As a sports bettor, you are going to come across many different numbers and symbols. The point spread is one of the most common ways to reflect odds at a bookmaker. Many bettors can identify a point spread, but they don’t exactly know what it means. This guide will help you to understand it much better.
In simple terms, a point spread is effectively a median number calculated by a bookmaker when 2 teams are competing against one another. The goal is to spark interest in the favorite and the underdog. If one team is expected to win, the odds need to reflect enough enticement for people to place bets on that team. Conversely, if one team is the underdog the odds need to be attractive enough to generate bets to counter all the bets on the favorite.
Next time you’re looking at the NFL odds for the upcoming week, and you see the point spread between two teams, such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus New Orleans Saints, you’ll understand what it really means. Consider the following:
Tampa Bay -3.5 (-120)
New Orleans +3.5 (-120)
What Do the Numbers in Point Spreads Mean?
In sports betting lingo, ‘the chalk’ is the favorite team. This team will always have a - value alongside it. In our example, Tampa Bay Buccaneers are the favorites to win by 3.5 points in this game. The underdog in this game is New Orleans. The Saints have a +3.5 value. You will notice that both teams have a -120 value associated with them. We will explain this in further detail as we go.
Since the point spread is 3.5 points, a bet on the Buccaneers would be placed if you believe they can win by at least 4 points or more. In the above example, if Tampa Bay wins the game by margin of 20-14, then the Tampa Bay Buccaneers win the match and they cover the point spread (they win by 6 points).
However, the Buccaneers may win the NFL game and lose the point spread. For example, if the final score is 20-17 they win by 3 points but lose the point spread of at least 3.5 points. The New Orleans Saints have remained within the 3.5 point spread. A quick way to understand how this works is as follows:
Final Score – [Favorite Team Score (20) minus Favorite Value (-3.5)] = 16.5
In the above example, 16.5 is less than the 17 points scored by New Orleans.
Take the Underdog Total (3.5) + Underdog Score (17) = 20.5
In the above example, 20.5 is more than the 20 points scored by Tampa Bay.
The team that has more points wins.
Favorites often win games straight up (SU) but fail to cover the spread. In sports betting lingo, this is known as losing against the spread (ATS).
If we look at this from the perspective of the underdog team, this time with a +4.5 point spread on the New Orleans Saints, the following is evident:
In the above example, you will see the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New Orleans Saints both have -120 next to them. The -120 is known as the vigorish, or the juice – that’s the fee charged by the bookmaker for allowing you to place bets on these teams. Typically, sports bettors pay 10% to the bookmaker, the equivalent of a brokerage fee. In our example, the figure is -120, and it indicates that you must risk $120 to win $100. Sometimes, the vigorish can be reduced to a lower figure like -105, meaning that you need to risk a little less win that same $100.
The example below clearly illustrates how this works:
If you see -6.5 (-108), then you only need to bet $108 to win $100. This translates into a savings of $2. If you happen to see -6.5 (-103), then you only need to bet $103 to win $100. The lower the negative number, the better for the bettor.
Successful sports bettors are often found shopping for the best odds at the lowest risk. This is true of money lines and point spread bets. This price shopping is about getting value for your bets, and it’s common with professional bettors. Think of it in the same way as being able to buy an identical NBA Jersey for $108, or $103 – which one would you pick?
If you win, you will get your $120 bet back and the $100 winnings that are yours for a total win of $220. If you happen to lose, you will lose the $120 bet, effectively gifting the sportsbook $20 pure profit. Note that the bookmaker will still win even if you bet another $120 and win next time around. That’s because there’s always juice in the odds.
Ties readily occur in sports matches. When this happens, it is known as a push. The sportsbook will simply refund your money. Note that a tie results from a point spread doesn’t require both teams to score the same total. You could have a spread of 130-120 and a -10 on the favorites. Whatever team you pick, the - 10 ensures that it’s a tie. Once again, the bookmaker makes money – regardless since the oddsmakers always do their homework.
Pick’em, or PK represents a scenario where there is no clear favorite to win a sports match. In this case, the margin of victory doesn’t matter, and you can simply pick a team that you hope will win.