What Does Point Spread Mean In Football


If you've never set foot in an actual sportsbook before or logged into an online sportsbook, the chances of you getting overwhelmed when you actually do is very high. In an actual Las Vegas sportsbook, there is typically a lot of commotion and the odds and lines are displayed on a massive digital board for everyone to see. When a novice sports bettor looks at the massive digital signage, they will see a bunch of numbers, both positive and negative, some two digits, some three digits. They also won't have a clue what any of it means. The same can be said for the online sportsbooks. It looks like a massive spreadsheet with negative and positive numbers beside each teams' name.

What Does Point Spread Mean In Football

The easiest way for me to describe what all these numbers mean to you is to define it as point spread betting. Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet on the NFL and NBA, and it is a way for a sportsbook to generate betting interest on both sides.

What Does Point Spread Mean In Football Terms

Linemakers who work for the sportsbooks must put out lines that will entice the 'favorite' bettors to lay the points and take the favorite or entice the underdog bettors to take the points with the underdog.

May 22, 2020 The most popular way to bet for the two most popular sports, basketball and football, is with the point spread, also known as the “side.” The point spread was created to attract more action on a. Point spread NFL point spreads are set by oddsmakers. This is the final outcome they expect one team to have over the other. For example, if the New England Patriots are squaring off against the. Point spread betting is the most popular form of sports betting. The vast majority of sports wagers use a point spread thanks to the popularity of football and basketball. Even though this type of betting is so popular, it may take awhile to understand. The point spread is sometimes known as an equalizer for sportsbook operators. Sep 21, 2018 Point spread betting is the most popular way to bet on the NFL and NBA, and it is a way for a sportsbook to generate betting interest on both sides. Dec 26, 2018 The point spread is a handicap placed on one team for betting purposes only, it has no place in the game itself. It's designed to give both teams an equal chance at winning in the context of wagers. Think of it this way: If last season's Super Bowl champion was playing a basement-dweller team that hadn't won a game all year, that's a shoo-in bet.

As an example, let's say you are looking to place your very first wager on the Super Bowl. You look at the matchup either online or at a Las Vegas sportsbook and this is what you see:

Kansas City +4.5 (-110)
Carolina -4.5 (-110)

How Do Point Spread Bets Work?

Using the example above, the linemakers have determined that the Carolina Panthers are 4.5-point favorites over the Kansas City Chiefs. The favorite team can also be referred to as the chalk . The favorite will always be represented by a negative (-) number, while the underdog will always be represented by a positive (+) number.

Based on the line above and which team you decide to bet on, the Panthers must win by five or more points in order for those with a Panthers (-4.5) ticket to be declared a winner. As long as the Panthers win by five or more points, the final score itself does not matter. A 10-0 win is just as much a winner as a 56-50 win.

However, if the Panthers were to win the game by four or less points, then all Panthers backers can toss their tickets in the trash. A 17-14 or 21-17 Panthers win would cash the tickets with Chiefs +4.5 on them. A Falcons outright win as 4.5-point underdogs would do the same.

What is the -110 Line?

The standard price to pay when betting on point spreads is (-110). This is the sportsbooks way of ensuring a profit no matter which side covers the spread. The extra 10 cents is also known as the 'juice' or 'vig' . Paying the extra 10 cents is like paying a tax or commission to the sportsbook for brokering the bet.

The -110 line means that in order for you to profit $100 you must wager $110. Some sportsbook offer something called 'reduced juice' , which means that you can still profit $100 but the risk is a few dollars less.

For example, if you see reduced lines such as -7.5 (-105) that means that you must risk $105 dollars in order to profit $100. If you see -7.5 (-102) then you must bet $102 in order to profit $100. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but saving a few bucks each time over the course of the season can really help your bankroll.

Which brings me to my next point. If you are serious about getting into sports betting, it is vital to have more than one sportsbook to make a wager at. Shopping around for the best lines will help your bankroll and you will be able to turn a bigger profit. If you see a pair of sneakers for $110 at one store, and the exact same pair is $102.99 at another store - which store are you buying them from?

What is a Push?

When betting the point spread, there is almost always a winner and a loser. However, in some instances sportsbook decide to put out a whole number such as -3 for bettors to bet on. If the final score ends with a differential of three points - no matter who wins - the bet is considered a 'push' and all money is refunded to both sides since neither team covered the spread.

What does Pick'em or PK Mean?

When two teams are evenly matched, and the sportsbook can't decide which team should be the favorite, they will release PK lines which means neither team is favorite. The team you wager on must simply win the game by any score in order for your ticket to be graded as a winner.

What Happens When the Point Spread Changes?

This is a very common occurrence throughout the sports betting industry. Sportsbooks have the right to shift the spread or odds for any given match prior to it starting. Many factors play a huge role in this decision, and they include injuries, weather, the volume of bets on one side, and anything in between. Depending on the time you place your wager, the bettor may also have an advantage or disadvantage based on which way the spread has shifted.

For example:

Opening Line: Carolina -4.5 vs Atlanta +4.5

Thursday's Line: Carolina -2.5 vs Atlanta +2.5

If bettors were quick to jump on the Atlanta line at +4.5 when it first came out, they would have a distinct advantage over those who waited closer to kick off and were stuck with +2.5. The opposite holds true for Carolina. Bettors that were quick to pull the trigger are now laying two more points than they would if they were patient and saw the line movement before making their move.

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Just how accurate are the oddsmakers as point spreads change and grow? Most people would predict that as spreads increase in size, the accuracy of the oddsmakers at predicting the final score should fall.

