The winner of an over/under, or total bet is determined by adding the final score of both teams. No need for overcomplication, it really is that simple.
In many instances, bettors believe it is easier to predict the total of a game rather than the actual winner of a game. Sportsbooks tend to agree with that sentiment, as the betting limits on totals are smaller than they are for sides. Totals, sometimes referred to as over/under bets, are a type of betting opportunity where gamblers opt to bet that the final score of a game goes over or under the bookmaker’s posted total.
Using a hypothetical example, 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. Conversely, bettors that went the other way, would win an under bet. If the final score add up to 40, the bet is considered a push, or tie, and no money changes hands.
When betting on football and basketball totals, generally speaking you lay -110. This means the risk is $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 a profit on that betting total on any outcome that is not a push.
Most NFL football over/under 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 the polar ends of high and low totals are quite infrequent.
College football over under totals can be set significantly higher. In the college game, some teams have great offenses and equally poor defenses. College football totals have been set well into the 70-point range.
Basketball totals work in exactly the same manner as football totals, where you risk $110 to win $100. 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 230s for an NBA game.
Baseball and hockey over/under 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 betting figure on a total; instead they will frequently adjust the odds. If the over/under number on the Padres and the Angels is 9 and a bettor places a significant wager on the over, the bookmaker is unlikely to raise the total to 9.5. Instead, the odds for bettors who wish to wager on the over could increase to -120, meaning risking $120 to win $100 on the same betting total of 9. In an instance such as this, 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.” This is because 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.
Football and basketball totals are made in the same manner as point spreads, as they’re designed to attract equal amounts of money coming in on both the over and under. Again, for the sportsbooks, a balanced ledger that makes a profit regardless of the final score is the ideal situation.
Baseball and hockey totals more closely resemble money-line odds. The books often know they’ll receive more money on the under or over on a particular game, but are hoping to attract enough bets on the opposite with the odds increase to balance the action. When a sportsbook releases a total on an NHL game of 5-over (-140), meaning you must risk $140 to win $100 if you bet the over, the sportsbook has a good idea there will be more over than under bets. The +120 figure on the under is designed to attract enough under bets to cover their losses should the game land over the total.
Sportsbooks also know that they’re likely to receive more over bets on a game than they are under bets. The betting public prefers to bet overs, as it’s more fun to root for scoring than it is for defense, regardless of the sport in question. As a result, totals are often slanted a bit towards the over, especially in football. Football, particularly NFL is the most popular betting sport, and that’s the reason many winning gamblers will have more under bets than their peers in many casaes. In a bit dated example from the 2017 NFL season, overs were 111-132-8 (45.7%). In college football, overs were 364-428-21 (46%). Those percentages are a bit lower than they have been long-term, but both NFL and college football are under 50% on overs in totality since the start of the 2000 season.
Just like point spreads and money lines, totals move due to amounts of money wagered one way or the other. If more money is being bet on the over, sportsbooks are likely to raise the total to try and attract bets on the under and discourage bets on the over and vice versa. As you saw in the earlier example, the figure raised in football or basketball is the total itself – from 43 to 43.5 In baseball or hockey, the odds would be the figure that move before the total itself. In the aforementioned example, from 8-over (-115) to 8-over (-120). Additionally, injuries, suspensions, and even the weather can cause totals to move.
Unless it’s an injury to a star quarterback, such as Patrick Mahomes or someone like CJ Stroud in college football, injuries or suspensions generally don’t have a massive impact on totals. Weather can be a much bigger influence on totals for outdoor sports. Football games played in freezing weather will see the total drop, while in baseball the Chicago Cubs are the best example, as their totals can be 11 or 12 if the wind is blowing out and 8 or 9 with the same two pitchers if the wind is blowing in.