What is point spread, how point spread works

Every football fan has heard the terms “point spread”, “spread”, “cover the spread”, etc at least once in their life, likely more. While the point spread is one of the most bet on options, especially when it come to NFL betting, there are many people who hear the term but have no idea what it means. Here we will give you a simple, yet comprehensive, guide to understanding what is point spread, how the point spread works and even cover some terms like “ATS” and “cover the spread”, pun not intended.

Let’s begin with “what is point spread”. The point spread is handicap points given to one of the teams’ final score, respectively taken away from the other team. The point spread is posted by the online sportsbooks and then people bet on whether a team will “cover the spread”. Let’s look at an example, which will make it much easier to understand the spread. At the online sportsbook Bovada Sports we have right now the point spread on the game Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots. At the sportsbook you will see something like this:

Pittsburgh Steelers: Point spread +7
New England Patriots: Point spread -7

First, let’s note that there are two betting options for the player here, one is to bet on the Steelers and the other on the Patriots. Now, let’s look at how the point spread works. What the spread numbers are telling us is that after the final score of the game the Steelers will get 7 points handicap to their final score or the Patriots will see 7 points take away from them. After this is done – the final score is “recalculated” and if you bet on the Patriots spread at -7 and the Patriots still win the game, after 7 points are taken from their final score – you win the bet. This is also called “covering the spread”, i.e. the Patriots have covered the spread. So if we make up a score, let’s say the final score of the Steelers Patriots game is 10-21, if you bet on the Patriots to cover the spread, your bet will be a winner, since even after we subtract 7 points from the Pats score, they still win the game. Mathematically, it will be like

Steelers: 10
Patriots: (21-7)=14

If, however, you bet the Steelers in our example, you will lose, because even after 7 points handicap are added to the Pittsburgh’s final score, that would bring it to just 17 points, which is less than the Patriots’ 21 points. Remember, you either add points to one team or subtract point from the other, not both.

As you can see, the point spread is very easy to work with, once you get the general idea. When betting the spread one simply decided if a team will be able to beat the other team by the number of points indicated by the point spread and then make your bet accordingly. In our example, if you think the Pats will beat the Steelers by more than 7 points – you bet the pats to “cover the spread”, if you think New England will beat the Steelers by less than 7 points or that Pittsburgh will win the game – bet the Steelers’ spread instead.

And finally, let’s close this guide with an acronym you would hear often, namely “ATS”. In our previous example, you may hear that the Patriots are 7 points ATS. What this means? ATS stands for “against the spread”, so the Pats are said to be 7 points against the spread, i.e. ATS.