Look closely at the (American) football listings in any sportsbook and you will find a lot of information. The teams are listed in pairs, and the bottom team by convention is the home team.
One of the teams will have a small number to the right of it, such as 3 or 5.5. The other team will have a larger number listed to the right of it, such as 37 or 40.5. The smaller number is the point spread and the larger number is the total. Experienced sports bettors know that, so there is no reason to label them as “spread” and “total” on the board.
The number to the left of the team’s name is the unique number assigned to that team to avoid confusion when you bet.
The number giving the spread will be next to the team that is the favorite. That number is understood to be a negative number, though to save space the board might have eliminated the negative signs.
The number giving the total will be next to the name of the underdog.
Sometimes there will be a money line listed, and sometimes there will be no money line. Usually the money line is identified somehow as the money line, perhaps with “M/L.” If there is a money line listed, it generally will be off to the right of the spread and totals. Each team will have its own money line.
The most popular way to bet football is against the spread. When someone says he is betting the Bears, what he usually means is he is betting on the Bears to cover the spread. If the Bears are favored by four points, then a bet on the Bears means Bears -4. If the Bears win by more than four points, the bet wins. If the Bears win by fewer than four points or lose the game, then a bet on Bears -4 is a loser. If a game falls right on the spread, bettors on both teams get their money back.
Sometimes to save space, half points are shown as an apostrophe, called a hook. Thus Rams 5’ would mean the Rams are favored by 5.5 points. A bet on Rams against the spread would be Rams -5.5.
Spreads on favorites are negative numbers. Spreads on dogs are positive numbers. If you bet on a dog against the spread, you win your bet if your team wins the game, and you also win your bet if your team loses the game but by less than the amount of the spread.
The money lines are for bets on which team will win with no points given to either team. You might see, for example, Philadelphia Eagles +160, New York Giants -180.
There might also be numbers for betting spreads and totals for the first half of the game. If you watch the game in a sportsbook, at halftime you will be presented with spreads and totals for betting the second half.
Besides numbers for betting upcoming games, the boards sometimes also list odds for winning conference titles and division championships. You can bet on which team is going to win the next Super Bowl. These wagers, on events whose outcome may not be decided until a date considerably in the future, are called futures bets
Excerpted with permission from Sharp Sports Betting by Stanford Wong.
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