Against the Spread

There are five essential terms with which bettors should be familiar when planning to wager on football games. The first is “Against the Spread,” and this term will come up multiple times whenever one is betting on the NFL. Often abbreviated to ATS, this phrase refers to the point spread. One vital task of any NFL handicapper is to keep track of the ATS record of each team. Those who do not do so are essentially “shooting in the dark” when placing their bets.

ATS Trends

The acronym ATS will also frequently pop up among those conversing about betting trends in the NFL. For example, if the Cowboys begin this season at 5-0 ATS, by the time they play their sixth game, they may very well be an appropriate team on which to place a bet. Against the Spread records can be found for all 32 NFL teams online, going as far back as the site's database allows. Such records are very important to handicappers and should always be stored under favorites. However, it is important to stick with reliable websites, as bad data can lead to disaster.

Straight Up

Straight Up–SU–is a betting term that indicates a game to which there is no point spread attached. For example, if the Carolina Panthers beat the New Orleans Saints 20 to 18, the Panthers would win the game straight up, even if they are 3 point favorites against the spread.

It is not uncommon to see ATS and SU records listed together when betting on NFL. For instance, in 2006, the Panthers were 6-9-1 ATS and 8-8 SU, while the Giants were 7-8-1 ATS and 8-8 SU. This would indicate that Carolina was not having as good a season as New York, even though each team was .500. Of course, we now know this is true, as the Giants were outscored by a mere seven points during the regular season that year, while Carolina was outscored by thirty-five.

SU stats are extremely valuable in NFL wagering, and even more so concerning the money line as opposed to the point spread. However, it is also wise to refer to the SU stats when reviewing the team's ATS record.


Totals–also called over/under bets– are one of the most popular ways to wager on the NFL, and this has been the case for over four decades. 

However, such bets can also be applied to the prop market, where one can wager on things such as whether a quarterback will throw under or over a specific number of touchdowns.

In most cases, any site that list the ATS and SU statistics should also have records on how each team performed against the total. Many bettors find that teams with high over records are questionable on defense, but strong on offense. Similarly, teams with high under records are often stronger on defense.

When looking at an exhaustive list of O/U stats, such as the NFL standings for an entire year, bettors will typically see how frequently each team went over. Such statistics are strong indicators of that team's balance regarding offense and defense, so it is essential for bettors to play close attention, even when not wagering against the total. 


As most NFL fans probably already know, there are two kinds of football teams: underdogs and favorites. Except for the aforementioned “pick 'em” games, which are very rare indeed, all NFL games have a favorite, as indicated with a minus sign on the point spread, such as Cleveland -2. The favorite is also the team with a negative money line number, or in certain cases, the largest negative number, such as the following example:

Carolina Panthers -105
Dallas Cowboys-115

The Panthers are the very slight favorites in the scenario above, although bettors must still wager $105 on the Panthers to enjoy a net gain of $100. In many cases, very close match-ups such as this may even experience a switch of roles, where the underdog becomes the favorite or vice versa as the line moves.

Similar to real life, favorites are frequently looked at sideways by NFL bettors. Strong teams not only bring out the best in their opponents, but often get overhauled in the betting arena. For this reason, one frequently sees the word “chalk” used in reference to favorites. For example, if a person places a large bet on the favorite team and loses, it is referred to as “eating chalk.” 


Underdogs have always captured the imagination–as well as the hearts–of NFL fans who enjoy betting on games. The crowd often cheers when the plus sign appears in the NFL lines for an underdog. Interestingly, throughout history, underdogs have performed better at the spread than favorites, particularly in home games. The difference on paper is relatively small: home underdogs cash in approximately 51 percent of the time, compared with 48 percent for home favorites. However, it is important to understand that such a narrow margin will become massive when multiplied over hundreds of wagers.

Numerous betting experts enjoy when the underdog gets a black eye from the national sports media. This is because it can sometimes work in a bettor's favor. For example, a particular team's poor SU performance may simply be due to an abnormally brutal schedule or a key player facing an injury. However, whatever the reason, it will generate gloom and doom from the sports media. Nevertheless, once the situation causing the low performance score reverses itself, savvy handicappers will quickly bet the underdog prior to the general betting market noticing the changes. Paying close attention to advanced stats, including injury reports, is always a profitable activity and can lead to handsome payoffs when one is betting underdogs.