NFL moneyline betting explained

NFL moneyline betting online can be a profitable tool for any football bettor as it's the simplest of all NFL bets – just pick the winning team.

NFL Joe Burrow Cincinnati Bengals Super bowl

Quarterback Joe Burrow led the moneyline underdog Cincinnati Bengals in Superbowl LVI © Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The NFL moneyline key takeaways

  • An NFL money line bet is the most straightforward of sporting wagers

  • Simply select the team who will win the game. It can be by a single point or by a 30-point margin: the only thing that matters is which team walks away with a W in the result column.

  • The bet is settled at the end of overtime if needed, and on the rare occasion where the game remains tied, all stakes are returned.

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What is the NFL moneyline?

When you bet the moneyline, you are betting on which team will win the game. Payouts will depend on both the size of the stake and the odds offered, and while the bettor should always bet an amount that they are comfortable to lose, the odds will depend on the quality of the two sides.

In Super Bowl LVI, the LA Rams faced the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Rams were considered the better team and most likely winner, more so because the game was coincidentally played at their home stadium and the moneyline reflected this.

Los Angeles Rams-217
Cincinnati Bengals+185

Placing $10 on the favored Rams to win the game would return a total of $14.61 and of that $10 would be your original stake, making the successful bettor a profit of $4.61. A loss costs the bettor $10.

The same stake placed on the underdog Cincinnati Bengals would return $28.50 in total for a profit of $18.50 if the Bengals win, again at the risk of the bettor’s original $10 stake.

NFL moneyline explained

It is well worth drilling down into the meaning of the numbers in an NFL moneyline bet to get a feel for the likely returns and risks.

The American odds are preceded by either a - sign, a + sign or are priced at evens, often shown as +100. Evens means you make a profit that is equal to your stake. $10 at evens returns $10 profit and your original stake.

A negative sign tells you how much you need to stake to make a $100 profit. Hence you needed to stake $217 on the Rams in the example above to make $100 profit.

A positive prefix to the odds indicates the team is the underdog and the number tells you how much profit you would make for every $100 staked.

The moneyline odds also relate to the implied win probability for each side. The Rams’ -217 means in the bookmaker’s view, there is a 68.5% chance of a Rams win compared to a 35.1% chance of a Bengals victory.

The astute among you will have noticed that the probabilities of both outcomes (there are no ties in the Super Bowl) add up to 103.6% rather than 100%. This is due to the juice or margin charged by the bookmaker. They give themselves a safety net and the odds on both teams are slightly shorter than the true implied probability.

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What do NFL moneyline plus and minus odds mean?

You’ll soon get a feel for the odds. Large negative numbers mean that you are selecting a heavy favorite where the likelihood of a winning bet will be high, but your stake and therefore your risk will also be large for a relatively small profit.

Don’t be drawn into thinking that a bet cannot lose. Even true odds of -900 will lose on average one in every ten wagers.

Similarly, larger positive numbers in the odds ensure a relatively large return compared to the initial stake, if successful, but the chances of a winning bet decreases as the number rises.

How to bet on the NFL moneyline

NFL Futures Odds Sean McVay Superbowl Winner
Sean McVay and the Rams won Superbowl LVI in their second trip to the NFL championship game in four years © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s important to know both your risks and your potential rewards when making a bet and while these calculations are relatively straightforward, an online betting calculator easily does all the mathematical heavy lifting.

You can find the OBCOM bet calculator here, allowing you to quickly calculate winning returns as well as converting money line odds into implied winning probabilities, whether you’re betting small stakes or betting all the way up to the maximum limits set by all bookmakers.

1. Choose the NFL game you want to bet on

DraftKings moneyline screenshot 1

2. Select the team you think will win the game

DraftKings moneyline screenshot 2

3. Click the betslip, set your stake and place your bet

DraftKings moneyline screenshot 3

Why bet the NFL moneyline vs the spread?

The NFL bet that many will be familiar with is the spread bet.

This type of bet handicaps the stronger team, the money line favorite, by giving the underdog a set number of points’ headstart that is added onto the final score line at the end of the match too determine the winner for against the spread betting purposes.

The spread and the money line are strongly related. The bigger the chances of the favorite, the bigger the advantage will be given to their opponent.

There are pros and cons about which bet might be more attractive to the bettor. Spread bets attempt to make the contest more even and therefore the odds on each side will be closer to even money and to each other.

If you want to root for the better side, you won’t have to stake as much to win the same amount when betting against the spread rather than on the money line. But you will need them to “cover the spread”.

Alternatively, spread betting allows you to side with an underdog that you suspect may out-perform the quoted moneyline, but still come up slightly short in the outright game winning market.

Handicapping the money line may appear deceptively easy. All you need to do is select the winning team. However, if that were the case there would be no books and no wagers to be taken.

We’ve already seen that the money line odds are framed to fully reflect the chances of both sides, also shortening those payouts to add a small, but persistent amount of insurance for the books.

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Betting NFL moneyline favorites vs underdogs

NFL Nick Foles Superbowl Eagles Philadelphia
The 2018 Super Bowl LII champion Philadelphia Eagles were +175 underdogs to start the game © Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Blindly picking the favorite in an NFL game would typically give you 66 winners in every 100 bets, but your returns would not be large enough to guarantee a profit. Inevitably, favorites will win frequently, but unless you keep a record of your bets, wins and profit, you may find you are steadily leaking money and making a long-term loss.

These numbers can diverge in the short term, where betting a variety of favoured sides may make a profit. For example, home favorites or teams when they face divisional rivals.

However, it is very difficult to be certain that these seemingly profitable combinations of factors are sustainable. We may be just seeing the natural randomness of results or if there is real evidence of sustainability of profits, the books can use the juice to adjust prices.

If there is value to be found in blindly backing a favorite or an underdog, it is the latter that is more likely to edge closer to profitability.

Public or non-smart money often favors the better team in a money line bet, they might also be popular, high profile teams and this reluctance or lack of respect and betting money may edge the price for the underdog to win the game outright ever closer to a long-term profitable return.

Handicapping NFL moneyline bets

Searching for factors that have been profitable in the past, may often be tenuous and disappear, but there is a myriad of performance based angles to explore to get an edge on the books by picking out under or over-valued teams.

Win/loss records decide the post season teams, but often a raft of narrow wins might make a team appear more dominant that their record merits. So, look at points differential as well as wins and losses to see if one is consistent with the other.

A matchup may be unattractive for one of the sides. A porous passing defense may be constantly exploited by an efficient and accurate quarterback or a very good running team facing a poor run defense may be able to dominate possession and dictate the course of the game.

Look at strength of schedules. Wins against low quality opposition may inflate a side’s current reputation and match ups between the offense and the defense may expose a deficiency that has laid hidden.

Injury news can shift the odds towards one side and weather, particularly wind can negate one side’s strength and empower a good running team.

NFL moneyline FAQs

What does +200 NFL moneyline mean?
Does the NFL moneyline include overtime?
Is it better to bet the spread or the NFL moneyline?
How is the NFL moneyline payout calculated?
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Mark Taylor

Football data analyst

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