When you first hear about NFL betting, you may immediately think about betting on the spread or moneyline. However, there is another type of wager that is extremely popular among NFL bettors throughout the country.
An NFL totals bet, aka an NFL over/under, can be another fun option. Over/unders can be bet as a stand-alone bets, or included in parlays. If you’re a fan of live betting, there are also a lot of over/under options for games that you can bet on live.
Are over/under bets worth it? Are they good NFL bets? What, if any, are the guiding principles to betting on them? In anticipation for the launch of Massachusetts sports betting, this page will break down everything you need to know about betting on NFL totals.
What Is An NFL Totals Bet?
Totals betting is exactly what you think it is: Betting on whether or not a certain stat or score will go over or stay under the listed total. The most common NFL totals bet is on the total score of a game.
For example, consider last February’s Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals. The total, or over/under, listed for the game was 48.5 points. This means that if you bet on the over, you would have needed both teams to combine for 49 total points in order to win your bet. On the other hand, if you bet on the under, you would need the teams to score a combined 48 points or fewer. In the end, the final score of the game was 23-20 for a total of 43 points. This means that under bettors were victorious.
You might be wondering why many total lines include a half point. The easy answer is that it ensures there are winners and losers on the bet and no ties. If the combined score were to end exactly on the line, that would result in a “push.” That would mean all bettors would receive a refund of their initial wagers, with no winners.
Beyond the pregame betting of old, there is now live betting that allows you to wager on over/under bets even if you miss kick-off. Most sportsbooks also have total bets for quarters and halves as well.
In addition, you can also bet on player prop totals. These types of wagers include betting on whether or not a specific player will go over his total number of passing yards, rushing yards, receptions, or passing touchdowns (among others) in a particular game.
Who Sets NFL Over/Under Lines?
Sportsbooks employ gambling odds experts and algorithms to break down games. Together, they aim to determine how the two teams will play against each other, factoring in outside influences and historical performance, and coming up with a number based on all of their collective data.
Here are some of the data points professional oddsmakers investigate when creating an NFL totals line:
- The matchup (strong defenses vs weak offenses, weak defenses vs strong offenses, etc)
- Game venue and weather forecast
- Historical meeting data
- Offensive and defensive efficiency
- Scoring averages of both teams
To better understand how NFL totals are created, let’s look at Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. When the odds came out for that Super Bowl matchup, the total was at 54.5. That is a relatively high number for an NFL game, and there are a number of different factors that likely led oddsmakers to this number.
The Chiefs and the Bucs both had quarterbacks who were capable of scoring at any point in the game, no matter what the scoreboard said. Kansas City’s defense was fairly middle-of-the-pack, and Tampa Bay’s defense struggled the first time the two teams played earlier that season in Week 12.
In that earlier matchup, the Chiefs won by a score of 27-24 and finished the game by kneeling the football. Since it was clear that the two teams were able to score points against one another, were playing in ideal weather conditions in Tampa, Florida, and the injuries were minimal leading into the NFL championship, oddsmakers came to the conclusion that the game would be high-scoring and set the total at 54.5 points.
The Bucs’ offense lived up to expectations, scoring 31 points in the contest. The Chiefs, on the other hand, were harassed all night by a determined Tampa Bay defense. The end result was just nine Kansas City points.
With the combined score coming in at just 40, those who had picked the over found themselves absolutely at a loss for what happened. Those who bet the under were happy to be counting their profits.
Why Sportsbooks Adjust NFL Over/Under Lines
Lines for any kind of bet are subject to change based on new information that comes to light, or even because of public wagering that is heavily favoring one side.
In the former situation, when new information is made available, oddsmakers can adjust the line. Changes in weather or injuries to key players are two of the most common aspects that can lead to changes in lines.
For the most part, however, you’re not going to see massive swings in the over/under lines. Will they shift, move and change? Of course. Some, though, stay pretty stagnant unless something comes up that people would expect to have a major impact.
Should I Bet Over/Unders Early Or Later In The Week?
This is a common question that a lot of sports bettors struggle with. As we just discussed, lines for NFL totals can change throughout the week, giving bettors some predicaments on when to pull the trigger on their wager. You are always faced with the question of whether you should bet your money early with less information or if you should hold off and make your bets when more information is available.
There are pros and cons to each when betting on NFL over/unders each week. If you’re looking to make early totals bets, you should keep in mind that you may benefit from betting on the newest possible lines from sportsbooks. Usually, you can find value in that if you’re willing to do some line shopping.
However, those numbers come out without a lot of information beyond what oddsmakers knew at the end of the previous Sunday’s games. That means you’ll see the numbers shifting throughout the week, which could end up costing you if you miss a line shift that favors your pick.
That being said, waiting can be beneficial, too. The market will generally have made itself pretty clear later in the week. You’ll be able to bet on the most recent numbers that have been developed with the maximum information available as well as any betting trends that may move the lines.
The decision is ultimately up to you. Like all aspects of legal sports betting, you have to decide how much risk vs. reward you’re willing to tolerate.
Helpful Advice For Betting On NFL Totals
The more you are involved in wagering on totals, the more everything is going to start making sense. Until you’ve gained that experience, here are some sports betting tips to help you along.
When it comes to NFL over/under betting, games will fall into three categories: Low-scoring, average, and high-scoring. Most NFL games are going to fall in the average category, ranging from 42 to 49.5 points. Oddsmakers tend to keep most total lines in this span of points.
The low-scoring category is for games where teams are expected to combine to score fewer than 41.5 points. You’ll see these on occasion, but less frequently than the others.
Keep in mind that it isn’t likely a professional football team is going to be held scoreless in a game. Shutouts happen in fewer than 5% of NFL games, so you can expect that the vast majority of games will have both teams scoring at least a few points.
Payouts On NFL Total Bets
Total bets tend to work the American odds system, the same as moneyline, point spread, and other bets here in the United States.
Most of the odds on an NFL totals bet are going to be -110 for both the over and under. This means that bettors would have to wager $11 to win $10, or $110 to win $100. However, those odds can change and can fluctuate up until kick-off. It is not totally uncommon to see over/under odds range from +100 to -120. It is pretty rare to see over/under odds outside of this range.
Keep in mind that the odds and lines can be different on different sportsbooks. DraftKings could have different odds than what is on FanDuel or Ceasars. Because of this, it is recommended that you download multiple sportsbooks in order to find the best line. That way, you can find the best potential payout for your wager.
Season-Long NFL Over/Unders
As opposed to betting on individual games, another aspect of NFL totals betting that is unique is in the NFL futures market. There are plenty of ways to bet on NFL season-long totals, but the most popular is total wins by a team. This allows you to wager on a specific team, and if that team will have more or fewer wins than a predicted total. These usually become available during the preseason.
But the futures market isn’t the only place to find long-term over/under bets. NFL prop betting, while notoriously difficult to predict and research for, offers some fun options, as well. These work just like win totals, with potential options like the following:
- Touchdowns scored by a specific player
- Most passing yards by a QB
- Over/under total rushing or receiving yards for a specific player
- Total number of sacks for top defenders