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 just win the game.
Let’s use a 2022 NFL Week 1 game as an example.
The Ravens are a -7 favorite against the Jets. That makes New York a +7 underdog.
- Ravens win by 8+ points: Ravens bettors win
- Ravens win by 1-6 points: Jets bettors win
- Jets win the game: Jets bettors win
- Ravens win by exactly 7: It’s a push, and the bet is refunded
Baltimore is expected to be much better than New York, hence the 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.
Point Spreads, Explained
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 the team is the underdog.
Here’s how DraftKings displays its point spreads for football, with the point spread boxed in red.
NFL Point Spread Examples, How it Works
It’s easiest to understand point spreads by seeing them.
Let’s take the 2022 Super Bowl example:
- Rams -4.5 (must win by 5+)
- Bengals +4.5 (can win or lose by 1-4 points)
Scores: Let’s say the Rams win 27-24 — Bengals spread bettors would win their bets. If the Rams win 30-20, the Rams spread bettors would cash.
From Week 11 of the 2021 NFL season:
- Bills -13.5 (must win by 14+)
- Jets +13.5 (can lose by 1-13 or win)
Score: BUF 45, NYJ 17 (Bills cover -13.5, because they won by 28)
Let’s take another example 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, because they won the game outright)
Take a look at Fanatics Sportsbook, which will soon be live in a number of states– they’ll offer point spread betting on multiple leagues and events!
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 from 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 covers the spread.
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 line 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.
- Odds makers 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 start betting on that initial point spread, which will influence the spread and move it to the most accurate possible number.
- Most sportsbooks do not create their own lines, and simply copy the movements they see in market-making books.
What Does Covering the Spread Mean?
“Covering the spread” is another way of saying that a team wins 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.
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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