NFL Over/Under Betting Strategy

Betting on the over/under is among the three most popular forms of NFL wagering. Its primary company: the moneyline and the spread. Like both of its sister betting types, the over/under is fairly simple to understand. That doesn't necessarily mean it's also effortless to master. It takes the right approach to make sure that you're giving yourself the best opportunity to profit off whatever over/under lines might be in front of you both for single games and on the futures front.

What Is An Over/Under Bet?

Investing in over/under lines is the equivalent of making a prediction about which side a predetermined total will fall on. 

In the single-games department, this typically refers to the final score. If a matchup between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins has an over/under of 36.5, there are two things you can do. A bet on the over says the two teams will combine for 37 points or more by the end of the game. Placing money on the under dictates both squads combine for 36 points or fewer by the final whistle.

The same methodology works when betting over/under futures—which usually come in the form of win totals. If a sportsbooks sets the New York Jets' win total over/under for the upcoming season at 9.5, you're effectively trying to decide whether they'll rake in 9 or fewer victories (the under) or if they'll rattle off 10 or more victories (the over).

Over/under lines also have a place in the prop-betting world. These wagers typically refer to a given event tied to a player or team over the course of a single game or season. Some potential examples you might find at certain sportsbooks:

  • What's the over/under on the number of passing yards Russell Wilson will throw for during the Seattle Seahawks' matchup with the New Orleans Saints?
  • What's the over/under on the number of carries New Orleans running back Mark Ingram will receive in that same game?
  • What's the over/under on the number of third down conversions the Seahawks will make against the Saints?
  • What's the over/under on the number of total touchdowns the Saints will have over the course of an entire season?
  • What's the over/under on the average number of points Seattle's defense will allow on the upcoming season?

The list can go on and on (and on). Over/under lines come in all forms. The important thing to remember: You are betting on the primary subject of the wager hitting the provided number (the over) or missing it altogether (the under).

Tips For Betting Single-Game Over/Under Lines

Trying to make money off single game over/unders is the most common goal in the NFL betting landscape. Other sports, such as Basketball and Hockey, will see more attention paid to win-total wagers. But the NFL's regular season only spans 16 games, which allows for limited opportunities and returns on investments when trying to place bets during the middle of the schedule.

That leaves single-game scores as the primary profit-driver. And to consistently win your bets in this category, it's paramount to understand the play styles of the two participating teams.

High-octane offenses are generally great over bets. Think along the lines of any NFL team that ranks in the top 10 of points scored per game. On the flip side, great defensive teams make for quality under bets. Think once again along the lines of a defense that places 10th or better in points allowed per game.

Here's where things get tricky, though: You have to account for the other side of the ball, in addition to the opponent.

A great offensive team could also be a great defensive team. Those two elite virtues sort of neutralize one another, since whatever points this squad puts up on the offensive end presumably won't be replicated by their opponent. Avoid betting the over/under on any game that features two teams with elite credentials on both sides of the ball.

Seek out lopsided opportunities instead. By this we mean,betting the over on a game that features an elite offensive unit facing off against a crummy defense or investing in the under when a great defense collides with a poor offense.

Another thing to consider: Run-heavy teams that often prioritize trying to slow the pace of play. This makes it harder even for great offenses to put a ton of points on the board. Offenses built around the ground attack will be profitable under bets if they're going toe to toe with a stingy defense.

This works the same way when accounting for strong passing machines. Offenses that rely heavily on quarterbacks airing it out are more likely to put up touchdowns and generate extra possession series by ramping up the speed of play. They are, as a result, solid over bets when playing versus a below-average defense.

And on a final note, we remain strong endorsers of live-betting over/under lines. These wagers allow you to watch a quarter or half and then bet on the over/under for the rest of the game. Getting that extra time to judge the style of play for both teams, the speed at which the game is being played and the performances of both offenses and defenses will help you make the most informed decision possible.

It's true that the returns on these live wagers can sometimes be less than stellar. That's why you should try coming to a decision by the end of the first quarter or no later than the second half. Otherwise, if you're betting after that, it's best to stick with the moneyline or spread.

Tips For Betting Over/Under Futures

Win-total bets are different in the NFL compared to other sports. If this were the NBA or MLB, you would be thoroughly encouraged to wait a couple of weeks, gain a more concrete feel for a team and then determine how many games they might win on the year.

Bettors are not afforded that kind of time in the NFL. There are only 16 games across 17 weeks. Each game is too important relative to other sports. With each passing week, oddsmakers will manipulate the over/under on win totals, butchering the odds and adjusting so much it's oftentimes no easier for you to reach a decision.

Slapping down win-total wagers before the start of the regular season is always best. This isn't an endorsement to rush your process. Let the preseason play out. See how teams are faring when their starters take the field. Monitor their list of injuries. Wait until a day or two before the regular kicks off to submit your ticket. Just make sure you're ahead of the regular season itself, as this will ensure you are capitalizing on the best odds.

As a more tactical tip, you will also want to exhaust the win-total market for clear inefficiencies. To wit:

Pretend the Minnesota Vikings are coming off an eight-win season and have not made any substantial changes to their roster on either side of the ball. They also aren't a particularly young team or welcoming a key player back from major injury. The implication here, then, is they will not be much better than the previous year. And yet, you see sportsbooks are listing their win total for the upcoming season at 10.5. This qualifies as an inefficiency. The under makes far more sense under the circumstances we just laid out.

Now let's explore the other side. For argument's sake, let's say the Green Bay Packers won four games in the previous season while their star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, recovered from injury and was unable to play. If he's on track to return for the start of the next year, the Packers' win total should reasonably explode. That won't always be the case. Sportsbooks will hedge, setting the over/under at 7.5, or ignore his return altogether and marginally increase their forecast to 5.5, 6.5 or something like that. Here, you'd realize that the over makes far more sense, because the Colts, despite not making any major additions, are actually getting one in a player already on the roster they didn't have at their disposal during the most recent sample size.

Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities like these. They have the highest chance of hitting. Most importantly, they won't be available in as ample of a supply if you wait for the regular season to play out for a few weeks. Oddsmakers won't be so quick to overreact in certain instances during the offseason. Once the NFL starts playing the games and they have a sample size to work with, though, everything can change.

Lessons Learned About Over/Under

  • Over/under lines ask you to predict whether a betting subject will exceed the predetermined amount (the over) or miss it entirely (the under)
  • Single-game over/under wagers are the most popular in the NFL, and they usually apply to final combined scores between the two participating teams
  • Over/under prop bets are a worthwhile exploration as well, and they can either cover just a single game or an entire season
  • Future over/under bets usually refer to win totals, and they are best placed before the start of the regular season rather than anytime after it
  • When betting win totals, try to identify market inefficiencies—i.e. teams with set win totals that are clearly too low, thus inviting the over, or way too high, thereby encouraging the under