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Tips for Betting Football Totals

Betting Football Totals

There’s no easy way to make money from betting on football: not consistently, anyway. It’s actually pretty easy to win a few wagers every now and then, even with a limited amount of background knowledge, but showing a regular profit from betting is significantly more challenging. So challenging, in fact, that very few people actually achieve it.

Difficult does not have to mean impossible though. As hard as it is, it IS possible to make money from football betting. And it’s possible for anyone. You don’t have to be some kind of betting genius; nor do you have to learn incredibly complex strategies. Some basic knowledge, a sensible approach, and a reasonable amount of effort can go a long away.

This is all especially true when it comes to betting football totals. Totals are arguably the most straightforward wagers you can place on football games, and they’re also one of the easiest to make money from. That’s why we love betting them ourselves, and can sincerely offer them to you.

Totals should definitely be in your betting arsenal. Regardless of whether you’re a casual bettor just having fun, or a serious bettor with ambitions of long term success. You NEED to think carefully about how you approach them though. As straightforward as they are, totals aren’t going to be profitable for you unless you learn how to bet them effectively. The good news is that we can help you to do exactly that.

What we can’t do is give you a perfect system for predicting how many points are going to be scored in a game of football. The sport is too unpredictable for that, and there are too many variables to consider. So our aim with this article is to give you some information and advice that should enable you to develop your own systems and strategies for betting football totals. If you follow our advice, and put in the necessary time and effort, there’s every chance that you’ll find success.

Please Note:

Although football totals are very simple, it’s important to know how they work before betting on them. If you’re not familiar with the basics of this wager, then please read our article explaining the football totals wager.

Public Opinion and Football Totals

It’s always a good idea to consider where the general betting public are putting their money. This applies when betting on any sport to some extent, but it’s particularly important when betting on football. Football is a very popular sport, and a lot of people bet on it. The bookmakers and betting sites take this into account when setting their odds and lines. As a result, their odds and lines regularly reflect what they expect the majority of the public to bet on.

A good example of this is when a popular team is the favorite to win a game. The bookmakers know that a lot of people are going to be backing the popular team, so they’ll often make the spread a little higher than it technically “should” be in this situation. Although this makes it less likely that the favorite will cover, it rarely stops the public backing them anyway. The bookmakers still take plenty of money on the favorite, but they’ve reduced their risk exposure and captured more value along the way..

The weight of money from the betting public is VERY relevant when it comes to football totals. These are extremely popular wagers among recreational bettors, so the bookmakers and betting sites take a lot of money from them. And they tend to set their odds and lines with one very important point in mind.

Recreational bettors LOVE to bet the over.

This is an undeniable fact. Football fans like to see high scoring games, as more points typically mean a more entertaining game. Most recreational bettors are football fans first and foremost, and many of them bet with their heart rather than their head. So they’ll bet the over simply because they want to be cheering for more points to be scored when watching the game. Cheering for a tight defense and a low action game isn’t nearly as exciting.

Bookmakers and betting sites are therefore often inclined to inflate their totals lines, for the same reason as they inflate point spreads. They know that a large percentage of their customers are going to bet on the over even if the line is higher than it should be. If that’s where the majority of the money is going, it makes sense for them to create lines where betting the over offers no value at all.

If betting the over offers no value, it seems entirely logical that there must be value in betting the under. And this IS often the case, especially when popular teams with strong offenses are playing. It’s games like this when the public are almost certain to favor the over regardless of where the line is. This is why many smart bettors tend to favor the under as a general rule. They understand how much effect public opinion can have on totals lines, and they know that the value frequently lies with the under.

Does this mean you should always bet the under?
No. Absolutely not.

Bookmakers and betting sites don’t inflate totals lines to the extent that the under automatically represents value in every single game of football. They wouldn’t be in business for very long if they did that. Remember what we just wrote – smart bettors favor the under as a GENERAL RULE. The under is likely to be the better bet more often than the over is, but you’re not going to make money just by blindly backing the under for every game. Betting football totals isn’t that easy, unfortunately. You still need to look at each game individually and try to make a thorough assessment of the likely outcome.

