What Is A Spread? – Examples

What Does Point Spread Mean In Sports Betting?

Point spread betting stands as the most widely embraced form of sports betting in the United States. The fundamental aim of point spread betting is to offer a platform for betting on teams or athletes in a particular competition by evaluating their relative strengths against one another.

The point spread involves the scoring units in each sport (i.e., points, goals, runs, etc.), and is designed to create a playing field as level as possible between the two teams for potential bettors, in the form of a projected margin of victory. Point spread betting is particularly popular when wagering on the NFL and NBA.

An elite NFL team like Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, might be the favorite against a sub-standard team like the Minnesota Vikings. The Minnesota Vikings would be listed as the underdog, marked by a “+” sign and the number of points an oddsmaker believes they might lose by. Pittsburgh Steelers would be marked by a “-” sign and the number of points the oddsmaker believes they might win by. This game might be listed as “Steelers -6.5, Vikings +6.5.”

Point Spread in action!

Most times, particularly at high levels of professional sport, the competitors have very close talent levels, and therefore the handicap winds up on the smaller side. Take, for example, the 2022 Super Bowl spread between the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams.

The LA Rams were favored by 4 points over the Bengals at most sportsbooks. This appeared as LA Rams -4. The Rams needed to win by 5 or more points to cover the spread. Cincinnati was a 4 point underdog. This appeared as Bengals +4. That means the Bengals would have needed to win the game outright or not lose the contest by 5 points or more. The final score was Rams 23, Bengals 20, so bettors who bet Bengals +4 would have won their bets considering Cincinnati only lost by 3 points.

With a spread of -4 in favor of the Rams, if the Rams had won the game by exactly 4 points the betting result would have been a “push” and bettors for both sides would have gotten their wager refunded.

The spread, make the teams competing as even as possible regarding odds (price).

Point Spread wager explained

There are four key components: the actual point spread, the favorite, the underdog and even.


The spread

The point spread is the number of scoring units, representing the projected margin of victory

The amount of the spread can range widely from sport to sport and event to event. Additionally, home-field advantage is incorporated into a point spread, with the customary “adjustment” being anywhere from zero to three points, depending on the track record of a team’s performance at home.

Sportsbooks or oddsmakers set the spread, while bettors evaluate the matchup in a process called “handicapping.” Professional bettors will even calculate their own spreads on games, then compare them with what sportsbooks have posted and attempt to find and exploit discrepancies.


The favorite

The favorite is the team viewed as more likely to win

Bettors who choose the favorite win their wager when that team wins by an amount greater than the point spread. For example, if the Colts are favored over the Titans by 5.5 points and the Colts win by 7 points, the Colts have “covered the spread.” Bettors who wagered on the Colts will have won the bet.


The underdog

The team considered less likely to win. An underdog is always represented by a plus sign (+)

For point spread betting purposes, the value of the point spread is added to the team’s total as part of the wager.

Bettors who choose the underdog win their wager when that team either wins the event outright OR loses by an amount less than the point spread. For example, if the New Orleans Saints are favored by 5 points over the Carolina Panthers but Saints wins by only 4 points, New Orleans Saints has “failed to cover.” Bettors who wagered on the Panthers would win the bet despite the Panthers losing the actual event. In this case, the Panthers have “covered the spread.” If the Panthers win the game outright, they have likewise covered the spread.


Pick ‘em

Even or a pick ’em bet means two teams are viewed as so close in terms of level of play

In such a case, there is effectively no spread or projected margin.

An evens or pick ‘em point spread will usually have the word “evens” or “pick ‘em” or “PK” listed on the moneyline. You might see both sides listed at -110 for the price, and the side you pick has to win in order for you to win your wager. Only if the game were to end in a tie would the bet result in a “push,” in which your wager would get refunded.

