Point Spread Definition, NFL Examples

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Photo by Joshua Bessex/Getty Images. Pictured: Josh Allen

What Is a Point Spread?

A point spread is a bet on the margin of victory in a sporting event. It’s the most popular bet type in basketball and football.

The perceived stronger team (the favorite) must win by a certain number of points/runs/goals to cash your bet. The worse team (the underdog) can lose by fewer than that same amount of points, or win the game outright.

The Buffalo Bills were a -13.5 favorite over the New York Jets in Week 10 of the 2021 NFL season. Bettors wagering on the Bills needed them to win by 14 or more points to win their bets. Jets bettors needed New York to lose by under 13 points, or win the game. The Bills won 45-17 and covered this big spread.

Sportsbooks apply the spread concept to way more than just the final score. Things like France -2.5 corner kicks vs. Germany or Chiefs total touchdowns -1.5 vs. the Cowboys are also spreads.

Here’s how point spreads work:

Click a section to jump ahead.
1. Point Spread Definition
2. Point Spread Examples, How it Works
3. What Does -110 Mean Next to the Spread?
4. How to Make a Spread Bet

Point Spread Definition

A point spread is a bet on the margin of victory in a game.

The stronger team or player will be favored by a certain number of points, depending on the perceived gap in ability between the two teams.

A minus sign (-) means that team is the favorite.

A plus sign (+) means that team is the underdog.

Here’s how DraftKings displays its point spreads for football, with the point spread boxed in red.

point spread example-ohio state vs. penn state


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NFL Point Spread Examples, How it Works

It’s easiest to understand point spreads by seeing them.

Let’s take that game between the Bills and Jets, with Buffalo a -13.5 favorite.

  • Bills -13.5 (need to win by 14 or more)
  • Jets +13.5 (need to lose by 13 or fewer, or win)

The final score and margin of victory will dictate which side wins the bet.

  • Score: BUF 45, NYJ 17 (Bills cover -13.5)

Let’s take another example from NFL Week 11.

  • Rams -3.5 (need to win by 4 or more)
  • 49ers +3.5 (need to lose by 3 or fewer, or win)
  • Score: SF 31, LAR 10 (49ers cover +3.5)

What Does -110 Mean Next to the Spread?

You can learn more about American odds, but the number next to the spread is the juice associated with that bet. Most spread bets will be -110, so the sportsbook takes a 10% cut.

That means for every $1 you want to win, you have to risk $1.10. So if you want to win $20 on a bet, you’ll have to risk $22.

If you bet $22 on the Bills -13.5 and Buffalo wins by 14 points, you’ll win $20. If they only win by 10, you lose $22.

Point spreads have an even tax on both sides because we expect each team to cover the point spread about 50% of the time.

When betting moneylines — which requires you to pick the winner straight-up — you can get bigger payouts because the likelihood of the worse team winning the game outright is much lower than it just covering the spread.


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How Do I Make a Spread Bet?

It’s easy to bet point spreads at a book like FanDuel or DraftKings. Here’s how it works:

  • Navigate to your desired sport.
  • Click on the spread you want to bet in the game module (it will be lined up with the team you want to bet).
  • Head to the bet slip on the right side of the page (on your phone, it will pop up automatically).
  • Click “Login to Place Bet” and login, then submit your bet.

How Are Point Spreads Calculated & Made?

We could write another 5,000 words about how point spreads are truly made, but in the simplest terms, it’s a 3-step process.

  • Oddsmakers build mathematically-driven ratings for each team before the season and continue to tweak them as games are played.
  • They use those ratings, plus factors like home-field advantage, rest, and injuries, to create a point spread in advance of a scheduled game.
  • Bettors then begin wagering on that initial point spread, which will influence the spread and move it to the most accurate possible number.

Conference Championship Round Odds: San Francisco 49ers vs. Los Angeles Rams

Here are the live-odds (via BetMGM) for this upcoming Divisional Round battle. Check out more about this matchup here.

49ers Odds +3.5
Rams Odds -3.5
49ers Moneyline +155
Rams Moneyline
-185
Over/Under 46.5

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What Does Covering the Spread Mean?

“Covering the spread” is another way to say that a team won a point spread bet. In the above example, the Bills or more as a -13.5 favorite means they covered the spread.

If the Jets (+13.5) lost by 13 points or fewer, or won the game, they covered the spread.


ATS Definition

What does it mean when a team is 9-2 ATS this season? ATS stands for “against the spread.” So an ATS record is simply wins and losses against the spread.


Run Lines & Puck Lines, Defined

Low-scoring sports like hockey and baseball do have point spreads, but they’re almost always -1.5 and +1.5.

In hockey, a spread is referred to as the “puck line.” In baseball, it’s the “run line.”

The odds are just changed depending on the ability of the team — you won’t get -110 on both sides.

So you’ll get paid less for betting the Yankees -1.5 against the lowly Orioles than you would for betting the Yankees -1.5 against the Astros, when the two teams are more evenly matched.

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