In any case, there’s something else you should know about public opinion and how it affects where the weight of money goes.

Recreational bettors tend to follow the hype.

Although recreational bettors do enjoy betting the over, they’re also easily influenced by any hype surrounding a game. So if all the talk about an upcoming game is about how strong the two teams are defensively, or how weak they are offensively, public opinion is probably going to favor the under instead. Bookmakers are fully aware of this, and they’re likely to adjust totals lines in the opposite direction for such games. They’ll deflate the total to make it difficult for those backing the under to win. In these situations, the value is likely to lie with the over.

The main point to take away from all this is that public opinion matters when betting football totals. It’s something that you really should be taking into account when trying to determine where the value lies. But it’s not the ONLY factor you should be taking into account. There’s a lot more to consider too, as you’ll soon discover by reading the rest of this article.

Our Golden Rules for Betting Football Totals

There’s no one correct way to bet on football totals. As we mentioned at the start of this article, we can’t give you an exact system to follow. Your success, or failure, will come down to your ability to properly assess how many points are likely to be scored in games. For those assessments to be accurate, you need to take a wide range of factors into consideration.

We discuss some of the most important factors you need to consider later in this article. Before that, though, we want to explain our golden rules for betting football totals. In everything you do, the following five rules should always be at the forefront of your mind.

  • Start with your own estimate
  • Look for the best spots
  • Remember the defense
  • Bet at the right time
  • Compare odds and lines
FootballStart with your own estimate

Most people who bet totals start with the lines set by the bookmakers. They’ll take a look at where the line has been set for a game, and then they’ll try to decide whether they think the number of points scored will be higher or lower. This is a perfectly logical approach, but not the best approach in our opinion.

The problem with looking at a line first is that this is automatically going to influence your thinking to some extent. You’re basically being led by the bookmakers, instead of forming your own view. You’ll immediately have a number in your head before you’ve even begun to assess the game. That number will undoubtedly affect your final assessment in some way.

To make the most accurate assessments possible, you should start by making your own initial estimate of how many points you think will be scored in a game. You can choose whatever method you think suitable to come up with this estimate, but it’s good to have some kind of fixed system that you stick to for each game. For example, you could decide to work out the average points scored for each of the two teams and then add those averages together.

Whatever method you choose, the goal here is simply to establish a base number to work from. Once you’ve done that, you can then start adjusting that number based on any relevant factors that are likely to affect the game. There’s an important piece of advice to bear in mind for this.

Try to establish a range rather than a precise total.

Obviously you’re trying to be accurate, but you don’t need to narrow your prediction down to an exact number. That’s just putting extra pressure on what really isn’t necessary. Establishing a range of three to four points is enough to help you subsequently decide whether it’s right to back the over or the under.

FootballLook for the best spots

Many sports bettors assume that the best way to make money is to win as many wagers as possible. They place far too many wagers as a result of this assumption. This is a common mistake, and one you want to avoid. Successful betting doesn’t necessarily require placing a lot of wagers. It’s about quality, not quantity. The goal is to find the best opportunities and make the most of them. This means being selective.

You don’t have to bet on every game.

Please try to remember this. It can be very tempting to bet on every game when betting totals, because it’s relatively easy to form a valid opinion on how many points are going to be scored in a game. But it’s not so easy to ensure that your view is an accurate one. If you bet on too many games, you ARE going to lose money. The only time you should be betting is when you feel confident that you’ve identified a good opportunity.

With so many football games being played each season, it’s obviously difficult to know where the best opportunities lie. This ultimately comes down to using your personal judgement and trying to be objective. You have to assess each opportunity individually, and determine if there is any genuine value in placing a wager. You might also like to consider the following point.

NFL totals are far more predictable than college football totals.

We’ve had a lot more success betting NFL totals than we have betting college football totals. If you thought NFL games were unpredictable, try predicting college football games; it’s practically impossible, especially when it comes to the number of points scored. Games frequently feature a lot more, or a lot less, points than expected. This obviously makes things very difficult from a betting perspective.