Here are a couple of examples of how you can find the Spread Point wager in a book:

PointSpread 1
PointSpread 2
PointSpread 3

Types of outcomes on a spread bet

The three types of outcomes on a spread bet; your wager will almost always fall into one of these three resulting outcomes: a win, a loss, or push.


The favorite covers the spread

Bettors win choosing the favorite when the favorite wins by a margin greater than the point spread.


The underdog covers the spread

Bettors win choosing the underdog when the underdog wins outright or the underdog loses by a margin less than the point spread.


It’s a PUSH and the bet is voided

A push occurs when the favorite wins by a margin identical to the point spread. When that occurs, bettors have the full amount of the wager returned to them.

Let’s also look at the 2020 NFL season’s Super Bowl line between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The market favored the Chiefs to win, making the Bucs the underdogs. The Chiefs entered as 3-point favorites. One would generally denote the situation in text as:

  • Kansas City Chiefs: -3
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers: +3

The two teams are judged to the be 3 points apart, with the Chiefs “giving” 3 – hence the minus – as the favorite and the Bucs “getting” 3 as the underdog. Note that because this game took place on a neutral field (at least in terms of tickets sold, since Tampa Bay coincidentally served as the host city),the spread was the actual representation of the difference between the two teams. That is, home field presumably didn’t factor into the spread. In most cases in team sport, one can’t deduce the exact differences in strength between two teams by their point spread alone because of home field being worth some fraction of the spread. The underdog Buccaneers won 31-9. Obviously, the spread wound up a non-factor.

What is “juice” or vig in point spread betting?

When you’re checking a line for point spread betting, you’ll see more than just the handicap, such as “+7.” Another number, usually “-110” at American sportsbooks or around “1.91” at European books, will be next to it. This number is the price you’re paying in addition to the handicap. In both examples (they’re the same but denoted differently), you’re paying $11 for every $10 you hope to win.

This fee, known as the vigorish or “vig,” allows the sportsbook to make a profit. If the book offered an even payout with Team A +7 and Team B -7, you could bet both sides and break even. Therefore, the vig exists, requiring you to pay a fee for your bet. This means bettors need to win more than 50% of the time to break even. For point spread betting at -110, the breakeven point is 52.38%.

While the examples above (-110 in American odds and 1.91 in decimal odds) represent the industry standard vig, be aware that sometimes books may adjust the vig slightly.

Why Do Point Spread Change?

The lifespan of a spread betting price generally follows these steps:

1. A market-setting (or sharp) sportsbook opens a market.

2. Competitors copy and post the market.

3. Everyone’s limits start relatively low, with the exact size depending on the book.

4. As the game approaches, more information flows into the market. This information allows the books to refine the line, bringing it closer to its “true” odds.

5. When the books become more confident in their numbers, they increase the limits. Usually, they follow the leads of the market setters with slight variations based on house risk.

6. The line closes when the game begins. In theory, the closing line provides the most accurate picture of the probabilities in the event, reflecting the largest set of information.

What kind of information are we talking about? Injuries can impact the market, for instance. Perhaps a few key players have been ruled out for the Saints or returned from injury sooner than expected for the Panthers.

Most often, the information enters the market through bets, particularly high-limit bets from sharp, winning players. These bets influence the market because sportsbooks value the opinions of these accounts, leading them to adjust the line in response.

Should I Bet the Spread?

Point spreads are often a good choice for most bettors on new sports betting sites.

Firstly, the vigorish (vig) on spread betting is typically among the lowest of any markets offered. This means the sportsbook takes a smaller percentage of the money they receive (known as the handle), allowing more to be returned to the bettors.

Moreover, high-limit bettors can usually place significant amounts on point spreads. If you’re someone with deep pockets who enjoys placing large bets, spread betting is suitable for you because the limits are generally higher compared to other markets.

Lastly, spread betting makes many otherwise uninteresting games worth watching. For instance, even if the Chiefs are ahead by 20 points against the Jets in the fourth quarter, the outcome of the game with the handicap included may still be uncertain.