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Using Alternate Football Betting Lines

Have you ever looked at the point spread for a football game and found that you can’t decide which team is likely to cover? Or looked at the totals line and found that you can’t decide whether the over or the under is more likely?

We’re willing to bet that you answered yes here. Assuming you’re being honest that is. The honest truth is that these things happen to ALL football bettors, even the most educated and successful ones. And guess what? They happen on a regular basis. So there’s absolutely no reason to worry if you consistently find that you really don’t know which way to bet. After all, football betting isn’t supposed to be easy.

You have to remember that bookmakers are in business SOLELY to make money. Although they want us to enjoy our betting, they sure don’t want us to win. They have to give us a chance of course, but they do everything they can to make it as difficult as possible for us. That’s why they employ very talented people to set their odds and lines.

These people are exceptionally good at setting point spreads and totals lines at precisely the level where we don’t know which way to bet. If they make a favorite -3 on the spread, you can be sure that the favorite winning by three points is a very likely outcome. If they set the total line at 41 points, you can be sure that the actual total is very likely to be close to that number.

They don’t ALWAYS get it right of course. They are great at what they do, but they are human. So there are plenty of games where we can do our homework, see that they’ve got it wrong, and find some value in the odds and lines. That’s basically how we make money.

But what about those games where the spreads and lines appear to be set just right? What do we do then? Well, most bettors will take one of the following two options.

  • Bet anyway and hope for the best.
  • Ignore the game and look for other opportunities.

The first option is a awful. It’s never a good idea to bet for the sake of it, as this is likely to be costly. We can’t rely on guesswork if we want to make money. We have to find good reasons to bet, and only put our money down when we’re confident we’ve made a good selection. Most casual bettors don’t follow these rules, and that’s why most of them lose.

Option two is the better approach. If we’re not sure which way to bet, not betting at all makes a lot of sense. We can save our money for when we find more suitable spots. But there is a third option too. We can look at the alternate lines instead, which are available at many bookmakers and betting sites. They give us some additional choices to consider, and they often represent very good value.

In this article we’re going to teach you how to use these alternate lines effectively. We start by explaining exactly what they are, using some real examples. Then we look at how you can use alternate lines as a safer option when you can’t make a call on standard lines. We also look at how alternate lines can be used as a riskier option, when you think the bookmakers might have made a mistake in their lines.

Alternate Betting Lines Explained

Bookmakers and betting sites usually offer a few alternate lines for football games. This is primarily to provide their customers with plenty of options. These lines give us the chance to bet on an adjusted point spread or total, with the odds amended accordingly. The adjustments can be moderate or extreme, and can be made in either direction. We bet on these alternate lines in the same way we bet on standard lines.

Let’s use an example to demonstrate the kind of alternate lines you can expect to see. Here’s the standard point spread for an upcoming game between Cleveland and Philadelphia.

Cleveland Browns vs Philadelphia Eagles
Cleveland (+4) -110
Philadelphia (-4) -110

One of our recommended betting sites has the following alternate lines for this game.

Cleveland Browns vs Philadelphia Eagles
Cleveland +9 -300
Philadelphia -9 +230
Cleveland +12 -450
Philadelphia -12 +320
Cleveland -1 +175
Philadelphia +1 +230
Cleveland -4 +285
Philadelphia +4 -385

In the first alternate line here, you can see that Cleveland is being given an extra five points. As a result, their odds are lower. Philadelphia, on the other hand, is giving away an extra five points. So their odds are higher. In the second alternate line, Cleveland is being given even more points. Their odds go even lower still. Philadelphia is giving even more points away, so their odds go higher again.

The third and fourth alternate lines follow a similar principle, but in reverse. Cleveland is now the team giving away points, and Philadelphia is now the team being given points. So Cleveland’s odds are going up, and Philadelphia’s odds are going down.

That’s pretty much all there is to alternate lines for point spreads. Each team either gains points or loses them, and their odds are changed to reflect this. If the points adjustment makes it easier for a team to cover, then their odds go down. If the points adjustment makes is harder for a team to cover, their odds go up. This is all entirely logical of course.

Let’s now take a look at alternate lines for totals. Here’s the standard totals line for the same game.

Cleveland Browns vs Philadelphia Eagles
Over 41 -110
Under 41 -110

Here are the alternate lines that are available for the total on this game.

Cleveland Browns vs Philadelphia Eagles
Over 34.5 -275
Under 34.5 +215
Over 48.5 +225
Under 48.5 -285
Over 37.5 -175
Under 37.5 +145

When the total goes down, the odds on the over decrease and the odds on the under increase. The opposite happens when the total goes up. THIS MAKES SENSE! A lower total means the over is more likely, and the under is less likely. A higher total means the under is more likely, and the over is less likely.

As you can see, the basic principle behind alternate lines is really quite straightforward. They’re fundamentally the same as standard lines, in that the odds reflect the chances of each possible selection being correct. The only real difference is that they’re not created as 50/50 propositions, whereas standard lines generally are.

Take another look at the standard point spread we showed you above. The spread of four points tells us that the bookmaker thinks the most likely outcome is Philadelphia winning by exactly four points. The fact that the odds for each team to cover are the same also tells us that the bookmaker thinks Philadelphia winning by more than four is just as likely as them losing by less than four. That’s what we mean by a 50/50 proposition. Each of the two possible outcomes is equally as likely as the other.

Now take another look at the first alternate line. Cleveland is now -300 to cover, while Philadelphia is +230 to cover. This is NOT a 50/50 proposition. Cleveland is clearly more likely to cover, thanks to the extra five points they have been given. They only need to lose by less than nine points, instead of by less than four. So a wager on Cleveland on this line is more likely to win, hence the lower odds.