Please note that we’re not suggesting college football should be avoided completely when betting totals. It’s easier to find good spots in the NFL in our experience, but good spots exist in college football too. They’re just a little harder to find. So if you plan to bet totals on NCAA games, please take a look at the following article first.

FootballRemember the defense

Totals wagers are all about how many points are going to be scored in a game. So it would appear to make perfect sense to think mostly about the players who are going to be scoring those points. This is why most bettors focus on offensive lines when placing totals wagers. Although this approach makes logical sense, we don’t advise it.

A team’s offensive efficiency will always be affected by their opponent’s defensive efficiency

The quality of a team’s offensive line will obviously impact the number of points they score in games. The quality of their opponent’s defensive line will have just as big an impact though. A very good defense is more than capable of limiting the scoring ability of even the best offense. In fact, even a slightly above average defense can make things difficult for the opposing offensive players. That is, after all, the primary role of a defensive line.

So please don’t underestimate the importance of defense. Lots of bettors do, and it undoubtedly costs them money in the long run.

FootballBet at the right time

Timing is a vital consideration when betting football totals. This is primarily because of the effects of public opinion that we covered earlier. Although bookmakers generally consider the likely public opinion when setting their initial lines, they also adjust them as and when the money comes in. If the money coming in is mostly for the over, they’re likely to inflate a line. And they’re likely to deflate a line if the money coming in is mostly for the under.

Recreational bettors typically get their money down quite close to a game being played, often times not until the day of. So any line moves caused by their money will also happen close to a game. Assuming you’re going against the likely public opinion, this means you should leave your totals wagers until close to the game too. This might result in gaining an extra point or two on the line, which can be the difference between winning or losing.

The opposite approach is better when betting WITH the likely public opinion. Although you don’t want to do this too often, siding with the public is the correct play sometimes. On these occasions it makes sense to get your money down early, as the subsequent line moves are likely to be against you rather than in your favor.

FootballCompare odds and lines

This is a golden rule for placing any wager on any sport. It’s always advisable to shop around and find the best possible deal for every single wager that you place. Regularly getting slightly better odds, or slightly better lines, can have a big impact on your overall betting results. The differences might not seem significant, but they all add up over time.

Comparing odds and lines isn’t overly difficult, so there’s no excuse for not doing it. It just means setting aside extra time for each wager placed. The most effective way to carry out the necessary comparisons is by having active accounts at a few different football betting sites. Then you simply need check the relevant market at each one every time you bet. When doing this for totals, try to bear the following in mind.

A more favorable total is generally better than more favorable odds.

This isn’t an absolute rule, and it depends to some extent on your outlook for a game. We generally prefer a more favorable total though, as we feel it’s better to slightly increase our chances of winning than it is to slightly increase our potential payout.

To understand exactly what we mean here, please take a look at the following table. This shows a few different totals lines and associated odds for an upcoming NFL game.

Green Bay Packers vs Indianapolis Colts
Totals Odds
Betting Site A
Over 35.5
Under 35.5
Betting Site B
Over 35.5
Under 35.5
Betting Site C
Over 34.5
Under 34.5

Let’s assume that we’ve decided we’re going to back the over for this game. We do a quick comparison at our three favorite betting sites, and see that “Betting Site B” has the best odds available. We can get +100 instead of -110, which means we’ll stand to make around $9 extra if staking $100.

This is obviously a good thing, but we’d prefer to go with “Betting Site C” here. Although we’re only getting -110, we’re getting an extra point on the line. Now we only require 35 points in the game, instead of 36. This gives us a marginally better chance of winning, which is worth more to us than the extra $9.

Everyone is titled to their own opinions, however, and it’s fine if you think the extra payout represents better value. In our experience, though, it’s the better chance of winning that’s more valuable.

Using Stats for Betting Football Totals

Stats are a very useful tool for football bettors, if they’re applied correctly. This is something we discuss at length in our article on the use of statistics in football betting. You should take some time to read through this at some point, as it contains a lot of helpful information and advice.

A key piece of advice that we offer in that article is that it’s important to use the right stats in the right situations. For example, there are certain stats that are especially useful when trying to predict which team will win a specific game. Other stats are more useful when trying to predict how well a team will do over an entire season.

