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While many sports have gained a strong following in the sports betting community, there is one that has separated itself from the pack. Football is the top choice among sports bettors.

The evolution of football in the general sports landscape has been mirrored by the popularity of the game among sports bettors. In the first half of the 20th century, baseball was the most popular team sport in America. New York Yankees slugger Babe Ruth was the biggest sports legend during this era. Football was still evolving in this time. The college game was bigger than the NFL at this point.

In the late 1950′s, pro football began to become more prominent. The 1958 NFL championship game between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants played a big role in the growth of pro football. Millions tuned in to watch the dramatic, overtime contest on black and white televisions. While baseball was still the top sport heading into the 1960′s, football was closing fast.

The AFL was formed to compete with the NFL. Both leagues broadcast its games on Sunday afternoons. With the advent of color TV during this period, pro football’s popularity as a televised sport grew quickly. The addition of the Super Bowl and merger of the leagues in the late 1960′s would soon have football on the brink of passing baseball heading into the 1970′s.

The NFL continued to grow in the 1970′s. Television ratings climbed for the networks. ABC’s Monday Night Football proved to be an instant hit after debuting in 1970. In the middle of the decade, the sport’s betting aspect was introduced to mainstream America on the NFL Today pregame show on CBS.

Former Las Vegas bookmaker Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder was part of the telecast each week. While point spreads and odds were rarely ever mentioned on the show, his predictions for the upcoming games were obviously done with the sports bettor in mind to some degree. By the end of the 1970′s, football was clearly the most popular sport in the nation.

In the 1980′s, ESPN and other cable television outlets enabled more college and pro games to be shown than ever before. In the next decade, sports talk radio and the Internet enabled fans and bettors to gain a constant stream of information related to college football and the NFL. Along the way, football betting has played a significant role in the overall popularity of the sport.

Football Betting Basics

The most popular football bet is the point spread wager. Because there are about 40 points scored in a typical NFL game and usually a little more in college contests, it is useful to have a point spread in place for football. Due to the disparity in teams, a typical NFL slate of games on a Sunday afternoon will have point spread ranges from a pick up to about two touchdowns. For college games, big favorites can be favored by three, four or more touchdowns in a prospective mismatch. Money line or straight up prices for any point spread that is six points or higher forces the bettor to lay a huge price to win a far lesser amount by backing the favorite in these circumstances. The point spread is the great equalizer. Once a point spread is established for a football game, the bettor only has to lay the vigorish or juice (usually 10%) on the wager. Here is what a typical NFL point spread might look like:

Steelers (+4) Cowboys (-4)

In this example, Dallas is a 4-point favorite. The team with the minus points is the favorite while the underdog club has plus points. To win a bet on the Cowboys, Dallas must win the game by five points or more. If the bettor backs Pittsburgh, the Steelers must win the game or lose by three points or less for the bettor to cash in.

The next most popular bet in football is the total or over/under wager. In this type of wager, the bettor picks an over or under option for the total combined points that will be scored in the game by the two teams. The point spread and over/under bet options for a particular game are parlayed together. In a parlay, two or more bets are placed on a single wagering ticket. These bets are popular among novice bettors because there is less risk and more reward for a winning wager.

In a two-team football parlay, the bettor can win about $260 for a $100 bet. Parlays are avoided by most professional bettors because all of the bets on the parlay ticket must win. A 1-1 record on the two bets of a parlay is the same as an 0-2 record. Both are losing tickets. Money line bets are more popular in lower scoring sports, like baseball, but are still used in football on occasions.

In point spreads that are small, like a field goal or less, the bettor can place a money line bet on a favorite without having to lay a huge price. In turn, bettors will sometimes focus on underdogs to win straight up due to an attractive plus price on the money line. Prop bets on individual players are also quite popular among football bettors.