POINT SPREAD BETTING

The most common bet type in the NFL & NBA.
Learn what it is and how to bet it.

What is a Point Spread?

A point spread is a type of bet which is used to create a balanced or fair wager between both sides. It is the most popular type of bet in basketball and football. To win your bet, the stronger team (known as the “favorite”) must win by a certain number of points, and conversely, the weaker team (known as the “underdog”) can lose by the same number of points, or win the game outright.

Here is an example of the 2019 Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams:


The plus sign (+) means the team is the underdog.
The minus sign (-) means the team is the favorite.

In this example, the point spread (often referred to as just the 'spread') is 3. For the Patriots to cover the spread they must win by four or more points. For the Rams to cover the point spread they must lose by two points or less, or win the game outright.

If the Patriots would happen to win by exactly three points, we would refer to the outcome as a “push”. When this happens, there is no winner or loser, and the bet is fully refunded by the sportsbook.

NFL Examples of Point Spread Bets

Let’s take a look at a few point spreads from the 2021 NFL Season.

Example 1:
Dallas -8.5 (need to win by 9 or more)
Atlanta +8.5 (need to lose by 8 or less, or win outright)
Final score: DAL 43, ATL 3 (Dallas cover -8.5)

Example 2:
Tennessee -3 (need to win by 4 or more)
New Orleans +3 (need to lose by 2 or less, or win outright)
Final score: TEN 23, NO 21 (New Orleans cover +3)

What is the “Juice” or “Vig”?

Do you see that -110 number located under the spread? This is what is commonly referred to as the juice or vig. Think of this as a small fee (in this case, 10% of your wager) that the sportsbook charges you to place a bet. This is basically how the sportsbooks make money in the long run.

If you want to win $100 on the Patriots -3, you must risk $110. When betting using a point spread, -110 is typically the most common amount of juice, although it's not uncommon to see all sorts of different numbers.

Can I Bet on a Point Spread for Different Parts of a Game?

Absolutely. The most common point spread wagers are for full game action; however, you can bet on spreads for any part of the game such as any of the quarters, or halves.

When betting on individual quarters it is common practice for the sportsbook to increase the juice. This number will normally be set at -120 or -125.

Why Does a Point Spread Change?

Very rarely will a point spread not shift throughout the week prior a football game, or even the day of a basketball game.

There are a number of factors that could move a line such as a key injury, the weather, or a lopsided amount of money being placed on one team over the other. In 2020 and 2021, we saw some drastic line changes as a result of players being forced to miss games due to Covid-19.

Can I Bet on a Point Spread in Other Sports?

Point spread wagers are most commonly used in football and basketball but those are not the only sports that you can place this type of bet on. Many sports offer this type of wager including baseball, hockey, tennis, or even golf to name a few, although the wagers are commonly given different names like 'run line' or 'puck line'. Typically, in hockey and baseball these lines are 1.5. These two sports obviously have less scoring than football or basketball, so the spread is smaller.