How to Bet on the Point Spread

How to Bet on the Point Spread

Published Date · July 21, 2022 · Last Updated · July 22, 2022 ·Read Time · 7 mins

What is the Point Spread?

The Point Spread, also known as just the Spread or the Handicap is one of the most popular sports wagers out there, alongside the Moneyline and the Over/Under. The Point Spread is the number that the sportsbook oddsmakers believe will be the margin of separation between the two teams or competitors that are playing against each other. The lower the spread, the closer the sportsbooks believe the teams are in terms of overall competitiveness. Sometimes the spread can be as small as half a point. Conversely, like the opening week of college football, spreads can be as high as -70.5 (the largest spread in college football history). Our guide will help you navigate the Point Spread and see what all the fuss is about.

The Benefits Of A Point Spread Wager

Underrated Teams Become A Value

If you believe a team is going to lose but keep the game close, without the Point Spread bet, you would be taking a calculated risk with a Moneyline bet. With a Point Spread bet, however, if you think a team will keep the game close but probably still lose the game, the Spread is the best bet for you. 

We hear all the time about teams that keep the game within a certain margin of points, runs, or goals where the game could have gone either way. Knowing that the margin of victory does not go the way of the team you’re betting on is a great way to use the Spread bet to make sure that, while the team you’re picking may not win, they’ll stay close enough in the spread in order for your bet to cover. 

Better Value Visibility For The Common Sports Fan 

Understanding value in the sports betting world is a crucial factor for continued success in your sports betting career. It’s something that even the best in the business continually tweak and adjust in order to find the best value out there. 

It may be difficult for an everyday sports fan to determine the value in a wager just by looking at a team with +250 on the Moneyline. It is easier to measure whether a 3.5-point spread is a good enough value for the matchup that you’re looking at. Points runs and goals are all common metrics to every sports fan, and they can tell what seems like a realistic margin of victory or defeat. 

In-Depth Look At Point Spread Betting

The Point Spread bet is a wager on which team will outperform the expected line. The sportsbook will set a number based on how they believe the teams will perform, and the bettor selects the side with the winning outcome. While there are a lot of numbers when looking at the line for a Point Spread wager, it’s actually fairly simple once you’ve seen what everything stands for. Let’s look at the table below for our example for when the New York Jets play against the Miami Dolphins:

New York Jets
+3.5 (-115)
Miami Dolphins
-3.5 (-105)

Common Terminology For Point Spread Betting 

There are four main factors to evaluate when looking at a Point Spread line: The Favorite, The Underdog, The Point Spread, and The Odds.

The Favorite

The Favorite in this example is the Miami Dolphins. The Favorite is the team that the sportsbook believes will win the matchup overall, not just for the Point Spread bet. The Favorite’s side of the bet wins if the team wins the game by or greater than the number of points listed for the Point Spread. For example, if the Dolphins win by 4 points, they win the bet. If they only win by 2 points, they would lose the bet. At a glance, however, we know that the Dolphins are the favorite because they have the negative (-) sign in front of the Point Spread number. 

The Underdog

The Underdog in the example is the New York Jets. The Underdog is the team that the sportsbook believes will lose the game. The Underdog’s side of the bet wins if either the Underdog wins the game outright or if they lose by less than the points listed for the Point Spread. For example, if the Jets win the game, they cover the spread. If they lose by 2 points, they cover the spread. If they lose by 5 points, they did not cover the spread. Knowing who The Underdog is at a quick glance is easy because they will have a plus (+) sign in front of their Point Spread number. 

The Point Spread

The Point Spread, put simply across all sports, is the number of scoring units (runs in baseball, goals in hockey and soccer, points in football and basketball) showing the estimated margin of victory of the favorite over the underdog. Many factors go into this number that is not seen by the general sport betting public, but things like home-field advantage, sport, playoffs versus non-playoffs, and historical meetings can all have a say in the final Spread. While this is a bit advanced, professional sports bettors will use their own calculations to make the spread for games, and then see where the value is when compared to the online and brick & mortar sportsbooks.

The Odds

The odds are the payout you’ll receive depending on how much you wagered and whether or not your bet hits. To see how a wager pays out in this example, let’s look at the Underdog (-115). For the sake of ease, the payout of the odds should be looked at in terms of a $100 wager. Betting on anything with a negative (-) sign shows you how much to wager in order to pay out $100. In the example above, you would have to wager $115 (from the -115 odds) in order for the sportsbook to pay out $100 should you win. If there were a plus sign in front of the 115 instead of a negative (+115), if you made a $100 wager that ended up winning, your payout would be $115 (from the +115 odds). 


Tips For Point Spread Betting

Exploit Line Movement

Ask any sports bettor that’s been doing this for a long time; they’ll tell you about several bets that they just missed by half a point. Something as small as half a point can be the difference between winning and losing your next Point Spread bet. This is why analyzing the movement of a betting line throughout the duration of when it goes live until up to game time is crucial. By predicting and seeing patterns in how the line moves during the week, you can see if you should make a wager at the open, wait for the lines to adjust, or not wager at all. 

Don’t Be Afraid Of Doubling Down

Piggybacking on the previous tip, once you make a wager, you’re locked into that spread no matter how much it changes. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t place another bet if the spread becomes more favorable to your original wager. If you’re confident in your first wager (which you should be), and the line moves into a more favorable position compared to your first, you have a chance to double your payout. 

Back to our original example, if you believe that the Jets will keep the game with the Dolphins close by a point, you place a wager of +3.5 for the Jets to cover early in the week. Later on in the week, the Spread is now at +5.5 for the Jets. If your opinion hasn’t changed, why not double down on your bet with more points in your favor? While you don’t have to make this second bet if you’re not confident, it can benefit your overall payout. 

Create Your Own Spreads First

This may take some time and learnings at the beginning of your sports betting career but analyzing the teams and matchups before reading the spread and coming up with your own margin of victory can really help you see potential value in the matchups. Look at the games you may be interested in and use your own methods/calculations of what the spread should be and who should be the favorite and underdog. Take the spreads and see the discrepancies between yours and the sportsbooks. 

This can work in two different ways. The first being that if you see the lines that are either equal or more in your favor, then you should be able to find value in those games and make a wager. Secondly, you can take your lines and analyze the sportsbooks throughout the week to see if they move to a point where you would feel more comfortable making a wager. 

Common FAQs

  • What does PK mean for a Point Spread Bet?
    • PK also stands for Pick ‘em, which means there isn’t a spread because both teams are so close. It’s essentially a Moneyline wager
  • What does Push mean for a Point Spread Bet?
    • A Push is also known as a tie. It’s rarer because most Spreads end in .5 to make sure there are no ties. If a line pushes, you get your original wager back
  • Which sports use Point Spread Bets?
    • Most sports use a Point Spread but are most popular in Football, Basketball, Baseball, and Hockey
  • Are there Point Spread Bets for quarters or halves?
    • Yes, most online and brick & mortar sportsbooks offer a point spread for a quarter or half

What Next?

With this guide, hopefully, you feel more equipped to take on the sportsbooks with Point Spread betting. While the concept of the bet is simple, there are always a lot of factors that go into the margin, and finding the best way to analyze the value of each wager is crucial to your sports betting career. Some of the top sports betting professionals, also called Handicapper, use the Point Spread bet as their go-to wagering option. After you feel comfortable with the Point Spread, make sure you check out Moneyline and Over/Under bets next to widen your sports betting horizon.


Ian Dincuff

US Content Writer