When you first hear about betting on the NFL, you may immediately think about betting on the moneyline – meaning which team is going to win the game.
An NFL totals bet, aka an NFL over/under, can be another fun option. You can bet on over/unders as a stand-alone bet, or you can include them 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? See below for some pointers, in anticipation of Massachusetts legalizing sports betting in the future.
Live NFL over/under odds
See below for this week’s NFL over/under lines. See a line you like? Just click on it to go to the corresponding sportsbook, sign up for a new account with any risk free bonuses and sportsbook promotions you find, or make your bets.
What is an Over/Under or Totals bet?
Totals betting is exactly what you think it is: You are wagering on the total score of a game — or yards accumulated or the number of tackles, etc. Most often than not, though, the most common NFL totals bets will be on the final combined score of the two teams in the game.
If we take a look at Super Bowl LVI between the Los Angeles Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals, the over/under line came in at 48.5 points, which means that if you had wagered on the over, you would have needed a combined score of 49 points or more to win your bet. An under bet, meanwhile, would need 48 points or fewer.
The final score in that game was 23-20 in favor of the Rams, making the combined total points 43.
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 will allow you to wager on over/under bets focused on partial games, specific teams, individual players, and more. These wagers work exactly the same, taking the total sum of what you are wagering on.
Who sets NFL over/under lines?
Sportsbooks employ gambling odds experts and algorithms to break down games, determining 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 data.
Here are some of the data points oddsmakers investigate when creating an NFL football over under line:
- The matchup
- Points for and against for both sides
- Game venue and weather forecast
- Historical meeting data
- Offensive and defensive efficiency
- Scoring averages
Let’s look at Super Bowl LV between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs. When the lines came out on that Super Bowl matchup, the total line was at 54.5 points.
Here are the factors that likely led the books to that 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 had an OK defense, 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, 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 total 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, the total lines usually stay pretty close to the same unless there is a major injury, weather, or other high-level news. When a key player won’t be playing for one reason or another, the lines are likely going to shift in response.
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.
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, we’ll give you 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 teams in this span of points.
In 2021, only 10 teams averaged outside of the 20-some-point range per game. The Dallas Cowboys scored an average of 31.2 points per game, and the Bucs scored 30.1 points per game. Washington, Denver, and Detroit all scored in the 19-point range, while Atlanta, Chicago, and the New York Jets scored in the 18-point range. Carolina, Houston, the New York Giants, and Jacksonville all scored below that, with the Jaguars coming in at the lowest average with 14.9 points per game.
The 22 remaining teams averaged scores of between 20.1 (Miami Dolphins) and 28.4 (Buffalo Bills) per game in 2021.
With scoring that consistent, you can see why oddsmakers tend to stick with a pretty average total. However, there are instances where higher scoring teams are playing each other and you’re going to potentially reach the high-scoring category, which is 50 points or more.
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 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 points. If teams are bad, it’s likely their defense suffers as well, which means higher scoring can happen in those situations, too.
Over/unders lines for Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football
For the most part, you’ll find that primetime games on Sunday and Monday Night aren’t going to have a lot of difference when you compare their lines to the games taking place on Sunday afternoon. The teams have plenty of time to prepare, rest, and practice, and the oddsmakers have plenty of time to continue to gather information and data regarding the upcoming contests.
Thursday Night Football, however, is a slightly different beast. The games can be more predictable mainly because the teams playing have a much shorter week than normal to prepare and recuperate following their Sunday game.
Because of that, the lines tend to move a bit more than they do for the other primetime games. Oddsmakers have less info, less time to prep, and have the same concerns as fans, coaches, and players when it comes to a short week of prep work and recovery.
All three nights of primetime football do get a lot more attention from bettors, however, because there isn’t anything else NFL-related happening at those points. Because of this, sportsbooks will often have more NFL online betting options, including live betting, for the primetime matchups.
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. Here is an example of how a payout works for this type of odds:
Let’s use a game between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets as our example. We’ll say that the total line is at 43.5 points, with an over bet coming in at odds of -110 and an under coming in at -115.
In any case, where you see negative odds, it means that a wager of that amount would be in line for a profit of $100 on a winning bet. So, a $110 bet on the over that wins would pay out $210, which is the original wager plus the $100 in profit.
You don’t have to wager that exact amount, though. Any wager will follow the same ratio for the odds at which you placed it. At -110 odds, a bet of $5 would pay out $9.55, which is the stake of $5 returned to you plus your winnings of $4.55.
A bet of $1,125 at those same odds would win $1,022.73, which would mean the total payout on that winning wager would be $2,147.73.
An online sportsbook will show you what your potential winnings are for your wagers once you input the amount of your bet. You won’t have to worry about making the bet until you submit it and finalize it, so it’s OK to check your numbers when you’re not sure.
Advantages of over/under betting early or late in the week
When it comes to betting, 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 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.
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.
That said, the odds and totals can move in a direction that you’re no longer comfortable betting on, which would eliminate you from wagering on a game that had caught your eye earlier in the week. Like all aspects of sports betting in Massachusetts, should it become legal, you have to decide how much risk vs. reward you’re willing to tolerate.
NFL over/unders for quarters and halves
Live betting has opened up a whole new world for bettors, and NFL bettors are getting a taste of wagering on totals for quarters, halves, and complete games as well as team totals and player totals.
Because of the engagement that live betting gives you, you’re able to make total bets throughout the entirety of a contest. Keep in mind that the odds can shift rapidly in live betting, so you might have spotted a bet earlier that you now think you have enough information to wager on, only to find that the line has shifted significantly.
The variety of over/under betting options for live wagering can be significant. Those who like to stay focused on points, they can wager on total lines for individual quarters, either half or the complete game. Those who like stats may want to bet on over/under options for individual players as well as team totals.
They all work exactly the same: You get a number, and you can wager whether the total will be over or under that number. It doesn’t matter if it is about New England quarterback Mac Jones throwing over/under 250 yards in a game, or if it is the number of field goals a team will end up with. Some live bets you might see include:
- How many total rushing yards for the New England Patriots — over/under 139.5?
- Total touchdowns scored for Mac Jones — over/under 3.5?
- Sacks plus tackles for Ja’Whaun Bentley — over/under 11.5?
Season-long NFL over/unders — win totals, passing yards, and more
Live betting gives you the chance to wager as a game is taking place. It’s fast, furious and can be a lot of fun. But there is a more extended way to try NFL totals betting, as well, and that is with season-long NFL over/under bets.
The NFL futures market allows you to make totals bets on a variety of options. The most popular is total wins by a team, which 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
- Most passing yards
- Rushing or receiving yards
- Total number of sacks for top defenders
Does overtime count for NFL over/under bets?
All sportsbooks have a set of terms and conditions that they ask account holders to accept before they are able to start making wagers. In those terms and conditions is a list of rules for each sport, with NFL sportsbook rules outlining things like when NFL bets would be pushed or canceled.
The majority of legal sportsbooks, including in Massachusetts if the state legalizes betting, are going to include overtime as a part of an NFL totals wager. That means if you’re one of the folks who bet on the over, you can feel good about hoping the two teams will continue adding to the point total. It can definitely make a difference between taking home a profit or tossing a dud bet slip in the trash.