Terms, Tips and Strategy for Betting on American Football Games

In May 2018, the United States Supreme Court reversed a landmark ruling that has since paved the way for sports betting. The wave of states legalizing sports gambling is growing steadily. Football fans were some of the first to take advantage of legal sports bets.

If you reside in or visit a state where sportsbooks are now available, you too may want to add some excitement to your football viewing experience. Of course, winning some cash helps to increase the excitement.

Here is an American football betting guide. We’ve included some important terms, to help you understand different aspects of football betting. In addition, there is a list of the basic types of football bets and a section on strategy to help you gain an edge.

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Football Betting Terminology

Knowing all the terminology associated with sports betting isn’t a must. However, it could prove profitable to understand basic language. This includes names of bet types, plus terms attached to different betting lines and strategies. Here is a rundown of some important football betting terminology every bettor should know.

  • Action – This means you have a bet or action on the game.
  • ATS – This is an acronym which stands for against the point spread. It is important because it can be an edge if you know a particular team’s record against the points when making a bet against the spread.
  • Bad Bet – A bad bet isn’t necessarily just a bet you lost. A bad bet in football betting terminology is a bet you almost or should have won. However, only the winners count.
  • Book – This is a shortened term used for either a physical or online sportsbook, or a bookmaker who takes football bets. This term should not be confused with a bookie, a term that carries a negative connotation.
  • Closing Line – This is the final point spread, over and under, or moneyline number for any given game.
  • Even Money – These are games where there is no true favorite. You bet even money to win or lose the same amount regardless of the team you choose. This applies to moneyline odds and zero point spread games.
  • Favorite – This is the opposite of the underdog. The favorite in a football game will have a negative number attached to their moneyline and give a specific number of points to the underdog.
  • Futures Bet – Futures bets are wagers on outcomes that will occur at some point in the distant future. Some common futures bets are division winners, conference champs or Super Bowl Champion. There are also individual player futures bets such as Most Valuable Player and others.
  • Hedging – This is an aspect of football betting strategy. It is betting both sides of game to hedge against big losses.
  • Hook – If you’ve ever wondered what the term for an added half-point on the point spread, now you know. It’s called the hook, and for good reason. Many a bettor has been hooked by this half-point.
  • Lock – This is any bet made that appears to be a guaranteed winner. Most bettors appreciate that there really isn’t a sure thing in American football betting.
  • Middle – This is another term used for betting strategy. The point spread or line on a game can move. When the odds shift enough, you can bet both sides of the game. In rare situations, both bets can end up being winners, but winning one or the other is a guarantee.
  • Moneyline – This is a bet that does not involve a point spread. You will still bet using odds posted by the bookmaker; however, all your team needs to do is win the game.
  • Oddsmaker – An oddsmaker is also referred to as a handicapper. These are individuals or groups of people who set the odds for all types of sporting events. They essentially predict the winner and by how many points they will win. Today, oddsmakers have dozens of computerized algorithms at their disposal to help pinpoint game outcomes.
  • Off the Board – These are games that a bookmaker will remove from the betting list. Injuries or serious bad weather are a couple common reasons a game can be taken off the board.
  • Over/Under – This one of the three common types of football bets. It involves a posted total final number of points scored. Bets can be either made for a number higher or lower than the posted over/under for the game.
  • Parlay – This is an exciting way to combine games and enhance the amount of money you can win. Parlays involve multiple games. You usually must pick each game on your parlay card correctly to be a winner. The more games you select, the higher the payout odds.
  • Pick ‘Em – This is the designated equivalent of even money, but applies only to spread betting. A game listed as pick ’em has a zero point spread. You only need to pick the winner.
  • Point Total – This is the number that established the number used for an over/under bet. It is the total number of combined points both teams will score.
  • Push – This is a bookmaker’s dream and a football bettor’s nightmare. In many betting formats, when a game hits the exact point spread, it is termed a push. In some slates the game is a loser, while on others in doesn’t affect your wins or losses.
  • Straight Up – This is a term used for betting the moneyline. The moneyline is not based on the winner winning the game by any number of points, so it is referred to as straight up.
  • Underdog – The underdog is the team that is getting points in a point spread bet, or has a positive number on the moneyline.
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Types of Football Bets

There are various ways you can bet on football games. Common American football betting boards have three basic sets of odds. We briefly covered the names of the basic bets in the terminology section. Next we’ll expand on these basic types of bets you can make on football games and then follow that with a few strategy pointers to help you improve your chances of winning.

The Point Spread

The most common bet you can make on football games involves the point spread. Oddsmakers will set a number that they feel will be the difference between the winner’s and loser’s point totals. The team with a negative number is the favorite.

Each team on the board with a plus-sign followed by a specific number is the underdog. The favorite gives the underdog the point spread amount prior to kickoff. As an example, Team A -7 vs. Team B +7 indicates that the oddsmakers feel team.

A will win the game by one touchdown and the extra point. Team A must win by more than seven points for a winning bet ticket that selected the favorite. Anything less than seven points is a losing bet, or a winner if you chose the underdog.

A game that finishes with Team A winning by exactly seven-points is a push by definition. One way that oddsmakers avoid a game being a push is by adding the hook or half-point to the point spread. Games with a half-point added to a whole number are not uncommon when betting on football.

