When most people think of sports betting, they most often think of spread betting or wagering on the moneyline. However, another popular way to bet is on the over under.
Understanding over/unders, often referred to as “totals” in the betting world, isn’t complicated but they are very different from the aforementioned bets because they aren’t centered on the comparing the two teams’ performance.
And totals are an important part of betting. Tons of bettors and fans enjoy wagering on them, and they can apply to everything from a game’s final score, to how many times Tom Brady throws a touchdown pass, to how long a singer takes to perform the National Anthem before the Super Bowl.
On this page, we’ll go over what over unders are, how they work, and whether you should make them a part of your sports betting efforts.
What is an over under?
A betting total is exactly what it sounds like – the sum of something in a sporting event, most often points scored. Let’s look at the upcoming New Orleans Saints versus Seattle Seahawks game as an example.
The over/under, or total, for this game was 43 points Tuesday morning (currently ). Bettors who wager on the Over at 43 need 44 total points scored or more to win their bet. Anything 42 points or under would be a winner for Under bettors.
If the final score added up to exactly 43 points (26-17, for example) the bet would be a “push” and bets would be refunded.
Like all kinds of sports betting options, totals bets have expanded. Betting a total is no longer only available for pre-game bets. There may be totals available for partial games (quarters or periods), individual teams, and during live betting.
Another example is last season’s Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The game went off with a total of 54.5. That is, the market expected the teams to combine for about 55 points.
Both had teams featured productive, high-volume quarterbacks leading their passing offenses. Furthermore, the Chiefs had a middle-of-the-road defense and had scored pretty easily in the first meeting between the teams, putting up 27 points and finishing the game kneeling in Tampa Bay territory. The game also took place in a warm-weather city with mild wind.
Put it all together and you have a recipe for a fairly high-scoring affair, which is why the over under was 54.5.
Of course, the game played out quite a bit differently as Tampa Bay’s defense succeeded in harassing Patrick Mahomes into a day to forget. The Chiefs managed just 9 points. While Tampa Bay put up 31, the 40 points scored still came in well below the total. That means under 54.5 bettors cashed their tickets.
What does it mean to have the over or the under?
A wager on the over means you expect more than the applicable total of points, sets, goals, runs or whatever other market is in question. A wager on the under reflects the opposite – you think fewer will occur.
Most of the time, the over under is relatively straightforward in this manner. Total of 50.5? You take over if you expect 51 or more points and under if you expect 50 or fewer points.
Sometimes, these markets can be a little less intuitive.
One prime example comes in various draft seasons, when sportsbooks will open over under markets for individual players. For example, Alabama QB Mac Jones received considerable hype in the lead-up to the NFL Draft, and his over/under wound up at 3.5 when speculation mounted that the 49ers would select him third. Over 3.5 would win if a team selected Jones fourth or later, which is what actually happened when he went 15th to the Patriots. Under 3.5 would have won if someone picked him in the top three.
Another over/under situation that confuses some bettors is total cage time in a UFC fight. How can the over/under be 2.5 in a three-round fight? The answer is simple. If the fighters still compete past the halfway mark of the third round (2:30), then the over cashes. If the fight ends before that moment, the under cashes.
Generally, the payouts on the over/under involve laying $11 to win every $10, denoted as -110. However, these prices can vary. More on this below.
How is an over under made?
Many factors affect the over/under. Particularly in sports like basketball, football and hockey. Here are a few:
- Quality of the the offenses
- Quality of the defenses
- Pace/aggression of the teams/athletes
- Weather in outdoor sports
- Stadium/venue considerations (particularly in baseball)
- Other factors may play a role as well. Even among sports with the same factors, they may carry varying weights. Generally, computer models weigh these various inputs and then spit out an expected total.
From there, the betting market takes the reins, starting with small limits once the markets open. As more information comes into the market, the totals move as game day draws nearer. Information can come in the form of weather or injuries.
Often, it comes in the form of bets. High-limit wagers from sharp players clue the sportsbook in on where they need to move their line. When a max bet comes in on an over/under from a respected account, the sportsbook may respond by nudging the line in the same direction as the bet. Over time, the over/under moves inch by inch until it reaches its closing line when the contest begins.
