The point spread is the great equalizer. Most sports books also offer a money line, which is simply a decimal version of odds, in which no point spread is involved.
Using the playoffs as an example, San Francisco is favored by 3 points to beat New York. Some books have posted a money line of —155 on the Niners and +135 on the Giants. (The minus indicates the team is the favorite; the plus indicates underdog.)
The notation means the odds on the Niners are 1-to-1.55, and you risk $1.55 to win $1 for a total return of $2.55. The odds on the Giants are 1.35-to-1, so a $1 bet wins $1.35 for a total return of $2.35.
Always keep in mind that the underdog pays more than even money, while the favorite pays less than even money.
Obviously, the odds increase as the point spread increases. Also obvious is the possibility of generating some large payoffs by betting the underdog on the money line. But is it worth giving up the points to receive odds?
To help answer that, here are some stats from 114 NFL games that had a money line posted. Overall, 79 of the 114 favorites (69.3 percent) won their game outright, although only 54 favorites (47.4 percent) covered the point spread.
The numbers are more revealing when you break down the betting spreads into groups:
Under 3 points (24 games): favorites won 15 and lost 9 (62.5%)
3.5 to 5.5 points (40 games): favorites won 23 and lost 17 (57.5%)
6 or more points (50 games): favorites won 41 and lost 9 (82%).
For money line bettors, the limited sampling would indicate betting a team to win straight up when the spread is six points or more is risky. The dog won only 18 percent of the time.
The dog did much better, of course, when the line was less than three points. It won 37.5 percent of its contests.
Somewhat surprisingly, the underdog did best when receiving between three and six points, when it won 42.5 percent of the time.