How To Bet

What is a Point Spread in Sports Betting?

A 'point spread' references the spread of points when two teams compete – one being the favorite and the other being the underdog. Point spreads are popular options in sports betting; they even the playing fields.

Bookmakers calculate a points total – point spread – that can be added/subtracted to the end result of the match. By adding this point spread, it is possible to determine whether the sports bettor won or lost the bet. Point spread betting is extremely popular in football and basketball.

No doubt you're eager to learn more about point spread betting – let's get started!

Make Your Play: Point Spread Betting in Action

As a sports bettor, you are going to come across many different odds and stats. 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 is filled with many useful betting tips to help you understand point spreads, puck lines, money lines, and run lines.

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 vs 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 spread (they win by 6 points).

In case you're wondering what does cover the spread mean, here's a quick explanation for you: When a team covers the spread, they stay within the points that have been allocated to them by odds makers. In the above example, Tampa Bay Buccaneers beats New Orleans by a margin of 6 points – they covered the spread of 3.5 (they needed to win by at least 3.5 points).

However, the Buccaneers may win the NFL game and lose if they don't cover 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.

Winning the Game Isn’t Always Winning the Bet

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:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, New Orleans Saints 14 + 4.5 = 18.5. In this example, the Saints lose the game straight up, and they lose against the spread.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20, New Orleans Saints 17 + 4.5 = 21.5. In this example, the Saints still lose the game straight up, but they win against the spread.

Understanding The -120 Figure in Point Spreads

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 line betting 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?

How does Spread Betting Really Work?

Let's look at two iconic NFL teams; the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles. We have assigned odds for illustrative purposes:

  • Miami Dolphins +10 (-110)
  • Philadelphia Eagles -10 (-110)

Recall that with spread betting, the (-) indicates which team is the favorite to win, and the (+) indicates which team is the underdog. The (-) effectively removes 10 points from that team, leveling the playing fields to make it a more equitable bet. At the same time, odds makers have given the Miami Dolphins (+) 10 points because they are the weaker team a.k.a. the underdog.

In this example, spread betting odds indicate that a bet on the Miami Dolphins will pay out if they beat the Philadelphia Eagles by more than 10 points, while a bet on the Philadelphia Eagles will pay out if they lose by less than 10 points.

Sometimes, the bookmaker will not show the odds for the underdog, but it is assumed to be the opposite number of the favorite.

How can I win with NFL point spread betting?

When you place an NFL point spread bet, you will win if the final result of the sports match, with the point spread factored in satisfies the bet requirements.

Assuming the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Miami Dolphins example above, with a bet on the Philadelphia Eagles, you will win if the Eagles beat the Dolphins by at least 10 points. That (-) 10 is the minimum number of points that the Philadelphia Eagles must be ahead of the Miami Dolphins at the final whistle.

If the final score is Philadelphia Eagles 42-21 Miami Dolphins, clearly there is a 21-point victory margin so the Philadelphia Eagles win by more than 10 and the bet pays out. The Philadelphia Eagles covered the spread.

If you decide to bet on the Miami Dolphins, they can lose up by up to 10 points and still win the bet. If the final score is Philadelphia Eagles 42-33 Miami Dolphins, there are 9 points separating the teams. Clearly, Miami Dolphins have lost the game, but when we add +10 to the final score, it is Philadelphia Eagles 42-43 Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins have won this game with the point spread factored in, and your bet will pay out. The Miami Dolphins covered the spread because they stayed within 10 points. That's how you win with NFL point spread betting!

If you win your point spread bets, you all received your original stake of $110 + the $100 you won on the point spread for a grand total of $210.

Ready to try point spread betting in NFL games?


What Happens if I Lose My Point Spread Bet?

If you bet on the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Miami Dolphins, and you lose the point spread bet, you will forfeit your $110. The bookmaker will then receive the additional $10, finishing in the money for that bet.

Even if you were to place a new bet on another NFL game and bet $110 and win $100, the bookmaker still gets to keep that additional $10 and end up ahead.

All new bettors at 888sport NJ can qualify for a Free Bet No Deposit, so feel free to put your sports betting prowess to the test.

In sports betting parlance, a Tie result is known as a Push. Believe it or not, this is a common outcome in sports betting.

