Updated September 17, 2023
Reviewed By Steve Silverman

NFL Line Movement in Sports Betting

Those who bet on sports know that keeping current on all events is a big advantage when making wagers. It only makes sense, particularly in the NFL where the news of player injuries or off-the-field information can have a major impact on the outcome of a particular game. Bettors quickly realize that the line moves quickly when a top player is suddenly not available and it is vital information for anyone wagering on games. 

NFL Line Movement Explained

Line movement refers to a shift in odds or the point spread of a particular game before it is played. The opening line refers to the pointspread when a particular game is first listed, usually late Sunday of the previous week. The closing line is the pointspread in the final moments before kickoff.

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Live betting is a relatively new option available to bettors. As the game progresses, bookmakers offer bettors the chance to predict what will happen the rest of the game. A team originally favored by seven points may give up the opening touchdown. Instead of having to lay the full amount of points, the bookmaker will offer a live bet of the favorite at three points. If the bettor believes the favorite is going to win by more than three points, it’s an attractive option.

In order to take advantage of live betting, there can be no hesitation. The lines change moment to moment based on the action in the game, and it’s not unusual to see that point spreads change after every score.

Why Do NFL Lines Move?

NFL Line movement

The basic reason NFL lines move is that bookmakers want to attract balanced action on a given game. If the Philadelphia Eagles are playing the New York Giants, the line may open with the Eagles as 6 ½-point favorites. The bookmaker may see Eagles bettors pouring money in on the game, while Giants money comes in at a trickle. As a result, the line changes, and the Eagles are now favored by 7, 7 1/2 or even 8 points.

But that’s not the only reason. Yes, bookmakers often want to get an even amount of money on the majority of games. In those cases, the profit for the house comes from the vigorish or “vig” – also known as juice. When a bettor wagers $100 on their team to win, they are actually risking $110 to earn a profit of $100. The losing bettor drops $110 on a single-game wager, and the extra $10 on losing bets goes to the house.

Read our recent guide - Who is the oldest NFL player of all time?

Attracting even money is not the only goal. Remember, the bookmaker is getting as much information as it can when the original line is made. This information concerns injuries, personnel, coaching and locker room issues. Most of these issues will eventually get to the public, but not all. In cases where the bookmaker has strong information, the house may be willing to “bet” on a game itself. The line may intentionally favor the team that the house wants to bet against. When that happens, the bookmakers is betting that the other team wins.

This is not advertised, but it happens on a regular basis.

Team odds regularly change as a season progresses. The sportsbook will offer odds that a particular team will win a division, conference or Super Bowl title as early as the day after the previous season’s championship is decided. Those odds will change constantly.

After the Rams beat the Bengals in last year’s Super Bowl, they opened at +1200 on DraftKings to repeat as Super Bowl champions. However, losses, injuries and other issues moved those odds to +15,000 by Week 11. When Cooper Kupp, last year’s Super Bowl MVP, went down with a high ankle sprain, that number surged to +20,000.

Weather impacts all NFL players and bettors from time to time. Rain increases the likelihood of slippage while decreasing quarterback accuracy, due to the difficulty of properly gripping a wet football and getting enough velocity to overcome the heaviness from precipitation. High winds restrict field goal range and throwing range, and must be taken into account

The wind can be the most impactful weather factor. When the wind is blowing at 20 miles per hour or more, it will impact both the passing game and the kicking game. It takes a remarkably strong arm to pass the ball through a heavy wind. It takes a smart kicker to remain effective when kicking through a cross wind. The kicker's approach is much like a golfer's, and the wind must be considered before every kick.

NFL Game Example: All Hail the Chiefs

DraftKings acknowledges the terrific trio of quarterback Patrick Mahomes, tight end Travis Kelce, and coach Andy Reid by opening the Kansas City Chiefs as a -6.5 spread favorite over the offensively challenged Los Angeles Rams. Sharp money and casual bettors alike indicate the Chiefs will win by more than one touchdown, especially coming off the Rams’ secondary getting gashed by the New Orleans Saints. Total Money and bet percentages skew to the favorites covering the spread. The sportsbook adjusts by making the Chiefs a -7.5 favorite.

Line Movement in NFL

Nobody foresees stud tight end and leader in touchdown receptions Travis Kelce getting injured during the final practice of the week. The injury renders Mahomes without a dependable option to throw to, especially with star cornerback Jalen Ramsey denying half of the field’s throwing availability. The line falls to -3.5 to reflect a much tighter NFL matchup.

Check out our version of the 10 best betting Apps.

Strategy: Using Line Movement to Your Advantage

Generally speaking, the line will move towards the favorite as the week progresses. As a result, if the bettor wants to bet on the favorite and lay the points, it is best to do this early in the week. On the other side of the coin, betting on underdogs may be more profitable later in the week. Bettors should remember this concept if they want to get the best of the action.

Expect games played in sunny or domed conditions to be more conducive to not only scoring but teams performing close to their established identity. 

Domes shield NFL players from hazardous weather. Offenses take advantage of the ability to freely conduct designs without Mother Nature having a negative impact. This is a particularly strong advantage for passing offenses that translates into high point totals and good betting opportunities.

Here are the NFL stadiums that provide protection from the elements:

  1. Allegiant Stadium – Las Vegas Raiders
  2. AT&T Stadium – Dallas Cowboys
  3. Caesars Superdome – New Orleans Saints
  4. Ford Field – Detroit Lions
  5. Lucas Oil Stadium – Indianapolis Colts
  6. Mercedes-Benz Stadium – Atlanta Falcons
  7. NRG Stadium – Houston Texans
  8. SoFi Stadium – Los Angeles Chargers, Los Angeles Rams
  9. State Farm Stadium – Arizona Cardinals
  10. U.S. Bank Stadium – Minnesota Vikings

The Impact of Sharp Bettors

“Sharps” are experts who excel at sports betting. They are the professional bettors who have a history of success -- and not just a few hot streaks. Many of these gamblers bet large amounts of money because sports betting is the way they make their living.

