How to Read Point Spreads

Commercial Content. Play Responsibly. 21+

If you have ever bet on sports, you have probably encountered point spread betting. So, knowing how to read point spreads is especially important. Point spread betting is really common, so you can place a lot of bets if you understand it.

What Are Point Spreads?

Point spread betting started to gain traction after the 1960s. This is when professional football really hit its stride. Betting on point spreads are sometimes called handicap betting or line betting. Also, it is especially popular when betting on football as well as basketball. Make sure you know how to bet on sports before you wager.

Traction for betting events can be created using point spread betting. That is why it has such popularity. In cases where there is a team that is highly likely to win the game, points spread betting comes in handy. And, you can use a betting calculator to figure out your possible returns once you know how to read point spreads.

how to read point spreads

How to Calculate Point Spreads

In order to illustrate what point spread betting is, we will need an example. So, let us imagine the Boston Celtics are facing the Lakers. And, the Celtics are favored to win. 

Now, we will see how even if a team is favored, point spread betting can make wagering more interesting. A spread (also called a handicap or line) is posted by a bookmaker on their sportsbook. It is a points margin.

So, it will look something like this, using American odds:

  • Boston Celtics: -14
  • Los Angeles Lakers: +14

This means that this particular sportsbook believes the Boston Celtics are -14 point favorites. The Lakers are not favored to win and have +14. So, the Celtics are the clear favorite.

Therefore, this means that the sportsbooks believe the following:

  • The chances are 50% that at the end of the event, the Boston Celtics will win by over 14 points.
  • The chances are 50% that at the end of the game, the Los Angeles Lakers will win or lose by under 14 points.

This means that the Boston Celtics are more likely to win. But, even so, betting interest is stoked by the spread even when the odds are not so interesting. So, what does it mean when you factor in the final score?

If at the end of the game, the scores are:

  • Boston Celtics: 40
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 23

We will need to know what that means in terms of the points spread. Does that cover the spread? And, what does that mean exactly?

Covering the Spread

So, using the above example, the Boston Celtics would have covered the spread or beaten the handicap. But, what does covering the spread entail? It means that a team wins by more than the points spread. In this example, the Boston Celtics won by over 14 points (17). In this case, they covered the spread.

So, when calculating the spread bet, it can be pretty easy. The most simple way to achieve this is to subtract the handicap from the favored team. Or, you can add the handicap to the team more likely to lose. 

This means that, in the above example, say we bet on the Boston Celtics -14. Then, you would subtract the 14 points from the Boston Celtics’ final score. So, that would look like:

  • Boston Celtics: 26
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 23

Then, even with the points spread taken out of the Boston Celtics’ final score, the Celtics still are the winners of the game. So, if you had placed a bet on the Boston Celtics -14, you would have won your bet.

But, on the flip side, what if you had bet on the Los Angeles Lakers +14. So, you will add 14 points to the Los Angeles Lakers’ final score. This would look like:

  • Boston Celtics: 40
  • Los Angeles Lakers: 37

So, even with the 14 point handicap, the Los Angeles Lakers would still lose the game. And, unfortunately, this would mean that you lost your bet.

Understanding a Push

So, now that you know what a point spread is, you need to learn what a push is. A push is simply when the final points margin ends up exactly on the spread. Many times, a spread will have a half-point included that is also referred to as a hook. This is to help make sure that the final result will be on one side of the spread or the other.

But, as you saw above, many times, the spread will have to be a whole number. There are many examples of this in sports history. So, it is quite common.

Then, we need to know what occurs in the event the margin lands on the spread. Well, this is what is known as a push. The end result is the sportsbook voiding and refunding all of the spread market wagers. 

Reading Odds for Points Spread Bets

In order to use your new point spread knowledge in action, we will look at how you can use this knowledge with different sports bets. This will help you to fully understand how point spread betting works with different sports. And, you can then place the most informed bets possible.

Picking Against the Spread in the NFL

So, let’s say the Dallas Cowboys are set to face the New York Giants. And let’s say the Cowboys are the team favored to win. For example, the spread will look like:

  • Dallas Cowboys: -4
  • New York Giants: +4

Again, this means that:

  • Sportsbooks are saying there is a 50% chance that Dallas Cowboys will be the winners by over 4 points.
  • Sportsbooks are saying there is a 50% chance that the New York Giants will win the game or lose by less than 4 points.

If, at the end of the game, the scores were:

  • Dallas Cowboys: 35
  • New York Giants: 29

And, say you bet on Dallas Cowboys -4, does that mean you are a winner? In order to figure this out, you will need to use the tools above to figure that out. Since we’re saying you bet on the winner, you will subtract the spread from the Cowboys’ final score.

  • Dallas Cowboys: 31
  • New York Giants: 29

So, that would mean that your bet was a winning bet. But, if you had bet on New York Giants +4, you would need to add four points to the Giants’ final score.

  • Dallas Cowboys: 35
  • New York Giants: 33

Then, that means that the Dallas Cowboys still won the game. And, that would mean that you lost your bet.

Picking Against the Spread in the MLB

Spread bets in the MLB work differently than in the NBA or NFL. In baseball, the spread is called the run line. And, it is always set at 1.5 runs.

A run line in the MLB looks like:

Red Sox-1.5
Cubs+1.5

And, the sportsbook will have odds listed for both teams:

Red Sox-1.5+130
Cubs+1.5-140

That means that if you place a wager on the Boston Red Sox -1.5 for $50, you will get back $65 if the Red Sox win by over 1.5 runs. Which would mean they would have to win by 2 or more runs.

But, if you bet on the Chicago Cubs +1.5, you must bet $140 to win $100 if the Chicago Cubs are the winners or if they lose by only a single run. 

Moneyline/American Odds bets when it comes to baseball are most often posted at tight odds. But, run lines give those betting on the MLB a different option for wagering. 

Now You Know How to Read Point Spreads

So, you have now learned how to read point spreads. That means you can now place a variety of sports bets using point spreads. And, point spread betting is a particularly popular betting option. That’s why it’s always good to know how to read point spreads or any type of betting odds.

Now, you should be able to understand not only how to calculate point spread bets, but also how to improve your chances with point spread bets. Also, you should understand how moneyline odds play into certain point spread bets. This means you can use the odds and the points spread to your favor when betting. Assuming, of course, you know how to read odds.

Remember, it is very important to check your figures before placing your bets. So, you should use a betting odds calculator to double-check your numbers before putting any money down. Then, you can be confident in the bets that you are placing.