You should generally think of this closing line as the betting market’s most accurate prediction as to the expected result.
Let’s take a look at some examples for the upcoming NFL season and see why different games can feature stark differences in the totals. These over/unders come from DraftKings Sportsbook.
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs (54)
Two of the NFL’s most potent offenses will meet in Week 9 at Arrowhead Stadium when the Green Bay Packers travel in to take on the Chiefs. These two teams finished first and second in offensive efficiency in 2020 according to Football Outsiders. Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Patrick Mahomes rank among the favorites to win NFL MVP.
On the other side of the ball, neither defense embarrassed themselves last year, but neither exactly instilled fear into opposing offenses either.
Even outdoors on grass in likely cold weather, this game figures to see plenty of points scored. Hence, a very high total of 54 in the early markets. While 54 would have been astronomically high a few years back, continued rule and strategy changes benefiting offenses have made it a number you’ll see every now and then.
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (50)
In Week 13, division rivals meet at Arrowhead Stadium when the Chiefs host the Denver Broncos.
We’ve already discussed the Chiefs’ potent offense and average defense, but Denver brings a much different team construction. Under defensive-minded head coach Vic Fangio, the Broncos have bolstered that side of the ball to an above-average level even as the offense has struggled mightily with young QB Drew Lock at the helm. The Broncos D should only improve this year after using their first round pick on potential star corner Patrick Surtain II.
They should have a fighting chance of slowing KC down, but offense trumps defense in most cases nowadays. So, the total still edges on the higher side at 50 but builds in the potential for a few defensive stops.
Denver Broncos at New York Giants (43.5)
NFL Week 1 of the NFL season will see the Broncos travel to the East Coast for a date with the New York Giants.
We’ve already gone over how the Broncos figure to be a defense-oriented team with a questionable offense. The picture looks much the same for the Giants. They brought a pretty poor offense to the table last season, and furthermore played at one of the slowest paces in the league. However, their defense was surprisingly competent and figures to be solid again.
Two below-average offenses that project to play at average or slower paces, two solid defenses, and a game outdoors. That’s pretty much a perfect recipe for a low total, and that’s why this one sits at 43.5.
What are the chances my totals bet wins?
If the market is sharp – that is, high-limit wagers have moved the line to a closing number – you should have about a 50-50 chance of winning an over/under bet. So, if Bucs and Chiefs played out the Super Bowl thousands of times, the total should wind up 54 or less half of the time and above 54 the other half.
Similar to spread betting, the sportsbook makes money on totals by charging vigorish (vig), often called “juice,” on both sides of the market. So, you normally have to bet $11 to win $10 regardless of whether you take the over or the under.
Sometimes, though, the market likes one side but not enough for a full move off of the current number. In these cases, you might see something like this:
- Over X (-120)
- Under X (+100)
You’ll get an even money payout on your under bets in this market while you have lay $12 for every $10 you hope to win on the over.
Most times, you’ll see -110 either way. This page has more information about figuring the vig, but just keep in mind on normal -110/-110 markets, you need to win 52.38% of your bets to show a long-term profit.
Line shop for greater profit on totals
Let’s say you wanted to bet the under 54.5 in the Super Bowl. Right before you clicked to submit your bet, someone stopped you and offered you under 55.5. Assuming equal price, you’d be a fool to stick with your original bet, right?
That’s how line shopping works, and it’s an important tool at your disposal if you want the greatest chance of winning over/under bets. The concept simply means checking the lines at all of the sportsbooks at your disposal and betting at the one that sells you the best line.
Over the long haul, line shopping turns some losses into pushes and pushes into wins. Add it up over hundreds or thousands of bets, and line shopping can have a large impact.
Since totals so frequently converge on the numbers at the sharpest books, it can be hard to find numbers that are off market. One way to increase your chances is to check the alternate lines.
