
There are several free sites that will disclose information on where the public is betting in terms of the moneyline, point spread, and point total. These trends can lead to a shift in the lines as sportsbooks try to adjust when too much money is coming in on one side or the other.
These trends can also indicate which side of the line is a better bet based on the sheer number of bets coming in. However, the percentage of bets coming in on one side or the other is often not as telling as the percentage of money coming in on one side of the line.
A ton of bets indicates that the reactive public expects a favorite to roll, but a ton of money on one side indicates that experienced gamblers or “sharps” have found something in their research to inspire confidence.
Following the money usually profits, but there is a high level of risk and reward in “contrarian handicapping” by going against the public and backing an underdog at plus odds.
NFL line shopping
With so many sportsbooks and platforms competing for your wagers, there’s no reason not to shop around for the best deal. Some sites might have a team with a line of -4 (-110) on a particular game, but another site could have the same team at -3.5 (+120). There is generally an industry standard, but even a sleight differentiation can lead to huge changes in dividends in the long run. It’s vital for bettors to shop lines on multiple sites even if they don’t have a huge bankroll. If that’s the case, simply decrease the amount you’re betting on each game.
You can also shop lines by timing when you place your bets. Oddsmakers will set an Opening Line early in the week, but that could change based on how the public bets the game. Sometimes it makes sense to hammer an Opening Line right away so that you get the best odds possible. For example, the Packers could open at -7 at home against a poor opponent, but after 90% of bets come in on Green Bay, that number could rise. Conversely, the underdog might become appealing late in the week if the spread rises to 13 or even 14 points. Waiting for the right line can create the perfect opportunity to bet against the public at even better odds.
NFL Betting Tips
Finding a betting formula
Consistent success in NFL betting is hard to come by, since sportsbooks are often eerily accurate in how they set Spreads and Point Totals. In order to turn a profit, bettors have to find their own formula for determining value and potential winners.
It’s possible to “follow the masses” by betting on favorites that are seeing a huge percentage of wagers, but it is far more reliable to analyze trends and look for value based on those raw numbers.
As the season progresses, it can become apparent which teams have a tendency to “play down” to their opponent. Certain teams tend to play better when going up against heavy favorites, and many teams tend to play better or worse in prime time games. Analyzing a teams’ recent travel schedule, results on the road vs. at home, and tendency to rebound after a loss (see Bill Belichick’s Patriots) can help bettors find a winning formula.
There are certain analytics available for free on many sites that can help you predict how a game will unfold. Here are some of the key analytics that we use to predict game flow:
- Pace (the average number of plays a team runs per game) – This can primarily help you identify fast-paced games that are likely to go Over the total, or slow-paced games that will go Under.
- Offensive efficiency – Especially in the red zone, offensive efficiency can serve as a great indicator for which teams are capable of finishing drives with touchdowns and therefore covering the spread. Pass yards per attempt is another indicator of which teams are successful on offense in terms of controlling possession and creating points.
- Turnovers – On the other side of the ball, teams with great defensive efficiency in the red zone may help games stay under the point total. Teams that have shown an ability to create turnovers are far more bankable in terms of hanging close in games and potentially stealing a game when they’re underdogs.
- Win Probability – This is an advanced tool that can help tremendously with live betting. Algorithms can provide the likelihood of a team holding on for the win and that makes for a very safe bet.
- DVOA – There are comprehensive numbers on how defenses perform against specific position groups. There are also numbers on how an offensive line performs in terms of creating space at the second level and whether defensive lines are stronger on the right or left side. Match up the numbers from each team to consider whether star players will have more of an impact and sway the outcome.
- Home Field Advantage – Teams such as the Packers, Chiefs, Saints, and Patriots have a tremendous home-field advantage for several reasons. Lofty point spreads in those venues should be considered with more weight than a lofty point spread for a team like the Bengals, for example.
Each game brings its own criteria in terms of analytics and there is almost always ample time to crunch the numbers and find an edge.
NFL betting mistakes to avoid
Sports gambling can be a destructive force and should not be taken lightly or considered as a main source of income for anyone but the most experienced handicappers. Here’s a list of a few of the pitfalls that can turn a harmless habit into a money-draining problem:
- Chasing your losses: Gamblers can be overcome by a need to be “made whole” after losing their initial bet. This can be problematic during NFL Sundays since there is a new wave of games starting at 4 p.m. EST and two prime time games providing the opportunity to go “double or nothing” after an unsuccessful run in the early games.
- Managing bankroll: Again, the spreads and totals assigned by sportsbooks are often extremely accurate in terms of the final result, which means that few bets are a “sure thing.” Gamblers need to manage their bankroll wisely and avoid betting big on too many games regardless of their confidence level.
- Emotional betting: While gambling on NFL games should be fun, it’s not fun to lose your money because you were afraid to bet against your hometown team. Gamblers should always bet based on data, trends, and their gut feeling, rather than by their allegiances as fans.
- Hoping for longshots: It’s important to get good odds on a wager, but taking a bet that has little chance to come to fruition is not a reliable method. A horse with 50/1 odds would certainly pay out handsomely in the Kentucky Derby, but there’s a reason nobody expects that horse to have a shot at winning the race.
- Banking on favorites: Conversely, it’s unwise to always follow the public and take the more popular team with your wagers. Things change on a weekly basis in the NFL and teams always find a way to surprise. Remember that the other guys get paid too, and they’ll fight to the final whistle to post a more respectable score and potentially get under a lofty point spread.
- Betting while impaired: Again, NFL Sunday is a time to relax and enjoy a few adult beverages, but don’t get carried away while intoxicated. Accept losses when they come and avoid becoming overconfident because you’re feeling loose and unafraid of losing a few hundred dollars.
Online betting vs. retail sportsbooks
Few states have legalized online betting within state borders because it’s so difficult to regulate. But if you’re in a state with legal online betting, there are clear benefits to that platform. While retail sportsbooks will only accept bets before a game kicks off, online betting sites allow users to bet throughout the contest and adjust to live odds. The convenience of betting from your phone or laptop is hard to beat. That’s why live sportsbooks will offer promotions and try to enhance the in-game experience in order to draw in more numbers.
How to watch NFL games
Every Sunday select NFL games are broadcast on local TV. Viewers can watch any game by purchasing the Sunday Ticket through DirectTV, or the scoring highlights and exciting finishes compiled by the Red Zone channel. There are also options to stream NFL games through various online platforms. During the 2019-2020 season there will be Thursday Night Football games from Week 1 to Week 15 that will be broadcast on FOX and NFL Network. Sunday Night Football games are broadcast on NBC and ESPN carries Monday Night Football games.