The Moneyline

You can make bets on individual games or block games on a parlay card avoiding the point spread altogether. This type of bet is the moneyline. There is usually still a favorite and underdog, but they are designated differently.

The favorite will have a negative moneyline number and the underdog will have a positive number. Football moneyline bets are based on 100. If the favorite is posted at -120, the bet must be $120 in order to win back an even $100. A loss by the favorite will cost you $120.

A team designated with a plus-sign on the moneyline is an underdog. When a team has a positive number, you will win that amount of money based on a $100 bet. An underdog at +140 will pay $140 on a $100 bet if they upset the favorite.

There are no points involved on moneyline bets. Moneyline bets are concerned only with the final outcome, regardless of the final point spread or the total number of points scored. Moneyline bets can be the safest way to balance a betting card against big losses.

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The Over and Under

Betting the over/under removes any question about who will win or lose the game. This bet is only focused on the final point total. The over/under is a listed betting line for every game. You either select the final point total to be higher or lower than the posted line. As an example, let’s use an over/under for a game of 50½.

If the final score of the game is 28 to 21, regardless of who won, all bettors who chose under would win the amount bet. All over bets would consequently lose. There is a couple strategy tips noted below, which apply to betting the over/under.

Prop Bets

As a beginning football bettor, putting on money on prop bets is probably something you should do more for fun than to win big money. Prop bets are usually more difficult to pin down than point spread wagers, moneylines or over/under bets.

Proposition bets, or prop bets for short, are in-game or player game-performance based bets. You can bet all types of statistical outcomes like total passing yards by a quarterback or rushing yards by a running back.

Other in-game prop bets might include who will score first, what type of score will happen first or who will throw the first interception. The Super Bowl is known for the multitude of interesting prop bets it always offers. You can even bet on the length of the National Anthem or who will win the coin toss.

Parlay Bets

The final type of bet you can make on football games actually involves grouping some of the previous types together on one betting slip. Most of the time, you need to keep the same type of bet, but you can bet parlay tickets of various numbers of games.

Each time you increase the parlay ticket game count, you increase the payout odds in your favor. Now, remember that you must win every game on the ticket to win. Three game parlays are very popular.

However, you can imagine that a 10-team parlay would carry an extremely high payout amount. Just always remember when betting a football parlay ticket, one loser means a losing ticket. Choose your parlay games wisely.

Strategy for a Competitive Edge

We mentioned in the terminology section that there are really no guarantees in betting. There have been games that people thought were locks that turned the other way. However, there are a few strategy tips we’ve included in your football betting guide, tips you can use to improve your competitive edge. Here are some things to consider when you fill out your betting slip.

Use Every Free Bet Offer

Not taking advantage of any free offers you may earn or receive for making an initial deposit with a sportsbook are like handing over your money. A free bet offer is like playing at a casino with house money. Keep any eye out for free offers and use them. These are bets you simply can’t lose; money at least.

Man walking with a bag of money

Odds Boosts

While these aren’t free offers, they can turn out to be very profitable. Nearly every sportsbook will have an ongoing promotion that picks a game and then boosts the odds. If you play these correctly, you can boost your odds of winning as well. Keep an eye out for daily odds boosts on the upcoming football schedule for that week.


There is an entire section on most pregame shows dedicated to the player active and inactive list. Sometimes these names are posted well in advance of kickoff, but sometimes the final list doesn’t materialize until minutes before game time.

Injuries play a huge role when focusing on the point spread and over/under odds. A key star being out can be a clue to bet the other side of the number. When players who produce the offense are out, the total points could be less than expected.

Likewise, missing defenders could indicate a higher scoring game is at hand. Keep an eye on player injuries, especially the final active/inactive reports to help you gain a betting edge.


While it will affect both teams, extreme weather conditions can affect the final outcome of games. Good running teams can be more productive in bad weather as opposed to teams that rely heavily on the pass.

Cold weather affects games as well. Extreme cold will invariably drive down the over/under number. Certain teams play better or worse during weather extremes. Having knowledge of a particular team’s history of ineptitude in cold temperatures can be a nice bettor’s edge.

Use the Tools

There are a number of services available that will take a lot of effort out of breaking down game analysis. Watch free podcasts and find some reading material you enjoy. Of course, the most enjoyable material will contain information that helps give you an edge.

American football with archive cartoon

You can also consider betting services that provide detailed statistical analysis for a fee. If you’re unsure about any service, check for a limited time free-trial. These services often employ computerized algorithms very similar to those used by the oddsmakers to help uncover a statistical edge.

At BetzCenter.com, for example, we offer statistics, results standings, highlights and football predictions for free and available to all users, all you need to do is to sign up for a free account!

This is an overview of football betting terminology and the basic types of football bets you can make. When you decide to bet on any sport, establish a prudent bankroll management plan before your first bet. The key is to never bet with money you cannot afford to lose. Every betting guide, including a football betting guide, starts with a good money management strategy.

In final section of your American football betting guide, we covered some simple tips for helping improve your odds of winning. If you liked this article and you are also interested in soccer, make sure you read this: “What to Focus on When Betting on Soccer“.

While there is never a sure-thing in sports betting, you can use these tips to help improve your competitive edge. The one thing that is a guarantee, if you don’t make a bet you can’t be a winner.

2 years ago
American Football
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