Understanding NFL Totals

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Kicker Chris Boswell #9 of the Pittsburgh Steelers nails a game-winning field goal against the Chicago Bears. Emilee Chinn/Getty Images/AFP

One of the best aspects of betting football totals is you can avoid the mental clutter of having to root for one team with the point spread or figuring moneyline odds for favorites and underdogs.

All you do is pick the over or under of a total and hope for the offense or defense to show up.

Don’t misunderstand us as this will not improve your win percentage or the amount of money you could make, rather it is a more simplistic approach to betting football and a very useful one for making NFL picks.

Let’s delve into some very simple basics.


BMR’s Betting Pulse

Oddsmakers have a series of numbers they use about the two teams that creates a formula. Always assume that figure is close to accurate.

If both defenses are average in pass yards allowed, but permit big plays in the passing game and are poor in red-zone defense, it bodes well for the over.

Running teams with above-average defenses usually bring the under into play.

NFL totals can be a less volatile marketplace than point spreads if you are willing to learn how to bet them.


NFL Totals


How Do Oddsmakers Set Totals?

A standard-looking NFL total from a top sportsbook would appear this way. It takes into account the combined total expected for each team during the game.

  • San Francisco 49ers vs. Los Angeles Rams Over/Under: 46.5 points (-110)

This means you have to determine if you think the final score will be either 46 or lower or, on the other hand, if the teams combine for 47 points or higher.

Oddsmakers have a series of numbers they use about the two teams that creates a formula that arrives at a score.

A fresh or newer football bettor should assume that figure is close to accurate. Never ruminate the person(s) setting the odds is wrong, instead, find reasons to support your theory as to how you can be correct.

Most, but not all sportsbooks will post a half point on a total (46.5 rather than 46 or 47) looking to avoid ties, especially on numbers where a somewhat typical score could land. Some examples of these numbers are:

  • 20-17
  • 21-17
  • 23-17
  • 23-20
  • 23-21
  • 24-20
  • 24-21
  • 24-23
  • 27-20

The -110 is the betting odds price you have to take into account when you wager in this example. If you normally bet $50 a game, you would wager $55 to show a profit of $50, or $110 to win a $100 profit for a larger amount.


What to Look for in Considering an Over Wager

The best place to start is the conceptual aspect of NFL football. If you have a top 10 quarterback with good receivers, there is a good chance this team can score points. If the opposing team has the same qualities and both pass more than they run, that should mean points on the scoreboard.

Of course, linemakers know this and the total will be somewhere in the 50s. Next, we have to look at the defenses, how do they rate in stopping the opposition?

If both defenses are average in pass yards allowed, but permit big plays in their pass game and are poor in red zone defense, that’s where an over could be the right play.

Most bettors prefer betting the overs, in part because they like points and entertaining games usually involve scoring. Your mission is not to be entertained, but rather to win your bets.


What To Look for in Considering an Under Wager

In thinking about bets on the under, the first aspect is you want average to below-average QBs who are known more as “game managers” and their teams have a run-first mentality. The run game keeps the clock moving, which shortens the game.

The other aspect to understand in the modern NFL, the average yards per rush is 4.3. The average yards per pass attempt is 6.7 yards, which is roughly a 36% increase.

Another way to look at this is five rush attempts gained 21.5 yards and two first downs with the clock running.

With the league average completion percentage at 65%, that means for every five pass attempts, that is 3.25 completions. That stops the clock. And with the average completion of 11 yards, that is three first downs in a shorter amount of time.

Running teams with above-average defenses usually bring the under into play.


You Also Have Other Totals Options

With how sports betting is blossoming, player prop bets are growing annually.

Among the elements are quarterback passing yards for Over/Under wagering, rushing yards for running backs and receiving yards for pass catchers.

You could develop another way to beat the books if you choose one variable and focus on that. This takes more skill to learn, nonetheless.


Is Betting on NFL Totals a Good Method?

NFL totals can be a less volatile marketplace than point spreads if you are willing to learn how to bet them.

Almost everyone has an opinion on a point spread, but those that go down the path of betting totals will find less clutter and noise and find generally smarter bettors with stronger and more accurate instincts.