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Betting the NFL Moneyline

Mike Hayes of Doc's Sports Journal

The point spread. It's the bread and butter of sports gambling, the reason football is far-and-away to most popular sport to wager on. But with parity in the NFL on the rise, the money line is becoming an increasingly attractive option for your Sunday selections.

With virtually any team capable of winning on any given Sunday, point spreads are getting smaller and smaller and have significantly less of an impact on the outcome of wagers than they had in the past.

Opening week of the current season is a prime example. About a dozen of the 16 games had point spreads of four points or less. Underdogs went 10-6 in these games, but in seven of the wins the dog didn't need the points to cover and won outright.

Although favorites rebounded yesterday to post an 11-4 mark, the points made a difference in just the Denver-KC game, where the Broncos -- as a double-digit favorite -- managed only a 9-6 victory over the Chiefs.

With this being the case, it is important to assess the risk versus the potential reward for using the money line as opposed to taking the points when betting underdogs because the difference can be significant.

This is especially true when a spread is set at three or less. Very few games are decided by less than a field goal and, in fact, the odds are better that if your bet is successful it is because the dog wins outright and not by a margin of less than three. While a push is certainly better than a loss, the bettor has to ask whether taking the three points, which is essentially insurance against a field goal loss, is worth laying -110 when you could get the +148 being offered on the 49ers on Sunday.

San Francisco backers who took the three points were rewarded with $190 for every $100 wagered thanks to a 20-13 outright win. The bettor who took the +148 on the money line got back $248 for each $100 wagered, a rather big difference especially over the course of a long season.

"Money line betting certainly has increased in recent years," said Bodog bookmakers. "Sharp players who know the real value and the relation to the point spread and money line will capitalize on a weak line that has yet to be adjusted."

In games with point spreads of more than three points the money line can also be an attractive option for the bettor who feels he has identified a live underdog. Say for the sake of discussion that was Buffalo this week. The bettor who took the touchdown was certainly glad to collect when the Bills won 16-6, but the money line player didn't need the touch and was rewarded at +245.

Playing favorites on the money line is a different story because you generally have to lay considerably more than $110 to win $100. You do so however with the Al Davis "just win baby" attitude.

Those who took the Seahawks at -7 Sunday needed to lay only $110 to collect $100. If you liked the Hawks to win without giving the touch you needed to lay $315 for the same $100.

Even for the big bettor the cost of playing favorites on the money line in certain games can be prohibitive. The Colts were -$1000 at Pinnacle Sunday to win outright against the Texans. In fact, a four-team money-line parlay involving Indy, Denver, San Diego and Baltimore, all double-digit choices, returned a mere $111 for each $100 wagered Sunday and all but the Broncos covered outright.

The same logic used in deciding when to bet dogs on the money line as opposed to the point spread needs to be applied when selecting favorites. Over the first two weeks of the season, no team favored by three or less that won the game failed to cover the point spread. Therefore, those who laid the points in these games were rewarded more than those who paid more for the insurance of cashing a bet with as little as a one-point margin of victory.

"When the money line price is high, point spreads with -110 juice are far more attractive, even when bettors have to give points on the favorites," said Bodog bookmakers.

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