Football Totals

By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper,

Betting totals are an often overlooked part of football betting. But one thing that all the top NFL bettors have in common is that they do not neglect the often fruitful world of betting on totals. Some might even say that beating point-spreads is a whole lot tougher than becoming a winner by betting on totals.

In betting totals, you’re not concerned with which team wins. How many points are scored is your only concern. Those who become adept at betting totals, also commonly referred to as over-unders, can show a handsome profit. And those who are really good at it will attest that it is far easier to pick totals consistently than it is to beat the spread.

So why is betting on NFL totals such an overlooked and underplayed wager? First of all, it lacks the excitement of betting on a side. It’s simply more fun to root for a side. If you bet the “over,” you’re just sitting there hoping for a bunch of points. The “under” is even less fun, as you clamor not for touchdowns and field goals, but instead big punts and long unsuccessful drives.

Let’s look at an example:

New England Patriots vs. San Diego Chargers

Over 47 (-110), Under 47 (-110)

All you need to do is determine if these two teams will combine to score more or less than 47 points. Who wins is of no importance for the purposes of this bet. And as you can see by looking at the money line, you must bet $110 for every $100 you hope to win. And naturally, if the total lands on 47, bettors on both sides receive their money back. Here’s another example featuring the half-point:

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns

Over 39.5 (-110), Under 39.5 (-110)

In this match-up, the wagers will either be winners or losers, as a game cannot end up at half a point. Just pick whether the total points in this game will go over or under 39.5.

And there you have one of the simplest forms of NFL betting. If your grandma was thinking of making a Super Bowl bet and knew nothing about NFL football or betting, the over-under bet is probably the one that would be the easiest to explain and for her to understand.


That doesn’t mean, however, that being a good bettor of totals is easy. This form of betting forces the astute observer to take a different approach. In a weird way, doing the opposite of the obvious is a quite effective play. You might look at a match-up and see both teams feature great defenses with anemic offensive output. What’s the first instinct? Bet the under, right? Well, the obvious play usually loses. If two low-scoring teams with great defenses are playing, the oddsmakers have surely noticed. And so have the other bettors. The bookie will figure that many people will be gunning for the “under” so the line is set accordingly.

But in that case, there is no value in the “under.” The bookie knows people will be playing that side, so the number is set extra low. At this point, the good play might be to go the other way and take the “over.” That might seem strange since your first instinct was “under.” But the bookie knows everyone is thinking that, so he sets the number lower, knowing it will still do great business from those who blindly go along with the obvious.

The same applies with two high-scoring offenses, whose defenses are not so robust. The bookies know that in a game between the Saints and Lions, people are going to be expecting a lot of points. But the bookies are one step ahead. They set the number extra-high, knowing it won’t dissuade many from going ahead anyway and taking the “over.” They want people to bet the “over.” And even a novice gambler knows you do not want to do what the bookie wants you to do.

So avoid this neanderthal style of handicapping. “Oh these teams both score a ton. This game is sure to go over.” If it’s too obvious, it’s probably not going to work. And the bookie knows that players will play the obvious bet, and therefore sets the number at a limit he otherwise would not have. That’s a good time to be on the side of the bookie and not the general public.