Let's use the Philadelphia Eagles vs. Miami Dolphins example to illustrate how a Tie result affects your point spread bet. If the final score is Philadelphia Eagles 30 – 20 Miami Dolphins, there is a 10-point differential between the teams.

Since the Philadelphia Eagles need to win by more than 10 points, and the Dolphins need to lose by less than 10 points, the result is a Tie or a Push. In this case, the bookmaker will simply refund your money. Since neither the Philadelphia Eagles nor the Miami Dolphins covers the spread, there is no winner.

What does PK or Pick’em mean in the Point Spread?

PK is sports betting lingo for Pick’em. It is a reference to even money bets in point spread betting. In this case, there is no favorite, and there is no underdog. The point spread is effectively 0.

When you place a PK bet, the ‘point spread’ is irrelevant; you're simply betting on one team or another to win the game.

It doesn't matter what the winning margin is; only the winning team matters. Extrapolating from our example of Philadelphia Eagles vs Miami Dolphins, you can easily see a PK match up if it is listed as follows:

Philadelphia Eagles – PK (-110), Miami Dolphins – PK (-110) advertised.

You have to bet $110 to win $100 on either team.

What is a Push in Spread Betting?

Remember the Tie result we spoke of earlier? That is known as a Push in sports betting. This is a common outcome with NBA point spreads and NFL point spreads. Whenever a sports event, game, or match ends in a draw, and a spread was involved, the outcome is known as a Push.

You will always get your money back in sports betting when a Push results, provided that the final result lands on the listed point spread.

Can You Bet on Point Spreads for Different Parts of a Game such as a Half or a Quarter?

Absolutely! It's entirely possible to bet on point spreads for the first quarter, the second quarter, third quarter, or the fourth quarter. You can also bet on point spreads for the first half, or the second half – it's your call.

Odds makers routinely set point spreads for different parts of the match. These odds are changing all the time, and you as the sports bettor must decide which team will be ahead, or behind, at specific checkpoints.

Using our example of Philadelphia Eagles vs. Miami Dolphins with a first-quarter spread:

  • Miami Dolphins +3 (-110)
  • Philadelphia Eagles -3 (-110)

Clearly, the Philadelphia Eagles are favorites to lead at the end of the first quarter with 3 points or more. The Miami Dolphins are 3-point underdogs, indicating that they need to be ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles by more than 3 points, or not trail the Philadelphia Eagles by less than 3 points at the end of the first-quarter.

Come on over and enjoy our full spread of NFL betting options!

Which Sports Use Point Spreads and are they Different?

NBA point spreads and NFL point spreads are the most common applications for spread betting in sport. In basketball and football, odds makers don't have preset limits on the margins of victory/defeat for these sports.

When it comes to NHL and MLB betting, point spreads are also used, but they are known by different terms.

In hockey and baseball, the terms puckline and runline are used. They are typically set at -1.5 or +1.5. As with basketball and football, the (-) indicates the favorite team, and the (+) indicates the underdog. You will notice that the number – 1.5 – is much lower than you would see in NBA point spreads and NFL betting lines. The reason is attributed to much lower scoring in these sports.

What are the differences between Puck and Run Line bets?

‘Puck Line Bets’ or ‘Puckline Bets’ are the hockey equivalent of NFL point spread bets or NBA point spread bets. They are also similar to ‘Runline’ bets in baseball which we are going to address shortly.

In the NHL, favorites are given (-)1.5 odds and underdogs are given (+)1.5 odds. The puckline can be tailored accordingly, depending on how well the favorite is performing and how poorly the underdog is performing. The 1.5 goals standard in NHL bets is used because hockey is typically not a high-scoring game.

‘Run Line bets’ or ‘Runline bets’ are used in MLB games. These types of bets are far less popular than money line bets for MLB betting, but still an important form of betting for baseball fans.

With Run Line bets you must pick a baseball team, with the Run Lines at 1.5. When the Run Line is 1.5 you will bet on your favorite team to win by at least 2 runs+. Alternatively, you will bet on the underdog to lose by 1 run, or to win the baseball game. As with Puckline bets, the (-) indicates the favorite and the (+) indicates the underdog.

Check out our NHL betting and MLB betting at 888sport!


