How to Make Money By Backing Bad Teams: Spread Betting Explained

Point spreads are often the betting option of choice. Here’s spread betting explained, providing a look into everything you need to know about betting the spread before the next big game.

The point spread is among the most popular forms of wagering in sports betting. The point spread is determined by oddsmakers, indicating the margin of victory or defeat in a game. It is by far the most popular betting option in the NFL and NBA and is also used in various forms in an array of other sports, including MLB, NHL, and soccer.

Point spreads are often the betting option of choice for both novice and sharp sports bettors. Accordingly, here’s spread betting explained, providing a look into everything you need to know about betting the spread before the next big game.

How to Read Point Spreads

So what does the spread mean in betting? For the sake of consistency, this betting guide will use examples of how point spreads are used in NFL betting. As discussed, point spreads are used by oddsmakers to handicap a team’s margin of victory or defeat in a game and are typically presented on the odds board at your favorite sportsbook as follows:

Spread Example - Spread Betting Explained:

  • Dallas Cowboys +4.5, +105
  • Buffalo Bills -4.5, -125

The above example illustrates a matchup between the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys. In this case, the Bills are listed as 4.5-point favorites as indicated by “-4.5” on the betting line. This means Buffalo must win the game by five or more points for a wager on the team to be considered a winner. Conversely, the Cowboys are listed as 4.5-point underdogs, as indicated by “+4.5” on the line, and will reward loyal sports bettors with a win if they can produce any result other than losing by more than four points. To summarize, a minus sign (-) indicates that the team is the favorite. A plus (+) sign shows which team is the underdog. 

The value of the payout on a winning point spread is determined by the moneyline odds attached to the spread. In the above example, the odds of the Bills covering as 4.5-point favorites are pegged at -125. That means you must wager $125 to generate winnings of $100 on a winning bet. The Cowboys sport long +105 odds of avoiding losing by more than four points. That means a successful $100 bet on Dallas will produce winnings of $105.

How and Why does the Point Spread Move?

Several factors can lead to movement on a point spread, as with any betting line. The most crucial factor is the behavior of sports bettors. Since oddsmakers seek to attract an equal amount of money on each side of a betting line, they often must move the line in response to how bettors are wagering to achieve that balance.

And in the case of sports like football and soccer, in which a team may play as few as one game per week, point spreads can be published days or even weeks in advance of the game, providing ample time for the whim of bettors and other unforeseen factors to influence the line.

Crucial among those other factors are the intangibles. These include player absences, major injuries, and the teams’ performance in their most recent games. Changes in the weather forecast can also significantly impact the point spread and other off-field issues, such as dressing room controversies, the firing of a coach, or other scandals.

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Why Bet on the Spread Compared to the Moneyline?

Before placing a wager, a new sports bettor must understand the spread of betting and its difference from the moneyline. While the point spread enables you to bet on the margin of victory in a game, moneyline betting involves wagering on which team will win outright. 

What sets point spread betting apart from straight-up moneyline betting is how it levels the playing field for sports bettors when a good team plays a bad team. The good team may offer limited value as a moneyline bet, and the bad team might offer attractive odds but with a greatly diminished win probability. However, when a point spread is introduced, odds on both sides of the line remain largely the same while the spread moves, making it more lucrative to bet on the favorite and reducing the risk of betting on the underdog. 

Moneyline Example - Spread Betting Explained:

  • Dallas Cowboys +185
  • Buffalo Bills -225

Once again, using our hypothetical matchup explaining spread betting between the Bills and the Cowboys, the above example illustrates how a moneyline bet will typically be presented at your favorite sportsbook using American odds.

The Bills are listed as -225 favorites. That means you must wager $225 on Buffalo to generate winnings of $100. That is a much smaller payday than our first example of taking Buffalo to cover the 4.5-point spread, which only requires a $125 stake to win $100.

Conversely, the Cowboys are listed as +185 underdogs in our moneyline example. That means a $100 bet on Dallas will generate winnings of $185 if they manage to pull off the upset. But typically, this is a harder bet to win than going with Dallas at +4.5 on the point spread, hence the bigger payout in the moneyline example. 

As discussed earlier, moneyline odds are also used to determine the payout size in points spread betting and dictate how much you can win when placing props, futures, totals, and exotic bets.

How to Bet Against the Point Spread 

Now that you understand what the spread means in betting and how payout size is determined, it’s time to dive into some point spread betting. But before laying down that paper, you must do your homework.

The first place to start is with the recent records of both teams, straight up and against the spread. Indeed, such a point spread is a great equalizer, enabling high-value betting on bad teams even when they play good opponents. It is common for a team that sports a losing record to be a good bet against the spread.

In addition to staying up to date on team news, injuries, off-field information, and track record against upcoming opponents, it is also essential to study opening point spreads, which may offer considerable value before they move in line with sports bettor behavior. It is also not uncommon for lines to move in the hours and minutes leading up to the start of a game, allowing you to bet on both sides of a line that has experienced heavy movement. However, it is not advisable to make a habit of waiting until the last minute to place your bets.

It is also wise to compare odds from multiple sportsbooks to find discrepancies in the spread that work in your favor and to find more competitive moneyline odds attached to the spread.

Once all that work is done, placing a point spread bet is simple. Make sure you have completed the registration process at the sportsbook of your choice and funded your account with a deposit. And don’t forget to keep tabs on promos and bonuses offered by the sportsbook of your choice, which can sweeten the betting experience with free bets, matching funds on deposits, and odds boosts. You can then simply click or tap on the bet of your choice, indicate the size of the stake you are wagering, click “Place Bet,” and then settle in and enjoy the action.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which sports use point spreads?

Every sport uses point spreads in some way or form. They are the most popular type of betting in football and basketball. However, some version of point-spread betting is used in baseball, hockey, soccer, and most less mainstream sports.

Can you bet on point spreads for a half or a quarter?

Most sportsbooks will allow point-spread bets to be made on the score of a game after a specific quarter or period or during halftime. In the case of baseball, betting on the run line can be done for the entire game or after the first five innings. However, the specific point-spread bets for a half or quarter can vary from one sportsbook to the next.

Is spread betting worth it? 

Yes, betting on the spread is worth it. This is the most common way of betting on sports, and it can lead to positive results and profits for bettors who can make accurate bets against the spread most of the time. 


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Written by Daniel Coyle

Daniel has written professionally about sports for two decades and covered the sports betting beat for the past nine years. He is an expert EPL, MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL, and UFC writer.  

His work has been featured in various newspapers, magazines, and online media, including the Montreal Gazette, Globe & Mail,, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, NESN, Sportsnet, SB Nation, Oilers Nation, and The Nation.