It takes discipline and a certain degree of fearlessness to reach this status. Sharps don't care about favorite teams and gut instincts. Their decisions are based on data and information. They seek out numbers that make their bet truly a value-driven investment.

Does the sharp bettor win every bet? Of course not, and he or she doesn't even come close. However, they will consistently win 55-65 percent of the time. There is no hesitation and they are not drawn in by public opinion. Sharps make their bets when the numbers are right -- and they don't worry about painful losses. They keep plunging their money down and know the wins will take care of themselves.

Key Numbers: Your ‘Key’ to Spread Victory

The “key” to analyzing spreads in the NFL is keeping each key number in mind. Key numbers of any sport refer to the most common margins of victory in a game.

Oddsmakers prioritize 3 and 7 when setting the odds for football scoring totals and point spreads. Those two numbers dominate football’s betting line landscape because the most common scoring events during any given game are a field goal and a touchdown bundled with a successful extra point.

Here is a Stathead chart showing the results of every NFL drive in the 2021 season:

OutcomeTotal %Punt
30120.5%End of Game
21614.7%Field Goal
594.0%Missed FG
302.0%End of Half
151.0%Blocked Punt
30.2%Blocked FG
10.1%All Turnovers
19013.0%All Scores

The extra point success rate is over 92 percent. Extra points remain safe but haven’t been a virtual guarantee since the NFL lengthened them from 20 to 33 yards in 2015. Meanwhile, 2-point conversions succeed about 48 percent of the time. NFL teams attempt 2-point conversions about once in every 10 touchdowns. They are regularly used by trailing teams in the fourth quarter in order to cut the deficit as time remaining in the game diminishes.

Betting Trends to Consider When Lines Move 

Bet the under in games involving the Buffalo Bills. Nine of their 12 games have gone under the posted total.

The Bengals are 9-1 Against the Spread (ATS) in their last 10 games.

The Lions are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games at home.

Eight of the last 10 games between the Eagles and Giants played in the Meadowlands have gone over the posted total.

Additional Trends (Through Week 10 of the 2022 season)

  1. The Tennessee Titans have been the best team against the spread this year at 8-2 (keep in mind the team’s grinding run-centric playstyle through former 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry transcends most conditions)
  2. The Cowboys and Giants tie for the NFC lead at 7-3 against the spread
  3. The Los Angeles Rams have been the worst team against the spread at 2-7-1
  4. The Eagles boast the NFL’s best record at 9-1, yet are 5-5 against the spread (favorited every game this season)
  5. 90 percent of Denver Broncos games  have gone under the point total
  6. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the worst NFC team against the spread and the team’s games have gone under in point totals the most
  7. The Cleveland Browns have been the best bet for over-on-point totals at a 7-2-1 record
  8. The Washington Commanders are 6-0-1 against the spread in Taylor Heinicke’s last 7 starts (he has been named the starting quarterback moving forward)

Betting the Middle When Point Spreads Change

Middling a game is playing both sides of a game – and winning both bets in the process. We have explained about line movements, and how it may be best to play the favorite early in the week while the underdog may get improved odds later in the week. Normally, a line might move one or two points on a given game. But there are times when the line movement is more significant – three points or more.

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At this time, an alert bettor can play both sides, and possibly win both bets. For example, the Buffalo Bills may enter the week as 6-point favorites over the Indianapolis Colts. The line moves to Buffalo -10 by kickoff. 

If a bettor had made a $100 bet on the Bills minus-6 at the start of the week and a $100 bet on the Colts at plus-10 on game day, and the Bills end up winning by 7, 8, or 9 points, both bets pay off. If the Bills win by 6, the first bet on the Bills ends in a push (tie), and that money is returned while the bet on the Colts wins. If the Bills win by 10, the second bet on the Colts is a push while the bet on the Bills wins.

If the final score falls inside the six points or outside the 10 points, one bet wins and the other loses, costing the bettor the vig (juice) on the losing bet.

NFL Line Movement Tracker Options

Action Network is an outstanding NFL line movement tracker with a free app displaying live odds for Android and iOS users. OddsJam processes over 1 million odds per minute as an NFL line movement tracker with tools tailored to middling opportunities with a subscription. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes line movement?

The answer varies depending on the sport. The trends of the betting action both in money total and percentages, as well as injuries are two main, universal factors.

Is it possible to predict line movement?

Not with perfect accuracy but recognizing trends such as the public betting on the favorite early and the underdog, later on, is something to keep in mind.

How do I consistently win if lines change so fast?

Quantitative calculations marry qualitative recognition for a profitable partnership over the long haul.

Do line movements apply to futures bets?

Yes! For instance, the stronger you feel before/during the season about a player winning an award or leading a category, the earlier you should bet for attractive odds.

Our editorial content strives to be highly informative and educational to our audience, especially for visitors who are new or relatively new to analyzing and predicting sporting event results. All of our content is created by informed writers with backgrounds in their subject area and reviewed for omissions or mistakes.

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Comments (2)
12/27 9:28 PM
It is impossible for 20.5% of all drives to be "end of game." That would mean on average there are 5 drives per game. Makes you doubt everything in this article
12/27 9:30 PM
Also your "headings" in your percentage chart are: Outcome, Total % and Punt. Punt?? You didn't even set up the table correct. One of your data fields was put in the column headings. What 3rd grader did you get to review this article?
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