In a two-way sporting event, the majority of contests have a recognized favourite. The application of a spread line to the selected contest is the sportsbook’s way of creating a fair playing field. This is most commonly seen for betting markets in the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL.
When you are betting against the spread, the favourite just winning the game is not enough. The favourite now must win the game by a specific total – the selected point spread – in order to cover the spread and effectively win your bet.
Here are some answered FAQs for betting on the spread.
WHAT IS THE POINT SPREAD?
The point spread is effectively offering an even playing field between two ‘unbalanced;’ side. Instead of selecting a team to win as you would on a moneyline bet, a spread bet offers up a certain margin of victory needed for your selection to win.
A spread bet basically makes a matchup more of a 50/50 outcome rather than having a determined favourite. The most important factor of spread betting is even if your selection wins the game outright, it may not be enough to cover your spread bet.
As we explained in our ‘How do American Odds Work’ feature, the team with the minus (-) sign next to the number of points is the favourite, while the team with the plus (+) sign is the underdog. To effectively cover the spread, the favourite needs to win by more points than the spread, while the underdog needs to avoid losing by more points than stated in their spread line.
BETTING AGAINST THE SPREAD – EXAMPLE
We’ll break down an NFL game spread line as an example. We’ll refer to Houston Texans @ Baltimore Ravens in Week 1 of the 2023 season:
From the spread line offered, the Baltimore Ravens are the current favorite in this matchup by 9.5 points, as they have the minus sign in front of their point spread total. In most cases, teams are given a half-point on their spread total to stop the chance of a tie, or a ‘push’.
From the current market, the favourites Baltimore are being ‘layed’ by nine and a half points. This means that you take off 9.5 points from the Ravens’ total score at the end of game. If they still have more points than the Houston Texans following the deduction, then that means they successfully covered the spread. This means Baltimore need to win the game by 10 points or more for your bet to win.
While the favourite is laying 9.5 points, the Texans are basically being given 9.5 points. This means at the end of the game, you add nine and a half points to Houston’s total score. If the Texans have more points than the Ravens after the total has been added, then they effectively covered the spread. In short, you just need Houston to not lose the game by 10 or more points. For example, if the Texans lost by five points, you would have a winning bet if you selected the Texans.
Here are some score lines with different margins of victory, with an explanation on who covered the spread.
- Baltimore 31-17 Houston – Baltimore covered the spread by 4.5 points
- Baltimore 14-17 Houston – Houston covered the spread by 12.5 points
- Baltimore 41-21 Houston – Baltimore covered the spread by 10.5 points
- Baltimore 17-12 Houston – Houston covered the spread by 4.5 points
- Baltimore 21-10 Houston – Baltimore covered the spread by 1.5 points
- Baltimore 30-21 Houston – Houston covered the spread by 0.5 points
In examples four and six, Baltimore won the game, but lost on the spread. That is because they failed to cover the total spread of 9.5 points – winning only by five and nine points respectively.
CAN THE POINT SPREAD CHANGE?
Points spread can be changed based on where the money is being placed as well as going on weekly injury reports and game updates. Oddsmakers will adjust the lines due to risk management, particularly if one side is receiving a higher proportion of bets or if a key player is ruled out of the game.
For example, if Lamar Jackson sustained an injury during practice a couple of days before Baltimore’s game on Sunday, the Ravens may struggle to score as many points under backup Tyler Huntley. With that information, it would not be a surprise to see the spread line that is mentioned above drop from -9.5 points to -4.5 points for Baltimore.
On some occasions, the bookmaker may even just simply drop the spread line lower to encourage more bettors to select a particular side of the matchup.
WORKING OUT YOUR PAYOUT AGAINST THE SPREAD
While the points spread have negative and plus signs, that is also the case for the odds. They are the three-digit number below the spread line total on the example above.
The odds are exactly the same that are used for moneyline bets, as the negative numbers simply state how much you would need to put down to win $100. In the example above, the Ravens as 9.5 favourites are -110, meaning you would need to bet $110 in order to win $100 from that selection.
DO ALL SPORTS OFFER SPREAD BETTING?
Betting against the spread is extremely popular in the NFL, College Football and even the XFL and USFL – and there are other sports that offer spread totals in matchups.
Point spreads are also offered as markets in baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer. They are normally indicated in betting markets under different names, but they are effectively the same as a point spread.
In baseball, the spread is known as a run line. In hockey, the spread is called a puck line and in soccer, it is known as a goal line.
WHICH SPORTSBOOK OFFER SPREAD BETTING?
Nearly all sportbooks offer spread betting in some capacity.
For the latest offers, make sure to check out our Betting Partners page.