American football attracts the attention of millions of punters from around the world as it is a sport that combines physical power with carefully planned strategy. Naturally, the top league is found in the United States and is called the National Football League, or most commonly, the NFL. It comprises of 32 franchises (teams), all of them based in US cities, with the structure of the league having two levels: the conferences and the divisions. The 32 teams are divided in two conferences, called National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC). Each conference has four divisions, named after the four points of the horizon – North, South, East and West – and each division has four teams. Τhe league’s structure looks like this:
The regular season of the NFL is a 17-week period, a rather short regular season compared to other popular sports found on online bookmakers. Each team plays 16 games against just 13 different opponents. The schedule for every team is made according to the following pattern:
3 home games against teams of the same division
3 away games against teams of the same division
4 games (two home and two away) against teams of a division from the same conference (rotating in a three-year circle)
4 games (two home and two away) against teams of a division from the other conference (rotating in a four-year circle)
2 games (one home, one away) against the other two intra-conference teams that finished the previous season in the same place in their division as our team in its own division
The teams that get to the playoffs are the 8 division champions and the four wild cards. Each conference provides two wild card berths, which are awarded to the two teams with the best overall records, divisional champions aside. The playoffs are single games (there are no “best of the three” or home and away legs). The AFC champion and the NFC Champion meet at the Super Bowl, for the final of the NFL.
How NFL is played
This game attracts millions of punters and fans from across the world and is played in four quarters of 15 minutes. In a broad, technical sense, the game clock does not stop, but there are more than a few instances where it actually does. The main ones are when there is a score, a change of possession, a timeout, an incomplete pass attempt or when the officials use the replay to determine if a call was right or they need to reverse it. The game begins with a kickoff, as does the 3rd quarter. If team A gets the first possession, then team B will receive the 3rd-quarter kickoff.
Each team has 11 players on the field. When a team goes on offense, they use the offensive unit and when on defense, the defensive unit. Unlike football and basketball, these two sets of players are utilized in a completely different manner. In order to simplify things, we’ll say that each team has 22 starters.
A team can score in two ways. The first is the field goal, that’s worth 3 points and requires the kicker of the team to kick the ball through the goalpost. The second and most important one is the touchdown. A touchdown is achieved when a player has the ball and gets in the opposition’s end zone or receives the ball while in the end zone (through a pass). Scoring a touchdown gives a team 6 points and a chance to get one more if they make the extra point, or PAT kick. The extra point kick is the same as a field goal, but is only worth one point and always follows a touchdown. Though less likely to happen, a team can opt for what is called a 2-point conversion instead of an extra point attempt. In that case, they don’t kick the ball but try to score a second touchdown from 2 yards away, which is worth 2 points.
Other important terms:
Interception: a pass picked off by the defense
Fumble: loss of ball possession by a player
Flag: when an official wants to call a rule infraction or a foul, he throws a yellow flag on the field
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American football bets explained
The Point Spread
By far the most popular form of betting on NFL games is the point spread, similar to the handicap lines offered on basketball and certain football bets. The team that is widely considered as the underdog, will have some points added to its total score, while the favorite, has the same amount of points deducted from its total score. When betting against the spread you either bet on the favorite to win by a bigger margin than the spread (a score difference bigger than the points that were deducted) or the underdog to win the game or lose by a smaller margin than the spread (a score difference smaller than the points added). Bet365 offers the best odds on point spread betting.
Let’s see an example. The following point spread is found on your betting company’s sports book:
Atlanta Falcons -4.5
New York Giants +4.5
If you bet on the Falcons, you need them to win by 5 points or more (cover the spread) to win your bet. If you bet on the Giants, then they need to win the game or lose by no more than 4 points, for you to win your bet.
Spreads are “half-odds” (0.5, 1.5, 2.5, etc), but most companies offer alternative point spreads too, where the spread is increased by 0.5 point. This way, you can bet on the spread you feel comfortable with and even get the safety valve of a push, if the favorite wins by a margin equal to the spread.
The Money Line
Money Line betting is a simple concept, identical to common sports betting on soccer matches, but with two possible outcomes instead of three (no tie exists).
You bet on the team you believe will win the game.
Just because a tie is almost impossible to happen (and in case of a tie, you get your money back), the odds of the favorite are lower than when betting against the spread, with the odds of the underdog being equally higher.
Despite it’s less complicated nature, Money Line betting is not as popular as point spread betting when it comes to NFL games. You can find the most extensive NFL lines on Paddy Power.
Match totals (Over/Under points)
The match totals bet is a wager on the total points scored on an NFL game. Most of the times, it comes in handicapped odds (e.g. over/under 46.5 points) in order to eliminate the “push”, but much like point spread betting, bookmakers provide alternative options where the over/under line is an integer number. In this case, if the total points scored are equal to the over/under line, your bet will be considered as a push and you will get your stakes back.
Other types of bets
Point spread, money Line and match totals are not the only bets you can place on an NFL game. There is a great variety of other wagers to choose from, either team-related or player-related. Here’s a list of some of these options:
First team to score in the game
First team to score a touchdown in the game
First team to score X points in the game (also known as “Race to…”, where X in the number of points)
First score method (will it be a touchdown, a field goal, etc)
Game to go to overtime (teams must be tied at the end of regulation)
Even/Odds total points scored
Player to score first/last/at any point in the game
Additionally, there are a number of betting options concerning the first quarter or the first half of a game, as well as long term bets (division champion, conference champions, Super Bowl winner).
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