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Tips for Betting Football Moneylines

Let’s face it, most people who bet on football favor the point spread. Actually, it’s often referred to as the “traditional” way to bet on games, in the United States at least. But does this mean it’s the BEST way? Is focusing on point spread wagers a wise thing to do? Or are there better options available?

It’s nearly impossible to give you a definitive answer to any one of these questions. There are some very valid reasons why the point spread is so popular; that’s for sure. It’s a very simple wager, and there’s always a good chance of winning when betting the spread. However, there are also other ways to bet on football games that have merit too. Whether they’re better options than the point spread is up for debate, but they’re certainly worth considering.

Our personal view is that it’s rarely a good idea to focus solely on one particular type of wager. Some football handicappers find success by only betting the spread, but we believe that this approach is too limited. The goal when betting on football should always be to find the best possible opportunities to get some money down. This becomes a lot harder when you are limited to using one single type of wager.

With that being said, there’s nothing wrong with betting the spread all the time if you genuinely feel that represents your best of chance of success. It’s ultimately down to you to decide what you think is right for you. Point spreads can definitely be profitable, especially if you follow our tips for betting the spread.

We do suggest that you learn about some of the other ways to wager on games though. You don’t necessarily have to use them, but you should at least be aware of the different options. This will broaden your scope when it comes to deciding which wagers to place and when.

This article explains what is, in our opinion, one of the best alternatives to the point spread: the moneyline wager. We start with a quick overview of how football moneylines work, and then provide some strategy advice on when and how to bet them effectively.

Football Moneylines: The Basics

We mentioned earlier that the point spread wager is a very simple one. The same can be said of the moneyline wager. It’s actually even more straightforward, because the number of points a team wins by is irrelevant. With a moneyline wager you’re betting only on which team will win. A wager is successful as long you pick the winning team, regardless of whether the team wins by one point or 20.

Here’s an example of a moneyline betting market for an upcoming football game.

Chicago Bears vs Houston Texans
Bears +190
Texans -225

To bet on this market, all you’ve got to do is pick which team you think is going to win the match. In this case, the Texans are the favorites and the Bears are the underdogs. This is apparent because of the odds; the Texans are priced lower at -225. A $100 wager on them would stand to win $44. A $100 wager on the Bears at +190 would stand to win $190.

The gap between the two sets of odds here highlights a major difference between point spread betting and moneyline betting. When betting the spread, the odds for the two teams to cover are usually the same or very close. For example, both teams at -110 is commonplace. You might also see one team at -105 and the other at -115, or one team at +100 and the other team at +120. It’s rare for the gap to be any bigger than that.

This is because point spreads are created specifically to make both teams close to even money propositions. In theory, each team should have approximately the same chance of covering the spread. That’s basically what the bookmakers aim for when they’re setting spreads. If they set a spread at six points, then they’re expecting the favorite to win by six points. They’re not always right of course, but their predictions are frequently accurate.

Things are different when betting the moneyline. With the exception of when two very closely matched teams are playing, there’s usually going to be a clear favorite to win. So the odds for that team are obviously going to be lower, because they’ve got more than a 50% chance of winning the game. On the other hand, the odds on the underdog are going to be higher because they’ve got less than a 50% chance of winning the game.

This is the main reason why we recommend considering the moneyline as an alternative to the point spread. You’ve essentially got more control over the risk versus reward ratio. There’s always going to be roughly a 50% chance of winning when betting the spread. And the potential payout is always going to be close to even money. With moneylines, however, there’s more flexibility.

You can choose to take a lower risk for a lower potential payout.
Or you can choose to take a higher risk for a higher potential payout.

The difficulty, of course, is in knowing which option to take and when. There will be occasions when it’s right to back the favorite at the lower odds, and occasions when it’s right to back the underdog at the higher odds. There will also be occasions when both options are equally viable, and occasions where neither option is particularly sensible.

So how do you identify the right course of action in any given situation? This ultimately comes down to using your judgement. There are no definitive rules about when to back the favorite and when to back the underdog. You need to assess each situation and try to make a decision based on all the information available to you. You need to consider how likely each team is to win, and compare that likelihood to the odds available. Then you need to determine where the value lies.

Recommended Reading:
The concept of value is important in all forms of betting. It’s especially relevant when betting moneylines though. If you’re not familiar with the concept and how it applies to betting, please read our article on betting for value on football. This explains everything that you need to know.

To some extent, your approach when betting moneylines should also be based on your attitude towards risk. It makes sense to look for good opportunities to back the favorite if you’re relatively risk averse. This is because it’s usually the safer option, for obvious reasons. The favorite, by definition, is always more likely to win.

On the other hand, it makes sense to look for good opportunities to back the underdog if you prefer taking higher risks for potentially higher rewards. You should never bet solely because of the chance of a big payout of course, because that’s not a sensible approach. Nor should you take unnecessary risks for the sake of it. There should always be solid reasoning behind any wager that you place. But there’s nothing at all wrong with looking for spots where you think an upset is a distinct possibility. Taking calculated risks is actually recommended..

