Wagering on the NFL is essentially a rite of passage for all sports gamblers. It isn't just the religious bettors and football experts who do it. At one time or another, it's everyone. Even those who typically stay away from NFL betting often get involved during the playoffs and during the Super Bowl. Football's hold on the gambling world demands a certain familiarity from everyone. Consider this your comprehensive one-stop shop on all things NFL betting.

Types Of Single-Game NFL Betting

Spread Bets

Moneyline, spread and over/under wagers are considered the Big Three of NFL betting. They're the most popular investments people make on a game-to-game basis.

And out of these three, spread wagers receive more attention than the other two. You're not so much betting on the outcome of the game as you are the margin of victory or loss.

For our purposes, let's say the Kansas City Chiefs are +6.5 underdogs in a matchup with the New England Patriots. Betting on them equates to saying they'll lose by six points or less, or that they will pull off the upset with a victory. Taking the Patriots at -6.5, meanwhile, stipulates they will win by seven points or more.

Though this final-game line will move throughout the contest itself, the same rules apply. Underdog spread bets are still investments in Kansas City losing by a closer margin than projected or outright winning. Favorite spread bets on the Patriots assume they win by whatever number the line is at when you submit your ticket.


Moneyline Bets

Moneyline bets are pretty much the second-most popular wager type among our Big Three, mainly because they are as straightforward as straightforward comes. You are betting on the outcome, a winner or loser, and nothing more than that. Told ya it was super easy to understand.

Sticking with the theoretical Chiefs-Patriots clash, a bet on the underdog entails investing in a higher payout. Taking the Chiefs at a +350 means you'd would net $350 for every $100 you bet. Rolling with the favorite doesn't provide as much of a return. For this argument, if the Patriots are a -450, you need to wager $450 just to win $100. 

This concept doesn't deviate from the norm whether you are betting before or during the game in the form of live wagers. Moneyline investments are for those who want to choose the winner of game, with no strings attached.


Over/Under Bets

Over/under bets have nothing specifically to do with the winning or losing side. Here, you are focusing on the total score between the two participating teams.

If the benchmark for the Chiefs-Patriots game is 45.5, a bet for the under states both squads will combine for 36 points or fewer, while a commitment to the over says they will hit or exceed 46 points.

This logic will not change when wagering on the over/under as a live bet. The lines will change more frequently, deviating according to the ebbs and flows of the game, but you will be striving to predict the total-scoring benchmark no matter what.


Prop Betting

Prop betting is both everything you think it is and nothing like you'd expect.

The first thing that comes to mind for many in this department: Coin-toss bets. Wagers on the length of the National Anthem during the Super Bowl. Quirky events that could transpire during the Super Bowl's halftime show, such as a song listing for the performing artist(s). Many sportsbooks are even in the habit of letting you bet whether there will be a wardrobe malfunction during the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, a la Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake way back when.

We're not here to tell you these aren't bets you should make. They are real options. You definitely shouldn't view them as a betting lifeline if you're serious about turning a consistent profit, but they're as real as any other wager.

At the same time, prop betting goes well beyond these purely luck-driven circumstances. Really, the most common props tend to zoom in on a particular skill set or facet of the game. Consider some of these examples:

  • Will Rob Gronkowski catch a touchdown pass against the Chiefs?
  • What's the over/under on the number of rushing yards Kareem Hunt will have for Kansas City?
  • What's the over/under on the number of turnovers, be they interceptions or fumbles, the Patriots defense will force?
  • Which quarterback, Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes, will throw for more total first downs?
  • Will there be a special teams touchdown?

None of these examples have to do with the game's final winner, loser or point differential. They are instead a microcosm of the contest—outcomes to events that might happen within him. Though many people avoid them altogether because of the implication behind the meaning of prop bets, these wagers are actually quite useful. They let you divert attention away from typical forms of betting (i.e. The Big Three) while also pandering to your own expertise in a given area of a game.


Parlay Betting

Looking to drive up the return on your bets even if it means increasing the difficulty level? Well, then parlay wagering is right for you.

Parlay bets are essentially multiple gambles strung together in a package. They can come from the same game or separate contests. It doesn't matter. Some sportsbooks even let you parlay future and cross-sport outcomes.

For our purposes, let's say the line for the hypothetical game between the Patriots and Chiefs comes out as follows:

  • Moneyline: Patriots (-500) vs. Chiefs (+360)
  • Spread: Patriots (-10) vs. Chiefs (+10)
  • Over/under: 47.5

If you like, you can technically bet on the Chiefs to cover the 10-point spread while winning at +360 odds and also while betting the over on the combined score total. If one of these bets fails to pan out, you will lose the entire thing. If you hit on all three predictions, however, your return will be significantly higher than it would have been had you placed individual wagers.

For our money, parlay bets are best used when you are itching to invest in favorites. Like, let's say you want to take the Patriots at -500 over the Chiefs, but don't feel as if you can bet $500 to win $100. You can parlay Patriots at -500 with the favorite from another game (for example: Green Bay Packers at -150 over the Chicago Bears) to drive up your potential winnings. You can even add a third game to your docket. And so on and so forth.

Sportsbooks will sometimes place a cap on how many bets you can parlay. (Five outcomes, seven outcomes, nine outcomes, etc.). There typically is no limit on how many wagers you can package together, though. Just don't go buck wild with 10-parlay bets and expect to win every time.


