For some NFL bettors, totals are an afterthought compared to sides. I guess it makes sense as wagering on one team to beat the other is more appetizing, especially if you’re wagering on a favorite or hometown team.
But, as an experienced bettor, I know that if you’re not incorporating NFL totals into your football handicapping, you are missing out. In this article, I’ll discuss the ins and outs of NFL totals betting, offer examples and give bettors the information they need to know if they want to beat the sportsbooks.
NFL Totals Explained
Totals or OverUnders are easier to understand than point spreads and are simply just the amount of points scored in the game by both teams combined. This counts any points scored by both the home and away team in regulation but also extends to overtime. Let’s look at an example:
Baltimore Ravens OverUnder 36 (-110)
In this tough defensive AFC North matchup, the Steelers take on the Ravens at home. The total is 36. If a bettor wagers ‘Over’ and more than 36 points are scored on the game, the bet is a winner. Likewise, if a bettor wagers ‘Under’ and less than 36 points are scored in the game, that bet is a winner.
If there are exactly 36 points scored in the game, both sides of the wagers push and the bets are graded as no action with the original stakes being returned to bettors. This is not possible when the total has a half point, such as 36.5 which is fairly common in NFL totals.
The vig on a single total wager is normally the bookies’ standard -110. However, like straight wagers on sides, this isn’t always the case. Let’s take a look at our example again, but with different odds:
Over 36 (-120) Under 36 (-110)
As you can see the bookmaker’s vig is different for both sides of the total. Over bettors are paying a 10 cent increase if they want to bet that the total goes over 36, while the under is still listed at standard -110 odds.
The extra juice paid on the total is just another way of the sportsbooks to moving the odds on the total without actually adjusting the number of 36. Either side can be charged extra via juice if the sportsbook does not want to move off a their number, but choose to charge extra vig. This is a common move by sportsbook for sides and totals of all sports, not just the NFL.
Online sportsbooks will offer a variety of other totals options other than the full game numbers. Halftime totals and second half totals are available at just about every sportsbook these days, and some books offer lines on individual quarters. Few sports have the betting markets that the NFL has, and this is just another example.
Average NFL Total
With help from SportingCharts.com, we can see the average NFL total from 2002 to 2011 was 41 with 4.27 percent of all games finishing with this number. The second most common total was 44 with 3.97 percent of games ending with this score line.
The 41 number is crucial because it gives us a barometer of what projects to be a high scoring game versus a low scoring contest. Totals range from 35-55 points with those numbers being on the end of both extremes.
Do NFL Bettors Generally Tend to Bet The Over?
Generally, yes. It is tough to make a blanket statement such as this, but sports fans and sports bettors for that matter are more likely to bet the over. They want to see touchdowns, long runs and deep passes. The NFL promotes franchise quarterbacks and offensive stars for a reason, because it is what the people want to see. The league has become more focused on the offensive side of the ball from a media and publicity standpoint.
Does that mean that under bets offer better pricing? Yes, when the vast legions of square bettors and Joe Public are betting the over, that generally means betting the under is a better default option. This may especially true for high profile games such as the Sunday Night and Monday Night Football contests and playoff games, including the Super Bowl. After all, sportsbooks win money from the vast majority of people who wager, so betting with the masses is not usually a terrific way to go about becoming a profitable NFL handicapper.
Still, this doesn’t mean you should shy away from betting the over in a game if you handicapped the matchup and feel like it is a solid wager. It is just to point out that generally the under may be priced better than the majority of over wagers.
One example where the reverse is true is in a game where two defensive juggernauts face off, and the total is a lower number. The game is hyped as a tough, in the trenches battle and the public usually buys into it, driving the price down. This is one of the few situations where the over may have more value than the under because the public perception is that the game is going to be a slugfest. Again, this is just another factor to consider with your other handicapping methods.
How Does Weather Affect the Total?
Obviously, inclement weather can have an adverse effect on the amount of points scored in a game, but this is almost always priced into the line. Weather forecasts, while somewhat inaccurate at times are released well ahead of time and oddsmakers can adjust the line accordingly. So many teams play in doomed stadiums or controlled environments that it is not a factor for many games on the schedule anyway.
Also, just because there is poor weather doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a scoring drought, especially in relation to the total. Turnovers can happen more frequently in bad weather games, and both offenses and defenses are affected by poor weather.
Gameplan and Injuries
A coach’s gameplan for a particular contest or his general coaching style is an decisive factor for handicapping totals. More conservative coaches will play a “field position” game may be more likely to keep the game under. High powered aerial offenses, who are aggressive on 4th down, will naturally be more likely to score and run up the scoreboard. Getting to know coaching tendencies is one of the things that handicappers may overlook.
Injuries are a factor of course, but again these are likely priced into the line, as well. Late breaking injury news could offer you a chance to beat the bookies before they move the line, but in most cases they will just pull the game off the board or reduce the available limits.
Predicting Movement and Handicapping Totals
When to bet a total can be hard to gauge, but as I mentioned above high profile games depending on the matchup tend to be by most bettors to go over. So, if you’re looking to take the under, it may be best to wait till closer to game time to bet rather than betting early in the week. It may gain you a half-point or a point on the game which is certainly substantial.
There are plenty of statistics that can be used to predict the performance of two teams. However, these can be difficult to gauge, especially early on in the season. Coaches change teams every year and players learn new systems. Learning their own systems is hard enough, let alone game planning for opponents.
The number 41 I mentioned earlier is a good number to remember. Since that is the average total offer by oddsmakers, we can sort of use that number to gauge how the sportsbooks feel about a particular matchup and if we feel it is accurate.
Home and road splits are always significant factors in how a team may perform, along with how much a team’s offense runs versus passes. Running games normally chew up the clock. Basically, any traditional handicapping methods and statistics can be applied to totals.
Best US Sportsbooks for NFL Totals
It is hard to say what the best sportsbook is for NFL totals because every serious sportsbook offers full game totals and has a base of -110 on all sides and totals. However, there are some books that may offer more markets than others.
5Dimes Sportsbooks offers more markets than any other US-facing sportsbook and has some reduced juice options for players. The sportsbook has half-time lines and quarter lines for every game on the NFL board and is among the most trusted sportsbooks for US players and those worldwide.