When it comes to betting totals, we believe that the following stats are particularly useful.

  • Points per game stats
  • Yards per game stats
  • Total margin stats

Let’s take a look at what each of these stats can tell us, and how we can apply that to predicting the likely points total of a game.

FootballPoints per game stats

Points per game (PPG) stats are the most obvious statistics to use in this context. They tell us how many points a team scores on average, and how many points a team allows on average. This is clearly helpful information. If we know that a team tends to score a lot of points and also allows a lot of points to be scored against them, then we know there’s a good chance that their games will be high scoring. Teams that don’t score many points and don’t allow many either are more likely to be involved in low scoring games.

We have to be careful about reading TOO much into points per game stats though. We can’t assume that a team with a high scoring average is definitely going to score a lot of points in every single game they play in. PPG stats are definitely useful indicators. We like to use them for establishing an initial view on how many points are likely to be scored in a game.

FootballYards per game stats

Yards per game (YPG) stats are a measure of the average number of yards acquired by teams, and the average number of yards they allow their opponents. These can give us some valuable insight into a team’s ability in both offense and defense. They’re particularly useful when broken down into passing yards and rushing yards. This then gives us some additional insight into the way in which a team plays, and where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

This kind of insight is helpful because we should be thinking about how a game is likely to flow. We need to determine whether it’s going to be a really open game, or a really tight game. Or somewhere in between. We also need to consider how the two teams compare in terms of style, and what that will mean for the likely points total. Studying YPG stats in conjunction with other analysis can help us to do all this effectively.

FootballTotal margin stats

Total margin is a slightly more complicated statistic than the ones mentioned so far. We don’t actually use it ourselves, but some respected experts claim that it’s very useful for betting totals. So we’ve decided to include here anyway.

This statistic compares the total number of points scored and allowed by each team in relation to the totals lines for their games. For example, imagine a team won their first game 22-19 when the line was 39. Their total margin for this game would be +2. The total number of points scored and allowed was 41, which was two points higher than the line. If their total margin for the next game was +4, their average total margin would +3. You basically take the margin from each game and divide it by the number of games.

Hopefully this statistic gives us some idea of how a team’s games go compared to the expected total. Are their games consistently going above the line, or below it? We don’t feel that this tells us a lot, which is why we don’t use it. But this is only our view, and those who recommend the use of this stat think otherwise. So it might be worth considering if you see any value in it. Do what YOU think is best.

Key Numbers for Football Totals

Even the most casual of football bettors tend to be aware of key numbers as they apply to point spreads. They understand that there are certain margins of victory that are especially common, and they understand that this can be useful information when trying to determine whether a team is likely to cover a particular spread or not.

Fewer bettors are aware of key numbers as they apply to totals though. In this context, they show the most common points totals for games. Here are the key totals numbers for NFL games and NCAA games.

NFL Games NCAA Games
37 points 45 points
27 points 41 points
34 points 52 points
40 points 44 points
41 points 51 points

So, what does this actually tell us? In our opinion, not a whole lot. We don’t think key numbers are anywhere near as useful for totals as they are for margins of victory. For one thing, they’re not as consistent. The key numbers for margins of victory have remained consistent over many years, with three and seven the two most common, but the key numbers for totals change depending on what dataset you use.

The best use of key totals numbers is really just to help us a little when it comes to making marginal decisions. For example, let’s say we we’re really not sure whether we should bet the over on NFL games with a line of 37. We think that the range is likely to be 37-41, but we’re concerned that 35 or 36 is a possibility. A quick look at the key numbers tells us that 31, 37 and 40 are all common totals, but 35 and 36 are further down the list and not in the top five. This might be enough to push us towards going with the over.

Overall, though, we don’t suggest reading too much into these key numbers. Be aware of them, yes. But don’t rely on them to any great extent.

Other Factors Affecting Football Totals

The final section of this article covers four other factors that we recommend considering when betting football totals. These are as follows.

  • Coaching & playing styles
  • Motivation
  • Weather
  • Injuries

We’ll now explain a little about each of these factors and why they should be taken into account.