What we’ve done is examined the standard deviation on the ATS (against the spread) margin of thousands of games in all of the major sports to see if there is any relationship between the size of the spread and how close oddsmakers are able to predict the final margin of victory.

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Knowing how accurate the oddsmakers are can help in all sorts of situations, but especially when considering teasers. If oddsmakers aren’t as accurate with bigger lines, we can reduce the risk of teasers by only taking games with smaller lines. It’s a sound theory, but results of our research will tell us whether or not that theory is true.

Explanation of Standard Deviation for Point Spreads

The ATS margin from which we gather the standard deviation is taken from hundreds of games at each spread. For example, a game with a line of -2 that ends with a final score of 88-76, assuming the favorite won, would be 10 (if the underdog won, the ATS margin would be 14). This tells us how far off the oddsmakers were at predicting the final score.

The standard deviation in the tables below has been run on the ATS margins of thousands of individual games at each spread for each sport. The final standard deviation number represents about how much variation can be expected between the actual final ATS margin and each posted spread (the expected ATS margin). The lower the variation, the more accurate oddsmakers are at predicting games with that spread.

You may find this explanation of standard deviation easier to understand:

As a slightly more complicated real-life example, the average height for adult men in the United States is about 70 inches, with a standard deviation of around 3 inches. This means that most men (about 68 percent, assuming anormal distribution) have a height within 3 inches of the mean (67–73 inches) – one standard deviation – and almost all men (about 95%) have a height within 6 inches of the mean (64–76 inches) – two standard deviations. If the standard deviation were zero, then all men would be exactly 70 inches tall. If the standard deviation were 20 inches, then men would have much more variable heights, with a typical range of about 50–90 inches. Three standard deviations account for 99.7 percent of the sample population being studied, assuming the distribution is normal (bell-shaped).Wikipedia – Standard Deviation

At the bottom of each table, you will see a correlation. The correlation tells us how effective the spread is at determining the standard deviation.

A correlation is expressed as a number between -1 and 1 (correlation coefficient). The closer the number is to 1, the stronger (more accurate) the positive correlation, the closer the number to -1, the stronger the negative relationship.

Point Spread Nfl

As a correlation draw closer to zero, it shows a lack of causation in the data. In our samples we expect a negative correlation (as spreads get lower (-1, -2, -3…), the standard deviation should get bigger). Note: Something to keep in mind is that because we are looking at spreads from a favorite’s perspective – meaning using negative numbers – “lower” spread numbers (-14, -15, -16…) represent “bigger” spreads, while higher numbers mean “smaller” spreads (-3, -2, -1…). Now let’s see the results for each league and find out if our theory holds any water.

We are displaying the results of our research in the form of scatter charts in order to help you visualize the data. In terms of a strong correlation, you would want to see the data points clustered in a falling line. The more spread out the data points, the weaker the correlation.

Oddsmaker Accuracy for NBA Games

Correlation: 0.60

The relationship between the spread and standard deviation of ATS margin is stronger in the NBA than it is in any other league we examined (though it’s still not really that strong in statistical terms), however, it’s the opposite of what we expected it to be.0010 As the spreads get lower in the NBA, the variance in ATS margin actually gets lower as well (a positive correlation). This means that oddsmakers predict the scores of NBA games with large spreads better than they do in games with small spreads.

As you’ll soon find out, this is not the case in every sport, but our theory for why this does happen in the NBA has to do with the predictability of a team winning the game outright. Once you get to a line of -8 in the NBA, you start seeing a high percentage (79% to be exact) of teams winning outright, in comparison to spreads of -4 where just 61.6% of those teams end up winning outright. If you are more certain that a team will win the game, it makes it a lot easier to land your estimated final score near the actual final score. With that being said, this phenomenon doesn’t seem to happen in any other sport, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact cause.

How Close Vegas Lines Are to College Basketball Scores

Correlation: -0.33

With college basketball we get more of a the result we were expecting. We get a small negative relationship, meaning as spreads get lower, so does the standard deviation. There is a bit of a catch here. With spreads up to about -15.5, we see the same thing we saw in the NBA (a positive correlation) where the accuracy of oddsmakers goes up with the lower spreads.

Once we get to spreads of -16 or more, however, we start to see that negative correlation we expected. This is likely because once spreads get over 16 points, you are most likely looking at a huge blowout (which is fairly common in college basketball) or you end up with a game that is closer than expected, making for a wider range of variance than games with bigger (closer) spreads. The reason we don’t see this in the NBA is because there simply aren’t spreads that large on a regular basis.

Do Point Spreads Help Predict the Final Score of NFL Games?

What Does Point Spread Mean In Football Terms

Correlation: -0.06

There is no relevant association between the size of the spread and accuracy the oddsmaker has at predicting the final score. Lines are tight enough and talent gaps small enough in the NFL that this makes a lot of sense.

Predictability of College Football Scores by Vegas Odds

Correlation: 0.09

While I’m not surprised that the standard deviation for college football games is higher on average than it is in the NFL (simply meaning it’s less predictable), I am surprised that there is no significant relationship between the size of the spread versus the actual final ATS margin.


There are a few things we can take away from this data. The first is that oddsmakers are very good at what they do. Although there is a lot of variance in how far the spreads they set are off of the final score, they are, in large part, very consistent with the amount of that variance.

We can also safely say that our theory on the relationship between the size of the spread and amount of variance in the final ATS margin was completely wrong – and that’s great! Proving a theory wrong is just as effective as proving one right. While there may be certain sample situations where you can expect a higher volatility in ATS margins, by and large, there is no reason to expect a game with a bigger point spread to be more “off” the final ATS margin than a game with a smaller spread.

More on Standard Deviation in Football & Basketball

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