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Point spread betting is one of the most exciting ways to bet on high-scoring sports like football and basketball. By establishing a reasonable handicap between two teams, point spreads allow for bettors to wager on dominant teams and bad teams alike while still getting great value and great payouts.

There’s no wonder, then, that point spread betting is one of the most popular ways to bet on sports in the world. Read on for a primer in all things point spreads that will help you boost your bankroll.

Three Keys to Point Spread Betting

What Is a Point Spread?

A point spread is the number of points that a sportsbook sets on a given game to entice betting on games between uneven opponents. The favorite in a given point spread is assigned a negative number and for bettors on the favorite to win their bets, the favorite must cover the spread by winning by at least that many points in the game.

The underdog, meanwhile, is assigned the positive opposite of the favorite’s number. For an underdog to cover the spread, they must either win or lose by less than the spread. For example, in Super XLVIII, the point spread opened at 1.5, meaning a point spread bet on the favored Denver Broncos was a bet that Peyton Manning and the Broncos would cover -1.5. A bettor on the underdog Seattle Seahawks in the meantime believed Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks would either win, or lose by just one point – in either case covering +1.5.

The amount a successful point spread bet pays out is based on its price. Most point spread bets on the favorite or underdog alike will pay -110, meaning a bettor must bet $110 dollars to win $100. So, for example, bettors who wagered $50 on the Seahawks to cover +1.5 won $45.45 for a total of $95.45. The price on point spreads can vary slightly, so make sure to check the prices on a particular spread before you bet it.

The Point Spread is Based on Public Opinion

One often-made mistake is assuming that the point spread is an accurate representation of which team is better. Because a point spread is meant to attract bets on both teams in a game, the point spread is set based on what the general public’s perception of the teams is, not necessarily a true assessment of their relative strengths and weaknesses (though sometimes the two overlap).

Let’s return to the example of the 2014 Super Bowl. In this case, with two historically-good football teams playing each other for the NFL championship, both sides came in having put together consistently strong seasons. The Broncos, however, won more comfortably in their conference championship game (defeating the Patriots 26-16), while the Seahawks won a tight game with the San Francisco 49ers, 23-17.

The difference in the public perception of those two teams’ most recent games going into the Super Bowl would have influenced oddsmakers to open the odds on the Super Bowl with Denver valued at -1.5.

The Point Spread Can (and Will) Change

Because point spreads are set to encourage equal betting on each side, the spread will sometimes be adjusted in the lead up to a game if more bettors are betting on one team than the other. Similarly, if a significant player is injured or other news affects the outlook of a game, the spread may adjust to compensate.

In the 2014 Super Bowl, after the spread opened at -1.5, bettors flooded to the side of the Broncos, expecting Peyton Manning to cap off his record-breaking offensive season with a big time performance against Seattle. As a result of the betting action coming in on the Broncos, the point spread was adjusted repeatedly, eventually landing at Denver -2.5. Once the game actually started, all of the Denver bettors were quickly proven wrong, as the Broncos committed a safety in their first possession of the game, and the Seahawks won handily, 43-8, covering +2.5 by a country mile.

Because of the possibility of point spread movement, it’s smart to lay down your wager when you see a spread you like: you never know when it could change.

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