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Home → Betting Guide → Understanding Totals

Sports Betting: Understanding Totals

While the main question in sports betting involves which football or basketball team will cover the point spread, there is another popular wager that can be placed on a wide variety of sports events. A total bet involves a wager on how many points, runs or goals will be scored in a particular sporting contest. Generally, it is a little easier to handicap a total or over/under wager than a point spread bet. With this in mind, bookmakers will set lower limits on total bets.

The Basics of Over/Under Wagering

As the most popular betting sports, most over/under wagers are placed on football and basketball games. Like a point spread wager, the bettor must lay some juice or vigorish when placing a bet on a total. For most football and basketball totals, the vigorish will be ten percent. To win $100, the bettor would need to make a wager of $110. When coming up with a football over/under, the oddsmaker will take a look at several main factors.

Primary Factors for Football Over / Under

The bookmaker will certainly be aware of the total score averages for both teams in a particular matchup. If one team has an average total score of 40 points per game while the opposing squad has an average of 44 points per contest, the combined average of 42 points will form a good starting point for the oddsmaker. The site of the game, key injuries and potential inclement weather conditions can also be considered when setting a football total.

In the NFL, certain key numbers are important for a bookmaker to keep in mind when setting a total. Some of these key or frequent numbers are 34, 37, 38, 41, 44 and 47. With the combination of touchdowns (seven points) and field goals (three points) in a typical NFL game, many contests will end up finishing with total scores that are reflected by the key numbers. For example, the key number of 34 points can be reached by scores of 27-7, 24-10 and 20-14. These are fairly common scores for an NFL game. So, the bookmaker will shade a total towards these key numbers on many occasions. With higher scoring averages in college football, the key numbers aren't quite as important when setting totals for these games.

Factors for Baseball Over / Under

In basketball, the bookmaker will once again be aware of the total scoring averages for both clubs heading into a particular game. The venue of the matchup and any key injuries will also be considered. While football totals may not move more than two or three points most of the time, basketball totals can be vulnerable to some bigger shifts. Over the course of the season, certain teams will adjust in tempo and pace. Obviously, this can lead to some dramatic scoring changes. In many instances, these tempo changes aren't always obvious to the bookmaker. At times, bettors will spot these subtle changes before the oddsmaker. When this happens, the over/under odds can have some significant movement.

College basketball is where most of these big shifts occur. Because there are so many teams for a bookmaker to keep track of in college hoops, bettors can take advantage of the house on some occasions when wagering on college totals. Overall, a bookmaker will usually take more over bets on football and basketball than under wagers. Generally, public and novice bettors prefer to place bets on the over while professional sports gamblers don't have a bias when wagering on totals. Also, novice bettors will parlay a favored team with the over more often than not.

Factors for Baseball and Hockey Over / Under

In baseball and hockey, the over/under numbers are treated a little differently by the bookmaker. Because of the low scoring in each of these sports, the over/under figures will not shift by several runs or goals. With the tight numbers, the bookmaker will increase the vigorish on the over/under instead of moving the number up or down. For example, a baseball total may open at nine runs. If there is heavy action on the over, the bookmaker will move the vigorish up to -120 on the over instead of moving the actual total up to 9.5 runs. With even less scoring in hockey, these vigorish adjustments are even more commonplace.

Due to the limited scoring in baseball and hockey, the bookmaker would be vulnerable to getting middled by constantly moving off of totals. This is why the increased vigorish is used on many occasions instead of the total adjustment.

In baseball, there are two main factors that are taken into consideration when a total is set. The starting pitchers for each team are quite important in an over/under figure. The difference between an ace pitcher on a staff and a hurler at the bottom of the rotation can be worth a couple of runs in a total. The venue of the game is also very important. Some ballparks will be favorable to hitters while others will be more kind to pitchers. The scoring averages from one stadium to the next can vary from as much as two or three runs. Any key lineup adjustments or injuries and the trends of the home plate umpire can also play a role in the over/under figure for a baseball contest. In a unique element to over/under betting in Major League Baseball, the totals for Chicago Cubs games at Wrigley Field are mainly determined by the wind conditions at the park. When the wind is blowing in, runs will usually be at a premium. In contrast, Wrigley can be one of the easiest stadiums in baseball for hitters to launch home runs when the wind is blowing out.