Sports Betting 101 For American Football Fans

No matter whether it’s the NFL, NCAA, or another American football league you follow the most, there are betting lines out there that will let you turn your knowledge into some real money that could be used to fund your next tailgate or watch party.

But no matter how a big a football fan you are, sports betting can seem like a foreign language at first. Below is our sports 101 guide for American football fans that will have you betting like a pro in no time.

The Most Important Thing About Sports Betting

Before you start putting any kind of action on football games, the first thing you need to do is find a reputable casino. Typically, most land casinos and betting shops are trustworthy–they wouldn’t last long if they were ripping off their players and not paying out.

However, online casinos can get away with shady dealings a little longer, which is why it’s so important to read online casino reviews from real sports gamblers before signing up. Not to worry though, as most of the big online casinos are reliable payers and have great customer support.

How To Actually Bet

So you are at your local sports-book or have money in an online account and are ready to place some wagers. When you go to look at the football lines, you are probably seeing a bunch of different numbers. Let’s break it down using a real NFL line:

Money (also sometimes written as ML) means this is a moneyline bet–you are simply betting which team you think will win the game outright. A minus sign means the team is favored to win whereas the plus sign means that they are the underdog. If you were to bet $10 on the Panthers to win at -140, your potential payout would be $17.14 (the $10 you originally bet plus the 7.14 you win from betting $10 on -140 odds; 100/140=.714) If you were to bet the Broncos +120 to win and they did, you would win your $10 back along with $12 (120/100= 12) for a total of $22.

You’ll also see bets written like this:


This is a spread bet. The Panthers are the favorite here, represented by the minus 2.5. If you were to take this bet on the Panthers, you would subtract 2.5 from their score at the end of the game. If after you do that they still have more points than the Broncos, then the Panthers have done what is called “covering the spread” and you win the bet.

If the game ended 31-29 Panthers, you would lose the bet (since Carolina only won by 2 and not by at least 2.5). If you bet the Broncos and the game ended with that same score line, you would win the bet (since as the underdog you get to add 2.5 to their final number of points).

2.5 is a small spread, which means that the bookmakers think the teams are pretty evenly matched. Sometimes teams will be so evenly matched you’ll see spreads listed as 0: this game is known as a “pick em”, and it’s pretty much the same thing as picking a moneyline winner. The point of the spread is so that ideally the bookmakers get equal amounts of people betting on both teams.

Other Types of Bets

The above bets are called straight bets, where you simply are picking the team you think will win the game outright (moneyline) or against the spread. However there are many other types of wagers you will see odds for:


Over/Under (O/U): Also called betting the total, this type of bet has you predicting how many total points will be scored between both teams in a game.

For example, if the total is listed as 46 but think the two teams playing will score less than that combined, you would bet the under.

Obviously if you think they will combine for more than 46 points, you would take the over. If the teams combine for the exact amount of points listed on the total, then the bet is a push and you get your initial wager back.

Parlay: A parlay is a bet that links together two or more wagers. To win the parlay, all of your individual bets must be successful–even if you get two of three bets in your parlay correct you would still lose.

While parlays are harder to hit, they can pay out much higher than doing straight bets on each individual game.

Proposition bet: A prop bet is a wager placed on anything besides the outcome of a game. These can range to anything from whether the first play will be a run or a pass, which player will score first, to even whether the coin toss will land heads or tails.

Futures: A future bet is what it sounds like: you are betting on something that the result of won’t typically be known for several weeks or months. Examples of these could be betting on who will win next year’s Super Bowl, who will the Heisman, or how many regular season wins a specific team will end up with.

Betting on big events like the Super Bowl can be manic, especially when you visit your local sports betting place. Loads of people shouting their bets can also impact your final decision, not only that, if you are a newbie gaining enough information before placing a bet is tricky. That is why online sportsbook reviews from will give you all the relevant information you need, the best sites and most importantly it will give you enough time to read through how it all works.

There are countless other bet types you may come across but these are by far the most common. If you are unsure of how a particular wager type works, most betting window workers would be happy to explain or you could always just look it up online.

Other Betting Tips To Keep In Mind

  • Give yourself a bankroll. This is essentially the amount of money you are willing to lose in sports gambling. And be sure to stick to it–if your bankroll runs dry, it’s usually best to take a break from betting for a while until you have some more disposable income.
  • Track your bets. The most successful bettors know their exact win percentage, what types of bets they do best and worst at, and exactly how much they’ve won or lost over time. What gets measured gets improved.
  • Once you are a more experienced football bettor, it might be smart to have accounts at multiple sports-books. This allows you to shop around and compare different lines before placing your bets.
  • Study up. The professionals that set betting lines aren’t just throwing out numbers at random or based who their favorite teams are. Instead, they are the result of endless hours of research. Be like them and do your own homework: many times you’ll even find that they make mistakes, too.
  • Have fun! Remember, gambling is entertainment: very, very few people in the world are good enough to make a living off of it. If you find that your gambling losses are harming your life, it’s probably time to take a break or talk to someone at an organization like Gambler’s Anonymous.

John McKeon is a former professional and collegiate American Football player and coach now living and working in New York. His goal is to spread news, information, and opinion on the global growth of the sport he loves.