Sports Picks Weekly

Just what exactly does the point spread mean?

Recreational or first-time bettors are often intimidated by the numbers and symbols that dot the list of odds. What does the +6.5 mean in the point spread? And what is -230 in baseball or hockey odds?

These are common questions whose answers can be distilled down to some fairly simple math. Let's give it a try now.

The Point Spread

You look at the NFL odds for the week and see the point spread in the New England vs. Dallas game. It shows:

  New England Patriots   -4.5
  Dallas Cowboys +4.5

For starters, the favorite team is designed with the minus (-) value, so the Patriots are favored by 4.5 points in this game, while the underdog is designated with a plus (+) value. The Cowboys are 4.5 point underdogs.

So, if you think the Patriots will win the game by 5 points or more, then you can wager on them. If they win the game 30-24, then they win by 6 points and have covered the 4.5-point spread.

If they win 30-27, then they win by 3 points and have NOT covered the 4.5-point spread.

Simply take the final score and either subtract the favorite value from their total or add the underdog total to their score to see who has more points.

In the 30-24 example:

New England 30 - 4.5 = 25.5

That is still more than the 24 points scored by Dallas, so they win Against The Spread (ATS).

In the 30-27 example:

New England 30 - 4.5 = 25.5

That is less than the 27 points scored by Dallas, so they lose ATS. That's right, you can win the game Straight-Up (SU) but lose it ATS.

On the flip side, you can do the math for Dallas as well.

New England 30

Dallas 24 + 4.5 = 28.5 (so they lose the game SU as well as ATS)

New England 30

Dallas 27 + 4.5 = 31.5 (so they lose the game SU, but win ATS)

Totals or Over/Under Betting

People are sometimes confused by totals betting (also known as over under betting), but it is simpler than betting point spreads, which is also known as betting "sides" (picking which "side" of the game will win).

On the same New England vs. Dallas game, you will see a 55.5 listed. This is the total. You wager whether the total score of the game will be more than or less than 55.5. In the 30-24 example, the score equals 54 points which is UNDER 55.5. In the 30-27 example, the score equals 57 which is OVER 55.5.

Moneyline Betting

Moneyline betting is available in most sports, but is most commonly viewed in baseball and hockey betting. Since scoring is much less than basketball or football, the point spread is replaced as the betting measuring stick by the moneyline.

You will see something like this:

  Boston -135
  New York   +125

Just like the minus and plus values on the point spread, those values continue to designate underdogs and favorites. In this case, Boston is favored (-135) and the Yankees are dogs (+125).

For moneyline betting, it is easiest to imagine that $1.00 sits in the middle of the two values.

+125   +100   -135

Because Boston is favored (and should therefore be a better bet to win), the sportsbook wants you to risk more. You must risk $1.35 (-135) in order to win $1.00.

On the flip side, the sportsbook wants to have some Yankee fans or Red Sox haters betting the game too so they give them a bonus or incentive to bet the underdog Yanks.

You risk $1.00 in order to win $1.25 (+125) on the Yankees.


A parlay is a single bet that links together two or more individual wagers for a high payout. In order for the parlay bet to win, every one of the wagers must win.

So why make a parlay bet if it's a more difficult bet? Because the payouts are higher. A four team parlay pays higher odds than a three team parlay and a three team parlay pay higher odds than a two team.

Parlay Betting (2 to 8 teams)

A parlay is a bet in which you select 2 to 8 teams or totals. All selections must win or tie in order to win the wager. If any of the selections lose, your wager loses, regardless of the outcome or cancellation of the other games. If one or more selections is a tie, postponed, incomplete, cancelled or rescheduled for another day, then the wager reverts to the next lowest number.

For example, if you place a 4 team parlay and have 3 winners and a tie, your wager pays out as a 3 team parlay. If you place a 2 team parlay and one team wins and one ties, the wager becomes a straight bet.

The resulting wager will have the same risk amount with the win being calculated to reflect the odds of the remaining team (Example: On a two team $1.00 parlay with team A +110 and team B -110 if A ties and B wins the resulting wager will be a straight play on B risking $1.00 to win .91 cents).


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