This highlights why we use alternate lines. They are essentially a good way to manage risk. We can use them to go with a safer bet at lower odds, or we can use them to go with a riskier bet at higher odds. We’ll now explore these two options in more detail.

Alternate Lines as a Safe Option

We established right at the start of this article that there are often games where we’re not confident of picking a winning selection on a standard line. These games, in our opinion, are ideal for considering alternate lines. This is simply because they can make it a lot easier to find a winning selection.

Take the game between Cleveland and Philadelphia for example. Imagine you studied this game before looking at the spread, and were reasonably confident that Cleveland would get within six points of Philadelphia. You decide that you’ll back Cleveland as long as they’re getting six points or more. Then, when you look at the spread, you see that they’re only getting four. You’re not confident that they’ll get within four points, so you can’t back them on this spread.

Then you look at the alternate lines, and see that there’s a line giving them nine points. You’ve already predicted that they’ll get within six points, so you feel that you can confidently back them on this line and expect a payout.

The problem, though, is that the potential payout is now much lower.

Okay, so here is where using alternate lines gets a little more complicated. It’s easy enough to find selections that you’re confident will win, but you’re going to have to accept significantly lower odds. In this case you’d be getting -300, which means you’d have to stake $300 to win $100.

You have to consider whether a wager in this situation genuinely represents value. When betting at -300, you need to win three out of every four wagers just to break even. So you need to be at least 75% sure that you’ve made a winning selection.

Is this really a good way to bet?
It can be, yes.

Taking the safe option and getting extra points on an alternate line can definitely be profitable. We don’t doubt that; otherwise we wouldn’t be recommending these lines! However, you MUST pick your spots carefully. You can’t just assume that getting the extra points automatically means you’re going to win. You need to be honest with yourself, and only put your money down when you are truly confident about your selection.

Remember, the bookmakers aren’t stupid. They wouldn’t offer alternate lines if it was easy for us to make money from them. These lines can make it easier to pick a winning selection, but the much lower odds mean that there’s very little room for error. You have to win a very high percentage of wagers at these odds, or you’ll lose money in the long run.

Strategy Suggestion

A good time to use alternate lines as a safe option is when you like an underdog against a popular team. The public are likely to bet heavily on the popular team, and the bookmakers know this. As a result, they’re likely to make the spread a little larger than it might otherwise be. They might make the favorite -6, for example, when they should probably be -4.

They’ll expect the public to bet on the favorite regardless, and this can automatically create some good value in backing the underdog. By looking for an alternate line where you’re also getting extra points, you can give yourself a very good chance of winning. The odds aren’t likely to be too low either, because of all the money coming in for the favorite.

Alternate Lines as a Risky Option

Using alternate lines as a safe option seems entirely logical. It makes a great deal of sense to bet on lines that give us a greater chance of winning. We have to accept smaller payouts, but that doesn’t have to be a problem if we’re winning more of our wagers.

We can also use alternate lines to do things the other way around. We can bet on lines with a reduced chance of winning, but get higher payouts in return. This can be profitable too, although it’s a lot harder. We need to find situations where we think the bookmakers have make some big mistakes when placing their lines, which is rare.

Let’s go back to the Cleveland versus Philadelphia game again. This time, imagine that your initial assessment of the game was that Philadelphia is likely to win by around ten points. When you look at the spread and see they’re only at -4, you’re obviously going to be confident about backing them to cover.

Alternate lines can offer better value in this kind of situation.

One of the alternate lines for this game has Philadelphia at -9 instead of -4. If you think that they’re likely to win by ten points, this might be the better option. Although you’re less likely to get a payout, the odds are +230. So you stand to win $230 for every $100 staked. Backing them at -4 would only give you around $91 for every $100 staked.

Clearly the alternate line offers the more appealing payout here. The question is whether you want to take the extra risk. Ultimately, that’s something only you can decide. If you have faith in your original assessment, and feel that Philadelphia really is likely to win by around ten points, then there’s obviously a strong argument for going for the higher payout.

Equally, though, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself some margin for error and backing Philadelphia on the standard line. Just ask yourself, “What is my attitude to risk?” Make your decision based on your answer.

Something you might like to consider in a situation such as this is splitting your stake across two wagers. So, in this example, you could back Philadelphia at both -4 and -9. This effectively gives you the best of both worlds by spreading your risk.

Strategy Suggestion

Alternate lines can be used as a risky option in many different scenarios. There’s one in particular where we like to use them though. We’ve found that each season in the NFL there are often a couple of teams that have very inconsistent offenses. Typically, these teams are very pass-oriented. When they come up against other pass-oriented teams, they tend to either win by a big margin or lose by a big margin. This isn’t always reflected in the spread.

So if they’re small underdogs, or small favorites, there can be a lot of value in backing these teams on alternate lines. It can even be worth backing them to lose big AND backing them to win big. You can only win one of the wagers of course, but this approach can payoff if the odds are high enough.

In Summary

Using alternate lines isn’t an especially complicated concept to understand. All you’re doing is betting on adjusted points spreads or totals. This gives you more options, and can help you to manage your risk. You can choose to play it safe and go for low payouts, or take a risk and go for high payouts. Both options have their merits in different situations.

There’s a basic principle that applies regardless of whether you’re using alternate lines as a safe option or a risky option. Either way, you need to weigh up the relative pros and cons and try to determine whether a wager makes sense. Do the chances of winning compare favorably to the odds available? If they do, then it would be wise to put your money down. If they don’t, you should move on and see what other opportunities are available.