What is handicap betting on American (NFL) football and how does it work?

Much like in other sports leagues around the world, the National Football League (NFL) has different betting lines on every game.

The handicap, or point spread line, is a forecast of the number of points by which a stronger team is expected to defeat a weaker one. This is in contrast to the money line, where the team you bet on just has to win the game. If you bet on a team to cover the spread, that team has to win (or lose) by a certain amount of points. 

The main idea of a point spread handicap is to level the playing field between the two sides and encourage a similar amount of betting action on each team. Bettors can also get better odds backing favorites on the spread than they would on the moneyline. 

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An example is if the Los Angeles Chargers traveled to Baltimore to take on the Ravens. Playing at home, the Ravens come into the game as -140 money line favorites (bet $140 to win $100). The point spread handicap for the game is -2.5, at-110 odds. So if you think the Ravens will win by a field goal or more, it was prudent to bet them at -110 instead of -140 (betting $110 to win $100).

Many times, the handicap lines for the game are less than one touchdown, or -7. If the point spread is -10 or greater, it usually means one team is much better than the other and oddsmakers anticipate a potential blowout.

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