When it comes to betting on football and basketball, a bettor must have a solid understanding of the point spread if they hope to have any success. The point spread is essentially a handicap placed on one team for betting purposes only, designed to give both teams in any game an equal chance at winning in the eyes of sports bettors.
When two teams meet on the field or on court, one team is typically better than the other. If all sports bettors had to do was to pick the winning team in a game, they’d all simply wager on the better team and collect their money more often than not.
Using an example from Week 17 of the 2017 NFL season, the New England Patriots were hosting the New York Jets. There was little doubt New England was the better of the two teams; all anyone had to do was look at their records: New England was 12-3 for the season, while New York was just 5-10. The Patriots had already beaten the Jets earlier in the season. So, if all you had to do was pick the winning team, nearly every bettor would have taken the Patriots. Instead, the oddsmakers established a point spread to make both teams equally attractive in the eyes of bettors.
In this case, New England was installed as a 16-point favorite, commonly designated as New England –16. The Jets, the underdogs, were written as New York +16.
If you bet the favorite, the Patriots had to win by 17 points or more in order for you to cash your bet. Since the Patriots were favored by 16 points, you subtracted 16 points from their final score for betting purposes. If New England was to win 27-10, by 17 points, Patriot bettors would win their wager. If the Patriots were to win 27-14, by 13 points, New England bettors would lose, because the Patriots didn’t win by more than 16.
If you bet the underdog, the New York Jets, you won your bet if New York won the game outright or if they lost by 15 points or less. Because the Jets were the underdogs, you added 16 points to their final score for betting purposes.
If the Patriots won the game by exactly 16 points, 26-10, it would’ve been a tie or a push and no money would’ve changed hands. In the end, the Patriots made sure their bettors were rewarded, defeating New York 26-6, and covering the point spread.