FootballCoaching & playing styles

We already touched on the need to consider playing styles earlier. It helps to understand how each team prefers to play, as this will obviously have a significant impact on the way a game turns out. If two teams tend to favor all-out offensive play, then there’s a good chance we’ll see a lot of points. If one or both of the teams play a more defensive style, then the number of points is likely to be a little more limited. Don’t be gullible; the bookmakers take all of this into consideration when setting their lines. However, you can still gain an edge by analyzing playing styles to a greater degree.

One good way to do this is to understand coaches and their attitude towards risk. Are they going have their teams relentlessly attack defenses downfield throughout entire games? Or is their priority to sit back and keep things tight? How will they act if they’re three points to the good in a close game? Push to extend their lead or protect what they already have?

It’s not too hard to answer these questions with reasonable accuracy if you really study coaches and how they approach their games. Most coaches have a favored style that they implement broadly throughout their careers. Some take a balanced approach, but some are clearly either aggressive or conservative. There have been some great examples of this over the years.

Bruce Arians and John Fox

Bruce Arians and John Fox have very different approaches to how they have their teams play

Arian is a very aggressive coach. You’d always expect his team to go for the points whenever there’s a good opportunity. Fox, on the other hand, is notoriously conservative. You’d expect his teams to take the safe option in most situations. Both of these coaches are very effective with their approaches, so it’s tough to say which is better, but that’s not the point. The point is that knowing how they approach games is very useful when betting totals.


Motivation is a very underrated factor in football betting in general. It’s completely dismissed by many, often because they believe that professional sportsmen are always going to be motivated to win a game. Not only is this broad statement not true all the time, a team’s level of motivation can greatly vary.

Is a team ALWAYS going to be motivated to score to their full potential? We say probably not. There will be times when they want to win by as big a margin as possible, but there will also be times when they’re satisfied just with getting a win. This is obviously something to carefully consider when making a totals wager. If a team is likely to coast once they’ve got the win, betting the over doesn’t make much sense. It might when a team is likely to push for a resounding victory though.


Yes, even the weather can have an impact on the number of points scored in a football game. Especially when there are extreme weather conditions. Heavy rain, high winds and snow can all significantly influence the performances of players. And the performances of players obviously influences the number of points scored.

The difficulty is in trying to predict exactly WHAT the influence is likely to be. High winds are typically harder on offensive players than defensive players, so it makes sense to favor the under in windy conditions. But rain and snow can affect players all over the field, so it’s not so easy to assess their impact. It’s therefore advisable to simply not bet on games where these conditions are likely.


Most bettors understand that injuries can have a negative impact on the likely outcome of games. A team that’s missing a couple of star players is going to be struggle more than usual. Injuries need to be analyzed more closely than usual when betting totals though. It’s not enough to know that a team is missing one or more players. You need to know which players are missing and what impact that is going to have on the likely points total.

In simple terms, injuries to important offensive players have a different impact than injuries to important defensive players. The former makes a lower total more likely, while the latter makes a higher points total more likely. We know what you must be thinking; it’s never that straightforward, and you’re right! Taking into consider exactly how influential an injured player is, and the quality of any replacements coming in to a team is essential.

As a final point, try not to overreact to any of the factors we’ve listed here. The effects of each one can be significant, but this doesn’t mean they have to change your entire outlook. Remember that all your predictions should be based on a wide range of different factors. No single factor should ever have too much influence on your thought process.

In Summary

Let’s be clear; it’s a challenge to win totals wagers often enough to beat the vig. They DO represent one of the easier ways to bet on football successfully though. Just don’t expect to rely on guesswork and instinct. There’s definitely money to be made, but only with the right approach and plenty of hard work.

As simple as totals are, there’s still a lot to consider if you want to make regular and consistent profits. The bookmakers are very good at setting the lines for totals, so you’ll rarely find spots where it’s obvious which way you should bet. You’ve got to do your research and try to make genuinely informed judgements. You need to be patient too, and wait for the right opportunities.

If you can do all that, and remember everything that you’ve read in this article, then success will probably come knocking on your door.


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