While 90 percent of NFL betting action is on the point spread, there are some gamblers who find value in totals, the wagering pursuit where you bet whether the combined points scored by the teams in an individual game are over or under a prescribed number. Other gamblers believe that “totals,” as they're called, are sucker bets, another diversion designed by the house to separate the player from his money. Of course, if that were true, bookmakers wouldn't have to place such severe restrictions on over/under wagering.
In fact, books try to minimize any damage from total wagering by accepting only about half of what they'd take on a straight wager. So, if a book has a limit of $10,000 per bet giving or taking the points on an NFL game, the amount a gambler could wager on the over/under might be only $5,000. That gap can expand dramatically at high-end land-based casinos in Nevada that might accept a $1 million wager on an NFL side but a relatively tiny $100,000 bet on a game's total.
Statistically, whether a game goes over or under the total is about as random as wagering gets. Over the past five years, there have been 1,280 regular season games in the NFL. Of those, 628 have gone over the total and 616 have gone under the total. The other 36 were pushes. So you can't make a living just by betting “over” or “under.”
Why Are Books Fearful Of Totals?
The main reason is simple: It's because sophisticated gamblers know how to pick their spots.
One general way to approach total wagering is to always bet “under” when a game is being played in a cold-weather city in late November, December or January. So savvy bettors will bet “under” when games are being played in Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington. The key is to bet into the opening lines on Sunday or Monday, when weather conditions for later in the week are less predictable. If conditions that hamper offensive production, such as snow, rain, wind or severe cold develop, bookmakers will lower the total, meaning the gambler may have stolen a couple of points. If the weather is no worse than the time the line was issued, then the gambler has a wager at fair odds.
Perhaps the best example of this strategy is the NFC Championship game played between the Giants and Packers in Green Bay on Jan. 20, 2008. The total for the game opened at 44. However, it dropped to 41 when severe cold later was forecast for the area. Astute gamblers who got down early on the total cashed when New York defeated Green Bay 23-20 in bitter four-degree playing conditions. “Under” bettors who waited until the end of the week for a confirmed weather report, lost.
Another way to approach totals is to look to historical tendencies:
Arizona: The Cardinals have gone over the spread more than any team in the league the past five seasons (52-28). That includes an NFL-best 29-12 “over” record on the road.
Atlanta: Take the Falcons out of their domed stadium and the “over” in Atlanta road games is just 12-28 the last five years.
Carolina: The “under” has a 25-13 mark in Panther home games over the last five seasons.
Dallas: Since 2004, the “over” is 25-13 when the Cowboys play on the road.
Green Bay: Despite their cold weather persona, the “over” is 46-33 in Packers games over the last five years.
Seattle: The Seahawks have carved out a 44-34 “over” record since 2004, 24-15 of it on the road.
Tennessee: The Titans are known more for defense than offense. However, the “over” is 46-33 in Tennessee games over the past five years.
Washington: At 29-48, no team has had fewer games go “over” in the last five years than the Redskins.
No wagering strategy is foolproof but placing an early bet on the “under” in games played in cold weather cities and following long-standing trends may be the keys to successful NFL betting on totals.