With the basics of football moneylines covered, the rest of this article focuses on strategy. We provide some advice for when to bet moneyline favorites, and some advice for when to consider backing the underdog. We also offer some general tips for betting football moneylines too.

Strategy for Betting Moneyline Favorites

The first thing you should know about betting moneyline favorites is that it’s very hard to find value. The general betting public typically prefer to bet favorites, so the weight of money is usually in this direction. This frequently leads to the odds on the moneyline being lower for the favorite than they might otherwise be. So although a bet on the favorite always has a good chance of winning, it doesn’t necessarily have ENOUGH of a chance to make taking the low odds worthwhile.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t find value in moneyline favorites though. You absolutely can. It’s a matter of being patient and waiting for good opportunities. You can’t expect to find several games each week where betting the moneyline favorite is the right way to go, but you can expect to find a reasonable number of opportunities throughout a season.

  • When you think the bookmakers have undervalued a favorite.
  • When you think the spread might be too high and you want a safer option.

Undervalued favorites

Looking for undervalued favorites is one of our favorite strategies for betting moneylines. It takes a fair amount of hard work, but it enables us to identify wagers that have an excellent chance of winning and also offer reasonable odds. And we very much like wagers that meet those criteria.

The first step with this strategy is to identify potentially suitable games. We like to avoid the higher profile games, because these attract the most betting interest. So the favorite will probably be well backed by the public, reducing any possible value. We like to avoid games where the favorite is one of the very popular teams too, for the same reason. A game where a popular team is the underdog can be good though. The public are likely to back the popular team in such a scenario, despite them being the underdog, and this can help create value on the other side.

Having found a game that’s suitable, we then do a full assessment of the two teams. We also consider situational factors that may affect the outcome. Our goal is to assign a percentage figure for how likely we think the favorite is to win. Once we’ve done that, we then calculate the implied probability for the odds on the favorite. If you don’t know how to do this, then please refer to the article on value that we linked to earlier. Or just check out our odds converter tool, which can do the calculation for you.

If the implied probability of the odds is lower than our percentage figure, then we’ve found a good spot. This would mean that the bookmakers appear to have undervalued the favorite based on our assessments. So we’re probably going to get some money down on the favorite here.

Let’s use an example of how we might employ this strategy to provide a little more clarity. First up we’ve got to find a game that looks suitable. There’s one coming up between Detroit and Indianapolis. Neither of these teams are among the most popular in the NFL (sorry to any Lions and Colts fans!), and there’s not much riding on the game to generate a lot of extra interest. That’s precisely why we think this game has potential.

We’re initially confident that the Colts are going to win this game, but we do to a series of assessments to be sure. Analyzing our results is also important. Having done that, we figure that the Colts have got somewhere between a 75% and 80% chance of winning the game. The spread backs us up on that somewhat, as Indianapolis are the six point favorites. Now we check the moneyline market, and find the following.

There are two situations in particular where you’ll want to at least consider betting the favorite on the moneyline. These are as follows.

Detroit Lions vs Indianapolis Colts
Lions +210
Colts -250

We can see that the Colts are -250 to win. A quick calculation tells us that equates to just over 71% in implied probability. As that’s lower than our 75-80% range for the Colts winning the match, the Colts look undervalued here. We’d go ahead and get our money down as a result.

If you can follow this relatively simple process yourself, then you should be able to find some good spots for backing moneyline favorites. Just remember to put some effort into coming up with a percentage figure for how likely a team is to win. This is ultimately subjective, and there’s no right or wrong way to do it, but the whole strategy will fall down if you’re not trying to make a properly informed judgement.

Spread too high/Safer option

Betting the favorite on the moneyline is an ideal option when you like the favorite to win, but are not 100% convinced that they’ll cover the spread. This way it doesn’t matter how many points they win by, as long as they win. The tradeoff is that you’ll be getting lower odds than you would by backing them on the spread.

There’s definitely some merit in taking the safer option in this kind of situation. Just be careful not to do this too often. You shouldn’t be playing it safe for the sake of it. If there’s a good case for the favorite covering, then back them on the spread. You’re just giving away value otherwise. Only take the safe option when you’re sure it’s the right thing to do. It’s easy to talk yourself into taking the favorite on the moneyline instead of the spread for the wrong reasons, but you need to try to avoid this.

Strategy for Betting Moneyline Underdogs

It’s harder to define the strategy for betting underdogs on the moneyline. Finding games where you can genuinely think an upset is likely is very challenging. Favorites are obviously made favorites for good reasons. So you need to be able to spot things that the bookmakers and the majority of the betting public have not.

You DEFINITELY want to try to find good opportunities for backing the underdog if you can though. They can be very lucrative, as the odds are higher than when backing moneyline favorites or when backing underdogs on the spread. And there’s regularly more value on the side of the underdog too. This is because, as we explained earlier, the weight of money from the betting public is often going on the favorite. As the odds go down on the favorite, they typically go up on the underdog. So if you can highlight those times when the betting public has got it wrong (and they very often do), then there’s value to be found in betting on the other side.

