What is a Spread in Sports Betting?

Have you ever wondered what the spread is in sports betting? If you’ve ever taken part in sports gambling of any kind, you have probably noticed this term.

Even if you haven’t bet, you’ve undoubtedly seen the spread, as it’s listed in general coverage of sporting events. Regardless of if you need to know the spread for a given match, you likely saw it.

Ready to learn more about the point spread bet? Keep reading for our guide to betting on the point spread!

Key Takeaways

  • Find out the biggest perks of the point spreads odds.
  • Try out our specialist’s best betting strategies to enhance your spread bets.

The Basics of Spread Betting

The spread is a set difference in points for a sports game. Any game may have a -3 spread or a +12 spread. All the number means is how wide the deficit is expected to be:

For example: A +12.5-point spread means X team is expected to win by 13 or more. The betting line there simply means what the final score will be separated by. 

Taking that into account, oddsmakers set these spreads to try to get bets on both sides. Much like an over/under, the Las Vegas betting market sets these metrics with the idea of finding the perfect middle ground and enticing those on both sides to take the bet. 

Their goal is to find the sweet spot that will have supporters of a team convinced they can cover and supporters of the other convinced that they cannot.

On one hand, fans may believe that their team is so good that they can cover the spread. Others may believe their opponent is being underrated and can win the bet even if they lose.

This is where the phenomenon of betting against the spread comes from in online sports betting. 

What is a Point Spread in Sports Betting?

— To explain what a point spread is, let me give you a clear example:

If the New York Jets’ spread is -3, that means that the oddsmakers believe they will win by three points. The spread is just that: three. This ranges depending on the matchups.

— Another example: Let’s say, The Boston Celtics are playing really well this year, so they might see a spread of 11.5 points against the lowly Washington Wizards.

In that example, the Celtics would need to win by 12 or more to cover the spread. While the Wizards are bad, there’s easily a chance they lose by single digits, so bettors might consider betting on them to do so. It doesn’t matter if the Celtics win the game outright if they don’t cover the spread.

These change based on injuries and other things, but there is always an expected spread. That’s also why some outlets will list a team’s record “against the spread”, which is how often they do better or worse than the spread predicted.

A team can help you win your bet even if they don’t win the game themselves. 

Calculating Point Spreads

Oddsmakers make use of mathematical equations and analytics to formulate the spread for a given match. There’s quite a lot that goes into what may seem like a throwaway metric, guessing what the final margin will be.

In certain sports, the ranking of a team can play a role:

For example: The 15th-ranked college football team LSU might be heavily favored over an unranked opponent. The spread would be vastly different if they faced eighth-ranked Alabama, though.

There’s still a lot more that goes into it; Rest plays a role too:

Example: If the Dallas Mavericks are on a back-to-back, the spread between Dallas and the Denver Nuggets will be different from what it might otherwise be.

This is very meaningful in football, where a bye week can drastically influence the line. Home-field advantage, injuries, and more are also considered.

When you bet on the underdog, or even bet on the favorite, there are a ton of factors you need to consider. 

What is a Negative Spread in Sports Betting?

A negative spread indicates how many points a team must win by to cover the bet.

Example 1: If the San Francisco 49ers are favored by 6 points, they need to win by more than 6 for the bet to pay off. The actual margin of victory in the sport, whether it’s by 24 or 4 points, doesn’t impact the team itself, but it’s crucial for bettors.

Example 2: The Charlotte Hornets are favored by 4.5 points against the Washington Wizards. Bettors who place a negative spread bet on the Hornets need them to win by at least 5 points. A win by only 4 points, while a victory for the Hornets, means a loss for those who bet on them to cover the spread.

This element adds significance to every point scored in the game, including during garbage time.

Strategies for Betting on Negative Spreads

Betting on negative spreads is often a dangerous game. Certain sports lend themselves to it more.

For example: a 3.5 point spread in an NFL game isn’t that big of a deal, since scores are worth 6 and the margin is usually not as close.

It could very well be a close game, but a close game could feature as much as an eight-point margin, which makes taking the negative spread a bit of a safer option.

When you bet on sports, you have to make use of vital betting strategies.

In NBA betting, it’s a lot more challenging to take the negative, since points can come in flurries and scores are worth less. A 9.5 spread in a basketball game can be undone in a matter of seconds, since scoring happens much more frequently as well.

On the other hand, a point (even just an extra point) is harder to come by in NFL betting. A 12-point NBA lead can evaporate, so it’s important to know this for betting purposes.

Football and basketball differ in that manner, so you want to bet with a full understanding of how sports betting works in a specific sport. 

Spread Betting vs. Moneyline Betting

Spread betting isn’t the only type of betting in sports, though. Moneylines effectively remove any margins.

While a spread suggests that a team needs to win by X amount, the moneyline just says the team needs to win.

It’s a much simpler way to bet, as it strips things down to the wins and losses, not the points themselves.

For example: A +150 moneyline means that a team is favored to win, and if you put $100 on that outcome, you will come away with $150 to win.

Moneyline bets do tend to have wider ranges than spread bets do, though. 

Risks and Rewards of Spread Betting

Spread betting in sports hinges on the margin of victory, and it can be unpredictable.

For instance: During an NFL game, the Los Angeles Rams, trailing by 10, kicked a field goal as time expired. While the field goal didn’t affect the game’s outcome, it reduced their deficit to seven points, impacting bettors who had the San Francisco 49ers to cover a 7.5-point spread.

Additionally, spreads can change based on player availability.

For example: If Los Angeles Chargers’ quarterback Justin Herbert is injured, the 4.5-point spread in their favor could shift significantly by game day.

While spread betting offers the potential for higher profits due to its inherent risks, it also means the stakes are higher, magnifying both the potential returns and the risk of loss.

Common Mistakes in Spread Betting

One of the biggest mistakes bettors make in spread betting is just a misunderstanding of the concepts.

  • The plus + and minus – in the spread matters a lot. The minus means a team is favored: If the Golden State Warriors are -4, they’re favored. If they’re +7, they’re underdogs.
  • It is imperative to know which team is favored if you’re betting on the spread. If you misunderstand, you can be out of luck.
  • It’s also vital to know if you’re betting on the spread or the moneyline since they can have vastly different results. 

Advanced Spread Betting Concepts

An advanced concept in spread betting is the alternate spread, which lets bettors adjust the line to suit their strategy, often when backing an underdog.

This adjustment changes the payout potential of your bet. And remember, spread betting focuses on the margin of victory, making it a more intricate and risky form of betting with correspondingly higher rewards.

Find out more about other bet options such as puck lines to expand your gambler’s skills!