Many books offer bettors the chance to bet over unders at many different numbers, known as alternate lines. So, you might have been able to get under 50.5 (+130) instead of under 54.5 in the Super Bowl. Alternate lines differ a little more often than the standard -110/-110 markets, so look for good numbers to add to your bottom line.
Should I bet the over/under?
Over/unders can be excellent options for some bettors, but they may not be for everyone.
Perhaps the biggest reason to bet the over under is they are generally some of the lowest-vig markets offered by sportsbooks. That is, the sportsbook keeps less of the money they accept (known as the handle), expecting to pay a fairly sizable chunk back to the bettors.
Bettors interested in building mathematical models in particular may enjoy trying to work out how to beat totals. Totals generally have clear inputs that will apply to the model like expected possessions and efficiency.
On the other hand, that same applicability of models makes them tough to beat for the average bettor in big-market sports like NBA and NFL.
Also, the teams generally don’t care whether a game is going over or under. They only care about winning, so they usually have no interest in helping you win your bet, though there are exceptions.
Many bettors may also find it more fun to root for teams rather than whether points are scored or not.
Totals and parlays
Most sportsbooks will let you include over/unders in parlays. Parlays allow you to roll over your bet winnings for much bigger payouts, but they bring a large downside in that every bet in the parlay must win for it to bring any return.
Given that, parlays are an ill-advised option for most bettors.
However, exceptions exist, and over/unders in particular can be a great option for parlays.
To understand this, you must first understand correlated parlays. Sportsbooks generally won’t book parlays where one winning bet increases the odds of the others winning, although this has changed recently. Parlaying the first-half total of an NFL game with the game total represents an obvious example.
But, some parlays that include the over/under have small correlation and are allowed. An example would be a high-paced NBA team facing a half-court oriented team. If each team plays at the opponent’s preferred pace, their win probability likely drops. Hence, you can parlay the half-court team with the under or vice-versa if you like the fast-paced team.
Be aware that the correlated parlays allowed these days by some books will fudge the payouts in accordance with the correlation, so do some research before attempting to play them.
Over/unders and live betting
Live betting has become more popular in recent years, and much more widely available. Increased technology from the bookmaking side has increased their ability to offer these markets, and bettors often enjoy in-play betting. Fast pace and quickly changing odds create a dynamic environment that challenges both the bookmaker and the bettor.
Bookmakers offering live betting often include an over/under line in their releases, which usually come during commercial breaks.
Live over/unders give the bettor a great chance to think critically about what they see. Sometimes, the line can change quite drastically in just a few minutes. For example, if the Chiefs defense looks dominant early against the Packers in the aforementioned Week 9 game, the total might move from 54 to 49.5 after just a couple of empty possessions.
Your job as a live bettor is to determine how predictive these possessions are for the rest of the game. If you think the Chiefs’ success isn’t sustainable, pounce on that over. You got a number 4.5 points better than the pregame markets.
How does an overtime game impact totals?
Generally speaking, if you bet the over, you can root for overtime and extra innings/periods because they’re very, very good news for you. Under bettors loathe such things, as they simply extend the clock to allow for more scoring.
Most times, these overtime periods count as if the game just kept going. They usually apply to second-half bets or third-period bets as well.
An exception comes in the form of three-way markets – those with win, lose and draw options. These usually apply to regulation only.
Why was my totals bet canceled?
Only a handful of situations cause cancelation in an over/under bet.
- The bookmaker posts an obviously erroneous line. Often known as “palps,” books often cancel them if the game hasn’t started. Worse, if you bet at illegal offshore sportsbooks, they might freeroll you and only grade the bet if it loses.
- Starting pitcher changes in MLB. If you booked a bet with “pitchers listed” on the total, then a late pitching change will void your bet.
- The game or match doesn’t occur on the scheduled day. Even if they reconvene the next day and play, books often cancel bets and produce a new market.
- The game or match ends early. Sometimes, this can happen due to inclement weather in various sports or a tennis injury.
Check your sportsbook’s rules to see how they grade these situations and more.
Note that a push can also occur if the total market features an even number – 54 instead of 54.5, for instance. If the game lands on 54, all over/under wagers get returned as if the bet never happened.