How to handicap NFL Point Spreads?

Handicapping is a term commonly used in sports. NFL handicapping in sports betting lexicon means ‘leveling the playing fields’ so that both NFL teams have odds worthy of betting on. The strong team has some points ‘deducted’ to make it more difficult for them to be an easy win.

Hence the (-) point spread that is posted alongside the team. The weaker teams naturally aren’t expected to win against the stronger teams; that’s why they are gifted an advantage in the form of the (+) point spread. Oddsmakers or handicappers determine the NFL point spreads assigned to each team in a matchup.

Let’s refer back our example of the Philadelphia Eagles vs the Miami Dolphins:

Miami Dolphins +5 (-110)
Philadelphia Eagles-5 (-110)

The Philadelphia Eagles are favored to win by 5 points, as indicated by the -5 posted next to their name. The Miami Dolphins are the underdogs, as indicated by the +5 posted next to their name. They are the ones getting the points to try and help them in this matchup. This is how the playing fields are levelled by oddsmakers.

What are Examples of Football Point Spreads?

Football point spreads indicate how oddsmakers level the playing fields between unevenly matched teams. Once the final results have been tallied, the spread is factored in and winners can be determined.

Remember: the negative sign indicates the favorite and the positive sign indicates the underdog.

  • Dallas Cowboys +6
  • New England Patriots -6

Or, we could have the following NFL point spreads:

  • Chicago Bears +5
  • San Francisco 49ers -5

And these NFL point spreads:

  • Jacksonville Jaguars +8
  • Baltimore Ravens -8

In all cases you will note that the stronger team has the negative sign in front of it, and the weaker team has the positive sign in front of it. Now that you understand NFL point spreads, you can confidently place a bet in NJ online at 888sport!

What are Examples of Basketball Point Spreads?

The purpose of basketball point spread betting is to determine by how much a basketball team will win a game or lose a game. Once again, there are favorites and underdogs to consider. Without the point spread, nobody would bet on the underdog.

Let’s take a look at some examples of basketball point spreads:

  • Oklahoma City (+5)
  • LA Lakers (-5)

In this example, a bet on Oklahoma City requires them to win by 5 points in order for you to win the point spread bet. If the final score is 86-80 for Oklahoma City, then they win by 6 points. This is greater than 5 point spread on this basketball selection, indicating that your $110 bet will win $100 profit on Oklahoma City.

Conversely, if you bet on the LA Lakers to win – the favorites - and they lose by less than 5 points, or they win, you're in the money. A final score of 86-80 in favor of the LA Lakers is an automatic win for you. In other words, if the LA Lakers win by fewer than 5 points, the bet loses and if the LA Lakers win by 6 points or more, the bet wins.

How to Read the odds for Point Spread Bets?

Following from the Oklahoma City vs LA Lakers example above, let's assume the following point spread posted by an oddsmaker.

  • Oklahoma City (+5)
  • LA Lakers (+5)

The bookmaker believes there is a 50% probability of Oklahoma City winning outright or losing by less than 5 points. The bookmaker also believes there is a 50% probability are the LA Lakers winning by more than 5 points.

We all know that the LA Lakers are expected to win this basketball game, but the odds are engineered to make it as even as possible. This is done to generate lots of interest in the sports match which a moneyline simply may not do.

If the LA Lakers beat Oklahoma City 110-102, they clearly covered the point spread of 5 points and won by more than 5. By subtracting the handicap from the score, we can see who the winners are.

If we bet on Oklahoma City, the handicap adds 5 points to their total, making it 110-107. Oklahoma City still loses the game and the bet.

What does a 7-point spread mean?

A 7-point spread simply refers to the number of points posted alongside a team's odds of winning. When there is a 7-point spread, it means that the favorite team needs to win by more than 7 points to win the bet. It also means that the underdog can lose less than 7 points to win the bet.

When we have fractional point spread options like a 2.5-point spread, it means that the favorite team (-2.5) needs to win by more than 3 points to win the bet, and it means that the underdog can win or not lose the game by more than 2 points to win the bet.

That’s everything you need to know about the point spread in NBA, NHL, NFL and MLB sports betting.

Now you’re ready to get your Free Bet at 888sport NJ and start betting on your favorite sports.


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