The winner of a totals bet is determined by adding the final score of both teams. It’s that simple.
A number of bettors believe it’s easier to predict totals than the actual winner of a game and the sportsbooks tend to agree, as the betting limits on totals are smaller than they are for sides. Totals, sometimes referred to as over/unders, are a type of betting opportunity where gamblers may bet that the final score of a game goes over or under the bookmaker’s posted total.
Imagine the New York Jets are playing the Miami Dolphins and the posted total is 40. If you bet over 40 on the game, you win your bet if the two teams combine for more than 40 points. If the Dolphins win 24-17, for example, you’ve made a winning bet. If the Dolphins win 24-14, you’d lose the over bet, as the final combined score was just 38, though you’d win an under bet. If the final score add up to 40, the bet is considered a push and no money changes hands.
NFL, College Football and NBA, College Basketball Totals
When betting on football and basketball totals, you risk $11 to win $10, just as you do when making a bet against the point spread. If a sportsbook can attract equal amounts of money on the over and under, it’s guaranteed to make money no matter what the final score is.
Most NFL football totals will range between 37 and 54, with an average number right around 44 points. If two high-scoring teams with poor defenses are playing each other, the total may be higher. On rare occasions, two sound defensive teams playing in cold snowy weather, which stalls offenses, can see the total dip below 32, although this doesn’t happen too often.
College football totals can be even higher, as some teams have great offenses and equally poor defenses. College football totals have been known to reach well into the 70-point range.
Basketball totals work in exactly the same manner as football totals, where you risk $11 to win $10. Naturally, the over/under numbers are much higher, as many more points are scored in basketball than football games, and totals can range from 112, for a pair of low-scoring NCAA basketball teams, well into the 220s for an NBA game.
MLB Baseball and NHL Hockey Totals
Baseball and hockey totals use the same principle as football and basketball totals, where the bookmaker posts a number and you can bet either over or under that total. However, one essential difference rests in the amount of money a bettor must risk to win $100.
Because scoring in baseball and hockey is so much lower than in football or basketball, the bookmakers are reluctant to change the number on a total; instead, they adjust the odds. If the over/under number on the Padres and the Angels is 9 and a bettor places a $500 wager on the over, the bookmaker is unlikely to raise the total to 9.5. Instead, he’ll make bettors who wish to wager the over risk $120 to win $100, which is written as 9-over (-120). Those wishing to bet the under would then be able to wager at even money or +100, as totals nearly always use a difference of .2, commonly called “20 cents,” as the difference between the over and the under is 20 cents based on a $1 bet.
If people continue to bet the over, the bookmaker will continue to adjust the odds upward and eventually bettors may have to risk $145 to win $100, or -145. In this case, an under bettor would risk $100 to win $125. The bookmaker will generally raise the odds up to -145 or -150 before raising the total to the next number in baseball, in this case 9.5.
Hockey totals use the same principle, but in the 2015-2016 NHL season, in many cases sportsbooks posted odds higher than -150 and didn’t move off of a number. The majority of these occurred when the number 5 was involved, which is the most common number used for hockey totals.