What does Betting Against the Spread Mean?

There are various ways to bet on professional sport. Betting against the spread is one of the most popular. Most professional sporting events will have betting markets with an outright favorite and an underdog. Some events have stronger favorites than others, which is why sportsbooks attempt to level up the playing field for punters by introducing a points spread pre-game. Betting against the spread is most commonly offered in NFL and NBA betting markets, and is less popular in the US’ other major league sports such as MLB or NHL.

Even during the NFL playoffs and the Road to Miami, with the Super Bowl LIII to be hosted at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, sportsbooks will offer points spreads and expert analysis from their sports teams so fans can take on and try to beat. Traders will utilize game data from the rest of the season to try and determine the most accurate spreads, which can make it a big challenge for punters.

When professional bettors talk about their record, they’ll often talk about their results against the spread, meaning the number of times they’ve won when betting on teams to cover the points spread, as opposed to failing to cover it. There are punters out there that automate their bets against the spread selections based on high volumes of match data.

Comparing handicap betting and against the spread betting

Calculating the probability of teams/players covering the spread is key

If you are familiar with handicap betting, you’ll soon get the hang of betting against the spread. It operates in a very similar fashion to handicap markets like Over and Under 1.5 goals. As betting against the spread is most commonly used in the US, let’s use a US-based case study to provide some context around this kind of betting.

Let’s say that the Tennessee Titans are due to play the New England Patriots in the next few days. First and foremost, you’ll want to look at the moneyline between both these teams. This will denote which team is considered the favorite, and which team the underdog in the eyes of the sportsbooks.

Favorites in moneyline betting are denoted by a negative number e.g. -180. Let’s say that the Patriots are rated -180 favorites on the moneyline, while the Titans are rated +135 underdogs. This will mean that the New England Patriots will be “laying” a certain number of points to the Titans.

Let’s say for argument’s sake that the Patriots were -4.5 points against the spread, with the Titans rated at +4.5 points. All you then need to do is subtract the 4.5 points from the Patriots’ final score and if they still have more points than the Titans, they have “covered” the spread. The Patriots will need to win by five clear points to cover your wager. Alternatively, the Titans will need to lose by no more than four points to cover a bet against the spread.

Is it possible for points spreads to change pre-game?

The points spread in NFL and NBA games can be incredibly fluid. It’s not a specific number each week. In fact, the points spread is determined by sportsbook traders using a host of factors.

The primary factor is the form of each team. If a team is playing well and scoring freely, the points spread is likely to be higher. If a team is struggling for form or has recently announced injuries to key players that could affect their cohesion, the points spread may narrow. Of course, the points spread can also change with individual sportsbooks depending on where the money goes. If bettors are attracted to a particular point spread, the spread might decrease to minimize the sportsbook’s exposure.

Ultimately, if you want to try your hand at betting against the spread, there is one key mindset to adopt. You don’t really need to worry about which team is going to win the game outright; that’s what betting on the moneyline is for, after all. To cover the points spread, you just need to focus on how much a team is likely to win or lose by.

It has been known for teams with huge winning streaks to fail to cover points spreads, simply because sportsbook handicappers give them too big a line to try and cover. It’s up to you to decide whether the spread is realistic and achievable to try and beat the bookmakers.

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