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Money line or spread – which to play?

Oct 14, 2003 6:49 AM

Most of the betting on NFL games is spread bets, but an alternative is the money-line wager.

The money-line consists of betting on which team will win outright, with odds reflecting the relative chances as foreseen by the line makers.

The first point to examine is whether there might be specific zones on the spread where money-line bets have been more successful.

The data in the tables represents games played in Weeks 5-17 (no playoffs) from 1998 to 2002 ”” a five-year span. It should be noted that during this time home underdogs fared very well against the spread, and likewise from the above, against the money-line.

With a limited number of games it’s important to recognize that history will likely not repeat verbatim going forward. The quick observations suggest that the best ranges have been small home favorites laying 1 to 3 points, small home dogs getting 0 to 3 points, and large home underdogs of 7+.

On the other hand for away teams, it’s been medium dogs of 3½ to 6½ points that have shown a profit.

This is a promising beginning, but the really important point for a handicapper is not so much how all games have performed, but how your own selections have done on a money-line basis as opposed to the spread.

It’s crucial to balance the ROI results with the sample size and the win percentage. If the ROI is much better on huge underdogs, you have to trade off the improved profit with the considerably lower percentage of tickets that will cash. This will increase the losing streaks you will encounter. If large favorites are profitable money-line bets for you, then you have the nice situation of improving your ticket cashing percentage.

For an example from our own history, one of our statistical prediction tools has hit over 57% against the line playing all games from week five over the 1998 to 2002 span. Our conclusion was that the money-line was not the most advantageous way to play. The indicators show stronger arguments for taking a straight-up approach.

Some people enjoy placing a bet where the spread will not enter into the outcome. Everyone who has played a favorite only to see a late backdoor cover has felt the momentary twinge of interest in money-line wagers. One further benefit to money-line action is that it is usually possible to find some discrepancy between sports books on the money-lines at a greater level than what you may find with the offered spreads.

The best advice may be the simplest ”” stick with spread betting until you’ve demonstrated to yourself that your skills are more effective on the money-line. features innovative statistical coverage of the NFL to help you win. Visit us on the web at or contact us at [email protected]