There isn’t really a lot more to cover here. You’ve just got to do your analysis and try to find games where the underdog has a good chance of causing an upset. One important thing to remember is that the underdog doesn’t actually have to be more likely to win than lose. You’ll be getting higher odds, so value can exist even when they’ve got less than a 50% of winning the game. Take the following game for example.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Washington Redskins
Steelers -185
Redskins +160

The Redskins are the underdog here, at odds of +160. If we calculate the implied probability of those odds, we get 38.46%. That means a moneyline wager on Washington represents value providing we give them a 39% chance (or better) of winning. We’ll probably lose such a wager marginally more often than we’ll win, but when we do win we win $160 for every $100 staked. So we can win less than half the time and still make an overall profit.

Before we move on to the final section of this article, there’s one more thing to mention about betting underdogs on the moneyline. If you’re considering backing an underdog to cover a spread of three points or less, it’s usually better to back them on the moneyline instead. If they are going to cover a small spread, there’s actually a good chance that they’ll end up winning. This is because very few games are decided by three points or less.

Please note that we’re not saying you should do this for ALL underdogs of three points or less. But if you’ve made a case for an underdog to cover a three-point spread, then you could probably make a case for them winning outright. And the odds on betting them to win outright will be better, so you won’t need to win as often to make an overall profit.

This is definitely an approach worth thinking about. If you’re not entirely comfortable with it, you could also consider splitting your stake across both wagers. By putting half on the spread and half on the moneyline, you effectively get the best of both options.

General Advice for Betting Football Moneylines

To conclude this article we’ve put together our top five tips for betting moneylines. These all apply regardless of the types of moneyline bets you’re placing.. If you can take on board all the information offered above, and then follow these tips, you’ll have every chance of betting football moneylines profitably.

Always check the spreads

It’s still a good idea to check the point spread of a game when you’re planning to bet the moneyline. The size of the spread is a useful indicator of how the game is likely to play out. More accurately, it’s actually an indicator of how the bookmakers think the game is likely to play out. They’re pretty good at what they do though, so their expectations are close to the reality more often than not.

You can’t read too much into a spread of course. As good as the bookmakers are, they’re not infallible. They can still get it wrong. In any case, football is an unpredictable sport. A team isn’t guaranteed to win by six points just because they’re the six-point favorite on the spread. They’re not even guaranteed to win at all. Upsets can and do happen. But it certainly doesn’t hurt to look at the spread and think about what it means. It’s an extra piece of information to consider in your decision making process.

Look beyond the quality of the teams

We’ve just mentioned how upsets can happen in football games. The best teams win more often than not, but a game isn’t always decided entirely by the quality of the two teams taking part. The sport would be pretty boring if that were the case, and quality is subjective in this context anyway. People are naturally going to have different opinions about which teams are best.

This is why it’s important to consider more than just the quality of the teams when trying to determine how a game is likely to play out. You do need to think about overall quality, of course, but there are a plethora of other things to think about too.

  • How well balanced are the teams?
  • What styles do they generally play?
  • How consistent are they?
  • How do they perform under pressure?

Answering these questions can tell you a lot more about what’s likely to happen in a game of football than simply trying to decide which team has the better players.

Then there are the situational factors to consider too. You need to think about things such as who’s at home, and whether that gives either team an advantage. You need to think about recent form, and how easy or hard the teams’ schedules have been. Motivation, injuries and even the weather should also be taken into account.

For the best chance of winning moneyline wagers, you basically need to factor in as much as possible when picking a team to win a game. Otherwise you’re doing little more than guessing. And you’re not going to beat the bookmakers by guessing.

Avoid games with very big spreads

This isn’t an absolute rule that you must always adhere to. It’s more of a guideline really. Generally speaking, games with very big spreads aren’t suitable for moneyline betting. The underdogs are obviously very unlikely to win, so there’s little point in backing them. On a similar note, the favorites will probably be so heavily backed that there’s no value in backing them either. So it’s usually best to simply avoid these games, or at least look at alternative betting options.

Beware of rivalry games

Football games can be hard to predict at the best of times. Trying to predict how rivalry games will play out is particularly challenging. Especially in college football. The biggest rivalry games are played with incredible passion, even hatred on occasion, and that can change a game’s dynamic drastically. As a result, it’s virtually impossible to predict what’s going to happen with any degree of confidence.

So it’s important to cautious when looking at these games from a betting perspective. We’re not saying that you have to avoid them completely, but you certainly need to make a very good case to bet on them. Their unpredictable nature makes the risks involved significantly higher than usual.

Bet at the best available odds

Our final piece of advice here is something that applies to all forms of betting. We repeat it a lot throughout our sports betting guide, so it’s possible that you’ve read this already. However, we believe that good advice is worth repeating, so here it is again. ALWAYS makes sure that you get best available odds when placing your wagers.

This is very easy to do. It just requires spending a little extra time before placing a wager, to compare what odds are available at different betting sites. Then you make your bet wherever you find the best odds. Better odds, even if only slightly better, lead to better payouts when you win. So this very simple process can make a big difference to your overall results in time.

Please note that in order to do this effectively you’ll need accounts at several different betting sites. If you’d like some help with choosing where to sign up, you can check our recommendations. These are all reputable and trustworthy sites, and they’re all consistently competitive with the football odds they offer.


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