How to Understand Spreads

In sports betting, a spread or point spread is a margin that a favorite has to win by in order to “cover” or pay out. Points spreads are a way to level the playing field. If a team is heavily favored to win, sportsbooks will look to put them at even odds by requiring them win by a certain margin in order for your bet to win. This also incentivizes betting on underdogs, because underdogs can lose but still pay out as long as they don’t lose by more than a predetermined number of points.

On this page, we will break down how the point spread works and its variations in baseball, hockey, and soccer.

Point spreads are set by oddsmakers to level the playing field and add betting interest for the underdog. A heavy favorite must win by a large margin to pay out while an underdog can lose and still win money.

For example, let’s say the Cowboys are a heavy favorite against the Giants and the oddsmakers put the odds at Cowboys -6, which means they are favored by 6 points. They must win by 7 or more points in order to pay out. If they win by 6, that’s a “push,” or draw, which means your money is refunded. If the Giants are a +6 underdog, they can win or lose by as much as 5 points and still pay out.

NFL point spreads will differ from game to game and may be anywhere from zero to multiple touchdowns. Next to each spread, let’s say Cowboys -6, you will see a correlating moneyline, or the ratio between the payout and an initial stake, which is usually around -110. That means a $110 wager would win you $100, or $210 in total.

NBA point spreads are exactly like the NFL. If the Warriors are a -3.5 favorite, they must win by at least 4 points for your bet to win. If the Knicks are a +3.5 underdog, they can lose by as many as 3 points for you to win your bet.

Unlike the NFL and NBA, the MLB has “run lines,” a variation of the point spread that basically sets the spread for every game a 1.5 runs. That means every favorite has to win by at least 2 runs while the underdog can win or lose by no more than 1 run in order for your bet to win.

The NHL works exactly like the MLB except instead of a run line they have a “puck line.” The puck line sets the spread of every game at 1.5 goals, so the favorite has to win by at least 2 and the underdog can win or lose by no more than 1 goal for your bet to win.

Soccer goal lines are a cross between the two types of spreads. They are similar to the MLB and NHL in that they have “goal lines,” which are usually around 0.5 goals. But like the NFL and NBA, the goal line can be larger or smaller depending on the matchup, so the goal line may increase to 1 goal or 2 goals or 2.5 goals.

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