After the point spread, the total (over/under) is the most bet on aspect of a football game. If you’re unfamiliar with the type of bet, it’s as simple as it gets. The sportsbook puts out a number, and the bettor must decide if they think the total of the two teams’ combined final score will be higher or lower.
While understanding the type of wager is easy, predicting the result is not.
The bettors who end up making money on the over/under are those who take the time to research the factors that might contribute to the scoring total in the game. I’ll lay out six things to look for that can help make the over/under a profitable part of your long-term betting strategy.
1 – Weather Impacts the Odds
You’re probably thinking that this one is obvious, and to a certain extent, that would be correct. However, it’s not just how the weather will impact the game that you need to evaluate.
Obviously, sportsbooks take weather into account when setting the lines. However, that doesn’t mean the public will always consider the weather. This means that lines aren’t always impacted as significantly because US gambling sites don’t want all the money on one side or another. Often times, the line will end up moving to where it would be if there wasn’t inclement weather.
If you’re able to find a game where the weather looks bad and the over/under looks high, it’s usually worth taking the play.
Don’t just take the temperature and rain into account either, it’s important to note the impact that wind can have on a game. Windy games typically reduce a heavy-passing team’s effectiveness, and teams that are stronger on the ground can get an advantage.
2 – Look at Team History
This one might not be as important unless you’re betting later in the season, but it’s always a good idea to look back at a team’s past performance as it pertains to the over/under.
When a team is regularly playing on games where the under hits, it doesn’t necessarily indicate that the team is just inept offensively. Sometimes, it can be the case that teams with an offense that are perceived to be more explosive will receive higher over/under totals, even when it’s not necessarily justified based on their performance.
On the flip side, sometimes teams with outstanding defenses will always receive bettors who are biased towards the under, meaning the total line will be lower than it should be due to this perception.
In any case, it’s probably not recommended to base your pick strictly off of what a team has been doing previously in the season, but it’s definitely an important piece of data to consider.
3 – Game Flow and Overall Team Performance
Full disclosure, this isn’t the most scientific way to make a pick, but I still believe there’s value in it. Game flow isn’t a technical term, but I’m referring to the way you feel a game will play out beyond just the score. For example, in a game where a good team is playing a bad team, it’s important to consider the implications of a team having a big lead in the second half.
As a team pulls away from a weaker opponent, offensive mindsets change and scoring becomes slightly less of a priority. This is especially true in the NFL. When teams have higher than a two-point lead, the focus turns more toward running out the clock, which means the under becomes a better bet.
If two teams are more evenly matched, a continued push for more scoring might result in a late game cover.
4 – The Public Opinion
Most sports bettors know that it’s generally a good idea to stay away from the public money on any bet. This is especially true when betting on totals. Call it an offensive bias or just wishful thinking for an entertaining game, but the public tends to bet the over in most cases.
This knowledge isn’t inherently helpful, but it can work as a guide if you’ve done your research and still feel on the fence about a play. Remember, fans make up a good percentage of the overall betting money, and fans like offense. In fact, they like it so much that it’s hard for them to bet against it.
Because sportsbooks hope to get even money (or close to even) on either side of a play, the public’s bias will often result in the line being higher than it should be in an effort to get some money on the under. Even with this adjustment, the majority will usually be on the over. Take advantage of the setup that amateur betters have left you with.
5 – Consider an Alternate Total
Perhaps this is just a personal thing, but I don’t typically place bets where my return is going to be less than what I’m risking. In my opinion, winning a bet is generally hard enough in the first place that I feel you should try to capitalize on all of your wins. For this reason, I like betting alternate totals.
Value is extremely important when trying to put together a long-term strategy. It’s frustrating to lose games, but winning or losing isn’t necessarily what’s important. Your focus should always be the flow of money in and out of your bankroll.
Alternate totals simply change the over/under number and the payouts are adjusted accordingly. Obviously, moving the line in one direction or another is going to add risk, but the extra point or two you’re dealing with could be a 20% difference in the return on your bet.
Don’t get carried away by making huge changes to the original line, but if you can find a spot where you still feel comfortable and can get in the plus money, that’s the play to make.
6 – Know When to Sit Out
Of all the pieces of advice you can find on the internet that promise to help you become a successful bettor, I’ve found that this one hardly ever makes it onto the list. The truth is that sometimes the best betting decision is to hold off and save your money for another play.
Because the spread and over/under are just about a 50-50 proposition, it might feel like you’re just as well-off betting on one side or the other and letting the chips fall where they may. This mindset might be okay at the roulette wheel where you’re choosing between black and red, but sports gambling incorporates a range of factors that go beyond chance.
Throughout your betting career, you’ll find that some of the best decisions you made were letting go of a few games that you didn’t feel you had a read on. If you feel like you’re just rolling the dice, it should be an indication that a particular play isn’t the best idea.
Regardless of which strategies you find work best for choosing a side in the over/under, just make sure you have some sort of reasoning behind your decision.
Use the public’s bias toward high scores to your advantage. You might just be able to find some value in taking the under at an alternate line with a lower total number.
Finally, just to reiterate, it’s okay to sit a game out if you don’t feel strongly one way or another.