Fancy betting on NFL or College football but not sure where to start? This American football betting guide explains all

It’s gridiron time again. All the glamour, all the glitz, all the money, all the big hits. American football is back. Great news for the hardcore UK devotees who know their scatbacks from their Y-receivers. You might know the type. Those guys who turn up to work bleary-eyed on a Monday morning after getting drunk all night on shotgun offense and 7-2-2 defense.

But the truth is you don’t need to know the deep science of the sport to appreciate it. Unlike the often impenetrable world of baseball, it’s easy to get stuck into a sport that is, in essence, a variation of rugby with helmets and forward passes. And it’s a fantastic betting medium too. With the majority of kick-off times on Sundays at about 6pm and 9pm in the UK, it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of your winter weekend sports viewing.

If you really start getting into it and want more, there are usually single games on Thursdays, Saturdays and Mondays too. But the season’s short and sweet, so make the most of it.

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What are the rules of American football?

In American football, the team with the ball needs to move up the field into the opponents’ half. A team on offense (in possession) has four chances to move the ball a total of 10 yards. It can choose a conservative approach, where the quarterback hands the ball to a running back who attempts to gain three or four yards per play.

It’s more exciting, however, when the quarterback (the playmaker in effect, or to put it in football terms, the Zinedine Zidane of the team) ups the ante and attempts a long pass to a wide receiver.

Each of those chances is known as a “down”. So we start with “1st and 10”, then “2nd and 6” (if four yards were gained on the first down) and so on.
Six points are scored if a player runs into his opponents’ end zone in possession of the football. This is called a touchdown, triggering fireworks, cheerleaders and fans going wild. An extra point results if the kicker plants the ball between the posts.

If, however, a team is close to their opponents’ end zone but has got to fourth down then they usually don’t risk a touchdown attempt. Instead, they can try to kick a field goal, which is worth three points.

Why do American footballers wear helmets and pads?

American football is a full contact sport. Any player is allowed to block his opponents’ runs by almost any means. There are certain rules for protecting against head and neck injuries, but it’s a physical sport and the helmets are a vital component of a player’s armoury.

The only time a player can’t be impeded is when he’s an offensive receiver trying to catch a pass. This is known as pass interference. We’ll be hearing a lot about pass interference this coming season because calls will be reviewed (like with VAR) for the first time. But, unlike VAR, the NFL has used video evidence for decades and generally the officials come out with the right results and do so quickly.

How long are American football games?

There are four periods of active play, divided into quarters, each of them 15 minutes long with barely any dead time. The clock stops as soon as a receiver runs out of bounds (off the field), or points are scored, or possession switches to the other team, or a play is reviewed by the officials. In addition, each team has six timeouts to use at its discretion and the clock also stops with two minutes to go at the end of the second and fourth quarters.
All that means the average NFL game lasts in excess of three hours, including a break of around 12 minutes at halftime.

American football betting tips

Match betting – picking a winner between team A and team B – is the easiest approach to work out and these bets are likely to be the most popular. Home-field advantage should always be factored in (much like football) but the draw is not a factor in the betting because games go to sudden-death overtime if the scores are tied at the end.

Having said that, two brief warnings:

  • Most match bet markets INCLUDE overtime, but not all, so always check first
  • About once a season there are no points during overtime so the game officially ends as a tie

In terms of match betting we have over/under betting. Here, every game is awarded a points line based on the total expected points. It’s a fun market if you can’t work out the winner but can argue a case for the two teams, combined, scoring more than (or less than) the expected aggregate.

Another popular form of American football betting is handicap betting, where the perceived underdog is handed a points advantage to even out the odds. This is great if you fancy one team to crush another or can see a weaker team potentially taking a stronger side all the way without necessarily winning.

What’s the best NFL team?

The Philadelphia Eagles will be hard to beat in the NFC East division. The NFC West is likely to be dominated by the LA Rams. Even with decorated veteran quarterback, Tom Brady, surely in decline, the New England Patriots should clinch the AFC East.

Of the three, the Eagles are the biggest price to win the Super Bowl itself. We’ve seen 14/1 available at some bookies…

Which NFL players should I watch out for?

Young New York Jets quarterback, Sam Darnold, could have a big year in front of him. Baker Mayfield will attempt to push the Cleveland Browns to their first post-season campaign in 17 years. At the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes is another outstanding talent. Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Davante Adams are some of the wide receivers you’ll want to look out for, but it’s not all about the offense units. Aaron Donald, the defensive tackle at the LA Rams, is a remarkably gifted player and it’s a treat to watch him break up the play.

What else should I know about American football betting?

Conditions can play a huge role. From balmy September weather in the southern states to the heavy frosts (and snow) possible in midwinter up north, players have to adapt to a wide range of circumstances. Some games are even played under a roof.

Always consider how hard it is for a team based on the East Coast to play an away fixture on the Pacific Coast (effectively three hours later than they would do at home) and above all else, keep your stakes small in the early weeks while you test the waters and get a feel for the ebb and flow of American football.

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