NFL money lines are have become commonplace over the years, after originally appearing in Las Vegas sportsbooks after Nevada legalized sports betting and as legal bookmaking came to prominence in the 1970s.
Today, NFL money lines are some of the most wagered markets in the world and are available at every pretty much every sportsbook in existence. Like every other type of NFL wager, such as Props, Totals, Parlays, Teasers there are ins and outs that bettors need to know before betting money lines.
What Exactly is a Money Line?
Money lines are odds given by the sportsbook with no attached pointAmerican Odds spread. If bettors wager on their team to win via the money line – they simply must win the game outright, regardless of the score line.
Money line odds can be called US odds or American Odds, depending on the bettor’s point of reference. Money line odds are the standard means of wagering for baseball and hockey bettors as traditional point spreads are not practical for these types of games.
Of course, there is a relationship between point spread and money lines as the money line odds will correlate to the point spread offered on the game. Meaning if a team is an +3 underdog it will normally have money line odds of around +160, but if the team is a +7 underdog their plus odds will then increase to somewhere around +280.
Examples of Money Lines
Understanding money line odds are simple because they use the same wagering format we are used to betting when odds are attached to a point spread and are based on the amount you can win on a $100 wager. Here’s an example of an underdog money line that a bettor would make a typical Sunday:
Pittsburgh Steelers +175
Now, if I were to wager $100 on the Pittsburgh Steelers to win their game, I’d be looking at a possible profit of $175. Since the Steelers are the underdog in this matchup, I’ll be able to risk less to win more in this money line wager. Let’s take a look at a money line bet with a favorite:
Baltimore Ravens -200
The Ravens are the favorite in this game. I’ll have to wager $200 to win $100 on the Ravens in this game. As you can see I’m paying a much steeper price for betting on a money line favorite than I am an underdog. Without a point spread, money line odds “even up” the two teams and offer bettors varying prices based their expectation to win the game.
What is the Bookie’s Edge on Money Lines?
To understand a bookie’s edge on money lines, it is best to read three of our in-depth NFL betting articles; where lines come from, and both implied probability and theoretical hold to understand how sportsbooks make a profit when offering these types of bets.
All books will have a “service charge” built into their money line offers that charges bettors from both sides. To figure out the vig or edge that a book has each money line bet, we have to figure out the implied probability of a typical NFL money wager. Let’s look at our above example:
NFL Money line
Pittsburgh Steelers +175
Baltimore Ravens -200
In this example, if we wager $100 on the Steelers we’re risking $100 to win $275. If we wager $200 on the -200 Ravens, we’re risking $200 to win $300. Since we can’t push, (except in the rare case of an NFL tie – which would be graded as no action) there are two possible outcomes and we can easily figure out the bookmaker’s vig with simple math.
$100/$275 = 36.36
$200/$300 = 66.66
Total: 36.36+66.66 = 103.02
This is very simple to do and just involves taking the amount we risk by the total payout. This information tells us that the bookies have just over a 3 percent edge on this bet and that it is a negative proposition for us. Still, 3 percent quite low for a bookie’s advantage on a wager.
Also, if I feel one side of the wager is a bit off, I may want to make a play. Remember, the numbers of 36.36 and 66.66 percent are the implied probability of each bet or the win probability with zero vig on the line.
What Does It All Mean?
Essentially, those are the numbers we need to hit to break even on the individual bet, plus the house’s vig.
The Steelers at +175 have a breakeven percentage of 36.36 percent. So, we need to win our bet at least 36.36 percent of the time to breakeven on our wager. The Ravens at -200 have breakeven percentage 66.66 percent. Obviously, since the Ravens are the favorite they will win more often, but how much more often is the key component when deciding if a bet like this has any value.
If we feel the Ravens are going to win this game 80 percent of the time, then this bet is a bargain for us. We have a massive edge on the oddsmakers if we are right. Likewise, if we believe the Steelers can win the game 50 percent of the time, then again we will have quite a large edge on the bookies, even with their just over 3 percent vig.
Obviously, the key here is calculating the bookie’s edge in a particular money line bet and then figuring out if we feel that they have made a mistake on one of the sides. The sportsbook’s built in edge on each NFL money line bet is around 2-3 percent on average. It is crucial to figure out the implied probability of each side in a money line wager to be sure you are not paying too much in vig on a bet. Some sportsbooks have much better odds than others and will shade certain numbers, meaning they will make one side of the bet worse odds than the other because it’s heavily bet by the public. They also may just simply offer poor odds.
General NFL Money Line Betting Tips
Money line betting is a different animal than spread betting, and knowing when to use it appropriately in NFL games can payoff big. A spot I always look to bet the money line in a game is when the underdog is getting less than 3 points. Only 7 percent of NFL games are decided by 1 or 2 points, and bettors will normally save vig when using this option.
For instance, say the Carolina Panthers are facing the Tampa Buccaneers and the Bucs are +2.5 (-110) underdogs. Of course, we can go ahead of bet Tampa Bay at -110 and get our +2.5 points. Alternatively, we can wager on Tampa’s underdog money line, which in this situation will be within the +120 to +140 range.
This is a much better option than wagering on the point spread and paying vig. While we might get burned in a close game occasionally, in the long run, it is a profitable play provided we get solid odds.
Bettors may also want to lean towards underdogs when wagering on NFL money lines. One main reason is that most NFL bettors are squares or recreational bettors, and they lean towards betting favorites.
Another key reason is because the breakeven percentage is much higher for large favorites. Any favorite above -230 has a breakeven percentage above 70 percent. This means that bettors must win around two-thirds of the time or more just break even on high priced favorites. Obviously, the reverse is true for a +230 underdog, bettors will only have to win one-third of the time to break even.
While I would encourage bettors to bet more underdog money lines than favorites, especially large ones – this is not always the case. If your implied probability is 70 percent, but you think the favorite has an 80% chance of winning the game, you should consider betting. Also, it is worth noting that underdogs will offer more variance than favorites because they will lose far more often. Bettors should remember that underdog money line betting will offer more fluctuations in their bankroll than wagering on money line favorites or just by betting the point spread.
Another common tactic that I like to use is betting my normal amount on the point spread and then making a smaller wager, maybe a half unit on the money line. This way, I can still profit if the game is close and if I’m right with my upset pick I can cash in big, while reducing some of the risk.
Best US Sportsbooks for Money lines
There isn’t one book that is generally better than the others in regards to money lines, but it is always crucial to check the implied probability of a wager before betting to make sure the vig is not too high. As I mentioned above, some sportsbooks will just offer poor odds, and they should be avoided.
5Dimes Sportsbooks is usually the quickest to post money lines for the upcoming NFL week followed by Bet Online and Bovada. All are solid options.
Final World on NFL Money Lines
I personally am a massive fan of money line betting in the NFL. Sometimes bettors just “know” that an upset is brewing, and instead of simply taking the points and looking for a cover – they want more. This is not only gutsier (that counts for something, right?) but also more profitable in most cases. Money lines are simply another form of buying points, which can certainly be profitable in the right situations.
If you’re not making money line betting a part of your NFL betting strategies, you are not only selling yourself short as an NFL handicapper, but you’re missing out on some profits, as well.