Against the Spread
There are five essential terms with which bettors should
be familiar when planning to wager on football games.
The first is “Against the Spread,” and this term will
come up multiple times whenever one is betting on the
NFL. Often abbreviated to ATS, this phrase refers to the
point spread. One vital task of any NFL handicapper is
to keep track of the ATS record of each team. Those who
do not do so are essentially “shooting in the dark” when
placing their bets.
The acronym ATS will also frequently pop up among those
conversing about betting trends in the NFL. For example,
if the Cowboys begin this season at 5-0 ATS, by the time
they play their sixth game, they may very well be an
appropriate team on which to place a bet. Against the
Spread records can be found for all 32 NFL teams online,
going as far back as the site's database allows. Such
records are very important to handicappers and should
always be stored under favorites. However, it is
important to stick with reliable websites, as bad data
can lead to disaster.
Straight Up–SU–is a betting term that indicates a game
to which there is no point spread attached. For example,
if the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 20
to 18, the Panthers would win the game straight up, even
if they are 3 point favorites against the spread.
It is not uncommon to see ATS and SU records listed
together when betting on NFL. For instance, in 2006, the
Panthers were 6-9-1 ATS and 8-8 SU, while the Giants
were 7-8-1 ATS and 8-8 SU. This would indicate that
Carolina was not having as good a season as New York,
even though each team was .500. Of course, we now know
this is true, as the Giants were outscored by a mere
seven points during the regular season that year, while
Carolina was outscored by thirty-five.
SU stats are extremely valuable in NFL wagering, and
even more so concerning the money line as opposed to the
point spread. However, it is also wise to refer to the
SU stats when reviewing the team's ATS record.
Totals–also called over/under bets– are one of the most
popular ways to wager on the NFL, and this has been the
case for over four decades.
However, such bets can also be applied to the prop
market, where one can wager on things such as whether a
quarterback will throw under or over a specific number
In most cases, any site that list the ATS and SU
statistics should also have records on how each team
performed against the total. Many bettors find that
teams with high over records are questionable on
defense, but strong on offense. Similarly, teams with
high under records are often stronger on defense.
When looking at an exhaustive list of O/U stats, such as
the NFL standings for an entire year, bettors will
typically see how frequently each team went over. Such
statistics are strong indicators of that team's balance
regarding offense and defense, so it is essential for
bettors to play close attention, even when not wagering
against the total.
As most NFL fans probably already know, there are two
kinds of football teams: underdogs and favorites. Except
for the aforementioned “pick 'em” games, which are very
rare indeed, all NFL games have a favorite, as indicated
with a minus sign on the point spread, such as Cleveland
-2. The favorite is also the team with a negative money
line number, or in certain cases, the largest negative
number, such as the following example:
Carolina Panthers -105
The Panthers are the very slight favorites in the
scenario above, although bettors must still wager $105
on the Panthers to enjoy a net gain of $100. In many
cases, very close match-ups such as this may even
experience a switch of roles, where the underdog becomes
the favorite or vice versa as the line moves.
Similar to real life, favorites are frequently looked at
sideways by NFL bettors. Strong teams not only bring out
the best in their opponents, but often get overhauled in
the betting arena. For this reason, one frequently sees
the word “chalk” used in reference to favorites. For
example, if a person places a large bet on the favorite
team and loses, it is referred to as “eating chalk.”
Underdogs have always captured the imagination–as well
as the hearts–of NFL fans who enjoy betting on games.
The crowd often cheers when the plus sign appears in the
NFL lines for an underdog. Interestingly, throughout
history, underdogs have performed better at the spread
than favorites, particularly in home games. The
difference on paper is relatively small: home underdogs
cash in approximately 51 percent of the time, compared
with 48 percent for home favorites. However, it is
important to understand that such a narrow margin will
become massive when multiplied over hundreds of wagers.
Numerous betting experts enjoy when the underdog gets a
black eye from the national sports media. This is
because it can sometimes work in a bettor's favor. For
example, a particular team's poor SU performance may
simply be due to an abnormally brutal schedule or a key
player facing an injury. However, whatever the reason,
it will generate gloom and doom from the sports media.
Nevertheless, once the situation causing the low
performance score reverses itself, savvy handicappers
will quickly bet the underdog prior to the general
betting market noticing the changes. Paying close
attention to advanced stats, including injury reports,
is always a profitable activity and can lead to handsome
payoffs when one is betting underdogs.