Live Betting

This form of NFL betting is actually what it sounds like it should be. Most spread, moneyline, over/under and prop bets are place before the games ever start. With live betting, you are making a decision on the outcome of a quarter, half or game after watching it actually start.

Take a gander at some of the most popular live-betting examples, with our imaginary Chiefs-Patriots sparring once again being the subject:

  • First quarter spread: Patriots (-7) vs. Chiefs (+7)
  • Second quarter over/under: 14.5
  • Second half spread: Patriots (-3) vs. Chiefs (+3)
  • Final outcome moneyline, placed in the third quarter: Patriots (-950) vs. Chiefs (+375)

Another important note on live bets: Be sure to differentiate between full-game wagers and compartmentalized gambles. Sportsbooks are usually good about delineating on their tickets whether you're betting on a quarter or half development, or whether you're investing in the game's final outcome.

Still, mix-ups can, and do, happen all the time. If it's the first quarter of this Chiefs-Patriots game and you want to bet on New England to cover the live spread for the rest of the game, then drill it into your head that's what you're doing. You will be much less likely to mistake a partial-contest line for a full one if you read the live-betting boxes carefully.


Live Props

Live prop betting varies by sportsbook and the competition. Regular-season NFL games might not have as robust of a selection, but there is usually a small pool from which to choose. Mid-game props will invariably increase in popularity once the postseason rolls around as well.

Prop bets offer solid respite from the typical moneyline, spread and over/under wagers. They're more creative. Carrying on with our Chiefs-Patriots hypothetical, here would be some possible examples of mid-game props you might see and consider:

  • Over/under on the number of yards quarterback Patrick Mahomes throws for by the end of the second quarter
  • Which Patriots receiver will make the first catch of the second half?
  • Which player will have the most rushing attempts in the fourth quarter?
  • Will the Chiefs defense have an interception in the second half? Who will force that interception?
  • Will either the Patriots or Chiefs win a coach's challenge in the third quarter?

This sampling of options is just the tip of the live-prop iceberg—wager options we've stumbled across in the past. There will be others. That's the nature of prop betting. They're all about zooming in on specific options. Definitely consider entering the mid-game props racket if you are looking for a much-deserved vacation from the usual forms of betting. 


Betting On NFL Futures

NFL future betting has you take a look at the bigger picture. You are not betting on the outcome or scoring differential in a single game, but an event that will unfold over the course of an entire season.

Because you're taking a larger risk, the returns on these investments are usually much more lucrative. But these wagers are also harder to hit by design.

Super Bowl Odds

Super Bowl odds are the most played NFL future. They're simple to understand, and people get all kinds of thrills from picking them. 

All you're doing is picking the moneyline on whether a team will win the Super Bowl. If the Patriots are laying a +250 at the beginning of the season, you invest in them and they win the championship, you'll have a successful bet. If they don't win the Super Bowl, you lose. It doesn't matter how close they come to it or if they even reach the NFL's final game. They need to win it all for you to come out on top.

Playing these odds throughout the season is fine, verging on encouraged. The lines will move throughout the schedule, but that's only a problem if you plan on investing in heavy favorites, like the Patriots themselves. If you're more open to working the dark-horse lines, it can actually be better to wait until the season begins before making a decision. This way you'll have a sample size with which to work off before submitting your big-picture investment.

In the event you are looking to play the odds for one of the bigwigs, then earlier is better. Trying getting your Super Bowl wagers in before the start of the regular season to maximize your potential return.


Win Totals

Betting on NFL win totals amounts to investing in a season-long over/under. Sportsbooks set a benchmark on how many games every team will win, and you can pick and choose which ones will hit and miss their assigned total.

For example, if the Chiefs' win total is set at 10.5, a bet on the over dictates they win 11 or more games while a bet on the under means they must win no more than 10 contests over the course of the season.

It is once again okay to play these lines as the season progresses, but it's strongly encouraged you make win-total picks before the regular season kicks off. The NFL only plays out a 16-game schedule, so oddsmakers will adjust the win totals as they see fit, however drastically, after Week 1. 


Future Props

This is exactly like single-game props, only you're trafficking in specific season-long outcomes. Awards picks are the most popular future props. You will have the opportunity to make MVP picks and Rookie of the Year selections whenever you choose.

Much like win-total wagers and Super Bowl bets, you're best off getting these investments in early, preferably before the start of the season. But you are also free to monitor player progress and submit midseason predictions.

Certain sportsbooks will offer other future props. They are not as common, but you might, for example, be able to bet on the over/under of passing touchdowns Tom Brady will throw for the Patriots in a given season or the over/under on the number of rushing yards Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt will amass.

The prospective  returns on these bets, similar to win-total futures, are not especially lucrative. You're usually looking at a -110 to +110 payout no matter which side of the fence you choose. But they're still more than worth considering if you're into betting on straight outcomes. 


Lessons Learned About NFL Betting

  • Single-game moneyline, spread and over/under wagers are the three most common NFL bets
  • Parlay bets allow you to combine multiple predictions into one for a larger possible payout
  • Live betting will let you capitalize on the outcome of a game after it has already started
  • There is much more depth to prop betting than coin toss-like wagers
  • Betting on futures is often the most lucrative venture, and these wagers are best submitted sometime before the regular season begins