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

Much like in other sports around the world, the National Football League (NFL) has different betting lines on each 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. In contrast to the money line, where the team you bet just has to win, if you bet on a team to win with the point spread, that team has to “cover” the bet.

The main idea has to do with the amount of money that you would have to bet to win. For example, in the playoffs last year, the Los Angeles Chargers traveled to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in the Wildcard round. Playing at home, the Ravens came into the game as -140 money line favorites. But with the point spread handicap of -2.5, it was just -110. So if you thought the Ravens would win by a field goal or more, it was prudent to bet them at -110 instead of -140 (betting $110 to return $210, instead of $140 to return $240).

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.


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